Modern culture often calculates our identity based on our job, how much we earn, and in some cases, our religious affiliation or family size. Our worth is often determined based on our physical abilities.
We are at PTSD risk when any of these elements become dominant indicators of our self-worth. We are at a greater risk of PTSD when these indicators are damaged or substantially downgraded. Physical and psychological trauma can then cause our soul to be wounded. In fact, PTSD Damages our Sellf-Worth.
TV News Awards and Trophy Wives
Others frequently calculate our worth based on our achievements, prizes, and income.
- -Do I have an impressive job title? Do I have a Job?
- -Have I won awards? (Ever notice how TV news programs give each other meaningless awards? )
- -A former Republican presidential contender listed his “Trophy Wife” (his words) as one of his achievements…that has to make her feel respected.
Pity the Hourly Wage Slave
Back in the 1980s I was told that I was only successful if my salary was at least 1000 times more than my age. So if I was 25 years old I had to earn more than $25,000 a year (May God have mercy on those poor souls who were hourly wage earners). This person was training for ordination in one of the Protestant denominations, but I have had similar remarks from Roman Catholics.
These days my wage is much less than the 1000 times my age expectation. In the 1980s I made more money and was considered successful. Today, I make little money (I teach theology, after all), but I help people want to stay alive.
“Christian” is Not Permission to Be a Jerk
People gather a sense of identity from their religious label. Some folks claim the title “Christian” as if the label alone gives them real worth. It’s as if their personal conduct and morals don’t count. I am rendered ashamed when I see prominent Roman Catholics politicians and media figures mock the disabled/disabilities.
Professional athletes frequently trot out that they are Christians. I guess they hope the judge will just give them community service instead of some hard time.
One hears, “I am a Christian,” as if that somehow made them less responsible for how their actions damage themselves and others. Usually the claim is made as an assertion that they cannot be criticized. Too many self-proclaimed Christians act as if an evaluation of their conduct is persecution. This is laughable.
Picking a religious label does not make that label become who we really are.
Your mileage may vary on the “religious label asserts identity” problem. As a theologian I run into this problem a lot.
Crippled and Disabled People Are Still Fully Human
Our public and private identities are often assigned based on what we can do with our bodies:
- we can run
- we are athletes
- we are math wizards
- we are sex machines, etc.
- we can lift over 25 pounds (or used to! Yikes!)
When we lose those abilities, or they downgrade due to age, popular culture finds us to be less vital (where vital means to be with life, alive) and of less worth.
Nothing works quite like a major illness, disability, or life change, to road-test how real a friendship or other relationship really is:
After I got crippled, one of my friends told me I was slowing him down. The individual did not want to be around me anymore.
That individual and I don’t spend a lot of time together these days. Nope, afraid not. My value to that person was based on my physical abilities, not that I was actually a human being.
When we get sick, crippled, or merely old, our very presence can make others uncomfortable with their own mortality. One student I know of wanted more abortions because developmentally disabled babies made him feel uncomfortable. If they were aborted, he would not have to deal with it. He was amazingly honest. But talk about a case of compassion deficit disorder! I hope he finds real self-worth before he gets old.
Ultimate Value is Not in Our Achievements or Looks
None of these modern American indicators of personal worth and identity remember that we have value regardless of our achievements. Positive, life-affirming achievements are always nice, but they don’t make us worthy. That worth is inherent in our relationship to God.
True, my self-worth will be influenced by my job and my ability to provide for myself and others. That is inevitable. And doing good is better than doing evil. Helping others is better than exploiting others.
But my fundamental worth comes from being made in the “image and likeness” of God.
I have value because God made me and said it was “very good.”
Trauma Attacks Our Souls
Physical and psychological dimensions of trauma create real harm in their unique ways. But these traumatic experiences get magnified into damaging our souls. Why is that? Because the
trauma changes the measurements by which we had understood our self worth.
If I was fooled by pop culture to think I am valuable because I can run and suddenly I no longer can run, then my sense of self is damaged, and my soul will be wounded. Even if I have a great job, or at least one that pays well, I have to be careful I don’t let my sense of self be absorbed by the job. If I lose that job, then my soul will be damaged – if I allowed that job to identify who I really am.
This is why we get the PTSD-Identity. The PTSD propels us to look for self-worth in negative ways. Under the PTSD-Identity I seek to regain self-worth through destructive means:
- Promiscuity and/or Infidelity
- Pornography and Porn Addictions
- Reckless, Dangerous Behaviors
None of these activities, or any of the other negative PTSD behaviors, will create a sense of true worth in us. These attempts to cope with the loss of self-worth will do two things:
- Exacerbate our Sense of Worthlessness
- Ruin our Relationships
Those two outcomes will cause us to engage in even more negative, destructive behaviors until we drive everyone away and drink ourselves to death as we pay people to show us pictures of other men’s daughters.
The PTSD Soul Wound Can Be Treated
The PTSD soul wound is not a life sentence. We can stop the spiritual bleeding. Two hard things to learn are that
- We Still Have Value (even after the trauma)
- Our Value Comes Primarily From God and Not the Culture
Semper Pax, Dr. Z