Does Your Faith Support Healing from PTSD or Limit It?
There are several approaches to healing from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and they may include finding comfort and support from faith communities. Yet, some doctrines do not foster self-care and recovery. If you have a faith community or consider yourself a member of an organized religion, you may develop beliefs that can stand in the way of your healing from PTSD. Here are some observations on faith systems and their impact on PTSD recovery.
Faith Should Support Healing from PTSD
There is a story with many variations that tells of a person who is caught up in a flood. The person rejects the evacuation order, assistance from several helpers with boats, helicopters, and other emergency equipment, each time saying, "No, my Lord will provide."
The person drowns and confronts his or her diety in the afterlife, asking why the diety never saved him or her. God says, "I sent warnings, rescue vehicles, boats and helicopters, all to save you!"
This tale is an example of how faith can be misinterpreted and result in more harm than good.
Growing up, I was part of three distinct religions. However, there was a common thread to all of them. Life was a world of spiritual don'ts. Having begun to experience trauma early in life, my symptoms of dissociation and anxiety created the picture of a child that was inattentive, lazy, and lacking in social skills.
My religious experiences weren't set up to handle my trauma. They all commanded me to honor and worship without question, to understand that as a female I was meant to be subservient. Religion taught me that bad things happen to bad people. Jesus became a figure I could never expect myself to please, a Santa with nothing but coal for my stocking.
Rethinking Faith in Support of PTSD Recovery
While it would have been easy to turn my back on a religion of any kind, I did not. Much like the individual who faced the flood in the earlier story, I had always stuck to specific concepts without thinking them through. Once I began to examine my faith, hope for trauma recovery soared as I cast off the feelings of worthlessness and spiritual failure. Here are the concepts I learned to think about differently:
- God will provide -- This doesn't mean that a solution will instantly appear. It implies there are supports and solutions out there. Don't give up; trust that you will find help if you are persistent.
- Good things happen to good people -- Yes, good things do happen to good people and so do bad things. Struggles are not a mark of your character or worth.
- It's wrong to question your faith -- This is often heard when someone has a question about how to interpret doctrine. You do not need to be a rabbi, priest, or monk to form your understanding of the rules and stories that guide your faith.
- You aren't faithful (praying, tithing, sacrificing, sincere) enough -- Are you doing your very best with what you have, without making other daily needs and tasks suffer? We will always find "more" things to do, but it is essential to learn what is enough and to balance our needs.
Faith is a difficult topic to address. Your faith will present comforts and questions. If you find that your faith is resulting in more negative feelings than helpful ones, it might be time to take another look at how to seek spiritual support that can provide you with the understanding and kindness you deserve as you continue healing from PTSD.
Hollowood, T. (2017, November 29). Does Your Faith Support Healing from PTSD or Limit It?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2017/11/is-faith-standing-in-the-way-of-ptsd-recovery
Author: Tia Hollowood
Thank you so much for your insights. I am Carol, who retired early as a clinical social worker due to severe depression and dissociation. I am currently 67 and feel like an infant in my healing at times. It has certainly been a unique and sometimes harrowing process. As an individual raised in a fundamental protestant abusive background resulting in C-PTSD, it has been extremely difficult to process this dichotomy. I recently wrote the rough draft of a manual for providing a faith-based support group in churches. Shall of say? "Minimal response, mostly ignoring me." I feel absolutely passionate about the need to provide a spiritual path to integrate the whole of me. As a professional and a person of more than one psychiatric diagnosis, I have been appalled at the ignorance of those who claim to want to serve and assist all people toward a better spiritual life, but ignore the most needy. We must not give up because one of the cruelest aspects of C-PTSD is the murder of an innocent soul.
Thanks for sharing Valerie. I’m sorry you’ve had such a difficult experience. Not every congregation holds such narrow, controlling views. Also, if anyone is hurting you or taking advantage of you, every state has services to protect people with disabilities, usually listed as disability rights groups.
God Bless YOU sister.I am completely drained mentally physically and spiritually,I hide at home.My husband who I totally depend on and feel like crap for it does not abuse me.I have cptsd.ANY self care is looked down on.I hate all people,except my husband.I never drink or did drugs,or was promiscuous,but I have been their vikctim time and time again.NO FORGIVENESS.NO church either.They are abusers in three piece suits,they just hide better.I cannot be in the same room with an addict or alcoholic.Therefore I don't fit in anywhere.When you get weak,this world stomps allover you.The church is organized to fleece the flock.There is no safe place or friends.I have been told satan is after me,orI have such a high call on my life that I have a special anointing etc.BULL.I read the bible myself and hide.Yes we are all sinners,but I haven't raped anyone,killed anyone,gotten drunk and killed an entire family,been to prison,etc.I have been abused over and over.There are no friends.I am angry as hell that I am poor and struggling after taking care of so many people and then being left todie in the street.We are not to judge are we?I am not perfect,but the perpetrator and criminals always go free.I am paranoid now,because I am weak,on disability and told if I take up for myself in any way it would be wrong.
