PTSD: the Spiritual Implications of Implied Weakness

Earlier this week Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, drew loud criticism for his comments about veterans with PTSD. Speaking to a veterans group, Trump seemed to imply that veterans who returned from combat with PTSD were somehow weaker than those who didn’t.

While this is not in any way a political blog, in the spirit of complete transparency I will say I am absolutely NOT a Trump fan. So when I heard about his statement I rushed to read the news to learn more. But after reading a transcript plus this excellent article, I came away believing that Trump may not have intended to insult people with PTSD. It sounds more like he was trying to ingratiate himself with the veterans who were present for his speech by indicating that they were “strong” and could “handle” the horrors of combat. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt (which I rarely do) and assume he was so focused on issuing a compliment that he didn’t realize the implications of what he was saying.

Still.

Whether Trump intended to disparage soldiers with PTSD or not, the problem is his comments feed directly into the stigma surrounding this condition. Society routinely dismisses people with PTSD as being weak, crazy, or unstable. As a result, those who suffer from it frequently feel ashamed and forced to hide their symptoms. This all has far-reaching psychological, social, and physical implications, but it can also have significant spiritual implications.

Soldiers with PTSD creating prayer beads
Soldiers with PTSD creating prayer beads

As I share in my upcoming book, Beads of Healing: Prayer, Trauma, and Spiritual Wholeness (Upper Room Books, 2017), trauma survivors often carry social stigma and shame into their relationship with God. They assume God does not want to hear their pain. They believe they are unworthy of God’s time and attention. They wonder whether God has actually abandoned or even punished them. They feel cut off from God’s love. These spiritual issues only add to their pain and despair.

Lucky for all of us, we serve a God of Hope and Healing; a God who is deeply interested in every detail of our story and every moment of our pain; a God who understands and can handle our rage and grief and questions; a God who continually offers the grace of healing and wholeness; a God who loves us deeply.

Just imagine what would happen if the rest of society could mirror even an ounce of that interest, understanding, and support for people with PTSD. We could facilitate healing from PTSD. We could improve the chances that traumatized folks would find acceptance, support, appropriate services, shoulders to cry on, and crowds to cheer on their progress. Better yet, we could offer signs of God’s grace and love; signs of God’s peace.

Nothing weak about that.

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For more on my work with soldiers with PTSD, including my efforts to raise funds to support this work, visit my Generosity campaign.

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