What is Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome? Part One

Art by David Hayward

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome (PTCS) is a spiritual injury that is every bit as real and painful–sometimes more so!—as physical injury or mental illness. Instead of referring to a broken body or mind, PTCS signals a broken, battered, or bruised spirit. A much harder thing to see than a crushed spine, sure—but just as capable of paralyzing you.

PTCS is a name for a shared experience of spiritual woundedness.

Many of us experienced or are experiencing PTCS, but we lacked a way to talk about it. Like “Empty Nest Syndrome” or “Mid-Life Crisis”, PTCS names a specific life struggle—in this case, it names a spiritual struggle. In my first article about PTCS, I related naming PTCS to the time I finally received a diagnosis for a disease. Once I knew the name of my illness, I was able to deal with it (finally)*. Sometimes a name is halfway to healing.

PTCS is a frame.

Two people don’t share exactly the same grief, but they do share the “framed” experience of grieving—the same “frame” of reference. When I was going through PTCS it took me several paragraphs to explain what was up with me, but naming it gave me the frame.

What’s inside your frame will look different than what’s inside mine of course, but at least we know we’re hangin’ out on the same wall, if you know what I mean. Which leads me to my next point…

PTCS is common ground. (See above, hangin’ on the same wall.)

Once we have a name and a way to frame a struggle, we can find each other… we can help each other. There’s a reason people say, “I have been there,” as if “there” is an actual place— because it is. PTCS is an ugly place of spiritual injury far too many of us have been.

 “PTCS is real,” we can say to one another, verifying that the precise location of spiritual injury exists; it isn’t just some figment of our overactive imagination.  “That place hurts and it sucks and being there makes you angry and hopeless and scared.”

But the real magic happens when we walk the common ground together. “Lean on me,” say those who have been dropped off at that grisly place. “Let me show you how I walked (or crawled or rolled or wriggled) home.”

Which is why I hope that one day very soon I’ll be able to say that PTCS is a bridge between you and me– between all of us– the name, frame, and common ground that helps us walk or crawl or roll or wriggle our way to a beautiful place: spiritual healing.  

Next time…What Is PTCS-Part Two and Next, Next time…What PTCS Isn’t. To be notified when these posts are up and find out how to join the PTCS community online please follow Reba Riley on Facebook.

If you like David Hayward’s (aka The Naked Pastor) art above, please visit him on the web.

** Just so no one is confused, I dealt with a physical illness (a disease, as it turns out) for years without a diagnosis.

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About Reba Riley

Reba Riley is the author of Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing in 30 Religions (Coming soon from Chalice Press).
Get in touch with Reba at www.facebook.com/RebaRileyAuthor


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