PTSD Spirituality: PTSD and the Destruction of Dignity

The PTSD-Identity wants to destroy our dignity. As it is busy gnawing at our own self-worth it also seeks to erode the dignity of those we care about and who care about us. Our human dignity is associated with our sense of self. If it can be damaged, then we are more likely to be cast adrift and without compass.

As PTSD’s soul wound tries to take over our identity it endeavors to isolate us from all of our healthy relationships. The more PTSD shoves us into isolation, the closer we come to self-harm and in some cases suicide.

The PTSD-Identity engages numerous avenues of attack in order to damage our basic dignity. Each of us have (or had) a set of basic standards which inform our fundamental understanding of what it means to be dignified. These standards are part of what form our character.

Many people who have survived trauma experience the loss of their dignity. Part of this loss is attributable to the wide range of PTSD symptoms such as promiscuity and PTSD coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or reckless gambling.

Another contributor to our loss of dignity comes from our fellow human beings who cannot (or willfully choose not to) understand our experience and subsequent suffering.

Some people are downright toxic and thrive off the suffering or belittlement of others. To state the obvious, we should avoid these individuals because they seek to dampen the value of our lives.

We can also be further wounded by those who just can’t understand us and unwittingly wound us through their ignorance. These folks are not to be out-right quarantined from us as they do not intend to be toxic, they don’t enjoy our pain. They are not vampiric in their feeding off of the suffering of others.

We need to figure out how much truth people can stand. We need to sort out how much of ourselves we are willing to leave vulnerable. We engage this process so we do not totally isolate ourselves.

At the same time we ought to maintain a self-awareness of our relative vulnerability (sometimes known as vulnerability to relatives….Yikes!) so that we do not unwittingly put ourselves into the PTSD grinder by getting blind-sided by someone who perpetrates drive-by caring. These self-assessments may need to be done a few times a day, especially when one is “socially expected” to attend functions where the vampires hang out.

If we can protect our dignity we can keep from being totally isolated by the PTSD soul wound. This is much easier said than done. It means we need to find ways of managing our PTSD in ways which are not physically, socially, and spiritually destructive.

At the core of things we must remain awake to the fact that we have value. PTSD wants us to abandon our dignity. If we abandon our dignity then we will lose even more hope and the understanding that each of us are created in the image and likeness of God.

 A Few Questions (not Merely Rhetorical):

  • How do we learn that we have dignity?
  • How can we best function to keep our dignity but not self-isolate?
  • How can we reconcile our trauma history and our PTSD with our inherent self-worth?

I am very interested in what readers think and practice in their own individual PTSD journeys. What do you think about “dignity”? How to discover it, how to nourish it, and just what dignity means in terms of our relationships.

I hope that the Year 2014 is one where you may have healing, grace, and dignity.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

[I’d like to thank all of those who have kept my well-being in their intentions and prayers. The Year 2013 has been full of health adventures and the Year 2014 looks to be yet another opportunity to excel, so to speak. I don’t accomplish as much as I would like. That frustrates me, a lot. Yet, I choose to stay in the game and enjoy the Life I have been blessed with.]


  1. The greater culture robs of us dignity – I would argue that is its job. It attempts to turn us into a “consumer”, an extension of a technological device, as abuse and ptsd attempt to turn us into an “it” or “other”. Abuse objectifies us as we are used for someone else’s gratification. Very often as the person grows older, they feel more and more alienated. The wounds drive us inward as the outer culture rejects many of us, denies our painful experiences, and claims us as being unworthy at a place at the table. As a woman, I already feel consigned to status as an object. The experiences of what I believe they call (in clinical terms) “depersonalization” or “derealization” afflict us. I experience them too often. Dignity is not a mainstay of our culture. It is not even discussed. Somehow we are pulled into a crass experience that may not reflect our inner values. And ptsd can leave us feeling so alienated and alone that we wish to die. We may feel we are going insane. The triggers also rob us of a sense of dignity. How do we regain it? For me, I have found the most hope in nature and with animals and sometimes with laughing with humans. If we are Christians, we have to risk looking more closely at the people Jesus liked to hang out with – those w/o homes, addicts, prostitutes, the “mentally ill”, etc, in a world that holds up athletes, entertainers, and those with money, power, and fame as their passes to a table few can dine at. Personally I respect Jesus for going towards where the need was greatest – a reject himself, he hung out with the rejects. That is not only love, it is the showing of a great power, a power of a love so wonderful it wanted to be mostly with those most in NEED of that love.

