Post Traumatic Church Disorder
Most people have heard of Post Traumatic STRESS Disorder (PTSD), but I’d like to introduce you to, what I like to call, Post Traumatic CHURCH Disorder (PTCD).
Much like PTSD, Post Traumatic Church Disorder is usually a result of a single stressful event or can occur after a long period of ongoing stress similar to "bullying." PTCD occurs in churches, usually by church leadership, influential members, denominational leaders, etc.
The pain and the abuse of PTCD can be incredible resulting in deep spiritual wounds. Much like PTSD, Post Traumatic Church Disorder is a natural emotional reaction to a deeply shocking and disturbing experience. It is a normal reaction to an abnormal (non-Godly) situation that usually results in sufferers stepping out of their roles and / or involvement in the church.
sudden anger / outbursts (or suppressed anger)
feelings of detachment
loss of interest
loss of ambition / motivation
loss of spiritual vision
lack of trust
feelings of oppression
impaired spiritual hearing
detachment from spiritual gifts
detachment from institutional church
EFFECTS / RESULTS
Although some people suffering from Post Traumatic Church Disorder (PTCD) turn their back on God and walk away from their faith completely, I believe this is rare. Most continue to have a loving relationship with God as the foundation of their life. Many even experience spiritual growth and increased faith by recognizing that God would not mistreat them like they were mistreated by the church.
On the other hand, PTCD causes many sufferers to stay away from "the church" that hurt them while seeking Godly relationships outside the walls of the church. While some find a few significant relationships, often their journey leads to a secluded life that only feeds the already debilitating symptoms of PTCD.
In his book Houses That Change The World, Wolfgang Simson refers to the effects of what he calls “church trauma” stating that many who had ministry callings leave their positions of church leadership to go into business or the medical field.
“Church trauma” – a very deep and tricky wound inflicted on (people) by the very institution of healing, the church, which did not live up to its own calling and which – an almost devilish scheme – has badly hurt those whose (gifts and) ministries it needed most.
The tragedy of this is that the church is God’s mission. Someone needs to find (these people), go to them, apologize to them profoundly, heal the “church trauma”, speak to that glowing spark and fan it into a flame, and then recruit them, helping them to see how God sees them and release them into their (spiritual) potential for the building up of the church. [p. 125]
[ I want to talk about my personal experience and how it relates to what I wrote in Part One. In Part Three I hope to provide additional data based on research I have done. The following commentary is based on a conversation I had with a friend shortly after I wrote the beginning of this article. ]
I've always wondered why I felt like my head was in a cloud after the church / denominational leadership crap I went through. It was only a couple of months ago that I read the quote about "church trauma" - and that's when the light went on. So, I started to do some research and began to write out some of my findings. I want to write more about the effects of church trauma (that I am discovering) and also how to experience healing (which I have NOT discovered yet - not fully anyhow).
I believe people who experience some kind of church trauma have various experiences / reactions / symptoms - I don't think any two are the same, which makes the whole topic of healing and recovery tricky. For example... with me, I believe I had some good support and even experienced breakthroughs (and some healing) throughout my experience - some people don't have that kind of support and get worse as they go along.
I can remember the day I released forgiveness to my denominational leaders, etc. – a very important step in my "recovery" - even though I didn't realize HOW important at the time. But lately I have felt "stuck" and I don't know how to move forward - those are the things I'm researching now and hopefully one day I WILL be able to help others, no matter what level of church trauma has affected them.
Stuck. Yeah - like a blockage in my brain - loss of motivation (RE: former ministry, writing music, etc.) - things I still WANT to do, but my motivation is gone and I don't know how to get it back! It's like the church stole the "soul" of my life through the pain and mistreatment (if that makes any sense).
I should be in ministry again. I should be writing worship songs like I used to. But I can't get there. I'm crippled, so-to-speak, and I can't seem to recover.
During my 4 year ordeal I DID write songs about the pain I was experiencing, and about hope. But when the fatal blow came and the denomination cut me off, for no justified reason, I became “blocked”. It is so hard to explain how blocked I feel sometimes - like writer's block - only "recording / ministry block".
I need to ask God about the “block”. And that would be easy if I didn't have an "asking block" too! lol
I love God - He is the foundation of my life - but I just can't seek Him like I used to - I "see" and "hear" Him the most when I'm leading worship - and usually He speaks to me about other people - it's hard to hear for myself. It's like I've had memory loss - and I hate the way that feels. Yes, I still minister, but not like I used to. And when I need to seek Him RE: "me" it's different.
That said... God seems to speak to me all the time - every day - and He leads me... clearly. But the way I seek Him is different, and sometimes I wish it was BETTER. Or at least like I used to be able to seek Him.
Obviously this is a new chapter in my life and some may think I’m in this mess because I’m unhappy. That could be, but I'm generally happy. I don't think this is a "happy" issue - I am content, at peace, love God, etc. It is more of a frustrating or confusing issue - why don't I write songs anymore? How did I lose my inspiration and creative edge? Why don't I CARE that I lost it sometimes?
