PTSD rips at our souls and seeks to devour our relationships. Is there hope for someone with PTSD?
Recently I’ve had conversations with survivors of sexual assaults, clergy abuse, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In varying degrees of intensity they each continue to suffer. Some of them are now healed enough to help others in their own healing journeys. Yet, some of them are thrashing about trying to figure out who they are. They want to be the person they used to be, before the trauma damaged their soul. Subsequently, the PTSD has harmed their relationships and their ability to have full, completely honest relationships.
With their souls wounded many of them experience the horrible sensation of terrible loneliness and isolation. A metaphor I used to describe the isolation of PTSD to a friend of mine is that it is like being on an ice floe all by your lonesome, in the chill air and the freezing water, with nowhere to go.
Is PTSD Contagious?
In some cases, the PTSD afflicted can end up spreading some PTSD around to others. Behaviors influenced by the PTSD-Identity can cause us to seek comfort and companionship where we ought not to go. We may commit adultry; we may betray our sexual chastity and commitments made to sweethearts. We may seek solace in drugs, alcohol, TV violence, or porn. These symptoms speak to our need for healing at the level of our souls.
PTSD behaviors alienate our loved ones. These special people wonder who we have become. We bewilder those who trusted and respected us. Ironically, our PTSD behaviors can become the sources of other people’s trauma. We end up shaking their faith, their trust, perhaps even their own chastity. Oddly enough, they can contract their own PTSD. PTSD can be inter-generational. Children can get it from their parents. Spouses and sweethearts can get it as they watch PTSD rip apart someone they love and turn them into someone who is only a stranger.
PTSD: Splitting Apart Relationships
And, again oddly enough, we ourselves, struggling with our PTSD-Identity are also bewildered at our own conduct, our own lack of trust, our own lack of being trustworthy. As the PTSD-Identity coerces us there are times we do things we know we don’t even want to do, but we do them any way.
If we are not well prepared on a spiritual level, these addictive behaviors will cause us greater shame and against all reason we will cope with it by engaging in even more PTSD behaviors. PTSD-Identity has its own force of gravity, the more PTSD damages my soul and my sense of myself, the more my behaviors reinforce the PTSD. This can even happen to people with prior spiritual formation and strengths.
As this process unwinds and we become difficult, many of us are then abandoned by our loved ones or we abandon them. They say they don’t know who we are any more, or we may say it ourselves. This enforces our isolation and heightens our loneliness. This encourages us to engage in the very behaviors that split our relationships apart. It is a cruel, self-perpetuating spiral into the dirt.
Is it Hopeless?
It is never hopeless. We need not be afraid so as to wallow only in the fear that PTSD generates. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John). While we may need to be cautious, we do not need to be afraid. Men and women damaged by PTSD can recover and return to their true identities.
It is an arduous journey that requires continual prayer, patience, forgiveness, and a modicum of caution. It requires love. A person afflicted with PTSD has been led to believe that they are unlovable, irredeemable, of no value. The PTSD-Identity encourages these feelings. The goal of PTSD is to isolate us so severely as to be out on that ice floe without hope, love, or loved ones.
If You Love Someone with PTSD
If you love someone with PTSD, tell them so. Tell God you love them. Pray for their well-being. If possible, encourage the medical and psychiatric side of PTSD care. Don’t forget to pray for your own well-being.
The best “cure” for PTSD is love. Some may scoff at this. Yet, I know I am alive because a small group of people who loved me knew that I was not the sum total of my PTSD-Identity or my PTSD behaviors. They prayed for me, they cared for me, they told me they loved me. Yes, at times they had to be cautious when the symptoms were bad. But they knew I was not to be defined solely by my PTSD behaviors.
Note that this is not a rejection of competent medical care. Get it if you are one of the lucky few who can afford it. But what gives me the will to live and helps to keep the PTSD behaviors in check is the fact that I am loved by people and I am loved by God, and I am loved and prayed for by the community of saints.
Stay Hopeful, You Have Unique Value
PTSD is not a death sentence. You can recover if you have PTSD. You will have to be cautious, but you need not lose your relationships or engage in destructive behaviors. Remember, people love you. God loves you. You have value and you can help others too. Few have inside knowledge on what it is like have your soul assaulted and how you can recover and then help others with that experience. We need you.
I will offer some additional comments on prayer and some example prayers in our next post on the PTSD Spirituality blog. Semper Pax, Dr. Z