844-LifeChange (543-3242)
GET HELP. CALL OUR ADDICTION HELPLINE 844-LifeChange (543-3242)

We all Struggle with Spiritual PTSD

By Dr. Karl Benzio MD

Page Overview

In this guide we have explained what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is, what causes it, complications from it, how to prevent it, and how it is treated. But on this page, we are going to talk about how each and every one of us struggles with spiritual PTSD, how it affects our lives, and the solution for it.

Everyone experiences some potentially psychologically traumatizing event in their life from the loss of a close friend or family member, a financial setback, relational break up or betrayal, or not realizing an important goal or dream. Some will experience more intense hurts, traumas, or abuses. As was explained in previous pages, we need to learn how to deal with and process the hurtful events we experience in life, whether it is being abused by a parent, being robbed at gunpoint, facing violence in the military, or being made fun of or bullied by friends. Any of these occurrences – even those that would seem like less traumatic in some people’s eyes – can cause PTSD if the person struggles to address the event accurately and quickly in their mind and continues to hold onto those negative distorted thoughts.

No psychological stressors or traumas are the same, but vary based on the viewpoint, skill, and past experiences of the one living through the event.

Spiritual Trauma Affects Everyone

But one trauma exists that none of us can avoid, dodge, or hide from. And this trauma is the most dangerous and extreme trauma we will ever confront and have to deal with. You see, from the moment each one of us comes into existence … physically born … we are separated from God. Because of Adam’s sin, passed down to every one of us, inherited from our father (hence the reason Jesus had a heavenly Father and not a human one), we all were born separated from God. Shortly after birth, we start our own sin account. In our own power, we can’t be perfect and holy as He demands (Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”).

Because God loves us so much, He wants to forgive us and reconnect with us. But He is also just and demands payment for sin. So in His perfect wisdom, God’s grace provided His Son Jesus to pay the penalty for the sins of you, me, and the whole world, thus reuniting us with our heavenly Father (Romans 3:23 – “…and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”).

But until we accept this grace gift of forgiveness by God through Jesus, and are reconciled, or reunited with God, we suffer from the biggest trauma we will ever experience. The symptoms and effects I call Spiritual PTSD. Sadly, once we accept Christ’s death as payment for our sins, Satan and our past psychological baggage still interfere with our functioning, and Spiritual PTSD disrupts our daily joy and peace while impeding our spiritual growth journey.

Symptoms of Spiritual PTSD

The trauma of being separated from God powerfully disrupts our lives, especially when we don’t let God into our hearts and don’t accept the forgiveness He so freely desires to give. The symptoms fall into the same 4 symptom clusters we see in any PTSD survivor:

  • Trauma is re-experienced – experiences such as feeling lonely, confused, insecure, inadequate, isolated, guilty, pain, abandoned, victimized, unloved, rejected, or devalued; existential fear, confusion, and questions about why I’m here, what happens when I die, is this all there is, or feeling no purpose, passion, or motivation.
  • Avoidance of trauma-related stimuli – avoidance of God, church, and the Bible; refusal to submit to God’s authority or call Him Lord; mistrust, lack of faith, inability to believe in God, His principles, His promises, or the Bible; not accepting God’s forgiveness, mercy, or grace; not wanting to be around other Christians; afraid of spiritual discussions or talk of sin and Hell; difficulty recognizing or acknowledging certain behaviors as sin.
  • Negative alterations in cognitions and mood – pride, arrogance, me-centered thinking, entitlement, sadness, anxiety, and fear; being tricked by other religions; developing other idols in the form of addictions or life interfering behaviors or thought patterns; periodic confusion about life course and why events happen; trouble finding and sustaining happiness or joy.
  • Alterations in arousal and reactivity – agitated, lack of peace, overwhelmed, hyper busy with non-God activities, argumentative towards the truth, not accepting of Biblical principles; restless with life pursuits, bouncing from activity to activity hoping it will settle you or take away your psychospiritual discomfort.

