Jesus of Nazareth was humiliated, tortured, and ostracized. For some of us, the passion (suffering) inflicted upon Jesus is not so unlike what many of us have experienced in terms of our own traumas and subsequent PTSD soul wound. If so, is there hope for us?
Abandonment, Betrayal, Social Isolation: Jesus’ closest friends fell asleep on when he needed them to be vigilant. One of his friends sold him out to the authorities. The authorities, knowing the arrest would not stand up to the light of day, made sure to arrest him in darkness. Jesus was scourged not only physically but also socially: the manner of his treatment and execution are socially humiliating. Living in an Honor-Shame culture, Jesus is not only physically wounded – and eventually killed – by the authorities, but his social standing is reduced to zero.
So how does that relate to modern-day PTSD? Essentially, many of the same elements which assaulted Jesus in terms of physicality and sociality are also the experience of people afflicted with PTSD.
Rape survivors are often physically and socially humiliated by the people who are suppose to help them physically heal and seek legal justice. At times military commanders, civilian teachers or professors, or clergy abuse their positions of responsibility and assault the very people who are supposed to trust them.
The trauma victim experiences a second assault if the organization, whether law enforcement, politicians, religious organizations, or the military chain-of-command intimidate the victim into silence by either hushing them outright or exercising a passive refusal to investigate and punish the evil. The soul wound initiated by the trauma not only lacks proper care, but it is as if the authorities want it to become further damaged, infected. The soul wound deepens as society at large mocks the victim or downright refuses to believe that such evil can be perpetrated in our society.
In cases of “Date Rape,” the social ostracism can become unbearable. If the perpetrators are star athletes (high school, college, professional) the victim may be further damaged by those who feel that sports glory matters more than the outcomes of sexual assault. There has been some recent improvement in this but nowhere near enough.
“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”
In the dark depths of our own PTSD healing journey, we may often feel similarly worn down, destroyed physically, betrayed, socially abandoned, and elevated to higher levels of isolation, pain, and despair. We may feel we are forsaken by God. In a nutshell, this is the pain and despair mixed into the depth of the PTSD soul wound.
For any Christians reading this, we know that God did not forsake Jesus. But:
Part of the lesson from the crucifixion of Jesus is that it was experienced as full abandonment.
In the worst throes of our PTSD, we too, feel the impact of the betrayals, abuse, abandonment, and ostracism by everyone, even God.
PTSD seeks to wound us every chance it gets. It desires our full isolation and the destruction of any and all of our positive, healthy relationships. When we have fully been worked over by PTSD, and by toxic hypocrites who lack compassion but still call themselves Christians, we then have a taste of isolation on the cross…what it feels like to experience being forsaken by the God who created us. To put it mildly: It is unpleasant.
But the Easter Story Does Not End With Isolation and Despair
There is light after all of this darkness. There is no promise of full physical restoration or resumption of every single one of our previous relationships in this mortal lifetime. But there is new and enhanced life. There is healing.
Some of the wounds we will still carry with us until the resurrection – but these wounds no longer ravage our soul unto despair and suicide. In a resurrected life we can live a mindful, authentic journey as we continue to heal and embrace God’s grace.
Experiencing (perhaps a better word is “surviving”) our own time on the cross can be a transformative. The humanity we share with Jesus, and the despair-producing PTSD time on our own particular crosses, serve as a constant reminder that we can survive. Indeed, it is more than mere physical survival. The experiences can enable us to pursue holiness, become more honest and authentic human beings.
Coming down from our own crosses can allow us to be “wounded healers,” women and men who can help others through their own terrible journeys. We can help them to know, and we also remind ourselves, that there is light shining in all of this darkness. We can help them to not despair of God’s love. We know God’s love is there, no matter how isolated PTSD makes us feel.
The passion of Jesus from his arrest to his death on the cross, is an experience to which many trauma survivors can relate. We can share in the experience of betrayal, shame, abandonment, pain, and despair. If we are awake to the possibility of God’s love, we are then also able to share in the light and new life that can come after crucifixion.
Coming back to the question in the first paragraph: We always live in hope, we do not need to give up on life and healthy relationships. The PTSD road we walk – or are dragged down – is one that was already traveled by Jesus. As Jesus was resurrected from death, ostracism, shame, and despair, so are we.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z