post-traumatic church syndrome is Real (and worthy of a capital letter)

kathyescobar church stuff, faith shifts, healing 49 Comments

post traumatic church syndrome

there’s a new book coming out later this year by reba riley called “post-traumatic church syndrome: a humorous memoir of healing, hope, and 30 religions before 30”. i don’t know much about the book yet, but i am really looking forward to reading it. i do know that the facebook group called “post-traumatic church syndrome” has over 1,800 members & growing.

that’s because church trauma is real.

Real (and worthy of a capital letter here).

i love her term and think it’s so accurate.

since i’ve been blogging, i have been talking about church PTSD realities in all kinds of ways. it’s a big part of our walking wounded class & definitely a part of faith shift, but i like her term much better and am hoping it really takes hold. i am also so glad that more attention is being drawn to this important reality for so many former faithful & dedicated christians.

what once was a place of belonging is now a place of trauma and angst.

i know a lot of people who suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) for different reasons–abuse, trauma, the military, etc.  here is a general summary of the symptoms of regular PSTD:

  • avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind us of the trauma
  • loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  • anger & irritability
  • guilt, shame or self-blame
  • hypervigilance, on constant “red alert”, feeling jumpy and easily startled
  • feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • feeling alienated and alone
  • depression

any of these feel familiar related to church?

a lot of you have experienced some kind of church trauma–giving your hearts for years and finding yourself on the outs, never fitting in or being valued properly, run-ins with leadership related to theology or practice or beliefs, inequality, firings & shunnings & asked-to-leaves, neglect, spiritual abuse, slipping out of favor once you started saying no, or just a slow drift that no one seemed to care about (yep, that’s traumatic, too).  there are so many potential reasons.

i’d also specifically add these potential church-related symptoms:

  • strong allergic reaction to certain words, phrases, songs, or scriptures
  • anxiety at the thought of walking through the doors of a church
  • complete panic at the thought of sitting through a service
  • bursts of anger & rage at the thought of having another conversation about your views on equality, homosexuality, same-sex-marriage, or “biblical” anything.
  • if you had a run-in with leadership, re-playing of particular conversations over and over like a movie
  • feelings of deep sadness and loss that are hard to articulate
  • a sense of no moorings related to all-things-faith that leave us feeling aimless, lost, and confused.

you’ve probably got some you’d add, too.

church PTSD is so real!

i am 8 years out from my huge church trauma & drama, and it still rears its head sometimes. plus, even though i’ve been “out”, i have also been “in” because i am still a pastor of a little crazy church. because of that role, in different ways, i am sometimes in conversations that have felt like defending my faith because of my leanings-to-the-left. and often even when the conversation doesn’t go that way, i am sure it might and am already on the defense. honestly, it feels nuts. and although i can recognize it and bounce back a lot more quickly, it’s still there.

and i’m really trying to keep healing so i can feel more free & comfortable engaging without it tripping a crazy wire inside.

every easter week, i also always remember how hard it is for a lot of people i know. and easter hope feels a lot more like easter hope-less. some friends who are loosely connected to the refuge in some way just stay away during this time of year because it’s too triggering and weird. i know i can feel a little cringe-y when i hear certain things, too. and for so many others across the map, this time of year just feels lonely and weird to not be connected to the places and people that used to be so fun at easter-time.

and while there’s a lot of tough stuff floating around, i also know many others who used to have an extra hard time around easter but are now are finding themselves free-er and free-er every year. i am so glad for that. it’s also one of the huge bonuses i get from blogging & connecting with church-burnouts all these years–i really see movement through the pain into new places.

if you don’t have church PTSD and don’t understand it and are annoyed by it, please know this: it’s not exaggerated emotions or rebellion or a hardened heart or a lack of faith or loyalty.  there are no simple fixes for the crazy stuff that happens over the course of our faith journey that can mess with our heads and hearts.

it’s real.

it deserves respect.

and if you have post-traumatic-church syndrome and its symptoms are rearing its head right now, i just wanted to say out loud–you’re not crazy, you’re not alone.

may healing continue to come…

peace and hope from colorado, kathy