I’ve listed many uncomfortable feeling states, experiences and thought patterns. Like any other form of PTSD, we look to many place and many objects to self-medicate the pain, insecurity, guilt, anxiety, fear, and victimization caused by our spiritual distance from God. Drugs, alcohol, and various people or activities can distract us or take an edge off the pain and make us feel good for a brief moment, luring us into thinking they will be a long-term solution for our problems. In reality, self-medicating only makes things worse. Individuals who feel the deep sense of guilt associated with their sins will look everywhere other than God to just get some relief, when really, all these feel-good quick fixes will just leave us feeling more guilty, more anxious, and more depressed than before.

God Give Us Healing

God, as always, loves us and provides a cure to our spiritual PTSD, and each and every one of us has access to His healing remedy. Spiritual PTSD sometimes is glaring and slaps us in the face. But sometimes in this world, the effects and symptoms are subtle, slowly increasing over time. Sometimes they increase so slowly that we don’t even realize they exist or how much they are disrupting our joy, peace, functioning, decisions, and achieving our potential. Spiritual PTSD occurs in 2 very different times of our lives.

The first is when we are born into this world as sinners and are separated from God. The solution is believing the truth about God’s love, His sending Jesus to the cross to pay the penalty, Jesus’ loving sacrifice to pay the penalty we should have paid, and then receiving God’s forgiveness for all our sins – past, present, and future! You are now born again and saved from eternal separation from God. And all God’s people say, AMEN!

The second occurs for those who have received the first healing we just discussed and are now born-again, or saved Christians. Unfortunately, once we accept Jesus as our Savior, we still sin. Hopefully it is less and less as we spiritually and psychologically grow. But, when we sin, as we all do each and every day, that sin interferes with our relationship with God – just like when we are married, if I do something wrong toward my wife, we are still married, but our relationship is weakened, not as connected. With God, sin causes mild trauma and temporary separation between us and God. Even when we know God loves us and we believe in our Savior, sin separates us from God, over and over again. This is why we need to confess our sin, repairing the relationship and allowing God’s forgiveness, love, and peace to heal the trauma. (1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”)

So obviously, the goal is to avoid sin so to best guard against Spiritual PTSD. We all need to perform regular self-assessment to find those areas of our life where sin is frequent. What are the idols you are chasing? What are we turning to instead of God to escape or self-medicate the pain? Everyone has their favorite ‘go-to’ items when under stress, pressure, or when adversity strikes. When we let sin control our life, when we deny we have a problem (with drug or alcohol abuse, sex, gossip, lying, cheating, eating too much, taking a shortcut, any activity without God, or any other sin), we begin to sink deeper and deeper into that sin and in doing so, we push God away. That is when Spiritual PTSD and its symptoms get magnified the most.

Satan wants to trick us into thinking we are separated from God when we aren’t. Yes, we naturally are born into sin and fall short of what God commands of us. Satan wants us to think there’s no hope, or our sins are so bad, not even God loves or wants us anymore. But God provides an answer. Jesus paid the price for our sin. Accept His forgiveness through faith and confession and God always welcomes us back to His family.

The ongoing solution is to stop avoiding, running from, or putting God off. Grow closer to Him. Daily devotion, prayer, studying God’s word, involvement in your local church, tithing, and meeting with other believers is so important to keep us on the right track and remind us God loves us and has a great plan for our lives. Our progressive and sustained connection to Him realizes His presence, love, plan, and protection for us so the cure for spiritual PTSD is within our reach.

My favorite verse is in Isaiah 26:3: He gives Him perfect peace whose mind is fixed on Thee. Focusing on God and His presence in our life accesses His peace to push out the angst of our Spiritual PTSD.

If you are struggling with some of the symptoms I listed above, find a Christian therapist of treatment program to teach you how you can spiritually and psychologically fix your mind on God in all you do.