Four Things You Need to know about those Recovering from PTCD (Post-Traumatic Church Disorder)

22 Aug


This article is part of a series on spiritual abuse, and those who have PTCD which stands for post-traumatic church disorder.  For more articles on this topic, click the above link and search under the word PTCD on my website. 


 1.        They are not all cynical, angry, shallow, or unforgiving. 


Victims of church abuse should not be unfairly characterized.  These words could actually equally characterize victims or their abusers.  Don’t make assumptions about their emotional or spiritual state, but if you are close enough – ask questions.  While the body of Christ is sacred, the institutions that line our landscape and the leadership within are not.  Voicing your abuse is not being divisive, cynical or unforgiving – being labeled as such perpetuates and deepens their pain. 


Young adult - head on armsThey are not shallow Christians.  In the book Church Refugees the authors write, “You won’t encounter a single story in this book of someone walking away from church on a whim or because of one bad experience.” (Packard, 14)  The book’s research actually reveals that many church refugees held a deep faith and were very involved in the church.  Their spiritual devotion is so deep that those with PTCD often have conflicted feelings.  Sarah Cunningham writes, “I could never stab at the church without drawing blood from my own skin, because church is a deep and sacred part of my identity.” (Cunningham, 12) 

2.        They need spaces to share their story. 

As the wounded leave their community, they often feel their perspective was either not heard or invalidated.  Even if heard, the victims find it difficult to believe they were heard unless they are able to see the church respond to their pain.  Victims of spiritual abuse need people who can listen to their story and validate their pain.  Cunningham writes, “The hurting deserve their own individual, localized hearings.  And to be helpful, the responses must deeply consider each person’s unique makeup and circumstances.” (Cunningham, 18)



Copyright 2017 by EA Resources. This and other pictures are available for use at our website.




As survivors share, minimize your words.  The worst thing you can give to a survivor is a trite Christian expression.  Non-verbal expressions of support and empathy are often the most helpful.  Rely on the power of a warm embrace, a gentle touch, and hope-filled eyes.   


 3.       They don’t want to be your project. 


Church survivors do not want you to attempt to fix them or prove that God still loves them, or that good Christians do exist.  God may or may not use you in their restoration process.  If not, be a friend.  Show love regardless of whether they return to the church or the faith.  Pulling away because the victim is no longer going to church reveals that our relationship was built upon conditional love.  As Christians we are called to be examples of the unconditional love of God which pursues people regardless of their response. 


Those with PTCD are highly sensitive to spiritual shaming.  Think twice before you tell them how they should feel, or giving them a solution.  Trust God’s Spirit, and wait on his timing.  While there may be times of iron sharpening iron, there is also a time to weep with those who weep. 


4.       Their recovery requires time.


Our passion is to see people restored to fellowship where they can both love and be loved.  However, we must understand they may not be able to walk through the doors of a church.  We must understand they may never be able to return.  Beyond the Broken Church states, “A multigenerational group of exhausted, depleted, and often jaded former church attendees can be seen wandering in the cloudy landscape just outside the church’s doors. (Cunningham, 9) Remember their journey towards healing will usually happen outside the institutional church.  The healing hands of Christ are not limited by the confines of the institutional church. 


David - Prof 2Dr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a nonprofit designed to equip the church to minister to the needs of emerging adults.  He is a survivor of church abuse, and can be reached at


One Response to “Four Things You Need to know about those Recovering from PTCD (Post-Traumatic Church Disorder)”

  1. melindaedina August 22, 2017 at 08:14 #

    Thank you David, I keep hoping the churches start believing the people, especially the women when they come to get help for domestic and emotional and spiritual abuse. All to often after the woman comes to the church for help and the man finds out he says I would never have done that and the man is believed making her doubt herself. After awhile she does find someone that believes her, she proceeds with the law, gets a Order of Protection and the church recommends a lawyer that is a shyster that helps the man hide the money and makes it hard to get child support ot anything else to help that lady. I had two women from the same church that this happened to with the same lawyer. It turned out one man was abusing his son who has autism and the school reported him to the police and the other man is gay and moved in with his partner. How fair is that? Meanwhile the church has lost the women and their children. Why do they do that? I don’t understand. That is one of many reasons why I left that church. Sometimes I wonder if they try to keep the man in because they are financially better off. As you can see I am pretty mad at that church. But I know all churches are not like that

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