Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

… and You The Church Leader

Below is information gleaned from a number of sources and our own experience. We hope the information is of value to you. If you can contribute to a greater knowledge base we would appreciate it. God bless you all, and come visit us sometime at our retreat!

When PTSD occurs at once it is usually because of some great stress experience that was a kin to war or terrorism. In other words, your life was at stake literally. But PTSD (complex) can occur after a long period of stress we sometimes call “bullying.”We hate to say it, but it does occur in churches, by the board, the influential members, the denominational leaders, etc. Over the years, it can take its toll. Just think what years of unconditional love could do to you?

The pain and the abuse can be incredible. For those of you who are not suffering too badly, please allow us to take a journey into PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) with those who are so very deeply wounded. PTSD is most often associated with war or terrorism. For those pastors on the very edge of life/death, pastoring has been an experience in war and terrorism.

In this first installment of the subject in our newsletter, I want to introduce the subject with a definition and a few symptoms and then we will explore the topic in greater detail in newsletters to follow. Her is a simple definition,non- medical – layman’s understanding:

“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a natural emotional reaction to a deeply shocking and disturbing experience. It is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.”

Now, with 1,500 leaders a month stepping out of their roles in the church (less than half will ever return to ministry) we can challenge the terminology of “abnormal situation.” But let us try, ever so unsuccessfully to not be cynical!

Have a look at some of the symptoms of PTSD. PTSD can occur from a single life threatening event of horror, or it can be an accumulation of stress over time, sometimes called the “bully effect.” If you have ever been a denominational pastor or been bullied by the board, I don’t need to explain the terminology to you.

Here are some symptoms:

  • hyper vigilance (feels like but is not paranoia)
  • exaggerated startle response
  • irritability
  • sudden angry or violent outbursts
  • flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive recollections, replays
  • triggers sleep disturbance
  • exhaustion and chronic fatigue
  • reactive depression
  • guilt
  • feelings of detachment
  • avoidance behaviors
  • nervousness, anxiety
  • phobias about specific daily routines, events or objects
  • irrational or impulsive behavior
  • loss of interest
  • loss of ambition
  • anhedonia (inability to feel joy and pleasure)
  • poor concentration
  • impaired memory
  • joint pains, muscle pains
  • emotional numbness
  • physical numbness
  • low self-esteem

It is so hard for the modern western leader to admit he/she may have such a deep wound. Another name for this wound is “shell-shock.” During WWI, General Haigh had over 300 British and Commonwealth soldiers shot for cowardice – and it is now believed many were simply suffering from shell shock. During WWII many British fliers were labeled LMF. They “Lacked Moral Fiber” and were dishonored in that manor.

You see, especially in America – the home of John Wayne, Babe Ruth, Matt Dillon, Wyatt Earp – suffering from crippling emotional wounding is simply not acceptable. Too bad much of the church of Jesus Christ feels the same way!

Be re-assured, the Father of us all, the great El-Shadai, has a totally different viewpoint. Amen!

Many in our modern western society just can’t bear to believe you can be wounded emotionally or spiritually. As we said, Matt Dillon never left Doc and Kitty in charge of Dodge City while he hopped a stage to Abilene for stress counseling!It’s simply un-American.

When we think of PTSD we often and correctly think of war and terrorism. Other terms for PTSD can include shell shock. In recent years it has been concluded that prolonged stress of certain kinds (bullying) can have a cumulative effect and impact you as much as one life and death threat in wartime. In other words, it is possible for a church leader to suffer PTSD.

Bullying can be thrust upon you by the denominational leadership, church board, leading members involved in power struggles, your mate, fellow pastors, or you, yourself, can bring this pressure on others if you are in authority in some manner.

Legalistic churches and cults are famous for bullying followers as a method of control. When this happens, an entire culture that is unhealthy develops, sometimes on a worldwide basis if the denomination is large enough. Both leaders and lay-members become wounded in such churches.

For so many of us who have been abused in this manner (bullying), rejection is how our heart reads it. The great irony is, Christianity is the one true religion that should underscore unconditional love from a caring deity. Yet, the church, itself, can be one of the most destructive organizations to the human spirit.

