PTSD Spirituality: The Causes of PTSD

What are the types of trauma which can cause PTSD?

As you know, PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Medical and psychological experts have learned that PTSD can cause changes in the brain.  As a Catholic theologian I know trauma can also affect our souls.  So I think of PTSD as Post Terror Soul Disorder.  But what are the types of trauma that can initiate the wounding of our souls by PTSD?  There are four of them.  One wants to remember that these categories can overlap and in most cases, a person will experience at least two of them.

1. Recipient or Victim of Trauma: This is a person who has been traumatized, usually as the result of being the object of violence in one form or another.  Examples are:

– The woman who has been sexually assaulted or raped.

– The child who has been molested by a priest, pastor, teacher, family member, or some other person in trust or authority.

– The soldier who has been wounded by the enemy.

– The person assaulted in a robbery.

2. Perpetrator of Trauma, this is the person who inflicts violence.  Mind, we are not talking always of the morality of the violence, whether we think it was justified or not, we are speaking solely of those who cause violence or harm.  Examples include:

–   The soldier who shoots or bombs someone else, regardless if that someone else is an enemy combatant or a civilian, an adult or a child.  This is regardless of whether the action is offensive or offensive in nature, justified or unjustified.

–   The person who tortures someone else.  This includes those who administer enhanced interrogation techniques, what in the 1980s we all called torture and knew violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

–   Pilots who bomb or strafe as well as missile officers and drone managers located a continent away.

–   Executioners in prisons and medical staff who provide abortions.

–   Many talk radio hosts and people affiliated with the Fokz News Network.

–   Criminals.

3. Observation of Trauma: This is when one is not harmed directly themselves but when they observe someone else suffer from violence or harm.

–   A soldier who observes his buddy getting shot.

–   A note taker or who is present for a torture session. For example, she might not directly inflict the enhanced interrogation techniques herself, but is present for some reason or other.  That is to say, they don’t use the pliers and forks themselves, but they watch it happen.

–   Observing traumatic events directly by being there or indirectly by listening to the recordings, watching the video, or interviewing trauma survivors.  Scholars who try to record the oral histories of victims sometimes get their own PTSD from hearing the stories.

–   Imagination: This is more controversial.  If I am nowhere near the actual traumatic events, can I get PTSD from thinking about them?  In some cases, Yes.  Sometimes parents of children who have been molested or killed can become physically ill with PTSD symptoms as they ponder the fate of their child.  It is as if they were there but helpless to do anything to stop it.  This is not unlike how a PTSD victim may relive their own traumatic events.  This does not always happen, but it can happen. 

4. Catastrophic Events: Sometimes we call these sorts of things “Acts of God” when it is a natural event, like a hurricane, or we call them an “accident,” when something goes horribly wrong like a car wreck or losing one’s health or job.  These events can be either caused by humans or be a natural disaster.

–   Hurricane Katrina is an example of a natural disaster that caused PTSD for some of its survivors.

–   A human caused disaster would be the federal government’s response (or lack thereof) to Katrina.  It also caused people to acquire PTSD.  Word is that the Federal Government back then did a “Heckuva Job!”  Incidentally, each year I have college students who go to help repair the aftermath of Katrina and as of last Spring (2009) they tell me that it looked like the hurricane just hit, little sign of progress or repair.

–   Bankruptcy, Devastating Illness, Loss of a Loved One, and Accidents can also cause one to be devastated with the soul wounds of PTSD.

Usually when we encounter PTSD producing traumas we are exposed in more than one way.  For example, if someone is in combat, they are inflicting trauma and observing trauma.  If they get hit by shrapnel, then they also have trauma inflicted on them.  And, to be a bit flippant, if the battle is happening in a hurricane and the governments has told you it is not raining, then you would have all four types of causes to deal with.  No surprise that we may get overwhelmed and afflicted with PTSD.

Similarly, a woman who is sexually assaulted is traumatized by the event and the follow-on memories of that horrible time.

We Can Recover From PTSD Producing Events: Regardless of how we became soul wounded with PTSD, it does not mean we are doomed to forever suffer under PTSD symptoms.  While our souls are harmed, they are not damaged beyond repair.  Both medicine and spirituality have much to offer.  Medicine can help us control our symptoms and spirituality can help our souls to heal and recover.  This recovery is not an easy journey, but it is a journey filled with hope and love and worth making.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Thanks Doc! You Rock!
    Part of the biggest problem with this trauma and resultant disorder for me personally lies in its Stealth, wherein one must face a scenario where things happen which have happened before but there is nothing to compare them now, as in Gravity’s Rainbow, when Necessity marks the Death of Invention and Camouflage informs the Art of Survival. PTSD manifests not the defense mechanism but the uncoiling of it.

    So it is hard to face something that comes from having to face something. Sounds silly, but it is hard as hell to stick your tongue in a light socket TWICE. Try it. Your body won’t let you, which brings me to Part 2…

    Part of the problem with this trauma/disorder for me lies with my role as a citizen and these wounds place within our nations body politic. Like a spinning top competition of tornadoes this event drove itself deep within our national psyche, so the denials multiply exponentially. So, everyone shuts up, as who are you going to tell? I do not think our nation has matured enough yet to understand what what we are doing, let alone come up with an answer for the consequences of our actions. I really don’t.
    Over 500 miles away and 6 months aftershock, I watched one of my own therapists (a seasoned veteran) break down in front of me.
    No, you are Not wasting your time with this and Yes it is detrimental to you on a personal level.
    New Orleans was not Katrina, however both represent compound fracture below the knees of our body politic. No dog, not even a Catahoula, will hunt for long on compound-fractured legs.

