When Trauma Comes from Father Figures or Forced Termination

This was the view from the Jade Room where I presented at the conference.

In my ADAM Conference presentation, I referred to an article on PTSD. Here is the excerpt from that article, which was actually my own writing.  The full article is attached below.

When Trauma Is Inflicted by Father Figures. When trauma is intentional, it is a blow to the whole psychological system. Victims of unintentional trauma (natural disaster) show a much greater likelihood of experiencing a decrease in symptoms over time whereas those who are victims of intentional trauma (something inflicted on purpose) tend to show an increase in symptoms over time (Brew, 2017).  One of those great trauma-imposers seems to be when it comes from authoritarian figureheads.  Perhaps the hardship of this type of trauma comes from what Sigmund Freud observed as “a common illusion of a father surrogate that loves all of the individuals in the group equally” (as sited in Northcut & Kienow, 2014).  In the military, for example, the “commander” in chief is the father figure who supposedly loves all of his soldiers equally.  However, when a soldier is violated by such a figure, the feelings of betrayal leave the person in complete confusion and distress (Northcut & Kienow, 2014).  To add to the conflict, members of that group, believing the “surrogate father illusion,” will often call into question the trustworthiness of the victim, and, in support of the authority figure, quickly diminishes the reports of the individual, leaving the person without a sense of their own personal and professional identity (North & Kienow, 2014).

In a similar fashion, church-goers often look to elders and ministers in their churches as father figures. Trauma from this source can be particularly harmful as many members feel their church leaders are closer to God than all others.  Hence, this can be particularly distressing when children and adolescents, and even adults, are abused by clergy or other adults within the church as there may be additional ramifications because they have been violated by individuals who allegedly represent forgiveness, love, and trust at its best (Cook, 2005).  In addition, traumatic reminders of the actual event may occur by just attending church or even seeing congregation members that echo the trauma, causing retraumatization (Northcut& Kienow, 2014).  Thus, such violations generate immense emotional and spiritual distress not only for victims and their families, but can also cause great harm for everyone associated with the church (Cook, 2005).

When Trauma Comes through the Means of Forced Termination. It is not just members of church congregations that sometimes undergo hard experiences in church settings, however.  Trauma can also occur to those leading church groups or organizations.  Indeed, another demeaning and psychologically distressing experience that has received little attention and research is forced termination of clergy due to mobbing (Tanner, Wherry, and Zvonkovic, 2012).

Mobbing “involves hostile and unethical communication, which is directed in a systemic way by one or a few individuals mainly toward one who, due to mobbing, is pushed into a helpless and defenseless position, being held there by means of continuing mobbing activities” (Tanner et al, 2012).  Mobbing increases risk factors for PTSD symptoms, leading to severe health consequences with more than half of those sampled receiving medical treatment (Tanner et al, 2012).  The greatest shown cause of mobbing is a refusal for established congregations to accept new ministers or leaders into the community of worshippers (Tanner et al, 2012).  In such situations, the mobbing has nothing to do with error or competency but bigotry, gossip, jealousy, and prejudice. When a new minister or leader is not favored by a few established members within the church, the effects of mobbing are shown to be highly contagious as previously passive members become convinced that the new leader is a threat to them, thus increasing the number of mob supporter, hence inflicting psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual abuse upon the mobbed victim (Tanner et al, 2012).  As a result of such hatred and confusion, ten to twenty percent of church-mobbing victims developed a serious illness or committed suicide as a result of being mobbed (Tanner et al, 2012).


As a note of interest, I have suffered both types of these traumas.  There are many more types that I did not have room to address in the confines of this article.  The full article can be found here. The Ferocious and Tenacious Tentacles of PTSD

A FB Trauma group has been created!  Please join! 🙂 LDS Trauma and PTSD Facebook Group


One thought on “When Trauma Comes from Father Figures or Forced Termination

  1. Tom Irvine says:

    Danna, I want to amplify one of your points. In the LDS Church, leaders are regarded as representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ. So when a member experiences trauma, or “unrighteous dominion,” at the hands of a leader, then the member may feel rejected by the Lord himself. The unrighteous actions of a leader can thus drive a wedge between the member and the Lord.

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