In an attempt to reduce vulnerability to triggers, the trauma survivor may isolate themselves from outside stimuli and also from other people, including family and friends. One of PTSD’s motives for this isolation comes from the disruption of trust. The PTSD-Identity wants us to abandon trust and embrace isolation.
In the previous essay, I went over how the first goal of the PTSD-Identity is to alienate us from our healthy relationships. Alienation is the primary mechanism by which we become isolated, that is, we drive people away from us and/or we are too ashamed or embarrassed to see them.
There are quite a few reasons why a PTSD sufferer may withdraw from friends, family, religious institutions, and even employment. If the motive to isolation is from the betrayal of a significant, sacred, trust, then that isolation will attempt to seduce us away from healing love.
Isolation Seeks to Disconnect Us From Healing Love
If the PTSD-Identity is successful in isolating you then it can double-down on causing further harm. For the same amount of effort, PTSD can now cause more and more harm to the trauma survivor if they are isolated from formerly healthy relationships. This is partially due to the isolation’s distancing from, or abandonment of, love.
Once isolated, we are more susceptible to PTSD’s negative coping behaviors (drinking, infidelity, gambling, porn, etc). If we succeed in isolating ourselves from our healthy relationships, then there is less up-front love to combat the toxins of the PTSD soul wound. If we end up isolated from our pre-trauma spiritual lives, then we lose another source of love that could otherwise be helping us to heal.
The love that is both implicit and explicit from our healthy relationships can help us to fend off PTSD’s negative behaviors. If we have been isolated from that love, then we are less likely to heal compared to a PTSD-sufferer who has managed not to alienate their healthy relationships and become physically isolated.
Loss of Trust
PTSD damages our ability to trust. We will begin to doubt the sincerity and trustworthiness of others if denial and mistrust were previously part of what shaped our PTSD. Below is a quick survey of a number of ways that PTSD-survivors may have lost their ability to trust and their openness to trust. It is not unusual if a PTSD-survivor has experienced more than one of these types of exploitation or betrayal. Always keep in mind, however, that the possibility of healing is always there. We are never destined to irrevocable defeat or isolation.
Loss of Marital Trust
In cases of adultery and angry, unfriendly divorces, the survivor can wonder if anyone can possibly be true to their marriage vows. The distrust created by one partner can smear the ability of the other person to ever be able to fully trust again. Broken vows…who then can be trusted? This mistrust can be overcome, healed, but it is a painful spiritual journey.
Incest, Clergy Abuse, Sexual Assaults
Survivors of incest, clergy abuse, and date rapes, have also had their trust fundamentally violated. If a father, uncle, or brother abuses someone who is too vulnerable to fend them off, and too young to be believed, then the victim/survivor may have difficulties acknowledging that close relationships can be truly trustworthy and non-exploitative.
Even in cases where the abuse becomes obvious, it may be conveniently denied by others because the stir and disruption it would cause are more than some people can bear. When this happens, the traumatized, exploited child learns that no one can be truly trusted. People will say they care (this is a civilian version of drive-by caring), but the victim will see the pedophile is not challenged or prosecuted. In some cases, the abuse continues and the child is convinced from experience that no one cares enough to do much about it.
The Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America continue to suffer from their decades of cover-ups. While most of their people were honorable, they failed to penalize and prosecute the guilty. Now, the Church and the Scouts remain tainted in the eyes of abuse survivors and those who care about them. Sometimes even civil communities can enter the parade of denial. Rather than admit to a problem and do something about it, no matter how shocking or embarrassing, some will seek to find some plausible deniability or flat-out denial that may ostracize the victim and embrace the violator.
The damage of trust caused by those people whom we expect to be more trustworthy than the average national park bear, like a priest, a parent or uncle, pastors, teacher, youth leaders, etc., digs extra deep and scars our identity. The more our culture has taught us to believe that certain professions or family relations are the most trustworthy, then the worse it hurts to be abused by those supposedly trustworthy people. This scarring is especially deep when the predators are people who are supposed to look after our welfare.
The loss of trust can lead to self-isolation. One chooses to avoid possible re-traumatization by avoiding trust altogether. An individual sees no reason why they should trust again and get burnt again.
Military Service and the Loss of Trust
In the military, many men and women have endured the violation of their trust. Trust is damaged and fundamentally violated by a commander’s willingness to put his troops at unnecessary risk (and in some cases, in order to avoid any risks to himself). Trust is shredded if the chain of command drags its feet and refuses to investigate, let alone prosecute, soldiers who sexually assault and rape members of their own unit.