    • Hello Annie,
      Jesus very much focused his ministry on the populations found at the margins of society: women, children, the sick, and the poor. Those people were the most vulnerable in the ancient world and most likely to be preyed upon by people of status. If a person treats those very people as if they do not have any dignity, then they actually target the very people who Jesus ministered to. PTSD seeks to destroy our dignity and thus make us more vulnerable to predators and also more vulnerable to PTSD triggers.
      By understanding and accepting that all people have dignity, even those on the margins of society, we are able to better defend ourselves from the corrosion that PTSD seeks to inflict upon us. Love is one of the anti-corrosive elements that helps restore our dignity and makes us more resilient against PTSD. Thank you for your insightful comment.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  2. At first, I wondered how I’d never stumbled across your words before, in my many searches trying desperately to find some way to make it through the next hour. Maybe they were hidden from me for such a time as this. Easter fell on the worst possible dates for me this year, I held it together relatively well until Sunday, but it’s definitely kicked my rear since then, the last 48hrs have been Hell on earth. Even more panic, flashbacks and nightmares than usual, and it seems that just the simple act of breathing is a trigger for me right now.

    I’m thankful to have your words to reflect on right now, I can see the truth in them, and I can see where it’s occurring in my own life. The worse it gets the more I spiral out of control, and the more I self harm, smoke, starve/purge, drink myself into oblivion, etc, the more I isolate and refuse to let anyone in, then the worse I kick myself, the more worthless I feel and it really does self perpetuate until I’m on the edge of suicide and thinking about how comforting it appears. It’s a hard cycle to haul yourself out of! That said, it’s so much easier to see the ‘steps’, ‘cycles’ or events when they are pointed out by someone who knows what they’re talking about.

    It’s also much easier to take the advice of someone who has been (or still is) walking the same path you’re on, even if their journey is a little different. I have an awful tendency of tuning (well meaning but often woefully uninformed) people out when they tell me ‘just pray’ or start saying ‘well, just do/ don’t do _______’ (this that the other thing…)’. I agree that prayer is an awesome weapon (although my faith took a major hit with the event that kicked my PTSD into high gear and while I’m no longer downright hostile, our relationship is rocky to say the least, I don’t have much trust in God -or anyone- anymore even though I know I should and I do try), and believe me, I wish that I could say a quick prayer and *poof* no more PTSD symptoms, instant healing. Memories, triggers, nightmares, flashbacks etc erased and normalcy restored, but that just isn’t the way it has worked for me so far, and it tends to sound a lot like ‘I’m sick and tired of dealing with you, you’re too much work (and I am a LOT of work/accomodating), so just pray and get over it/yourself/etc to me.

    Sorry for the novel, but a huge thank you for not resorting to the tired phrases that are used by so many people, religious and non religious folks alike. I look forward to catching up on your previous posts and reading the new!

    • Hello Jewel, The Easter Season is often a hard time for PTSD survivors, especially if we have an anniversary event of our initial or subsequent trauma associated with Easter.
      It would indeed be wonderful if we could just do a quick prayer and “poof” all is better. Thankfully, we know that prayer is not magic or an incantation, so we know it does not work that way. For many people, to discover that God is not Santa Claus is itself a traumatic experience..with the potential of bringing great joy when we discover God is not a robot we can manipulate.
      It is always for the good when we can start to see how the PTSD cycles strive to sabotage us and it can be fulfilling when we have enough knowledge and sense of self-worth to not just give up in despair.
      You are worthwhile and made in the image and likeness of God. You have value.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  3. I forgot to mention that my husband has his own PTSD. From childhood abuse. He refuses to acknowledge any issues and all the pressure is on me to be well enough to not trigger his issues. He always protects himself. Parents with our child and not me. Is paranoid and lies compulsively. For almost two decades belittles me to build himself up. I am exhausted. The cycle of triggers and insomnia make healing feel impossible. How to have dignity when so eroded at home. Narcissism may me a large factor here. I’m afraid to leave. I know what he would do. Feeling trapped makes the PTSD so much worse. Thanks for talking about this and explaining the soul issues. Isolation makes it worse. I was always a people person but now I stay home much of the time. Afraid of triggers or disdain of those who don’t understand. Seems a long road home. God bless