There seems to be a hold on my gifts. Yes. Like my gifts have been on layaway for many years now, and no one is picking them up from the store.
[ The following is information I have gathered from the Internet regarding people who experience some sort of “trauma” resulting in a “stress” (or church) disorder. Hopefully the following resource will shed additional light on Post Traumatic Church Disorder. ]
It is so hard for the modern western leader to admit he / she may have such a deep wound. Another name for this wound is "shell-shock." During WWI, General Haigh had over 300 British and Commonwealth soldiers shot for cowardice - and it is now believed many were simply suffering from shell shock. During WWII many British fliers were labeled LMF. They "Lacked Moral Fiber" and were dishonored in that manor.
You see, especially in North America – with strong icons like John Wayne and Babe Ruth - suffering from crippling emotional wounding is simply not acceptable. Unfortunately much of the church feels the same way.
Thankfully, the Father of us all, the great El-Shaddai (God Almighty), has a totally different viewpoint.
Many in our modern western society just can't bear to believe you can be wounded emotionally or spiritually. It's simply un-American.
When we think of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder we often think of war and terrorism. But in recent years it has been concluded that prolonged stress of certain kinds (bullying) can have a cumulative effect and impact you as much as one life and death threat in wartime. In other words, it is possible for a church goer to suffer Post Traumatic Church Disorder or PTCD.
Bullying can be thrust upon you by the denominational leadership, church board, leading members involved in power struggles, your mate, fellow pastors, or you, yourself, can bring this pressure on others if you are in authority in some manner.
Legalistic churches and cults are famous for bullying followers as amethod of control. When this happens, an entire culture that is unhealthy develops, sometimes on a worldwide basis if the denomination is large enough. Both leaders and lay-members become wounded in such churches.
For so many of us who have been abused in this manner (bullying), rejection is how our heart reads it. The great irony is, Christianity is the one true religion that should underscore unconditional love from a caring deity. Yet, the church, itself, can be one of the most destructive organizations to the human spirit.
With a war victim suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the shock of what one human being can do to another plays a major factor. There is a total disillusionment with life, people and purpose. With the church leader suffering from PTCD, there is the nearly unbelievable shock of being treated in a certain manner by people claiming to be children of God. In both cases, the sensory bombardment is a reality that seems too harsh to accept. For the war victim, it is man's willingness to destroy life in a very cheap manner. For the church leader, it is the reality of the church's or denomination's carnality and willingness to play politics.
The bottom line in both cases is - real life is too shocking.
“I never dreamed it would or could be this way. I just want to go numb and block it out.”
In Part One I listed some of the symptoms of PTCD. Here I will list some reactions and symptoms often associated with being bullied, specifically.
• Fatigue with symptoms of or similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
• An anger of injustice stimulated to an excessive degree (sometimes but improperly attracting the words "manic" instead of motivated, "obsessive" instead of focused, and "angry" instead of "passionate", especially from those with something to fear)
• An overwhelming desire for acknowledgment, understanding, recognition and validation of their experience
• A simultaneous and paradoxical unwillingness to talk about the bullying
• A lack of desire for revenge, but a strong motivation for justice
• A tendency to oscillate between conciliation (forgiveness) and anger (revenge) with objectivity being the main casualty
• Extreme fragility, where formerly the person was of a strong, stable character
• Numbness, both physical (toes, fingertips, and lips) and emotional (inability to feel love and joy)
• Hyper awareness and an acute sense of time passing, seasons changing, and distances traveled
• An enhanced environmental awareness, often on a planetary scale
• A constant feeling that one has to justify everything one says and does
Some of the above may apply to you or someone you know. What should our response be? How, as believers, should we handle this psychological, emotional and spiritual wound? It is deep, and life changing. You will never be the same again, but what should we do? What is the answer? How do we heal? How do we go on?
[ The following commentary and encouragement was also gathered online. I am including it as I personally prepare to write about healing in Part Four. ]
How did God work with His people in times of great stress? Elijah talked suicidal. For forty days he walked around the desert in a very bad attitude. During the whole 40 day period God never utter one word of condemnation to Elijah. In due time, God showed Elijah that a demonstration of power like the one given at the mountain to Moses and the children, or the one at Mt. Carmel, wound never change a heart in Israel. It would be the flow of His grace in the form of a still small voice to the very heart of Elijah that would heal Elijah and send him on his way.
Power reveals who the true God is, but it does not reveal much about God himself. Knowing God deeply and personally is everything, including the road back to sanity from spiritual wounding. The Father gives us no formulas to follow to be healed. He gives us Himself. It is His grace, His blood covenant love, flowing into us that will heal us and get us back to sanity and sound mind and heart. It was God's grace, not great wind and lightening shows that healed Elijah.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were fried to a crisp. They were burnt-out completely and deeply disillusioned. There was no more purpose to life from their viewpoint. As they walked, Jesus came along side, and in an act of grace befriended them and opened they minds and hearts to a new perspective. They came to "know" Jesus like never before. Coming to really "know" Jesus is an enormus act of healing for many problems. Like these two disciples on the road of life, we have met many who live in their own world of belief. They have a distorted gospel and strong opinions about issues that don't require strong opinions. "Religion" has taken over much of Christianity in the western world today. It is not surprising we have an epidemic of disillusionment in the American church today.
