Why Emotional and Spiritual Abuse Cause C-PTSD
Most of us have heard of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can occur when a person witnesses a terrifying or traumatic event such as a car accident, a murder, a fire, etc.. But what about C-PTSD?
According to Wikipedia, complex-post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is “thought to occur as a result of repetitive, prolonged trauma involving harm or abandonment by a caregiver or other interpersonal relationships with an uneven power dynamic. C-PTSD is associated with sexual, emotional or physical abuse or neglect in childhood, intimate partner violence, victims of kidnapping and hostage situations, indentured servants, victims of slavery, sweatshop workers, prisoners of war, victims of bullying, concentration camp survivors, and defectors of cults or cult-like organizations. Situations involving captivity/entrapment (a situation lacking a viable escape route for the victim or a perception of such) can lead to C-PTSD-like symptoms, which include prolonged feelings of terror, worthlessness, helplessness, and deformation of one’s identity and sense of self.“
Think about a patriarchal (complementarian) marriage.
Complementarians assign primary headship roles to men and support roles to women—based on their interpretation of certain biblical passages. One of the precepts of Complementarianism is that while women may assist in the decision-making process, the ultimate authority for the decision is the purview of the male in marriage, courtship, and in the polity of churches subscribing to this view. (Source)
By its definition, there is an uneven power dynamic in a complementarian marriage that is truly functioning according to complementarian rules and not egalitarian ideals (a school of thought that promotes equality for all regardless of gender).
Please note: there are some who CLAIM to be complementarian in their beliefs, and yet their marriages are functioning practically as egalitarian marriages. It’s important to maintain consistency with reality, not just verbal head nods in one direction or another. I wrote about this HERE.
So when you have an uneven power dynamic in a marriage PLUS emotional abuse (and spiritual abuse if the husband or church are telling the woman she is at fault for pointing out the abuse) PLUS the teaching that divorce is wrong, and no matter what the “authority/husband” does to her, she is stuck in the marriage until she dies…
You’ve got all the ingredients for an emotionally and physically crippling case of C-PTSD.
How is this scenario any different from a prisoner of war? They are being brainwashed with controlling propaganda, held against their will and told it’s good for them, put in a place of subservience with all their actions controlled by others, told their opinions are meaningless; their experiences rubbish, and dehumanized with no way out.
So the woman of faith in an emotionally abusive marriage has her freedom of thought, action, opinion, and choice stripped away. She is disrespected as a human being. Viewed as less-than by virtue of her lack of a particular body part.
Most of the abuse targets I work with have full blown cases of C-PTSD, and they are largely unaware of it. Many of you reading this live with the debilitating symptoms of C-PTSD every day of your lives. It’s a killer. Here are some of them:
- Persistent anxiety and unrest
- Difficulty regulating emotions
- Difficulty in remembering events surrounding abusive “incidents”
- Reliving experiences (I call it looping) over and over in an effort to “solve” the problem
- Paralysis of initiative
- A sense of being different from the rest of the human race
- Attributing total power to the perpetrator (they seem more powerful than they really are)
- Becoming preoccupied with the relationship to the perpetrator
- Desire for revenge alternating with feelings of gratitude toward the perpetrator
- A sense of alliance with the perpetrator and relief when buying into the perps’ belief system
- Rationalizing the abuse
- Repeated desperate search for a rescuer – someone who will listen and validate their experiences – the feeling that unless someone else believes them, it can’t be true.
- Repeated failure to protect themselves
- Loss of sustaining faith that borders on despair
- Disconnection that alternates with feelings of terror and confusion (Source)
They experience physical health problems as a result of all this emotional disregulation in their lives as well.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Back and neck problems
- Chronic headaches
- Vision problems
- Nerve twitches
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Heart palpitations
- Panic attacks
- Immune system breakdown
- Endocrine system breakdown
- Unbalanced hormones
- Brain fog
Over a long period of time, their health can break down permanently, and this is why I continue to insist that emotional abuse is a covert kind of physical abuse rendered all the worse for the fact that it cannot be proven by the victim.
C-PTSD is NOT a personality disorder. But it occurs as a result of living with a personality disordered individual for a length of time. It can happen to anyone put in those circumstances regardless of their original personality, their strength, their intelligence, their skill set, their will to survive or problem-solve, and so forth.
Emotional and spiritual abuse is an epidemic in conservative Christian circles (as well as religions like Islam and Judaism) because of their misogynistic beliefs about women.
So what do we do about it?
- We educate ourselves. We read and learn all we can about it. We listen to survivors. We examine our own beliefs about women and how they line up with how Christ viewed women. We figure out why it is that we think a body part makes some people “authority figures” over other people. We figure out where our faith traditions strayed from what the Bible teaches about humanity. Both men AND women.
- We speak the truth out loud even though it makes people angry. We learn to tolerate the disapproval of men in order to gain the approval of our Heavenly Father. We see people as small, and we see God as BIG.
- If we are a survivor, we get help for ourselves. We don’t wait for a rescuer. We grab hold of Jesus Christ, and we learn and grow strong. Strong enough to break free. We get therapy (not from a biblical counselor who knows nothing about emotional abuse, but from a trained therapist who diagnoses C-PTSD.) EMDR therapy is a proven therapy for sufferers of C-PTSD. We find a community of women that know the unique dynamic of abuse, especially in the context of faith, such as the Flying Free Support Group.
- We tell our stories. We empathize with abuse targets. We call a spade a spade. We get out of our legalistic prisons and we find hope and freedom through Christ. (See my video below.)
If you think you may have C-PTSD, you may benefit from the private Flying Free community support group HERE. We have a course within this group called “Healing from C-PTSD” that does a deep dive into this subject. We would love to have you join us in learning the skills you need to become spiritually strong and emotionally healthy again.