PTSD Spirituality: Tragedy in Norway and PTSD Triggers

Most readers are aware of the horrible events in Norway: the terror bombing against an elected government and the highly focused attack against children and teens.  The attacks and the aftermath have PTSD repercussions for many of us.  Why is that?

Other Peoples’ Trauma Can Activate Our Own

If you have PTSD or you care about someone with PTSD, then don’t be surprised if they seem more on edge given the havoc of the tragedy in Norway.  PTSD triggers that we used to have under control, or at least did not damage us as much as they used to do, will now be more easily activated.

If loud noises, helicopters, fireworks or yelling, trigger your PTSD, then expect to be more sensitive to these things while the Norway tragedy is repeated and thrust in our face by news organizations.

Why Is My PTSD Activated By Someone Else’s Trauma?

But why would I be so sensitive to something that did not actually give me my own particular PTSD?  Most of us did not receive out initial PTSD-producing traumas in Norway being fired upon by a right-wing gunman.  We received our traumas in many other ways.  Then why does this event heighten our anxieties and our sensitivities to PTSD triggers?

Once our soul has been damaged by PTSD-producing trauma, we will remain susceptible to other traumas and triggers as well.  Our resistance to trauma-producing triggers is lower than our “normal” resistance levels.

PTSD is produced by diverse traumas.  Once we are initially traumatized, other types of trauma can activate our PTSD.

The particular type of trauma that gave me PTSD has made my life very difficult.  Among other things I remain very susceptible to present-day triggers which are similar to the events that originally traumatized me.  But,

PTSD is opportunistic.  Once initially traumatized, PTSD will use new triggers to activate your trauma and your symptoms.

As I have mentioned in other essays: I am not a Holocaust survivor.  But, I find watching Holocaust films or documentaries will activate my PTSD. 

The Norway Tragedy Kick Started the PTSD Anxiety

I have not been to Norway.  Yet, the horrible events there have activated aspects of my PTSD.  I have found it very difficult to stay focused or do some of the work I intended to do before I return to the classroom tomorrow morning.  The current weekend, from Friday afternoon, when I heard the news on my car radio, to now on Sunday evening, has been almost fully washed out due to PTSD anxieties.

  • I have failed to complete the academic tasks I needed to get done this week. 
  • I have been extremely tempted to engage the old self-medication routine I used to employ to try and not think about my trauma memories. 
  • I was discouraged at the thoughts of prayer and hope. This usually coincides with increased temptation to self-medicate in an attempt to not think or remember particular events.
  • I was up all night patrolling the house, “manning my perimeter,” making sure no one got through my perimeter. 

Usually, these days, I only wake up and patrol my house twice a night.  Last night I slept from 8 pm to 11pm and then walked my house until 4 am.  The house is not that big, so everything got checked over and over. 

The events in Norway kicked in my hyper-alertness to such an extent that it damaged my sleep, and damaged most of today as far as trying to get anything accomplished.

What Saved Me This Weekend From Even Worse PTSD?

Several things did happen this weekend which minimized the possible damage PTSD may have otherwise inflicted upon me.

  • I helped two people for sure and maybe a third, as regards their own PTSD.  Helping others affirms the sacred value of life, both mine and theirs.  It helps me not feel so worthless.
  • I talked with my wife about this particular PTSD experience.  She could not wave a wand and make me sleep better or experience less anxiety and hyper-alertness.  But my telling her made me less likely to self-medicate.
  • I wrote about Norway and PTSD.  I have written about four times what you see here.  It has helped me to regain some of my focus and feel less worthless, and feel less lost.
  • I have tried to pray, it has been rather primal, not very articulate, sometimes only the thoughts of:

God, I feel so lost.  This tragedy is so horrible.  I am so helpless in the face of this.  Please help us, all of us.  Lord, Hear Our Prayer!

I can feel the PTSD try to get me to abandon prayer and hope.  It wants me to self-medicate and give-up.  We need not give-up, but it is foolish to think the results, the mere knowledge, of this traumatic event, is one that makes us feel happy and heart warmed. 

A Painful, Yet Possibly Healing, Journey

At times, trauma and the depths of sorrow are also the depths where we can approach and experience God anew.  Times like this make me better understand the Book of Jonah, chapter 2. 

Some opportunities are very painful, but they remain opportunities.  When the doctor speared my knee with the needles, it was an opportunity for me to eventually walk better.  The procedure hurt (a lot!), the memory of it makes me wince, but that opportunity was painful and allowed me to learn how to walk better.

God does not cause our traumas.  People often make choices that cause others harm.  But, God allows us an opportunity to not only heal from our trauma but to better know ourselves and Him in the process.

That healing journey can be painful.  There are two possible journeys from PTSD soul wounds.  Indeed, regardless of what choices I make in regard to my PTSD healing process, either path will be painful to some extent. 

One journey, into self-medication and abuse of relationships, leads into more sorrow.  The other journey is also painful, but we can heal on the way.  It is never too late to leave the self-destroying journey of self-medication and begin the difficult journey of healing our soul.

Don’t Be Too Surprised When Trauma Zaps Us

Don’t be surprised if an unrelated event, like the horror perpetrated in Norway, activates your PTSD symptoms or just makes you more sensitive to PTSD triggers.  This is normal.  We should expect it to happen. 

If I break a bone playing football, the bone will be weakened for all activities, not only future games of football.  If my soul has been damaged by a particular trauma, I would be wise to know that other unrelated traumas may menace it as well.

Knowing this, knowing our susceptibilities and knowing we can actually strengthen ourselves, means we do not have to give up hope.

The aftermath of Norway is a cause for reflection and prayer.  For those of us damaged by PTSD it is also a call for diligence and positive steps to make sure we are not further damaged by the PTSD soul wound.

For all of those in Norway damaged directly by this horrible carnage and for all of those indirectly damaged by yet one more PTSD trauma; for all of our healing, for each of our needs and sorrows, and for our journey towards real peace…Lord, hear Our Prayer.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Dr. Z,
    Just wanted to let you know how much you helped me. I suspect I’m among those you counted. What you share has a lot of meaning and helps me process / understand better. I keep telling myself if I can find the time & space to heal, it’s possible to heal even stronger by consciously working the related spiritual muscles (even if with a little bit of a limp). Your explanations of triggers helps me understand and see things in a different way. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Russ. Dealing with trauma, our own and that of others, is much like a muscle. We have to exercise it so we are ready when the “contest” comes upon us. I have learned that while situations may be miserable and painful and lonely, we are never without hope or the company of others (be they our friends, the prayers of others, or the Holy Spirit). Our lives have value and sometimes in our own struggles we learn from the compassion of others and discover deeper reserves of love, tolerance, and compassion within ourselves. Thank you for the fine work you do.
      Semper pax, Dr. Z

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