Tag Archives: Abuse

Institutional betrayal: Secret ingredient to PTSD


We live in the world where human frailty and pathology is viewed in individual terms. When we see sickness we imagine that the person must have some weakness in biology, faith, or behavior. Rarely do we think about the role the system or community has played in the development of that person’s pathology. This is true when we think about a person diagnosed with PTSD. We therapists hypothesize about individual factors (personality factors, early childhood experiences (a slight nod to external causes) and neurobiological risk factors) and situation factors (the frequency, duration, and intensity of overwhelming trauma events) when we try to answer the “why” of the development of PTSD in a person.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it fails to take into consideration of known research that suggests that environmental response to an individual’s trauma experiences may be a determining factor in whether PTSD or chronic traumatic reactions form.

In the most recent American Psychologist (2014, 69:6, 575-587), Carly Parnitzke Smith and Jennifer Freyd write about the concept of institutional betrayal. Traumatologists recognize Freyd’s name as the researcher who developed “betrayal trauma theory”, pointing to the especially toxic form of PTSD caused by those who were supposed to be safe and protective. These begin to examine “institutional action and inaction that exacerbate the impact of traumatic experiences…”

How can an institution betray a victim?

When a person trusts that a system designed to defend, respond, protect, or seek justice will do its job after an interpersonal trauma, and when that system either chooses not to respond (omission) or worse, chooses to lay blame at the feet of the victim (commission), institutional betrayal occurs. Examples include law enforcement accusing rape victims of “asking for it” with their clothing, church leaders allowing offender clergy to “leave with their reputations” or refusal to investigate a case of date rape when the reported offender is an important leader in the community.

In summarizing a couple of studies, Smith and Freyd point out that institutional betrayal after a trauma experience leads to higher rates of dissociation, sexual problems, and health difficulties. This is even more likely when the trauma takes place in an environment where protection of the members is trumpeted (i.e., church or military).

What are the common characteristics of betraying institutions?

Smith and Freyd note several characteristics found in institutions at greater risk for betraying members.

  • membership requirements to define in group identity. This produces a need for members to act in ways to maintain such an identity
  • Prestige (both leaders and institutions). Prestige produces both trust and fear, dependency and power
  • Priorities. “Institutional betrayal may remain unchecked when performance or reputation is valued over, or divorced from the well-being of members.” As the authors note, maintaining reputation as a priority will lead to neglect or attack of those who challenge reputation
  • Institutional denial. Blame a few bad apples, avoid institutional blame or responsibility

Those institutions that do make efforts to prevent abuse within its community may still yet fail to respond well. They may fail to use adequate screening procedures, normalize abuse, fail to utilize or follow appropriate response procedures, punish whistleblowers, and aid cover-ups.

What to do?

Smith and Freyd argue that transparency (about past actions/failures to act as well as power structures) and priority to protect the well-being of all members will move institutions away from the risk of betraying individual members. I would argue that the shift to protect moves from the institution as a whole to protection of the most vulnerable.

Let me recommend a few resources that have appeared here in the past:

  1. Diane Langberg’s 5 part video about narcissistic leaders and the institutions they lead. She too describes systemic narcissism.
  2. Why some spiritual leaders abuse (and systems allow it)
  3. Narcissistic systems
  4. Resources to combat narcissism one person at a time

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Filed under Abuse, personality, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology

Brooks on journaling about emotions


Friend Jeff McMullen pointed out a recent David Brooks op ed in the New York Times. (Read it here). While I’m not sure I agree fully with his journaling/not journaling point he says something very important about the timing of writing one’s emotions after a traumatic event. He says,

When people examine themselves from too close, they often end up ruminating or oversimplifying. Rumination is like that middle-of-the-night thinking — when the rest of the world is hidden by darkness and the mind descends into a spiral of endless reaction to itself. People have repetitive thoughts, but don’t take action. Depressed ruminators end up making themselves more depressed.

