Your NFT Outrage may be a Trauma Response

*TW pandemic, suicidal ideation

And it’s understandable. Really.

This is a PSA because the creative world is tearing itself apart. The panicked spread of misinformation and lack of nuance are deeper than crypto art, however. These are markers of untreated trauma. Please keep reading if you’ve experienced outrage, depression, or intense emotion around the NFT discussion. You may be experiencing a cycle. Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist; seek professional counsel if you’re in duress or danger. 

If you’ve ever experienced trauma, you know our past can linger long after the catalyst. The more you tend to the aftermath, the less it hangs around. Yet one ordinary day can bring on a sudden wave of depression or anxiety. Even suicidal thoughts might roll over you. Sometimes similar circumstances will set you off, other times it descends out of nowhere. A little calendar skimming might reveal a one, two, or ten year anniversary you didn’t wish to celebrate. But your body remembers. Trauma cycles can develop from short, high-stress events like car crashes, broken bones, and family death. Similar symptoms appear from extended events over long periods of time such as medical illness, sustained danger, abuse, and military service. The pandemic falls into the latter category.

As we pass a year in isolation, we should be checking on ourselves, especially if we feel emotionally heightened or erratic. Not only are we managing the last year, but we’re still taking in new information, some of which may be triggering additional panic.

There are many overlaps between the appearance of NFTs and the pandemic still playing out before us. 

  • Both developed quietly months before they suddenly burst into public consciousness.

  • Both situations are complex and not easily understood at first glance.

  • Both make us feel out of control.

  • Both make us feel stupid.

  • Because we are publicly learning, we’re both dodging and spreading misinformation like wildfire.

  • Both stakes are high.

  • We attached morality to community participation.

  • We want fast, easy answers because it is frightening not to know.

  • Both carry real consequences to participating and refusing to participate.

If you have experienced any of the following, you may have a heightened reaction:

  • Death of a loved one to COVID-19

  • Duress from any of 2020-2021’s unprecedented natural disasters (wildfires, freezing, smoke, flooding)

  • Extreme fluctuation in lifestyle, health, or mental stability

  • Financial distress and instability due to COVID-19

One symptom of a trigger is hyper vigilance. Hyper vigilance is defined as “constantly on guard and prone to overreaction.” Your body does the situational math surrounding an event and equates it to a prior experience. However the math can come up short and create connections that are inaccurate. According to this article on Very Well Mind, “Hyper vigilance can severely interfere with sleep, causing fatigue, a loss of concentration, and an inability to focus. Sleep deprivation can further intensify feelings of paranoia, fueling hyper vigilant behaviors.”

This is not to say that your position on NFTs is extreme, but how you display your position may be indicative of instability. Extreme behavior looks like lambasting strangers, stonewalling discussion, creating a list of participants and urging others to “do what they want with this information.” Reveling in removing opposing voices and blocking friends or colleagues without a dialogue are further examples of extreme behavior. 

The subject of crypto art is extremely complex. The environmental impact is real, and the concerns are valid. There are so many issues before us regarding stolen work, rights and licensing — I touched on several of these in an NFT explainer for artists. Yet these are slow issues that require research to have impactful discussion over time. Outrage around immediate climate impact is a sign that we do not feel safe in this moment. This entire year has challenged our safety over and over again. We’ve gone through months of quiet followed by intense bursts of fear. Political unrest, environmental disasters, racial injustice and radicalized hatred. When I almost died on vacation in 2018, the 21 hour episode followed a similar pattern. We flipped between extreme danger and nervous waiting multiple times. A handful of funny things happened. We received good and bad news. Those who could do so helped while others panicked. It took months to stand in the rain without sprinting or falling over with dizziness. It will take time to grapple with all of this overlapping grief, and I hope we can find patience with each other.

Are you feeling panicked and need somewhere to put your energy?

Breathe. Seriously, take three deep breaths in through your nose. Hold them for a count of three. Exhale slowly and hold for a count of three. Tell yourself “I am safe in this moment.”

I can’t solve anyone’s trauma, but I can point to resources.

Muting and blocking keywords is a simple start. Control your online spaces, and step away if it’s too much. Find small groups of people that will explore these topics with you, and do not flippantly publish anything online. 

Read “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk. This has been one of the easiest ways to understand how my body interprets triggers and how my mind disconnects from my body during a cycle. I learned that the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains responsible for flexible thinking, empathy, creativity, and possibility, shuts down during a trigger. The feeling part of our brain shuts down when we are traumatized. If you can’t afford a copy, Dr. Van Der Kolk appears on many podcasts (1, 2) and offers gracious suggestions for how to handle recovery.

Educate yourself on trauma … and if you’re up to it, crypto art. Education helps us establish control and put language to our experiences. It frames our experiences so we don’t feel like we’re falling into the void. I’d prioritize mental health to feel stabilized. If you’ve been putting off processing the last year, you might feel that pressure build up right now. When we don’t acknowledge our experiences, the emotion can leak out in unexpected ways, as explained above. Some simple googling around hyper vigilance, PTSD or C-PTSD is free and a great start. If you’re ready to talk to someone, you can hop onto BetterHelp, an online therapy platform (here’s a link for a free week). You can choose your therapist based on background, qualifications, and focus and opt to text, call, or do video. Only after you feel stabilized should you go research NFT’s climate impact.

Separate the pandemic and NFTs as two historic events. Because they are not the same. Both of them will have separate outcomes independent of one another. They happen to be occurring at the same time. One is not dependent on the other, so our reactions towards both of these events can be different. Trying to tackle these together will be overwhelming.

We have such a long way to go in conversations around crypto art. None of it is simple, and yet the one thing we shouldn’t tolerate is people hurting other people. When we neglect ourselves, we cause others pain. We truly cannot tackle the subject until we are in a good individual place. 

If you find yourself researching climate impact and experiencing any of the following, I am giving you permission to step away without forming an opinion:

  • spiraling into hopelessness

  • feeling nihilistic or depressed

  • debating quitting your career

  • considering canceling colleagues or friends for holding different opinions

  • vilifying participants

  • using dehumanization language to create us/them scenarios

Social media platforms pressure us to form an opinion, often before we’re ready. Since people are unwilling to be flexible right now, it’s imperative to slow down the thinking process. Rest assured, your opinion on NFTs matters very much. We need every vantage point explored. We need people to research and share, others to illuminate the process, and many voices checking the environmental and systemic consequences. We must ensure we are in a balanced, focused place to guide the future of crypto art as best we can.