Post-Traumatic Church Disorder – PTCD

8 Mar
Old Church from Flickr via Wylio

© 2010 Anton Sim, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I am not a psychologist, nor do I want to pretend to be.  I am however, a survivor an abusive church.  Every day, I deal with PTCD – Post-Traumatic Church Disorder.    

I am not alone.  Sarah Cunningham, in Beyond the Broken Church, describes her experience, “Walking into a church building- any church building – felt like getting repeatedly punched in the stomach until my body finally went into welcome shock and I became so numb that I didn’t even care that I was being punched.” (Cunningham, 85)

I tense each time I enter the doors of a church, I shut down if a church employee approaches me.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like combat, assault, or disaster.  Diagnostic criteria for PTSD include a history of exposure to a traumatic event that meets specific stipulations and symptoms from each of four symptom clusters: intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity. (Source)

Here are the symptoms for PTSD:  (Source)

  • Recurrent distressing recollections of event.
  • Recurrent dreams of event.
  • Acting or feeling as if it is recurring (flashbacks).
  • Psychological distress to cues resembling event.
  • Physiological reactions to cues resembling event.

I have experienced all of the above symptoms.  When I see people in public associated with my abusive church, I experience flashbacks.  I once again feel trapped in that destructive environment.  I often go out in public wearing earphones and a hoodie, because I don’t want to see or hear anyone from the church.  Each encounter that triggers my past leaves me recovering for days.

© 2013 TraumaAndDissociation, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

My dreams are filled with images of what happened, what I wish had happened, or various scenarios of what could have happen.  I awaken from sleep drenched in sweat, and unable to return to bed.

As I drive through our community, I have a constant awareness of my abuser’s home.  I know what direction it is from my current location, and how close he might be to me.

I am not saying that my experiences are worse than or even comparable to others (especially veterans of war).  I am not trying to draw attention to myself, but to draw attention to a problem within our churches.

There is hope for those who suffer from PTCD, but it is not an easy road.

You have already taken one step by reading this article.  Simple steps add up.  With each step, you are no longer where you once were.

David - Prof 2(Over the next couple of weeks, I will be writing on the topic of spiritual abuse.  It is a topic that few feel safe to discuss in public.  If you know of someone who is recovering from a traumatic experience, please stay tuned and share with friends.)  

Dr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources.  If you are a survivor, please let David know at



Beyond the Broken Church by Sarah Cunningham

Church Refugees by Packard, Josh and Ashleigh Hope

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder –

Soul Survivor: How my faith survived the Church by Philip Yancey

25 Responses to “Post-Traumatic Church Disorder – PTCD”

  1. Melinda K.Taylor March 8, 2016 at 11:38 #

    Thank you Dave this is very much needed in the churches of today. I feel as a member of one of the churches that I went to I was not believed. That led me to an unbelief in God. I did find another church that believed me and fortunately led me back to belief.

  2. Jesus Lives March 17, 2016 at 00:07 #

    I literally had PTSD from a lifetime of traumatic experiences that literally had me so anxious I couldn’t leave my home – even standing on my porch brought tears fear, paranoia and anxiety. When I came to the Lord Jesus Christ (especially after my baptism) I became a changed person completely and now live like a normal person (although devoted to Christ and not “normal” because I have mostly removed myself from worldly things and worldly people). My point is everything I was going through was DEMONIC and JESUS healed me…. RAPIDLY, at that. But I didn’t just one day become AFFLICTED. My personal choices and living in sin took me there and God handed me over to demons. We don’t walk along and slip and all of a sudden find ourselves in a put with demons – we do that to ourselves. He can blame the church no matter how wicked it is all he wants but the truth is his life choices led him there. My point is the writer of this article, while trying to expose bad churches (which I have experienced as a kid and adult), fails to address the real problem: he is plagued by the demonic – whether his own sin put them there or the church – but I will be frank and say that if demons have ground to afflict him (AFFLICT AS IN THE BIBLES USE…. THE AFFLICTED WERE OPPRESSED OR POSSESSED!), then regardless if the church put them on him or not he has lived a lifestyle that allowed them to be able to do so – because those IN Christ cannot be AFFLICTED in such a way. Blaming the church will not “cure” this man. Folks want to say God is a healing powerful God but then act like “PTSD” is something he is ok with and deny its demonic agenda. True repentance and calling upon the Lord Jesus is his only option. Period.

    • gdavidboyd March 17, 2016 at 10:58 #

      Your beliefs, statements, and tone reflects how spiritual abuse happens within the church. I could not have asked for a better example (if I had written it myself) for how people get wounded by the church.

      Playing judge, using general scriptural viewpoints, and demonizing anyone with an opposite opinion is a major part of the problem.

    • Georgia (yes a woman who knows the scripture and love Jesus) April 8, 2016 at 21:03 #

      Seriously buddy, let’s talk about what is demonic. Shaming a brother in Christ who proclaims his faith and shares his story is much more similar to the great liar and the leader of demons than that of the one who overcame Satan and sin. PTSD is a horrible illness, and while God is more than capable of healing us from any illness, it has nothing with the person being under the influence of demonic powers. You need to start reading the bible you seem so quick to swing with shame and judgment. Brother, you need to ask for forgiveness of the author, because what you wrote was shaming, cruel and wrong.

  3. Kelli Espiritu September 13, 2016 at 23:14 #

    I’m 2 years out of finally leaving the spiritual abusive environment that I endured for 7 years. Totally relate to the flashbacks you describe. I was on staff for over 20 years and I should have left as soon I recognized things weren’t right. My abuser is also a narcissists. Once I received counseling and understood more about narcissists my flashbacks are slowly decreasing. I started my blog to chronicle my journey. Here’s praying you find peace and freedom from all the effects of what happened to you.

    • gdavidboyd November 3, 2016 at 20:56 #

      Thanks Kelli. Among the many, outside the walls of the church are those who used to work for the church. Leave a link to an article, or blog post so others can read more about your perspective, and how you found healing in your journey.

  4. Elle October 22, 2016 at 21:00 #

    It’s been 10 months since I left our abusive church. Thankfully I don’t live with 30 minutes of the church or near any of the people that I once called my church family. I deleted Facebook and only have minimal contact with anyone from the church. Still, I tried to return to church and decided it wasn’t for me. I still follow Christ and love him but I don’t love what the church has become. Some might be better than others but it seems as if all churches are set up in their nature to be abusive. Having a man stand up at a pulpit who is seen as the “man with a plan” is bound to create an atmosphere of idolatry. Whether subtle or not. It took me 3 years to get out and now that I am, I can’t go back.

    • gdavidboyd November 3, 2016 at 21:01 #

      Thanks for sharing Elle. You are not alone in your feelings. I hope you read some more posts on the subject including – The Widow’s Mite. It talks about the sacrifice of those with PTCD who enter a church building. I pray that you will continue to heal from your experience and that your faith will remain strong and active. I also pray that the Western church will change, and somehow change their nature so they are not set up for abuse. Thanks for your thoughts.


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