    • Hello Debbie, You do have value and you are made in the image and likeness of God. Our pain is magnified by those who are narcissists and are too emotionally and spiritually disabled themselves. The pain can even become worse when people in our churches exhibit their own compassion disorder. When those who should love and support us turn out to be people who don’t really care, our pain and wounding is amplified.
      A website you may also find useful is linked here: This site has been valuable for many.
      I will keep your name in prayer.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  4. My husband is sadistic. He enjoys watching me get scared or triggering me. My two oldest children are away now. They were my support. Youngest is just like him. Narcissistic I’m afraid. They laugh at what triggers me and have no compassion for the PTSD. Most counselors I’ve seen have PTSD. Don’t know where to turn. Have definitely lost dignity and do have to limit activities. My family at home has no regard for my limitations. The last three years have been torture since they have moved away. Had childhood PTSD but also from my husband. And definitely most people don’t want to know about what I’m going through. Church and Christians seem the worst. Can have cancer but don’t have a panic attack. So the silent suffering is the worst. No one else to turn to. Family overseas but can’t trAvel well. Have a sense of hopelessness that this will never end. Go to sleep in fear and wake up in depression. My dog is my best friend. Often wonder where God is. Severe abandonment issues from childhood make it worse. That and angry people is my PTSD. I like the dignity aspect here. It helps explain what I have lost and why I feel so empty. Like the bottom dropped ou of my world. Hope you continue to improve. God Bless

  5. Darren Gregory says:

    Dr. Z:

    Still very pleased to have your words to reflect upon; and will follow your posts, now, more closely. Dignity, for me, is about “self” denial. Meaning, it is every difficult to be as open as I am; to be so intentional about breaking down the stigma of the beast (PTS Injury); and to find, as we touched on in a recent email exchange, that most don’t want to hear about such things. My spiritual path with PTS Injury still leaves me feeling punished for not being whole enough. Truth told, none of us are really whole enough. So what’s the problem? “Sin” and “Psychological Trauma” are, really, one in the same. Dignity is diminished in a state such as this. PTS Injury drives home the fact that our humanity is so fragile; so vulnerable to damage, yes, at the level of our soul. Human dignity is a right! Yet, I find demanding dignity; or demanding rights, through my work to demolish stigma; only chases the vamps (love this, by the way) into a hidden, viscous, seemingly defensive posture of silence. This? Serves only to reinforce my own need to take less risks of exposure of my illness and the learning it brings. I risk; get hurt; and return to an isolated, internal defeat. I’m still not at peace with living the experience. And, I admit to doing too much; too soon to “give back” or to “get back” into society. Seems a Catch-22 most days. Blessings, my friend. Darren

    • Hi Darren, Watching out so that our “self” does not take over is important. I find the vampires are so absorbed in themselves that they become defective in terms of having compassion for anyone but themselves. You are right in saying that none of us is whole enough. Indeed, the sanctification journey is one where we strive to become more whole, more authentic, more fully human and in the image and likeness of God, that is, to become more holy. Our journey is one where we make constant assessments in terms of not over-committing to things we cannot always get done. And, at the same time, we need to be careful we do not get so discouraged that we just give up and isolate. There is a quality of Catch-22, but self-awareness and assessment can get us off the spiral. Perhaps mostly we need to allow ourselves the knowledge we are not infallible, that we remain ‘works in progress’ as we journey from being fractured and wounded to becoming authentic and whole. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  6. Thank you, Dr. Z, for the wonderful insights. You have found your calling as a support to those with PTSD.