Military Veterans and the Loss of Trust
For military veterans, many feel they can no longer trust the government or the Veterans Administration (VA). This is caused by past refusals to treat some suicidal veterans who after denial of VA care then killed themselves. It also occurs when a veteran’s earned G. I. Bill College benefits are not properly dispersed even after they had been promised multiple times it would all be taken care of.
The Veteran’s Administration is doing a much better job now than, say, six years ago. There remains much to improve. Part of the problem is that many veterans will no longer trust the VA after having been so comprehensively jerked around between the years 2003-2009. This means that many vets will get no treatment at all because they fear allowing themselves to trust the VA again.
[My own experience of the VA is that they have two types of employees: Those who were absolutely committed to my welfare as a veteran and who saw me as a human being who had earned and needed assistance. The other type of VA employee I met looked on me as a problem, just another interruption. I have not met many average VA employees; they have usually been terrific or toxic. I do know that I have been treated better and with more dignity under the current VA Secretary than the one who held that position prior to the year 2000. Your mileage may vary.]
One also still gets the casual “Drive-By Caring” where people and politicians exhibit a form of “Plastic Patriotism.” They say how much they support the troops and the veterans and then criticize those who receive college and/or disability benefits due to military service.
Increased Violations of Trust Leads to Isolation
When our trust is violated we become even more sensitive to future violations of our trust. Each new occurrence of a violated trust stings that much more than the previous occurrence. Not surprisingly, the more we feel stung by other people and supposedly trustworthy institutions, the more we recoil from them. We seek isolation to avoid the awful deep pain that comes from having our trust violated.
By isolating ourselves we feel less vulnerable to being exploited, harmed, and generally misused. We may think we are protecting ourselves. But, in some ways this is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. We seek to protect ourselves by isolation. Yet, that same isolation can prevent us from experiencing the love necessary to heal from our PTSD soul wound.
Mistrust Can Jump from One Relationship to Another
In the study of folklore (which, by the way, fascinates me) one watches for when a story jumps mediums. The medium is how the story is conveyed. Thus, if a story is written down and then someone makes a painting of that story we then say the story jumped mediums. It jumped from the medium of writing to the medium of painting. If someone then made a dance out of the story, it would have jumped to the medium of dance. This can help us conceptualize how loss of trust and isolation works in PTSD.
The destruction of trust can jump mediums to taint totally different relationships. If a person’s marriage has been violated, it is not unusual to see them shrink from new relationships that could potentially lead to marriage. It is often harder for them to risk trusting and loving someone else after their initial trust and love had been defecated upon.
At the same time, a person who has had one type of relationship damaged, may then also withdraw from other forms of relationships (Thus, jumping to a new medium, that is, a new relationship).
The pain of having their trust violated in Situation A is so heartfelt that they remove themselves from other situations that are not even connected to Situation A. The common factor is not the specific situation or relationship, but that each involves trust and making ourselves vulnerable to someone else (or to some institution).
Thus, some may withdraw from several of their supporting relationships so as to decrease their overall vulnerability to betrayal. Sometimes we don’t risk further trust because to do so makes us feel as if we are just pop-up targets in a shooting gallery.
We Can Recover Trust and the Love of Healthy Relationships
If you are a PTSD-survivor, then you probably already know that we remain vulnerable to isolation as a self-preservation technique. Depending on our sensitivities, PTSD triggers, and just where we happen to be in our individual PTSD Healing Journey, we may be able and willing to risk new and deeper relationships. As that happens, we will heal more deeply. Sometimes, being honestly open to the possibility of love and trust is in itself healing.
We will also learn who we can trust and to what degree. Not everyone is worthy of hearing your personal story – especially the ones who have a track record of gossip. The same will happen with some of the institutions we may choose to be a part of.
Even if some people and some institutions have exploited you and attempted to destroy your capacity for love and trust, you need not despair. In many ways (and this is a subject for a different essay on a different day) those who have gone through the grinder of betrayal and exploitation can ultimately love, forgive, and thrive more deeply.
God did not cause the disasters to fall upon you; the human race can do that without any divine help. But, given that the disasters, exploitation, and hurt have fallen upon you, God’s grace and love can sustain you and radiate within us even more deeply.
We never need to give up hope. The PTSD-Identity wants us to abandon hope, sever and destroy our healing relationships, and enter into a destructive self-isolation. It wants us to despair.
If PTSD can do this then we are at a greater risk of self-harm and death. If our past relationships are too damaged to heal and return to, then we must seek out new, healthy relationships. By being open to new healthy relationships, we then are more susceptible to love and grace. This love and grace can help heal us and prevent us from miring into a self-destructive isolation.
We are always worthy of love and forgiveness.
We are always worthy of being loved and being forgiven.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z