PTSD Spirituality: Thoughts on the PTSD-Identity

PTSD attempts to overrun our identity, it can damage our souls.  It is almost as if our own identity is a computer hard drive and the PTSD attempts to overwrite it; as if it inserts new code and instructions.  It’s as if the PTSD tries to erase our initial identity.  This new operating code damages our ability and acceptance of committed love, compassion, and our former appreciation of healthy relationships and behaviors.

This damage to our identity will confuse us and the people who are close to us.  They will wonder why before the trauma we behaved one way, usually positively, and then after the trauma we seem like a completely different person. After the trauma, formerly nice people can suddenly behave like jerks: that is part of the PTSD-Identity.

The trauma survivor with the PTSD-Identity will often display negative behaviors and reject former values and commitments.  They engage in many damaging, self-worth lowering behaviors like binge drinking, binge gambling, porn, thrill seeking, and infidelity/adultery.  Often they will withdraw from former their commitments such as a monogamous marriage or exclusive partner, church and spiritual activity, and business or social activities.

PTSD-Identity Promotes Confusion and Despair

Often when PTSD overwrites part of our identity, when it throws tar on our soul, we know something has changed within us.  We can feel we are different, that things are different, but we may not know why or even be able to articulate it. 

We become more cynical, less trusting, more resigned to our fates.  We know something has happened, but we are confused and defensive.  That confusion and defensiveness magnifies the damage the PTSD-Identity can inflict upon us and our formerly healthy relationships.

Confusion for the Military Trauma Survivors

In the past it used to be that a person who survived trauma and then was overwhelmed with confusion and negative PTSD behaviors knew something was wrong, things just didn’t feel right.  They knew that something in them had changed, but could not really put a finger on it.  They had few opportunities to find out about what ailed them.  This was largely true for the World War II, Korean, Vietnam, and even the Desert Storm veterans.  It was also true for those who served in the small, no news coverage, incidents that American service members experienced around the globe. 

Confusion for the Civilian Trauma Survivors

The confusion and sense of hopelessness has been even worse for those who survived rape, assaults, clergy abuse, and child abuse.  All too often individuals and institutions prefer to deny these things happen.  To recognize the frequency and the ferocity of these attacks and how they damage people would imply we might actually do something about it.  The price of the recognition costs money and even more importantly an admission of the criminal acts themselves.  The society would need to repent, and that is just not done here.

PTSD’s Double Dose of Despair and Indifference

The sense of hopelessness, enhanced by our confusion over why the identity changes are taking place, can lead us into despair.

An attitude of indifference develops, a feeling of “…what does it really matter…” takes hold.  One becomes indifferent to the positive elements of their lives.  The indifference propels one beyond caring about the consequences of their negative PTSD behaviors.

The loss of a sense of meaning, willingness to write-off healthy relationships and commitments, is part of the PTSD-Identity. 

This is especially hard on the people who love us.

As part of this indifference, the PTSD-Identity promotes a sense of inevitability so that it feels like it is not even worth trying to seek help.  The indifference can cause one to write-off any hope of being restored.  The PTSD-Identity wants us to believe that nothing can change, that we cannot heal, we cannot forgive ourselves, or accept the love and forgiveness that others have for us.

Moral Knowledge

If we have knowledge about PTSD, not just clinical knowledge, but if we have what one might say is “moral knowledge” of PTSD, then our chances of survivability improve.  Regrettably, we are never guaranteed healing – or further disaster – because every human being is different.  That said, if a person and/or loved ones are aware of the ravages of PTSD, then there is a better chance of healing and recovery.

PTSD sufferers may still embrace the negative behaviors even if they know something about PTSD.  Knowing what the PTSD wants to do to my identity and how it wants to destroy my relationships will make my PTSD easier to bear.  I will be less likely to fall into despair and indifference. But, this moral knowledge will not make the PTSD just go away.  The more knowledge I have, the less likely I am to be zapped by PTSD triggers.  But I still need to be careful.

We are not without hope. 

PTSD attempts to devastate our identity. 

But it is not hopeless.

The Antibiotics: Love, Forgiveness, Compassion

Love, forgiveness, and compassion are important antibiotics to the PTSD-Identity’s moral infection.  Unfortunately, some folks will not respond to love and forgiveness, but many will. 

They may fail to feel the compassion for themselves (and others) which helps promote healing.  If we are trying to help someone heal, then we too, need compassion for the PTSD sufferer and those who are damaged by the negative coping behaviors.

The measure of how much love, compassion, and forgiveness we can offer is often determined by how badly we ourselves and other loved ones are being sprayed with PTSD shrapnel.  Sometimes we need to distance ourselves and love from a distance.  At other times we can try and remain close, but knowing it is not an easy thing to do.  It is a difficult situation to assess and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Each Day We Can Heal A Bit More

Our knowledge of PTSD improves every day.  We need not automatically despair.  If a loved one has a broken bone we might be able to help with their therapy.  With physical pain and physical therapy the pain mostly belongs to the patient, even as we try to support them.  When we try to aide someone who is ravaged by PTSD, we feel the moral pain ourselves, nearly as much as they do, as they – and in some cases we – learn how to walk again and heal from the effects of the PTSD-Identity.

As we all know, this is a hard journey.  But it is a journey that can be made.  We need not give up on others or ourselves.  Every life has value.  We can be rescued from the PTSD-Identity, it does not have to rule over us.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. This will be the last time he cheats on me. Slowly, surely I will walk away.. There is nothing I can do for him. As the post says… Love from a distance. I can’t hurt this way anymore. Talk about shrapnel.

    • Cheating is always such a heavy blow. It can be difficult to figure out how much is a clear choice and how much is PTSD-coping behavior. But, regardless of which it may be, one must still protect one’s self. The shrapnel certainly does hurt and inflict a new series of wounds. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. Amen!! … not taking the time to fix me has hurt my family.. ptsd has made me live in dispair to long.. after this last innocendt im falling at a fast rate… i know im not suasideal.. but i have defanatly come to terms that i even have a illnesses ..i have a good relationship with God… I just can’t imagine where I’d be without it…

    • The more we understand our illness and wounds, the more we will be able to take better care of ourselves. The more we can do this then usually the better we will be able to pay proper attention to our healthy relationships. Those relationships strengthen us and help us to avoid self-harm and despair. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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