Church PTSD: It’s A Thing

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Church PTSD: It's A ThingThere’s a very high chance that any mom reading this has suffered from some form of PTSD at some point in life. Post traumatic stress disorder is a disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or even witnessing a distressing event. This condition can last months or years with triggers that can bring back memories of the trauma. It is often accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions. Some common PTSD events can be accidents of any form, frightening experiences, or even an event that’s supposed to be beautiful such as childbirth.

So, can CHURCH really cause PTSD? I’m here to say it can, it has, and it still does for me.

Y’all, we live in the Bible Belt. We all grew up in church whether we wanted to or not. It’s the South. On Sunday, you’re in church. If I rewind my life back 15-20 years, I was the poster child for church. I sang in the church choir, sang solos at big church events, and even recorded the weekly church news that aired every Sunday on the big screen. I was involved in lots of different things and my son was involved as well. We were a Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night family, and I loved it. I truly felt like I belonged there and felt I had a group of people that I connected with and would be there for me through anything. Almost every friend I would consider a “best friend” was from church. As a young mom, it was everything I was looking for. This was my village that everyone talks about.

For the time and dedication it took to become involved, to build my core of “church friends,” I’m still amazed at how quickly everything crumbled and fell apart.

In 2011, I committed the ultimate church sin. I was going through the big D (and I don’t mean Dallas…sorry I couldn’t help myself). I can still remember listening to one friend in particular the year before telling me that her marriage was falling apart and she didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to tell her to do either, but one thing I absolutely told her was that I was there for her if she needed anything. I would be there to listen, to support, to help with her kids — whatever she needed. I never once thought that our friendship would have to end because of her marriage problems. I guess I expected the same response when it was my turn and the roles were reversed.

Full disclosure, moms: I’m not perfect. Call them mistakes, bad choices, irresponsibility, or whatever else we tell our kids, I’ve made them, done them and been them. There were things in my life at that point that I did not handle the right way because I honestly didn’t know how to handle them. I was so lost, so hurt, so broken, and so in need of friends. Not church friends…just friends. Not cheerleaders for my divorce…just support. At the lowest point in my life, I didn’t need to be told what God said about divorce. I knew what He said. I needed the church to wrap their arms around me and just love me. I didn’t need books put in my mailbox about how I should date my spouse again. I needed my friends from church to listen to me instead of trying to fix me with a marital Band-Aid. I didn’t need them to tell me I was ruining my son’s life. I needed them to help me with my son on the days I couldn’t get out of bed. I needed the church to do what it says it does.

I wasn’t looking for someone to condone my divorce. I was looking for someone to love me regardless of my divorce.

Instead, I got emails telling me how ashamed I should be and how our friendship couldn’t continue because I was choosing divorce. Instead, I got text messages telling me that I probably shouldn’t come to the next small group event because it was a family event and I no longer had what the church considered a family unit. Instead, I watched these friends pretend they didn’t see me in public because they didn’t know what to say to me.

My heart was so broken so I did what anyone would do. I hardened that broken heart. I hardened it to the church and its people. I swore I would never enter the doors of a church again.

These days, I’m so glad that not everything I swear to actually gets followed through on. 10 years later, I still suffer extreme anxiety when I walk through the doors of our church (different church). It’s all I can do to focus on what is happening in the moment because the sounds and sights trigger my memories of my previous church experience. There are plenty of weeks that I still just can’t make myself go. There are plenty of weeks that I cry during the service for absolutely no reason other than I’m overwhelmed with emotion. I’m emotional because I don’t want anyone to ever feel the way I was made to feel. I don’t ever want anyone to feel unwanted or not good enough to walk through the doors of a building that we call a church.

Moms, have you been there? Are you there now? Do you feel unwanted? Unloved? Unaccepted? Do you sit in church and “zone out” because all you feel is anxiety, shame, and loneliness?

It’s church PTSD and I’m your girl.

To be honest, there’s probably a huge group of us. Maybe we should sit together some day. In fact, we should. Moms, if you need someone to walk through the doors of a church with you and sit with you so you don’t have to sit by yourself, let me know.

I’ll be there and I’ll bring the Kleenex.

Disclaimer: I still have a connection to lots of wonderful people from my previous church. The actions of a select few don’t condemn the whole, but the cut is deeper when it’s from those closest to you.

