Sunday, November 22, 2009

PTSD and the Crisis of Faith: Part One of Two

Hello Friends:

Well, here's another installment in under my tag of 'spiritual struggles'. I mentioned in Spiritual Crises: Trying to Make Sense of God that at this point, I'm pretty much at ground zero as far as God goes. Ya might want to take a look at that old post since it is the background for what I'm going to talk about here.

Now tell me, how is it that I've been looking for great resources on PTSD for a solid year and missed what is apparently one of the classics? Maybe I'll review the book, formally, in the future. But for now I'm going to use it as the basis for my look at spiritual crises and what to do about it.

The book in question is Trauma and Recovery by Judith Lewis Herman, M.D., and was first published in 1992. I have used it here because I wanted to see what the psychologist's model is for a person actually getting 'better' from PTSD, and specifically, what that means for their spirituality. All quotes below are from this book.

The punch line is that there is indeed a model and a path. The caveat to the punch line is that it is an integral part of the whole recovery from Complex PTSD as a process. You can't just say 'hey, I'll get my situation with religion in order first, then come back and deal with the rest of it.' But I plunge ahead doggedly, anyway. Here's my analysis.

The specific symptom we are concerned with is that Complex PTSD causes "alterations in systems of meaning" resulting in "loss of sustaining faith and a sense of hopelessness and despair." Right, okay, I have that symptom. Check.

But why? What exactly is it that the trauma does to undermine a sense of faith? Or worse, to ensure that no sense of faith can really develop or remain unchallenged? The answer to that (as far as this book is concerned, anyway) comes from the nature of the "damaged self."

"Trauma forces the survivor to relive all earlier struggles over autonomy, initative, competence, identity, and intimacy. The developing child's postive sense of self depends upon a caretaker's benign use of power. Traumatic events violate the autonomy of the person at the level of basic bodily integrity. The belief in a meaningful world is formed in relation to others and begins in earliest life. Basic trust, acquired in the primary intimate relationship is the foundation of faith. Trauma creates a crisis of faith. Damage to the survivor's faith and sense of community is particularly severe when the events themselves invoved the betrayal of important relationships."

Yikes. Okay, this also makes sense, but it makes me cringe. Thinking back on the nature of the 'primary intimate relationship' i.e. Mom. (Zo, tell me about your mother.) How cliche. But there you have it - having a neglectful and abusive mother directly impacts the ability to develop a belief in a meaningful world. For us who suffered repeated trauma from the primary caregiver, the world makes no sense, has no meaning, and there is no one who can be trusted.

Here's a passage from the bible I quote a lot, except I'm going to reverse the gender to make the point, "If a daughter asks for bread from any mother among you, will she give her a stone? Or if she asks for an egg, will she offer her a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Mother give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Her!" (Luke 11:10-13 NKJV)

Well ... I got a scorpion.

So of course I don't trust God to give me something ostensibly good. Why would I want my heavenly father (mother) to give me anything at all? I'll pass, thanks. I'll go find my own egg.

So, how to fix this attitude? How to bring yourself to a point where you can create some kind of meaningful world view? "The fundamental stages of recovery are: (1) establishing safety, (2) reconstructing the traumatic story (which includes remembrance and mourning), and (3) restoring the connection between the survivor and her community (reconnecting with ordinary life)." "Recovery is based upon empowerment of the survivor and creation of new connections. It can take place only in the context of a relationship."

Um. Okay. Safety ... right. With my OCDs nothing is safe, really. But this idea of safety includes more than just a sense of physical safety. It means having the worst of the symptoms under control (by meds or CBT or yoga or what have you), having developed at least a vague sense of control of yourself and your life (again, by therapy or whatever), as well as having some established support network. I basically have all this, so I'll give myself a check for stage one.

Then the tough part. Stage two, which has two nasty aspects. The first is recounting and remembering the trauma. Bleh. "The goal of recounting the trauma story is integration, not exorcism." Ah, right. Well, I've remembered a lot of nasty stuff. But I don't think I've actually reprocessed it all. Besides, the second part of stage two is mourning, and I am really, really stuck on that. But the book says "The reward of mourning is realized as the survivor sheds her evil, stigmatized identity and dares to hope for new relationships in which she no longer has anything to hide." Holy crap. Really? Sounds good. Also sounds like pie in the sky. Stage two, no check for me.

Not to end on a down note, but seems like a good place to sit and ponder. I think I'll address both the reprocessing and the mourning later. Next post, I'll finish with step three, even though it's going to be a while actually getting there. So I might as well post about it ...

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: / CC BY 2.0


Andy said...

I'll need to think a bit more to digest the specifics, though I get the gist. How early (or late) in life must these things happen, do you think? Can "normal" development be undone by something bad at age 12, say? Do soldiers, or older refugees have similar symptoms?

On a tangent, I ran across this story today: It's relevant to your blog in general, if not necessarily relavent to this particular post...

The Blue Morpho said...

Thanks for reading, and for the link. I'll check it out.

As for repair of trauma, I'm not certain how it works for youngsters - they don't even have their brains fully grown yet. Treatments are probably different in a fundamental way, and I don't know if they can be 'fixed up' before they become adults.

People who experience trauma as adults don't react the same as those who experience trauma as children. The author of the book I was writing about in this post basically says, 'People who experience trauma as adults feel like they have lost their minds. People who experience trauma as children feel like they have lost themselves.' I assume this is because a child doesn't even have a fully formed 'mind' to lose, and so they lose something much deeper.

Amy said...

The correlation between having abusive/neglectful parents and an inability to fine meaning and purpose in life is striking. And sad. Parents are essentially the Gods/Goddesses of our world when we're kids. Makes me wonder if the ancient Greeks, when they wrote about their petulant, unpredictable, violent gods weren't actually just working out their parent issues.

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