PTSD Spirituality: PTSD’s Third Goal is Physical Harm

If PTSD has achieved its first two goals, then it will shift to concentrate on its third and final goal.  This final goal seeks physical harm and destruction of the person who suffers from PTSD.

PTSD’s Third Goal arrives when a person begins to kill themselves due to their PTSD.  Sufficient alienation from healthy relationships, a poor or inaccurate view of their own self-worth, and becoming more distant (read: isolated), assists in the creation of conditions by which one will seek to harm themselves.

Self-Destruction is the Ultimate Expression of Alienation

Physically harming oneself is the ultimate alienation: alienation from self.

Self-harm may occur for a few different reasons:

First, a person might purposely cut or burn themselves because they find it is the one pain in their life they can be in control of, out of all their physical, spiritual, and emotional pains.

Second, desperate to feel something – anything – beyond the desensitization PTSD can inflict on us; one may inflict pain on their body.

Third, desperate to feel alive, they take immense risks and engage in dangerous behavior in an attempt to feel momentarily alive, to get the adrenaline rush that PTSD has addicted them to.

Fourth, self-harm may occur as an action to see if anyone actually cares enough to intervene.  The problem here, of course, is that when one is at this stage, the people who would have gladly intervened are alienated and now physically distant due to self-isolation.

Dying Slow, Dying Quick

The third goal of PTSD is that it wants us dead.  In some cases it kills people slowly and others right snappy quick.  It takes us on a protracted journey of self-harm and we die slowly, or it puts us in PTSD express lane and kills us with suicide.

Dying Slow is achieved through a variety of means: excessive alcohol, excessive gambling, risk taking, porn, and drug abuse.  Typically, the initial act itself is not destructive in that it costs a life at that very moment.

But death is ever-creeping in as individuals exchange the healthy relationships, of spouse or partner, family, and spiritual commitments in exchange for reckless sex and infidelity, porn addictions, and drug/alcohol abuse.  As PTSD coping behaviors become addictions, they further damage already strained relationships.  And, as a special bonus, direct from PTSD to you, the new self-harming activities can lead to the slow death of addiction or the quick death.

The opportunistic quick death comes from drunken driving, STDs, excessive risk taking.  The opportunistic quick death can also be the result of a crucial error that PTSD wants us to make: forgetting to care enough to not mix alcohol and prescription medications and fast driving.  Similar possible outcomes will take advantage of us if we also factor in fire arms.  Simply stated, weapons and PTSD do make for a healthy combination.

These behaviors if not immediately deadly will enhance the alienation and isolation that PTSD inflicts upon us.  If not immediately deadly, many of them can cripple us and take years if not a couple of decades off of our lives.

PTSD will create opportunities which erode our safety margins.  From time to time someone will slip from trying to feel alive again to being quite dead as they make a mistake and die.

Dying Quick is achieved through suicide.  I have always thought the Dutch word for suicide, “zelfmoord,” that is, murdering the self, as particularly apt.  And of course the English word suicide is quite literal as “oneself-kill” from the Latin sui and cide.  But, the Dutch seems to flavor it morally with the inclusion of murder…your language translation mileage may vary.

So, off the cuff linguistic excursions aside: PTSD is a cause for suicide.  Depression, anxiety, alienation by a diagnosing profession which has not experienced PTSD first-hand and that all too often treats suffering individual human beings as a problem to be cataloged and moved along.

The current suicide epidemic is eating up the active duty military forces.  Veterans continue to kill themselves as they lose hope and give into the feelings that America does not care about them.  And, as you probably know, there are about 58,000 names on the Vietnam Memorial.  In excess of twice that many Vietnam veterans have killed themselves since returning to the USA.

Many people cannot stand what PTSD has done to them and kill themselves.  Sometimes, a PTSD-sufferer will kill themself so that they don’t physically harm others as a result of their PTSD symptoms of anger, rage, and a short-temper.  “Milder” versions of this can happen when a PTSD-suffering parent leaves their family for fear of what he might do to his own children.

Neither the “self-murder” of suicide nor the purposeful alienations from a family out of safety concerns necessarily have to end up that way.  It still remains possible for institutions, communities, and individuals to make a difference, to help the PTSD-sufferer know that their life has value.

We Can Survive the PTSD Paradox

Paradoxically, many of these destructive behaviors are mistakenly embraced as ways of coping with other pains of the PTSD soul wound.

It is sadly ironic:

One engages in alienating behaviors to cope with the pain of alienation. 

One further isolates themselves, to cope with the pains of isolation. 

And, one will cause harm to themselves as a means to cope with the pain of  PTSD’s ongoing damage.

Unrestrained, PTSD will have us court death and not really care if we die.  Under the guise of trying to “Feel Alive” we may engage in life-destroying behaviors.  At other times the alienation and isolation are so comprehensive that the PTSD-suffer will give up hope, feel worthless, and conclude that if they just killed themselves the world would be better off.

As horrible as it sounds, the PTSD-Sufferer, adequately alienated from healthy relationships and contact with others, is content to flip a coin to choose between a peanut butter sandwich or kill themselves: Both options seem equally viable, equally plausible.  If a person reaches this point they are ill and need intervening attention.

In spite of these reinforced cycles of negative behaviors, alienation and isolation, we can still be helped.  One of PTSD’s great lies is that we are no longer worthy of love.  Given that love competes with PTSD for our soul, it is important to know that even in stage three, self-harm, we can make it back from the brink.

You Do Not Have to Abandon Hope

PTSD wants us to give up hope, abandon everything and everyone, curl up and die.

No matter how bad we have been traumatized, we can make the healing journey.  Things will probably not be exactly like they were before the trauma and the PTSD swooped in on us.  But, we can still heal, grow, become more authentic and able to allow ourselves to be loved, and be able to love others.  It is not a pipe-dream to hope and work towards the possibility of love and a spiritually healthy future.

As always, remember, you have value.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Thank you for your Essays!
    I was diagnosed with PTSD at age 16 and am 19 years old now. I’ve been struggling with the paradox of wanting to live and at the same time wanting to die. I’ve even tried to kill myself at age 12! I don’t have any healthy/healing relationships, I’ve never had any, but I’ve done MUCH healing by myself in therapy. I’m alone, but I’m not lonely because I have myself. I love and care for myself the way my parents should have and recently started the journey to adulthood. I’m at peace with my past and look into the future, with a smile on my face. Staying alive is harder than dying but it was well worth the pain.

    • Hello Anon, I am grateful you have chosen this path of Life. I am also glad to know that you are healing and looking fwd to the journey into adulthood. My bet is that you will be more “adult” than most having survived your experiences and learning the sincere value of your own life. Your comment here on this essay, no doubt, helps others to stay the course and find the value in their own selves. Thank you for that. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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