You nailed it; trauma is entirely about victim-blaming, shaming, and making excuses to rob & exploit them further. "Religion" feeds off the needy; God offers miracles, but wow, where are they in a timely manner? We go through our lives suffering, self-blaming, and over-exhausted without any knowledge of trauma, and called lazy as we push ourselves to work 500 times harder than others in an already exhaustive condition which REQUIRES less of us, and these "religions" are designed to meticulously, and without fail, 100% of the time steal every last cent of inspiration, hard work, reward, and credit we have in store.
We work 500 times harder to avoid the breakdown that keeps happening from the trauma screaming for us to lay down and rest; we think if we work harder, we'll break the urge to lie down and do nothing for extended periods of time. And it doesn't work; instead we just end up over-tired, overworked, and unattended to our needs; we are unhealed, and we still feel exhausted and we think of ourselves as innately lazy and weak. The world is right there to dump an entire Bible of condemnations upon us the instant we try to take a break for what is screaming inside.
Even atheists will call you lazy, and worthless, annoying, do-no-good and "needing to work harder". So we get burnt out; and then we're told we're not doing anything, and we're not loving enough. We WERE loving, you know, when we were burning ourselves out without any rest or relief. But now we aren't, and where is God's big beautiful merciful hand to save the day?
Nowhere. It's there to harass you when you open a freaking spiritual text or look around. The only way out is to dance with the devil and scream at people to leave you the eff alone when they don't have a clue why they can't take anymore out of you, and to find some support between the pages of mental breakdowns and chronic fatigue.
Our health deteriorates and we feel guilty because we were too exhausted and burnt out, and nobody cut us a break; the harder we tried, the more they took, and the more burnt out we became the more they described "overwork" as "underwork", and therefore we should, could, and would be underpaid both in thanks, respect, actual compensation, and everything else under the sun.
I'll tell you that "Christianity" is setup to eat the sheep, that's for sure. Jesus can never be pleased, and CPTSD does swallow you while you live most of your life being undiagnosed, and unaccredited to the amazing work you've put in. Instead you end up in a thankless hole of hell, confusion, and poverty most of the time. These capitalist pigs love to steal ideas and credit from the passion that comes from people who struggle with isolation and trauma all day, and they looooooove to give them a hard time, control them, exploit them, and to tell them to "learn to make money".
You can't survive with CPTSD.
And we most certainly watch as we can't even brush our teeth, or shower at times because the idea of taking care of ourselves when the world hasn't cared 1 good cent for us makes us want to blow our heads off and we have meltdowns in the process. We can't hold onto our lives, unless we have social security which is rare, or a spouse who is taking care of us; oh, the need for a spouse to care for you opens the rabbit hole of "you better just let people control you and do what they want with you because you are needy and you therefore get no choices in life, you must take what you can get or you don't love yourself enough and your health and life will be punished deservingly".
Perverts & thieves are free to have their way with us, because our minds desperately imagine the quickest solution to "safety" is prostitution, self-effacement and slavery.
"Good things happen to the faithful"; never mind how having an ounce of faith in CPTSD should be priceless, instead we have tons of faith just to get by and as infinitely priceless as fortuitously obtaining this faith is, it is worthless in the real scheme of things. Surely, because we're damaged; we're broken; and of course, God only curses and harms the wicked and faithless, the cowardly, otherwise things would heal, wouldn't they?
"Trauma doesn't exist; homosexuality isn't an abnormality it's a sin; paralysis is caused by a demon; disease is a punishment; I can do whatever I want; you aren't holy, I'll believe what I want it's my faith and if you don't like it stay out of my church".
This world is a hell hole, and I commend you for surviving, and for every ounce of energy you put back into thriving when we both know that the truly deserving and hard-working are conveniently immediately subject to novelty, trends, the fleeting moment, and disgrace for not being healthy - and every inalienable god-awful diagnosis & evaluation other than dignity & honor, in the world's lazy attempt to skate by while watching completely coherent sufferers drowning as they cry out for mercy and help.