    Though not holding to the notion of a Big Man in the Sky with a Big Penis and a Book with my Name in It (with red check-marks trailing off to Infinity:), I certainly appreciate your approach to PTSD from a Spiritual angle, since really that is what it boils down to when one just keeps asking themselves Why.
    Besides, I met the Reaper several times during that horrid week of the Federal Flood of New Orleans 8/29/05. It told me the Creator had nothing to do with that Crucifixion.
    No, you are not wasting your time.
    Trust me on that one Doc Z.
    Sinn Féin, Editilla

  2. Hello and Thank You for taking the time to read and comment about this post. I will have to take the time you recommend and survey both your blog and the levees website in greater depth. A quick perusal of those two resources certainly illustrates a range of knowledge about Katrina, the levees, and the Corps of Engineers. I especially like the portion of the site for the frequently asked questions. Those FAQs will provide a lot of information to people who need to be in the know about what happened.
    Your comment about our troops not being able to help in in New Orleans because they were in the wrong place certainly rings true. All of those National Guad troops and equipment could have been better used to aid in the aftermath of the hurricane and the flooding.
    Your statement: “As it was we prayed to the Lord of the Flies” is very very powerful!
    In terms of the post itself, on the Causes of PTSD: If responsibility for the major devastation lies at the hand of the Corps of Engineeers, then that too, would fall under human derived catastrophes.
    I am grateful that you took the time to read this website and to write your comments. On the one hand, it is nice to know that when I spend time on PTSD awareness that it is not time wasted…and writing on PTSD topics can be both useful and detrimental to me on a persoanl level. Secondly, I clearly have much to learn as regards Katrina, the flooding, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The resources you suggested and which I have so far briefly visited will allow me to do that.
    Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  3. I would like to qualify some of my comment.
    What your students witnessed is the result of Extended Flood Damage, and not Hurricane Wind or Flood Damage.
    This is so important to understanding this Trauma which I witnessed first hand in New Orleans that first week of the Federal Flood of 8/29/05.
    It is a complex problem.
    1)During that first week we didn’t know (for sure) that the levees had failed as they had of engineering failure. (1a)That knowledge came later despite the Corps of Engineers’ massive counter-PR campaign. This is real, they tried to lie about it right off the bat by saying those floodwalls were overtopped when they had Failed from beneath.
    It reminds me of the way a rapists would say their victim asked for it by the way they had dressed or acted. The citizens of New Orleans had NOTHING to do with that Flood and neither did Mother Nature.
    2) During that first week as each day drew on and chaos and mayhem became thicker, the absence of ANY Federal response did indeed take a heavy toll. It is really hard to describe, because Americans were there trying their best to get into it. Had they done Something Anything that day after they knew the levees had failed… Anything then the whole scenario would have turned differently. As it was we prayed to the Lord of the Flies.
    But this is different than the Greater Failure of Federal Response across the Gulf writ large.
    The scope of the actual Natural Disaster was that great, but it is a separate and distinct Trauma apart from the Federal Flood of New Orleans.
    People like to compare it to Baghdad on the Bayou…but Hell, all our troops were over There when we needed them over Here.
    3) 53% of the population lives in counties protected by levees, with the important ones built by the Corps of Engineers. It would behoove you to understand this is Not simply a New Orleans problem.
    Thank you again.

  4. – A human caused disaster would be the federal government’s response (or lack thereof) to Katrina. It also caused people to acquire PTSD. Word is that the Federal Government back then did a “Heckuva Job!” Incidentally, each year I have college students who go to help repair the aftermath of Katrina and as of last Spring (2009) they tell me that it looked like the hurricane just hit, little sign of progress or repair.

    I would like to address this and hope that you can augment your analysis and expression.
    The Flood of New Orleans and resulting devastation was Not caused by Hurricane Katrina which missed the city and struck Mississippi.
    The Flooding of New Orleans was caused directly and factually by Engineering Failures by the Corps of Engineers, when their flood control structures Failed in 56 locations. 3 of those Engineering Failures resulted in 80% of the water in the city, as stated in the ILIT Study, the Corps own studies and admitted by the Corps in open Federal Court (twice) and in sworn testimony before Congress. Furthermore, the Corps admitted to knowing that these structures were of substandard engineering, design, building and maintenance –all their doing by Law.
    This is Fact.
    That said, I would really like to see your take and address of this Trauma of Man Made Disaster. The Bad Response is one thing. But the Fact of New Orleans getting flooded by the Corps of Engineers who knew this would happen but said nothing.
    If you would like to get up to speed you can go back through my own blog or please go visit
    I enjoyed your post.
    Thank you.


  1. […] All involved are vulnerable to the soul wound of PTSD.  Even perpetrators get PTSD (For more on this see: Types of PTSD). […]

  2. […] PTSD can be caused by four broad categories of trauma.  PTSD wounds our souls.  We usually think of rape or military service or natural disasters as causing PTSD.  Yet, a question I sometimes get is, “Can I get PTSD from my civilian  job?” […]

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