According to the Christian World Encyclopedia as many as 16 million people world wide walk out of the church each year! The church loves talking about the 19 million new converts it obtains each year, but I hear little concern regarding the millions that walk out shaking their heads in fatigue and dismay.
Let me say to those of you in deep pain right now. First, above all else, and in spite of all evidence, Father God has NOT forsaken you. He is with you, and He will bring you through this. Second, you will be healed by His grace, and end up knowing Him better than ever. That's a fact, whether you can believe it now or not, it will happen.
During my research on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (specifically related to war veterans), I discovered that treatment usually consists of two things: medication and therapy (counselling). Although Post Traumatic Church Disorder (PTCD) is the result of a very different kind of trauma than PTSD, the symptoms and reactions are very similar. On the other hand, I do not think the treatment for Post Traumatic Church Disorder can be the same.
Please hear me. People will require medication and therapy of all sorts, for all sorts of health related issues. I am NOT questioning treatment methods that include drugs or counselling. In fact, during the initial stages of my personal experience with "church trauma" I participated in multiple counselling sessions that were effective, encouraging and helped me heal. You may need to talk with a professional counsellor or therapist about your PTCD experiences. I would highly recommend it. For me, it was life-giving.
I also know a few people that are being helped significantly (for depression specifically) through the use of daily medication, prescribed by their doctor. Although I do not like to take medications personally (because I prefer alternative medicine using natural supplements, etc.) I know that people can have positive experiences taking medications that improve chemical imbalances, etc.
So, for this final post on what I have labelled Post Traumatic Church Disorder, it is important that we dialogue about healing. In many ways I have not fully recovered from the "church trauma" I experienced at the hands of my former denomination, but I HAVE taken SIGNIFICANT steps toward healing and restoration.
And because there are so many variables when it comes to how "you" (or someone you know) has been hurt by the church, there are equally various solutions for helping someone heal. So even though I will share some very important steps I've taken towards healing, you may have taken other steps that I want you to share in the comments of this blog.
PRAYER. Sounds so simple, doesn't it. But asking someone to PRAY FOR YOU is so important. I have been amazed at how much relief I've experienced through a simple prayer prayed by a trusted friend. (And I'll talk about the importance of TRUST in a moment.)
CONFESSION. "Okay Paul, now you're boring me!" Yeah, I know. Again... simple. And confession goes hand-in-hand with prayer.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. [ James 5:16 ]
If you read the context of that verse you will notice that it related to sick, or WEAK people! The AMPLIFIED VERSION says it this way...
Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart].
During my journey God "tricked" me into a confession session. Have you ever had God do that? I didn't want to "go" there. I just wanted to complain about how bad I had been hurt. But instead, God wanted to CLEAN ME UP FIRST so that I could be ready to not only be HEALED and RESTORED, but then to give it away to others. And he brought me to a person that embraced me COMPLETELY and UNCONDITIONALLY that I was able to "spill my guts" with. It was a very significant part of the healing process for me and included breaking soul ties, renouncing generational curses, etc.
[ If you have never heard of these things I would encourage you to do some research of your own. You can start by visiting Cleansing Stream, which is the minister that helped me considerably. ]
FORGIVENESS. You must deal with unforgiveness, offense and bitterness toward the people that hurt you. I remember VIVIDLY the morning that I released forgiveness (in prayer) toward the church leaders that hurt me. What a weight off my shoulders! What a relief! Releasing forgiveness is just as much for YOU as it is for the person who hurt you. Often God will ask you to reconcile with the person, or forgive them in person, but more often God simply wants you to deal with the unforgiveness, offense and bitterness that is being stored in your heart.
SIDE NOTE: you DO NOT have to continue in relationship with people that have hurt you. You can effectively release forgiveness to them while deciding NOT to associate with them ever again. Disconnecting yourself from the church that hurt you is usually part of the healing process, EVEN IF you have forgiven them. There is NO PRESSURE to go back into fellowship with the church or leaders that hurt you.
Wow, there is so much to say, but let me conclude by talking a bit about TRUST.
You do not OWE anything to anyone. No explanations, nothing.
Stop trusting in man!
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. [ Psalms 118:8 ]
NOWHERE in the Bible will you find God telling you to trust in people. That's because people MAY fail you. People MAY betray your confidence. Even good, well-intentioned, "Godly" people. (Been there. Happened to me.)
Regardless, God uses people to help us heal. And we need people that can support us, pray for us and be a sounding board for us. So ask God to bring one or two trustworthy people to you. And when you "trust" them with your vulnerable life and pain, know that they MAY fail you. Know that they MAY betray you. But in the end of it all, GOD WILL BE THE STRENGTH OF YOUR LIFE! [ Psalm 28:8 ]
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." [ Jeremiah 29:11 ]
© Paul Joseph