Then later, this important distinction between immediate processing of emotions and later processing,

We are better self-perceivers if we can create distance and see the general contours of our emergent system selves — rather than trying to unpack constituent parts. This can be done in several ways.

First, you can distance yourself by time. A program called Critical Incident Stress Debriefing had victims of trauma write down their emotions right after the event. (The idea was they shouldn’t bottle up their feelings.) But people who did so suffered more post-traumatic stress and were more depressed in the ensuing weeks. Their intimate reflections impeded healing and froze the pain. But people who write about trauma later on can place a broader perspective on things. Their lives are improved by the exercise.

David points to some research that exists that suggest CISD is unhelpful for some participants. Some are made worse. Yet, narrating one’s trauma in the broader context of a life tend to see a reduction of symptoms. The difference seems to be whether the focus in on life or mostly on the trauma. Trauma in perspective is the goal. Just reviewing trauma may in fact strengthen the traumatic reaction rather than weaken it.

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Filed under Abuse, counseling, counseling science, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology, ptsd

GTRI 2014: Day 8 Kigali


July 8, 2014

Tuesday. Yesterday was a deep dive into Rwanda for GTRI students. They heard directly from Rwandan caregivers and spent time trying to weigh the genocide and its ongoing impact. Today we begin meeting and interacting with trauma healing and recovery caregivers in a conference setting. At a local hotel about 100 Rwandans gathered to kick off the Bible Society’s trauma healing community of practice and the inauguration of the Rwandan Association of Christian Counselors. The purpose of this meeting was to introduce both projects to the public and to invite the media and dignitaries to be present. The Rev. Emmanuel Kayijuka game some opening remarks and an Anglican Bishop offered a brief bible study of John 4:1-3, the woman at the well. He pointed out that she was likely a prostitute and an DSC_0233abused woman, abused by men, by society and desperate. Why else gather water at noon. He also pointed out that after her healing, she became a woman on a mission of healing, seeking social contact for the purpose of evangelism. After these reflections, Dr. Jean Mutabaruka presented a paper looking at the relationship between trauma, PTSD, and complicated grief. He pointed to 12 types of trauma in Rwanda, including sexual/physical/emotional abuse, witnessing violence, discrimination, poverty, etc. At the end, he raised a few general questions regarding the management of the mourning period/process each year.

After the professor finished, both Diane Langberg and I made a few brief remarks in response. Dr. Harriet Hill presented an overview of trauma healing project, in Rwanda and around the world. She showed the latest trailer of a documentary (much about the Congo project) about bible based trauma healing slated to be aired on ABC network this fall. Fun to see people I know in this trailer. David from the Rwandan Bible Society reviewed the progress to date: 2,918 trained people using Healing Wounds of Trauma material. Many of these are able to train others while the rest are better able to care for themselves.

New President: Baraka Credit: Heather Evans

The second half of the day included a presentation by Baraka Paulette Unwingeneye about the efforts thus far to form the Rwandan Association of Christian Counselors. This group of counselors and caregivers have been meeting with us since 2011 and are ready to be birthed. As Baraka said it, it may be like an elephant’s gestation, but now we are near the final month. We had presentations from Narcisse about the needed documents to be filed to make the association official, myself about the benefits and processes to form an associations. Then, those in attendance voted in a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, advisors, and conflict managers. This may not sound very moving, but I assure it was!

Fun too

While we come to Rwanda for serious matters, not everything has to be intense. As our day was ending, we quickly changed from our conference clothes to go out for a bit of shopping: the Simba market for coffee and tea, and another market selling typical Rwandan traditional items (clothes, woven bowls, banana leaf art. I looked and looked for a blue African traditional shirt but came up empty.

This marks our last night at Solace. Tomorrow we move on to the conference proper about 50 minutes or so south in Muhanga (Southern Province). Though we are about to begin the training in earnest, I think I am beginning to relax. A year’s worth of planning is now well under way. Despite a few surprises and schedule changes, most everything is working as planned. No problems with transportation, food, water, housing. Meetings planned have more or less happened.

