PTSD, trust, and faith

The symptoms of PTSD can cause problems with trust….Certain types of “man-made” traumas can have a more severe effect on relationships…Survivors of man-made traumas often feel a lasting sense of terror, horror, endangerment, and betrayal. These feelings affect how they relate to others. They may feel like they are letting down their guard if they get close to someone else and trust them.” http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/family/ptsd-and-relationships.asp\

Trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can have a big impact on one’s relationships with family and friends and also one’s religious or spiritual beliefs and relationship with God.

At a time when they desire to turn toward loved ones for support or their faith and God for comfort, they may find unwanted barriers that were not there before.

According to the VA:

Some researchers have suggested that traumatic events frequently challenge one’s core beliefs about safety, self worth, and the meaning of life…for some, the circumstances of the trauma may lead to the questioning of important and previously sustaining beliefs. This can lead to spiritual struggle or even loss of faith.http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/provider-type/community/fs-spirituality.asp

For those whose trauma involved someone they trusted—for example, being abused by a family member or being sexually assaulted by a friend—one of the core beliefs that is challenged is the belief that it is safe to trust.

Such a traumatic betrayal can cause damage to the parts of the brain that deal with trust, leading to mistrust in a myriad of relationships and aspects of one’s life.

According to psychologist Stephanie K Glassman:

Surviving a traumatic event may alter an individual’s sense of safety and trust in ways that spill over into new or old relationships. Survivors may feel vulnerable and confused about who or what is safe…Consequently, some people develop a fear that others are not trustworthy and a belief that sharing one’s feelings, beliefs or body is not safe. Developing closeness with non-abusive friends and family may be confusing, frightening, tentative, or avoided entirely…”http://www.glassmanpsyd.com/trauma-and-relationships/

I also read this in study by Markowitz et al: “…trauma (or PTSD) has compromised patients’ current interpersonal perspective and social functioningtrauma impairs the individual’s ability to use the social environment to process environmental trauma, shattering perceived environmental safety and poisoning trust in interpersonal relationships. Hence individuals with PTSD develop “interpersonal hypervigilance,”…withdraw from or distance themselves within relationships, and restrict social activities. “ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2852131/

And although childhood abuse isn’t the only type of trauma that causes problem with mistrust, I found a good explanation of this phenomena that specifically focuses on this specific area of trauma and its relationship with trust in an article on http://www.theneurotypical.com/posttraumatic_relationship_syndrome.html Adapted from Social Behaviour and Personality, 2003 by Vandervoort, Debra, Rokach, Ami:

Given that one’s sense of basic trust develops early in life as a function of our interactions with caregivers, it is a long-held and well-ingrained part of our assumptions about our world. Because it developed in the context of some of the most important emotionally intimate relationships in our lives, it is tied very strongly to this type of relationship. Hence, trauma in this type of relationship, sometimes referred to as attachment trauma is particularly likely to create trust issues….Issues of trust created by trauma in the context of an intimate relationship may become generalized to future relationships, creating problems in developing one’s social support network. Terror of getting re-victimized in a new relationship is very common…”

The effects of interpersonal trauma on trust and relationships makes sense. One of the 3 pillars of PTSD is avoidance (in addition to hypervigilance and re-experiencing), the brain’s desperate attempt to protect you from anything that reminds it of the previous trauma. Because of PTSD, subsequent attempts to trust can remind one’s brain of the trauma experienced after trusting in the past, and can produce intense anxiety and other symptoms.

In addition to severely disabling the survivor’s ability to trust family, friends, and others, the traumatic betrayal can likewise lead the survivor to struggle with trust in their religious leaders and what they have been taught concerning God.

This also makes sense. What relationship is more important than with God? What betrayed trust could be more damaging than one that involves one’s state in eternity?

An interesting article on the Elements Behavioral Health website discusses the effects of a specific type of trauma on trust as it relates to the 12-step program, but it gives great insight into this issue:

Adults neglected as children…may have difficulty forming any types of attachments at all. Some, unable to trust even others who offer appropriate help and support…Such relationships will feel too intimate, causing anxiety, mistrust and fear.

Trust in and reliance upon a Higher Power can feel empty, unwise and even dangerous. They may be suspicious that others, like sponsors, for example, who offer guidance and encourage trust, offer only empty promises. Spirituality, trust and a relationship with a Higher Power may seem equally as empty, anxiety-producing and impossible.

Even though adults who were abused as children may desire to relinquish such barriers to intimacy, their anxiety, fear of being controlled and distrust may interfere.” http://www.elementsbehavioralhealth.com/trauma-ptsd/trauma-and-the-12-steps-impact-of-traumatic-relationships-on-12-step-group-participation/

I began this research to try to understand what I, myself, have been going through since I developed PTSD. I live a pretty isolated life and have few friends, and I struggle with intense anxiety relating to my religious faith and God. I know that at the root, all these struggles are about trust and how intensely anxious I get when it comes to any type of situation regarding trust. I question everyone’s motives. I am constantly afraid of betrayal. I have become paranoid and suspicious of everyone and everything.

It really helped to learn and understand that it has been my PTSD causing me these problems, and I hope it will help you too. Its not just me, its PTSD, and I know the tools to fight it. Its not easy, and progress will not be quick, but progress can be made. If you are dealing with these things and haven’t been to therapy or read any self-help books about PTSD, I recommend seeking help in these ways. You can do something about this.

In addition to this battle relating to trying to trust that those who have experienced trauma must deal with, many also struggle with issues of faith because they feel personally betrayed by God. In this case, it isn’t mistrust because of PTSD, but mistrust because they feel God allowed something to happen that they trusted He would not allow.

According to the VA:

Trauma can be associated with loss of faith, diminished participation in religious or spiritual activities, changes in belief, feelings of being abandoned or punished by God, and loss of meaning and purpose for living.” http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/provider-type/community/fs-spirituality.asp

For individuals whose core values are spiritually grounded, traumatic events may give rise to questions about the fundamental nature of the relationship between the creator and humankind. Survivors may question their belief in a loving, all-powerful God when the innocent are subjected to traumatic victimization…” http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/provider-type/community/fs-spirituality.asp

I know I have personally dealt with this as well. I felt betrayed by God for allowing the trauma to happen to me. It is a completely valid and understandable response. However, it reflects a misunderstanding about God’s plan and in His ability to  heal (https://www.lds.org/topics/adversity?lang=eng), and as I began to learn and understand this, my ability to exercise some faith and trust in God again has increased, and I have felt more peace again.

If you are struggling with trust because of trauma or PTSD, you are not alone. There are innumerable survivors who share in your struggle. Don’t give up! Don’t let your PTSD or anything else isolate you from the good people who are out there. Do exposure therapy to slowly build your trust in people and in God. There may always be some lingering anxiety and fear, I know our lives will be happier when we have loving people in them and when we have a connection with God.

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