PTSD Spirituality: Easter, Co-Wounded with Jesus

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

Comments

  1. heather says:

    PTSD makes me feel extreme emotions .. (id rather feel them than not)…i get angry but mostly it makes me kind and alert…i analyze everything I’m in contact with.. looking for revelations …well seasonally … living with this at times is exhausting..to connect ..when i know how diatached others are..so thats my isolation ..why must i be in their world.¿.. mines magical n preoccupied …lol.. God made me realize how the outcome of his grace is ment personaly…hope is for the week.. knowing you know the storm passes, and ive lived threw worse, kinda attitude… so what this life lesson i pray im smart enough to toughen up on and not dipair.. and tern around and show evil i saw it threw no matter how tough it was for air in the deep parts.. faith..some say blind..is yours¿.. im thankful Jesus was flesh and i love him for his sacrifice of innocent blood ..oh our created evil-ution ..thank you dear Jesus for beliving in us.. saving us… and continuing to protect us… ” he has risen “”he has risen indeed!”

    Huggs DR.Z

  2. Dr. Z,

    I recently came across your site this evening (technically morning) and simply wanted to say Thank You for your compassionate insight and biblical wisdom concerning PTSD. I’ve read several of your posts this hour (looking forward to reading more!) and I was invigorated with a bit of Hope.

    I recently finished reading a book entitled “Trauma and Grace,” in which author Dr. Serene Jones brings a fresh creative interpretation or re-imagination to the story regarding the “Road to Emmaus,” linking this thoughtful journey between Jesus and two men with particular symptoms of PTSD (from the point of view of exposure to trauma). Jones also takes a peek at a few maternal figures in the Gospel who witnessed or were exposed to the traumatic event of the Crucifixion. In both scenarios, she links PTSD with Hope – Hope Visible and Invisible.

    As one who is struggling with PTSD and Hope, I found her words as well as yours to be reassuring and soul-revealing.

    With gratitude,

    Y.

    • Hello Y, Thank you for reading the website and taking the time to share your thoughts. I also am grateful to learn about the book “Trauma and Grace.” That looks like something I need to take a look at. I have often used the Road to Emmaeus scene in terms of how the liturgy is biblically based (and what it has to say about discipleship), but had not thought of it in terms of PTSD. When I return to school this week, I will need to order that book for our library. I hope your own PTSD journey is one that grows in hope, grace, and healing. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  3. Beautiful.

    • Thank you. While a relatively short piece for me to write, it seemed to require the contemplation of a full day to get it translated into words. Easter is worth a day! Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  4. John,
    Thank you for your message of hope, and for the kindness and compassion you share with those in need.
    Your friend

    Russ

    • Thank you, Russ. Your own example of endurance against all odds, choosing to not wallow in bitterness, continues to inspire me. Semper Pax, John

      • I’m a Christian and I was raped and sodomized and I remember having those feelings of why didn’t God protect me. I’m trying to heal, but I find it hard to be in a woman’s body and have men check me out. It’s very unnerving for me, and obviously I can’t change bodies, like changing houses. I appreciate what you wrote. I found it very insightful, please pray for me as I am having a lot of problems with the police and DA and how they have treated me, and some of the absolutely most offensive questions they’ve asked me. I do feel violated all over again because I was raped by an extremely wealthy powerful business man who has his claws out. I’m scared, he’s made up horrible lies about me

        • Hello Elle, I, and others, will include you in our prayers. The treatment you have received by others (law enforcement, the DA, the perpetrator) will often be experienced as a second, even separate, set of assaults. This dumps even more wounding upon us that we will need to recover from: First, the primary assault, and secondly, how awful people will treat us because we were assaulted. Having people treat us like lepers because we are wounded is a terrible pain. It is something that they themselves will have to eventually repent of.
          I admire your courage and faith in keeping on in the face of all of this wounding, secondary and primary wounding both. Paradoxically, this terrible suffering that you are swimming through will be something that other people, especially other women, will be able to gain strength and solace from. Our roles as wounded healers is not a pleasant one, but it a role, where are choice to stay alive and endeavor to heal and thrive, can help others to choose life themselves. I keep your healing and well-being in prayer. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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