Do you suffer from Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome?

Do you suffer from Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome?

The symptoms are remarkably like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:


1. An event that threatened who you are as a person, an event which made you feel intense shame or humiliation.  An event that reminded you that you are not good enough, that you are somehow broken or unworthy.

2. Not being able to get this event out of your head. Re-playing it over and over in your mind while experiencing distress.

3. Avoiding the people or places associated with this event.

4. Negative beliefs about yourself as a result of this happening. Feeling depressed, guilty, ashamed, or angry or feeling separate from others like you no longer fit in.

5. Becoming angry and hostile toward the church or those who belong to the church. Looking for examples of the church or church-goers not living up to the ideal of their scriptures. Talking about how much you dislike the church or people who attend church.


Church is supposed to be a refuge, a safe place to go. For many it is nothing but judgement and criticism. And when we are criticized by the one place that is supposed to be safe and welcoming, the emotional wounds can deep, painful, and permanant.

I have a client who is working up to discussing her emotional traumas from the church. It is easier for her to talk about being physically attacked and beaten by her brother and ignored and neglected by her parents.

I had a friend confide in me recently that once she was arguing with her husband and a couple from their church showed up unexpectedly. This couple separated her from husband to calm them down and the wife told my friend that she could never be friends with someone who speaks negatively about their husband because they are poison. The only thing my friend was able to hear was that she was poison because this other couple just happened to show up and catch them in a human moment.

I remember meeting a Christian from a local church at a dinner party and innocently asked her what type of music she listened to. She said, “Christian, of course” as if the very question offended her.

It seems as if there is no end to the way people within the church judge and criticize one another. The radio stations they listen to, the type of clothing they wear, the types of books they read, if they give away candy on Halloween, if they drink wine, if they are sexually active, what politician they vote, if they are a single-issue voter, which version of the Bible they read, what types of movies they watch, what businesses they shop at.

And it is not just the casual church goer who deals with these frustrations and judgements. From a pastor’s wife:

I think for me the hard part is that I don’t have any safe place to talk. If I say anything I am condemned. I want to be honest but no one can take my honesty without looking at it like complaints but everyone I know can say what they think. How is that possible?

 I’m guessing many people feel like “others can say what they want but I can’t”. I’m guessing many people feel misunderstood by the people around them. Maybe that’s why we have such limited friendships. So few people feel like they can be safe and everyone is looking for a place where they can feel safe and be free from criticism and judgement. And maybe, just maybe, this is why many people only go to church at Christmas and Easter. 


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