The Unseen Force of the Perceived Threat Syndrome

Woman with boxing gloves punches man

The universe is change; life is your perception of it. ~Marcus Aurelius

I bet you read the title of the article and asked yourself, what the heck is “Perceived Threat Syndrome”? Chances are you have never heard of it since it’s a term I coined after studying the mental aspects of long-term victimization such as abuse or bullying or you haven’t read my books on the subject. This is because it is an invisible trait that many who even have it as part of a mental illness may not even realize. But I hope, by the end of this article, you will have a clear picture of the issues associated with Perceived Threat Syndrome.

Admittedly, it even surprised me as I learned more about the mental illnesses I was experiencing, due to the relentless bullying I endured as a child, between the ages of 6-13. It would be almost impossible to be able to diagnose a child with this or even a teen as they truly don’t understand yet what is happening to them and what their mind is doing. So, here it is in a nutshell.

When you are systematically abused for many years, your mind starts to believe that everything said negatively and everyone around you is a possible threat to your wellbeing. You lash out with the same instincts as a cornered animal to protect yourself. The problem is that the other person may or may not have instigated a threat with you. Your fight, flight or flee instinct has been damaged by the abuse and now you perceive situations that aren’t threatening as threats. Well, I should say your mind is doing that to you.

This can be quite a dangerous issue of mental illness. You may have read about people who suffered from Perceived Threat Syndrome taking actions that don’t make sense. These could be as insignificant as a fight when not provoked or as serious as taking a weapon to a school or office and shooting those you think are a threat to you (which in some cases seem to be everyone). Yes, that’s pretty dramatic, but that is what happens to the instincts that are damaged due to abuse and bullying. Could it also lead to suicide? Sure, Perceived Threat Syndrome could lead to suicide, because the person dealing with it could see no way out of the threats around them. I believe it is one of the more dangerous undiagnosed and researched issues out there.

How do I know anything about Perceived Threat Syndrome? After the years of bullying that ended for me over 30+ years ago, I still deal with it and a broken fight, flight or freeze instinct. I find it very difficult to fix once broken. I do work with others and discuss this issue. When I do, I see the lightbulb go off in their head, because now they understand their feelings and actions. It certainly surprises many others who don’t understand how this instinct can break and why it created the Perceived Threat Syndrome. But it is very real and something you have to work every day to overcome. Even as I write about it, I still know that I have work to be done. How about you?

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About bullyingrecovery

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach with a niche in bullying and abuse recovery, Bullying Recovery activist, and author of "A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance". and "Crossing the Line". He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe
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  1. I am sure I had this as a teen and young adult. Thank you for putting it out there.

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