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Hey, Hey! Amanda here. Wife to KJ and proud mom to my 3 boys: Noah (14), Nash (4), and Banks (6 months). I'm a forever Carolina girl that moved to Knoxville in 2003 and have called it home ever since. When I'm not wrangling children or writing for personal therapy, you'll find me stressing about what's for dinner or compulsively moving things around my house (some call that decorating). I could also be found listening to true crime podcasts or sneaking in new Halloween decor because it's my favorite holiday (give me all the spooky vibes). Motherhood is an adventure; let's go on it together! I hear it's easier that way.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Girl, I’m an ordained Baptist minister. Yes you read that correctly. I was a church girl just like you described. I did everything right or so I thought. After college I spent three years in seminary because I felt called to serve and show God’s love to others. I’ve never thought of it this way, but I guess I have church PTSD too for reasons different than you describe. Yet I was scarred permanently. I had to leave for a while. But I’m a church girl, so I’ve made my way back, but not as a minster. You were deserted and you shouldn’t have been. That’s not what Jesus would do. He would hug you and sit with you. He would make you a casserole and watch your children. Thank you from sharing for your heart and calling it what it is. I’m a forever Carolina girl too (NC) and have lived in KnoxVegas since 1997. 🙂

  2. You are amazing! Wrote your story so true to so many of us that I’m sitting here realizing my disorder. Yes, felt left out of so many churches in so many cities because I am now the big “D”, wishing it was Dallas!
    Thank you for sharing and bringing this PTSD to life!!
    Love and miss you!
    Polly

  3. Amanda,
    I have been there not once but twice. I have been happily married now for over 27 years. I felt very much like you with the guilt and regret. It took me a long time to stop projecting my thoughts onto others and think only about Jesus. Some of my hero’s are David, he committed adultery and yet God used him and loved him. Mary, some think she was a prostitute, but she wept over Jesus and anointed His feet with oil and was loved by Jesus. Moses, who rebelled and did not want to do what God wanted, but he led the Israelites through the desert. What these mighty people of the Bible taught me was God can still use you, broken, tarnished, and in my mind not good enough. Do not let Satan harden your heart because you have so much to give, not only to your boys but to a church. What I did was get involved again. Choir, women’s groups and was even allowed to teach Sunday School. I used all my life experiences to encourage others and to point out the shortcomings of others when it came to forgiveness. I do not know if you remember me but we want to church together and I even came to your home and sold you life insurance. Please reach out to me if I can help in any way. God is still using those experiences and the death of my daughter to help others. He can still use you but you must forgive yourself and realize you are a child of the King and no one or anything can take that away from you. Only you can relinquish that title in your mind. Love you sweet girl and hold that head high because you have a crown in it. 865-621-1955

  4. Amanda, you’ve told my story that happened 32 years ago. Wish I had known you were on a similar, lonely journey; I would certainly have sat and walked with you.

  5. I can related to this on so many levels. But definitely the issues with church. I do not attend church 95% of the time because of how people view others. I agree a sin is a sin. Even though I did not get divorced, my husband cheated on me with my so called best friend at the time and that was almost 15 years ago. I STILL have trust issues and question life in general about why I stayed. Had I not I would not have my 3 beautiful girls and I would not trade them for anything, but the questions still remain. I never knew the feelings about church and everything could be PTSD. Thank you from the bottom.of my heart for sharing this! ♥

  6. You are amazing! God is definitely using you through this blog! I never realized all the hurt caused in churches. You have made me want to do better & to be more alert to people & what they may be going through. I’m so thankful for your blogs. All of them have spoken to my heart. I believe one day you will write a help book. Please keep writing and helping others through your words & experiences. You really speak to people & one day the truth of what you have been through just not in church but in your every day parenting after divorce will be known. May God continue to heal you, use you, & bless you. He is a God of Justice & He is turning these lemons to lemonade. They mean it for evil BUT GOD!!!! Keep on trusting! God is faithful & His mercy & grace are enduring.

  7. Thank you for writing this! This was my story too. I was told by church staff that it didn’t matter what my husband did or said or how things were in our marriage, if I started the divorce proceedings I wasn’t welcome back at church. I was devastated. I quit church for a while and walked away from my small group without a word. In a time where I was so hurt, confused and full of every single emotion from shame to anger to sadness, I was alone and afraid to let anyone in because of the response I got from the one place I least expected it. I love the Lord and work for our church now. I have to constantly remind myself that the church is a hospital for broken people and thankfully the way I was treated was human and not of God.

  8. Well written! Your telling many of our stories. It’s amazing how behind in learning how to love so many churches are. Fortunately the Holy Spirit can teach us all how to use our worst conditions as catalysts to be the love and light we truly are and be the change in the church we want to see. When I allowed myself to recognize times in life I thought I was helping and really I was dividing and judging, it helped me forgive all those people for not knowing how to be there for me. And I’ve learned how to let God be there for me so I can let everyone else off the hook. Just like we didn’t know how to do things differently in our past, they don’t either. But our new loving relationships and new relationship to God can be inspirational to those same people when perhaps they go through there dark time. Thanks for expressing this so well.

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