    • Thank you, Queta. I am sometimes still surprised that I ended up being so involved in the intersection between theology and PTSD (and in a positive way, at that). Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  7. I stumbled on your blog while in the middle of a separation and most likely a divorce from my husband who suffers from PTSD. I’ve read several of your posts and appreciate hearing from someone struggling with PTSD. In our case alcohol abuse,pornography, anger, paranoia, compulsive lying and manipulation are the weapons that PTSD has used to take our lives and family apart piece by piece. Amazingly I still find that God has put love in my heart for the man wrapped up tightly in the “safety” of PTSD and for many years I was an additional layer of insulation from the outside world. There have been moments over the years where my husband has acknowledged the need to get help and start on the road to recovery, but then something would trigger him to make him slip back behind PTSD and everyone else became the problem for so many problems. The emotional abuse and verbal abuse become the new normal. It is a sticky messy life living with PTSD. I finally had to fully turn towards God to begin to unstick myself and my children from that crazy life. I would often tell my husband he had the fight of his life in the battle with PTSD but he had to choose if he was going to fight it alone or with his family by his side, he has chosen to go it alone. I pray that he turns towards God to find healing, I can no longer be his partner in that life but I can be his payer warrior. That is the only way I can show him dignity and respect.

    • Courage and grace have enabled you to continue to love in spite of all the barriers that PTSD has thrown up. And, sometimes we must love from a distance.
      PTSD throws out its own special shrapnel which can damage those who love the person with the Primary-PTSD. While God does not inflict these challenges upon us, we are often left to discover more and more of God as we rely less and less upon ourselves and others. As you said, “It is a sticky messy life living with PTSD,” and that is true from every angle. I am grateful for your willingness to share this with us. Being a prayer warrior shows respect, dignity, and love. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  8. Harry Martin says:

    It is so serendipitous you should post this blog. I just got off the phone with Discover Card because I am disputing a 2-night charge by a Hollywood hotel.

    As part of my PTSD, I get vocal tics sometimes when the anxiety is too great. I was at the hotel and went to the front patio (by myself) because the tic was going off in which I repeat, “Oh God. Oh God.” The hotel *manager* came out and told me I could “not do that in front of our hotel” and that I should go to the rooftop terrace four flights up.

    I was so humiliated, I packed and left the hotel 30 minutes later, went into a spiral for 3 days and had to call the on-duty therapist at Kaiser. I kept thinking, “This was not right,” and then researched the Americans with Disabilities Act, and they were in violation of Title III — public accommodations. Bottom line: No hotel may deny you access to the use of any facility — including a patio — based on your disability.

    So I continue to dispute the charge and am next going to the California state attorney general and the Department of Justice. The hotel has still not received payment since my October stay. 🙂

    As I tell people, “I came down with PTSD; I didn’t come down with stupid.”

    As you blogged about, I am fighting to maintain some of my dignity. I tried to travel by myself, and this set me back immeasurably. But I can make that hotel know its staff cannot do this to anyone else.


    Thank you for the wonderful Sunday read. 🙂

    • Hello Harry, I wish you strength and fortitude in your battle to uphold the dignity of disabled individuals. What you experienced, what you were subjected to, was awful, was unfair, was hitting below the belt. Your aphorism, “I came down with PTSD; I didn’t come down with stupid,” is bang on and blend with many of my own experieces. I also admire your courage in undertaking a solo journey, not easily attempted, that. As an aside, I have heard people criticize the Americans with Disabilities Acts, but never did any of those critics manifest a disability themselves…except for Compassion Deficit Disorder.
      Be Well & Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • Harry Martin says:

        Dr Z, thank you, as always, for such a kind reply. Funny enough, I didn’t know the ADA, but I kept thinking, “This was not right,” and that’s when I found the public accommodations rule. Always appreciate your posts. 🙂

        • Debbie I will keep you in my prayers. So sorry to hear that you are going through such a rough time.

  9. Linda Hunte says:

    Thank you so much for this. You hit the nail on the head. Well written.

    • Thank you, Linda. Dignity has been on my mind a lot of late and it seemed the right topic to start the New Year with. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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