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Filed under Africa, counseling, counseling skills, Rwanda

Lies and stereotypes told by helpers hurt the cause of trauma recovery


I’ve written a piece over at the faculty blog on the shady side of bending the truth to get more attention on the problem of trauma and the need for trauma recovery. It is a common temptation for those of us who work with trauma victims, a temptation to use the stories of trauma to garner personal acclaim (“look what I am doing about the problems in the world”) and to stereotype to increase attention and funding for those who are hurting. Shaping the truth hurts the cause and hurts the victims.

Read at the above link for more.

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Filed under Abuse, deception, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Urban trauma or bad kids?


Psychiatrist Michael Lyles gives an excellent presentation on the nature of urban trauma at the 2014 ABS Community of Practice. He points out how much of what gets labeled as uncaring violence is better seen through the lens of urban trauma reactions. In addition, he discusses the response of the church. Not to be missed!

Michael Lyles – COP 2014 from American Bible Society on Vimeo.

After his presentation, Police chaplain and urban pastor Rev. Luis Centano gave this response regarding trauma in the city of Philadelphia.

Rev. Luis Centeno – COP 2014 from American Bible Society on Vimeo.

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, counseling, Psychology, ptsd, trauma

Theological reasons to not use corporal punishment?


Victor Vieth has published an essay looking at the use of the bible to validate corporal punishment. What makes this essay interesting is not that he is arguing against the use of physical punishment but that he is writing to child protective services officials on how to respond to those who believe it is okay. I encourage you to read the full text here.

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Filed under Christianity, parenting

GTRI featured in an online, free journal


Our Global Trauma Recovery Institute is featured in the most recent issue of the EMCAPP Journal for Christian Psychology Around the World. Pages 172-211 include an overview of GTRI, two essays by Diane Langberg (The Role of Christ in Psychology; Living to Trauma Memories) and one by me (Telling Trauma Stories: What Helps, What Hurts).

The journal also contains an essay by Edward Welch (www.ccef.org) where he muses his development as a biblical counselor, explores the matter of emotions and some of the stereotypes of biblical counseling. The journal also includes a large number of essays about Paul Vitz as well as a number about the Society of christian Psychology.

Take a look!

 

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Filed under "phil monroe", biblical counseling, Biblical Seminary, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, Diane Langberg, Ed Welch, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma

The Power Behind Domestic and Political Dictatorships


The quote by Anjan Sundaram in Stringer continues to rattle in my head. I mentioned him here when I spoke about the power of small-time tyranny–that it lasts only when those close to the dictator look the other way.

Here’s the quote as he talks about being the victim of the dictator’s myth:

It startles me how steadfastly I believed, growing up, that our dictator was just, good and wise. I was never told anything to the contrary. … the indoctrination that holds up the dictator as a savior, a sage, as all-powerful. Until recently this myth usually invoked God, a divine right to power. These days dictators have less need for mysticism: they us the tools of liberty–elections, business, schools, art, the media. The successful dictator creates at once a terror of his presence and a fear of his loss. (p. 61-2)

Terror of presence, fear of absence. Sounds similar to the experience of victims of domestic abuse. Afraid of being hit, afraid of being abandoned. In order to have someone excuse violent and abusive behavior of a dictator, you have to believe that you need them, that what they do is necessary or acceptable in light of a worse outcome. While Sundaram may be right that dictators speak less of divine right, I suspect many religious abusive husbands use a variant on divine right to excuse lording it over their wives. And abusive wives can claim that their husband’s (supposed) failure to lead gives rights to engage in verbal abuse.

What is the power behind a dictator? Myth. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. 

True power does not grasp its right but willingly gives up power for the sake of others.  Philippians 2 gives us this clear picture.

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How does small-time tyranny last?


Tyrants use fear to control subjects. Thus, we understand how North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is elected by 100% of his constituency. To abstain or cast any other vote would be suicide. But since most do not live under such oppression we may wonder how individuals cave to lower-level tyranny here in democracies or locations where we have choice about who we vote for and where we live and work. Why do organizations allow dictatorial leadership? Can’t we all just walk away?

