When Forgiveness Doesn’t Eradicate PTSD

As a Christian, I’m supposed to forgive everyone so that God can forgive me of my sins. I was once an enemy of the Most High, so who am I not to forgive someone who wrongs me when God forgave me of all my junk? Easy, right? No, not really. After spending the entire fall semester of my junior year of college hating Voldemort (the name I refer to the man who assaulted me as) while repressing the affect sexual assault was having over my life and education, the first time someone presented me with the option of forgiveness, I laughed and then tried to justify, quite angrily and defensively, my reasons for refusing him forgiveness. But that defense could only last so long…

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

The first time I read this I was pissed off. True story. I yelled at God as if He had gone both blind and deaf to my suffering. At that time, I was experiencing horrible insomnia and, when I did sleep, terrifying nightmares that caused panic attacks in my sleep. I was either walking out of or skipping classes because I couldn’t concentrate because of flashbacks. It was horrendous. Nonetheless, after my temper tantrum, I prayed hard for God to help me forgive Voldemort for sexual assaulting me. Then I repented for withholding forgiveness and for the first time in a very long time, I was hopeful that these traumatic experiences were behind me for good. That belief came crashing down the very next day as I had to fight a panic attack in class because of a trigger.

As a Christian who is also a proud African-American, the reality that triggers and intrusive memories caused random crying spells in the wee hours of the morning despite the fact that I had forgiven my abuser was a hard pill to swallow. I was supposed to be strong and unbreakable! Fast forward 2.5 years and this is what I’ve learned:

  1. Forgiveness, even or especially repeatedly, will not, in and of itself, stop the symptoms of PTSD (neither will prayer, positive thinking, or Scripture reading alone).
  2. Despite what my culture tells me of how a Black woman is supposed to act when faced with trying or difficult situations, sometimes I have mental breakdowns. I still cry at night, don’t you?
  3. God has created us as complex beings. We are mind, body, and spirit. To treat trauma, which changes the brain, as only a spiritual issue is to ignore the intricate nature of ourselves and God.
  4. PTSD (and every other mental illness) does not have its origins in demonic activity, though spiritual warfare is common in this battle for recovery.
  5. God still loves me even with PTSD.
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