With a war victim suffering from PTSD, the shock of what one human being can do to another plays a major factor. There is a total disillusionment with life, people and purpose. With the church leader suffering from PTSD, there is the nearly unbelievable shock of being treated in a certain manner by people claiming to be children of God. In both cases, the sensory bombardment is a reality that seems too harsh to accept. For the war victim, it is man’s willingness to destroy life in a very cheap manner. For the church leader, it is the reality of the church’s or denomination’s carnality and willingness to play politics.

The bottom line in both cases is – real life is too shocking. I never dreamed it would or could be this way. I just want to go numb and block it out. Last week we gave a list of symptoms of PTSD. This week we want to list some reactions and symptoms often associated with being bullied.

  • Fatigue with symptoms of or similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
  • An anger of injustice stimulated to an excessive degree (sometimes but improperly attracting the words “manic” instead of motivated, “obsessive” instead of focused, and “angry” instead of “passionate”, especially from those with something to fear)
  • An overwhelming desire for acknowledgment, understanding, recognition and validation of their experience
  • A simultaneous and paradoxical unwillingness to talk about the bullying.
  • A lack of desire for revenge, but a strong motivation for justice
  • A tendency to oscillate between conciliation (forgiveness) and anger (revenge) with objectivity being the main casualty
  • Extreme fragility, where formerly the person was of a strong, stable character
  • Numbness, both physical (toes, fingertips, and lips) and emotional (inability to feel love and joy)
  • Clumsiness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Hyper awareness and an acute sense of time passing, seasons changing, and distances traveled
  • An enhanced environmental awareness, often on a planetary scale
  • A constant feeling that one has to justify everything one says and does

Some of the above may apply to you. What should our response be? How, as believers, should we handle this psychological, emotional and spiritual wound? It is deep, and life changing. You will never be the same again, but what should we do? The answer, or rather, my answer, will be in the next issue of this newsletter. I am a former burned out pastor who has been given grace and uncondition blood covenant love in an amazing way, and I approach the subject from that angle. Next issue I will not have any medical thoughts or the wisdom of the psychatric community. There is much written in that area for those who care to pursue it. I will approach the topic from the angle of grace and love.

Now, from our perspective, what is the answer? How do we heal? How do we go on? I will approach the subject from the Biblical angle. For those who want a more medical approach there is plenty of literature out there.

How has God worked with His people in times of great stress? Elijah talked suicidal. For forty days he walked around the desert in a very bad attitude. During the whole 40 day period God never utter one word of condemnation to Elijah. In due time, God showed Elijah that a show of power like the one given at the mountain to Moses and the children, or the one at Mt. Carmel, wound never change a heart in Israel. It would be the flow of His grace in the form of a still small voice to the very heart of Elijah that would heal Elijah and send him on his way.

Power reveals who is the true God, but it does not reveal much of God himself. Eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son. Knowing God deeply and personally is everything, including the road back to sanity from spiritual wounding. Father gives us no formulas to follow to be healed. He gives us Himself. It is His grace, His blood covenant love, flowing into us that will heal us and get us back to sanity and sound mind and heart. It was Father’s grace, not great wind and lightening shows that healed Elijah.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were fried to a crisp. They were burnt-out completely and deeply disillusioned. There was no more purpose to life from their viewpoint. As they walked, Jesus came along side, and in an act of grace befriended them and opened they minds and hearts to a new perspective. They came to “know” Jesus like never before. Coming to really “know” Jesus is an enormus act of healing for many problems. Like these two disciples on the road of life, we have met many who live in their own world of belief. They have a scued gospel and strong opinions about issues that don’t require strong opinions. “Religion” has taken over much of Christianity in the western world today. It is not surprising we have an epidemic of disillusionment in the American church today. According to the Christian World Encyclopedia as many as 16 million people world wide walk out of the church each year! The church loves talking about the 19 million new converts it obtains each year, but I hear little concern regarding the millions that walk out shaking their heads in fatigue and dismay.

Let me say to those of you in deep pain right now. First, above all else, and in spite of all evidence, Father has NOT forsaken you. He is with you, and He will bring you through this. Second, you will be healed by His grace, and end up knowing Him better than ever. That’s a fact, whether you can believe it now or not, it will happen. Third, Kathy and I invite you to attend one of our seminars where many of these truths will be taught in great detail. The seminars run from Friday evening to Sunday early afternoon. They include six meals, 8 hours of teaching, prayer time, great worship, and making of new friends in an environment of new hope. Check it out by clicking here now!