PTSD, or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, is a mental illness that can develop following a traumatic event. While the Bible does not talk about PTSD by name, there are a lot of biblical principles about how to care for, love, and encourage sufferers of trauma. Due to the complexities of trauma, the causes and symptoms of PTSD are widely varied. Because each person suffering from PTSD develops the disorder for a different reason, it can be nearly impossible to directly pinpoint every trigger that may set off the sufferer's symptoms.
Before we go any further, if you are suffering from PTSD, please know that you are not alone. No matter the cause of your pain and confusion, there is hope and help. While living with and treating PTSD isn't easy, it IS possible. The courage it takes to get through each and every day is huge. You are a survivor, and we hope this article offers even a little bit of comfort during this painful time.
Despite medical advancements over the last century, there's still a lot about the brain we don't understand. Trauma is complicated and often difficult to directly define. A traumatic event can be anything from a bad car accident to extended physical, mental, emotional, sexual, or spiritual abuse to a single trauma such as a physical attack, rape, or living through a school shooting.
It is also possible to develop PTSD from witnessing a beloved friend or family member go through trauma or by experiencing a violent loss of another's life through murder or suicide. Children and teenagers who grow up in physically, sexually, emotionally, or mentally abusive homes have an increased risk of developing PTSD. People who have lost a friend or family member to suicide also have an increased risk of developing PTSD.
The number of factors that go into a person's response to a trauma complicates our ability to fully understand and treat PTSD. Trauma causes the brain to "rewire" itself in how it evaluates and responds to situations post-trauma. Scientists believe the brain responds this way as a defense mechanism or a way to prevent future physical, mental or emotional harm.
A Note on Combated-Related PTSD: PTSD brought on by active military or law enforcement combat tends to develop differently from other forms of PTSD. If you or a loved one are suffering from combat-related PTSD, we encourage you to read the article on PTSD at GotQuestions.org for additional direction: What does the Bible say about PTSD?
The extensive and sometimes unpredictable symptoms of PTSD make it incredibly hard to engage in traditional work and social environments. Some signs that a person's mental health has been harmed by trauma are anxiety, depression, dissociation, flashbacks, nightmares, substance abuse, hostility, relational detachment, withdrawn behavior, and lowered physical health just to name a few. While the symptoms of trauma generally decrease over time, PTSD is diagnosed if the symptoms last more than a month.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding why one trauma survivor will develop PTSD when another survivor will not. There are too many factors to consider for anyone to put a blanket statement on why this happens. But please know that you are not weaker or "lesser" if you developed PTSD while someone else did not. PTSD is a real mental disorder, and having it is not a bad reflection on your faith.
As with many mental health illnesses, healing will be a process combining mental, spiritual, and physical treatment. Even with less intense anxiety disorders, the process of grounding oneself in mental, emotional, and spiritual truth can pose a tremendous challenge.
For those struggling with PTSD or those who suspect they may have PTSD, it is important to reach out for help as soon as possible from a certified trauma specialist. Some counselors are schooled in trauma therapy while others are not. Some methods of treating PTSD involve "talk" therapy, neurofeedback therapy, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), and cognitive reprocessing. Medication may also be advised to help tone back the symptoms of PTSD while you work through the root of the trauma. (Also See: Should a Christian take anti-depressants?)
Another important aspect of recovery is a grace-filled, patient, and loving community. Recovery from any type of trauma is nearly impossible to achieve alone. Support groups and church groups may be recommended by your therapist, depending on the type of trauma. Seek a group of understanding and compassionate people who will support you through your recovery period and beyond.
Sadly, there have been many cases of Christians discovering their church was physically, spiritually, and/or sexually abusive. Some of these believers have even been directly victimized by the abuser (or abusers) of the church. Those who have been spiritually manipulated and brutalized in these situations are going to struggle to trust anyone associated with the church&and that's OK. Fortunately, the God of the Bible is bigger than the Christian church and can guide you to safety as you take time away from church groups for a while.
If spiritual abuse and manipulation are at the root of your trauma, please know that you are not less of a child of God for avoiding Christian counselors or church-based support groups. Your trauma is not too small or too big for God to reach you. He cares about the hearts of His sons and daughters. You are not "too broken" to be loved or healed by God. If anyone tells you your trauma makes you inadequate for God's love, please understand that this is a LIE.
"From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy." —Psalm 61:2-3
"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." —Romans 8:38
We wish we could give a promise of quick healing from PTSD. But overcoming trauma takes time, and each person's timeline for healing, increased stability, and grounding is different. While some may completely recover with time and proper treatment, others may struggle with symptoms of PTSD for the rest of their lives. The apostle Paul talks about a "thorn" in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-8), which, despite his prayer for healing, never went away. But even without full healing, his hope did not diminish.
Paul goes on to say in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Even in the darkest times of our lives, there is light. At our absolute weakest, we can stand as children of God, empowered by Christ within us. Paul isn't demanding that we "suck it up." He's reminding us that God's grace and power is not reliant on our own health or abilities, but instead we are vessels for beautiful, beautiful things—no matter how we perceive our personal worth and value.
PTSD is a complex burden to bear. Don't do it alone. Therapy, medication, and support are critical, as is remembering God's unconditional and unending love for you. While trauma may break the emotional connection between feeling God's love and knowing God's love is there, remember that His love for you does not depend on your ability to always feel it. He is there right now, holding you, protecting you, perhaps in ways you do not understand or realize.
To God, you are complete as His child (Romans 8:14-17; Ephesians 1:3-6; 1 John 3:1-3). No traumatic event will ever be able to take the status of Child of God from you, and God's opinion of you does not change when we need help to heal (Romans 5). God is always listening to our calls for help and expressions of pain. We can cry out to Him, and He will grant us His compassionate embrace (Hebrews 4:14-16).
PTSD is a mental illness that can occur after a traumatic event, and it is a complex burden to bear. Symptoms that a person's mental health has been harmed by trauma are anxiety, depression, dissociation, flashbacks, nightmares, substance abuse, hostility, relational detachment, withdrawn behavior, and lowered physical health—lasting longer than one month. Therapy, medication, and support are critical in PTSD recovery, as is remembering God's unconditional and unending love for you. Seek a grace-filled, patient, and loving community to support you. You are not "too broken" to be loved or healed by God. He cares about the hearts of His children, and you are complete as His precious child (Romans 8:14-17; Ephesians 1:3-6; 1 John 3:1-3).
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