Thanks to one of my students, Dan McCurdy, I pass on this recording from This American Life about a “small-time” tyrant in an upstate New York school district. The story is about the dictatorial dealings of a facilities manager of the school district–not of a principal, teacher, or even a school board member.

How is it possible for one with so little power (so we would normally assume) could wield such power over employees? How could he set off bombs, fire individuals, vandalize homes, threaten others with harm, simulate sex, and more without getting fired?

How? It is simple. He was,

surrounded above and below, by people who looked the other way. (near the end of the above recording)

Why do we look the other way?

We look away for all sorts of reasons. Consider a few of them:

  • Fear that no one will come to our defense if we stand up to abuses (which of course will be true if no one else sees or responds)
  • Need to protect what we have (e.g., position, income, career, reputation, etc.)
  • Cover up own failings (e.g., if he goes down…I will go down)
  • Perceive benefits outweigh consequences (i.e., in this case, school board received lowered energy costs, fewer worker complaints)
  • The people who complain of injustice matter little to us
  • Believe psychological abuse does not really happen

In Anjan Sundaram’s Stringer, he describes the most powerful of dictators are ones who instill fear when present and yet also instill fear of what life might be when that person is gone.

What to do?

When we hear of crazy stories such as the one in the recording, we shake our head and imagine ourselves standing up to power, standing up for the little guy. Too often our imagination never see the light of day. So, how can we keep ourselves sensitized to injustice and ready to act for the good of the weakest community member?

  • Identify our current fears. Who has power over us? What does love and grace look like when responding to this power?
  • Identify places we have chosen safety over truth. Who can help us rectify this problem?
  • Identify those places where we have power over others. Who do we have power over? How do we wield it? Who has God-given us the responsibility to protect? Where do we need to give power back (when taken or used inappropriately)?
  • Fix eyes on how Jesus uses power. How does he wield it with those who have the most power? The least power?
  • Identify habits of cover-up. Where, for reasons of shame, guilt, or comfort do we cover up and present self as someone we are not?

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling, deception, Justice

Can you have “church PTSD”?


A friend of mine has written about her experience as a pastor’s wife and youth worker. Having gone through several painful experiences–“normal” church drama and then way beyond normal–at the hands of other church leaders, she details her current “church PTSD” that kicks in now when considering going to church

What if I WANT the community and the bumping up against different people with different opinions, but I CAN’T, I mean physically CAN’T go?  I have usually discovered in life that if I have a feeling, I’m not the only one.  So it makes me think there must be others out there like me.

What do I mean by “physically unable”?  I shake, I cry uncontrollably, my skin crawls, I am unable to speak.  It’s pretty difficult to be a part of a community, broken or not, with all of that going on.

Honestly, I have something akin to a PTSD (not to take away from anyone who actually has full-blown PTSD) when it comes to church.  When I hear people talking in Christian catch phrases I want to run away.  This is the language of the culture of people who persecuted and bullied my family and me.  If you speak their language, you must be one of them, too.  So I stay away.

Having worked with a large number of current and former pastors and families, this reaction is sadly not unique. So, it begs the question: What might be the root of this “church PTSD” (by the way, I think some of these features sound just like PTSD so we may not need the quotes)?

My friend hits the nail on the head: we accept meanness in the church because we fear disrupting our own safety and security.

there is a culture of acceptance in the church today that allows for people to be treated terribly under the umbrella of it being what is “best for the church”.  I would imagine that if a teacher was abusing children in the toddler department or if there were drunken parties going on at youth group there would be some type of outrage, as there should be.  But somehow just plain being “mean” doesn’t garner any type of outrage.  “It’s not ideal, but we are fallen people, after all, so you can’t expect anything better.”

Read her full post over at Scot McKnight’s blog here. Consider what one thing you might do to stand up to those who put down others rather than image Christ in sacrificing for the weaker party.  

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, conflicts, suffering, trauma