How Winnie-the-Pooh Teaches Us About Post-Traumatic Stress

Look around at the cast of characters that inhabit the Hundred Acre Wood in A.A. Milne’s classic 1926 collection of stories about Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. Anxiety, hypervigilance, hyperactivity, depression, irritability, and dissociation permeate from their distinct and diverse personalities. These are also the hallmarks of what was then known as “shell-shock,” and is now widely understood to be post-traumatic stress (PTS). This classic children’s story weaves the anguish and struggles endured by Milne, a WWI veteran, into the digestible form of these loveable and endearing characters.

Through the years it’s been theorized that the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh were written as a father’s way to explain his post-traumatic stress to his child. While that theory was never confirmed before his death, it’s been widely speculated since. Christopher, for whom the boy in the story was named, was confused by Milne’s responses to seemingly regular events. In one instance, Milne ducked for cover in response to popping balloons. In another, he terrified his son after mistaking a swarm of bees for bullets whizzing by. 

Let’s take a look at how the characters in Winnie-the-Pooh embody symptoms and effects of PTS:

Pooh
Like other characters, Pooh doesn’t necessarily embody a single symptom of PTS. The all-around combination of characteristics that make up Pooh best embody disassociation. He can be inattentive, but that tends to be rooted in his naivete and inability to remain grounded and focused (unless he’s on the hunt for a much-sought-after pot of honey). While it’s not a focal point of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, it is a common experience for many who endure a traumatic event which precedes the onset of PTS. It’s common for trauma survivors to experience a feeling of leaving their bodies in the midst of a traumatic experience. 

Piglet
Pooh’s best friend and loyal sidekick Piglet is the picture of anxiety with a side of hypervigilance. He’s always a little bit on edge, nervous, hesitant. These are hallmarks of post-traumatic stress. After enduring a traumatic event, it often leads to a near-perpetual state of anticipating more danger. Traumatic events are rarely predictable, and being caught off guard throws the mind into turmoil.

Tigger
It may seem, at first glance, that Tigger embodies ADHD. He quite literally bounces around, which is akin to someone with ADHD. Take a deeper look, and he may actually be displaying arousal and reactivity. There is some crossover with ADHD, since they both affect focus and concentration. However, Tigger’s other characteristics such as his impulsive nature and reckless behavior (which often leads to destruction) all fall under the umbrella of arousal and reactivity. 

Eeyore
They’re starting to be more identifiable, aren’t they? Eeyore is the picture of gloom. But then again, with a tail nailed into his rear-end, who can blame him? Eeyore displays some of trauma’s most common effects. He has a classic case of depression, which is coupled with a negative outlook on the world. And he’s extremely hard on himself. For him it’s easier to just recede from the world than to engage in life. These are common feelings that people experience as a result of PTS.

Rabbit
An optimal way to describe Rabbit is rigid. He doesn’t have time to spare and he’s endlessly busy. Rigidity is common when experiencing PTS. It serves as a response to the unpredictable nature of traumatic events. There’s a desire to develop and maintain order through consistent things. What lies beneath is an anxiety that without order chaos will ensue, akin to the trauma that has caused this behavioral pattern. 

Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends have been putting smiles on children’s faces for generations. In the process, they’re also teaching children how to be compassionate towards those experiencing the effects of post-traumatic stress and other mental health conditions. Learn more about the symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

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Posted on January 31 2022 in Blog

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