PTSD Spirituality: Identity Damage Causes PTSD Soul Wound

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

 Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Troy Graves says:

    Dr. Z
    I appreciate your candor. I have recently begun researching more on the subject of PTSD because I have personal experience with using negative coping to dull the memory of traumatic events in an attempt to find my own identity, or rather escape. While at times the negative coping did provide some immediate gratification it wasn’t lasting

    After 28 years of bad choices I gave up trying and decided to allow God to show me. It was then that for the first time I literally felt a weight lifted off my shoulders like a yoke. During the time when I was “coping” I just assumed I had dealt with it. I had no clue that I actually spent 28 years in bondage. Your message will help people get free.

    • We can recover from our bad choices. We often engage in some negative behaviors in an attempt to simply quit feeling the pain and numbness that results from our trauma. Illicit sex, drugs, alcohol, recklessness, you name it; people try to use them to nullify the memories and the lingering pain of our traumas. The problem, of course is that they help us less and less and we react by doing them more and more until we have an addiction problem on top of everything else.

      Recognition that we have fundamental value, that God values us, that we can repair relationships with God and others, is a pathway to healing. Odd as it may sound, Hope can generate hope. If I rely solely on my own will power, then I will fail. If I combine my will power with the knowledge that God wants us to succeed, then I will have a better chance of dealing with adversity and finding what positive elements that I can.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. Dr. Z — Thank you for writing about the PTSD-Identity! I don’t think enough is said about this, or how we can combat it. I struggled with PTSD for over 25 years. At the core of my healing was learning to define myself (and find my worth) outside of and despite what I had survived.

    Thank you, too, for what is, I think, the most important sentence of your whole piece: “The PTSD soul wound is not a life sentence.” Not enough people say or believe this. But I do, and it’s nice to know someone else does, too!

    • Thank you , Michelle. Not letting ourselves be defined by our trauma and the resulting PTSD is crucial to healing. Oddly enough, many folks want to define us by our health rather than our being and inherent self-worth. We can regain our dignity as we realize we have value no matter what has happened to us. This realization decreases the grip that the PTSD-Identity has upon us. Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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