Are you suffering from church PTSD?

"Church PTSD" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Church PTSD” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

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Are you suffering from church PTSD?

I know I did!

It’s wise to not underestimate the profound affects negative experiences in the church can have on you. There are degrees of intensity of PTSD, but PTSD is PTSD!

Agreed: Not everyone who leaves the church suffers from PTSD.

Agreed: Many do!

I remember a couple of years after I left the ministry and the church, I visited a very liberal, open church. But it was an extremely triggering experience for me. I caught myself pushing myself back into my chair as I endured the controlling, ridiculing, and shaming undertones of the preacher’s words… something most people there were probably completely oblivious to.

Now I can recognize it and manage it when I find myself in those situations. I learned how to do it.

It is helpful to get therapy for it. You can experience wholeness. You will remember it without reliving it.

I’m a living testimony to that. So are many of my friends at The Lasting Supper. Join us. We can help you recover well.

(If you want to read more about PTSD, check out this article from the Mayo Clinic!)


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13 Responses

  1. Brian says:

    I can relate. In and out of therapy since I came out 30 years ago, and every single time my church experience (and exit) is one of the primary themes. Triggers are unavoidable – you don’t realize just how pervasive fundamentalist American Christianity is in this culture until you want/need to walk away from it, only to discover it’s impossible.

    It’s exhausting, and no, I don’t see an end in sight.

  2. I used to think there was no end in sight too. But I would encourage you to take an measures possible to get there.

  3. Elderyl says:

    It took me about a year, in a new, supportive and affirming church, to get over the PTSD. Rarely it surfaces again. A friend from my old church recently joined my new and she’s showing all the signs…

  4. A year is remarkably fast.

  5. terri jo says:

    PTSD can also triggered from previous traumatic experiences. unrelated to church experience. I had a wild life in my addiction from late teens to late 30’s. I looked for love in all the wrong places, as the Eddie Rabbit song says….. I remember first being “clean”: (abstinent from all drugs including alcohol) (which I used from a young age to cope with unhealed unaddressed shame-filled trauma from childhood) and going to a church where the 30 minute lecture was about fornication. I left the service, walking home, shrunk in deep shame, embarrassment and guilt. I was a gross “fornicator”. And at that time, had no one to talk to about this. Eventually in the 12 step programs, I hooked up with women who gently eased me through the healing. As well, trauma groups, psychotherapy, praying, quiet time in nature, listening to soothing music, body work and writing also eased the PTSD.

  6. Kristin says:

    I can totally relate to this one! If you already have PTSD (and perhaps don’t know it) the trauma of being abused within a church context is even more traumatising. It’s like being traumatised by a hospital experience – it is the opposite of what the place is ostensibly there for. Been there a couple of times. Now I can read the signs, listen to my own intuition and walk away. But it has taken many years.

    Terri Jo – good on you for your journey, recovery can be a long process. I’ve tried many of the things you mention and found them helpful too. One of the things I have realised recently is that my diet has a very fundamental role in how well I am (or how triggered). I used to think I had a fairly healthy diet – but apparently not for a trauma survivor.

    I say this after having made some big changes (including getting rid of wheat). My equine therapist loaned me a book- not one I would otherwise have read – called “Don’t Let Anything Dull Your Sparkle” by Doreen Virtue. The title completely belies the contents – it is all about PTSD and recovery, including diet. I’ve been on a journey for 4 decades, the last 25 years I’ve been actively seeking help, and accessed a lot of different therapy over the years. I am astonished at how big a difference changing my diet has made to my sense of stability and well-being. The author talks about identifying and eradicating (or minimising) foods which are high in histamines (a dietary trigger).

    Hope for a healing journey endures…

  7. terri jo says:

    Great advice and leads, Kristin!!!!! TY and I WILL check into DV “Don’t let anything dull your sparkle” tee hee That is super just imagining the toxic film being pulled and washed off my Sparkle hahaha Much thanks

  8. kira says:

    I have PTSD due to events during a parishioners suicide attempt that became a homicide attempt directed at me. I am a priest in the Episcopal Church, on disability retirement and Social Security disability.
    David, Your posts always make me feel less alone as I continue to battle this and other related mental health disorders that stem from the PTSD.
    Thank you for your strength in vulnerability.

  9. Thanks Kira. Glad you’re finding strength.

  10. Anne-Mare says:

    I’m so thankful I found this page. I am not alone! It’s been over 5 years and I still cannot tolerate hearing someone speak ‘Christianeze’. I haven’t been able to join any other churches. I’ve reached a point of questioning the existence of God. So glad I found this page.

  11. I just want to mention that if you’re looking for companionship for your journey, you can join us at