A Century of Trauma, Part 2: How Each War Affected America’s Trauma

Henry Lang came to Downton Abbey to take over as the Valet to the Lord Grantham when the Lord’s previous valet had to leave suddenly. This fictional account of a household of the English aristocracy is originally set during the early days of World War 1. The writers of Downton Abbey researched how the war affected different individuals in England. Lang’s short time at the Abbey is one of the most sublime.

Lang had to leave the war because of a condition we now call PTSD. At the time, it had various names: Shell shock, soldier’s heart, war neurosis, and Combat Fatigue. The general population did not treat these soldiers well. They were often considered cowards and treated like lesser humans.

Lang came to the Abbey and at first everyone was impressed by his skill set as a valet. But quickly he showed signs of emotional deterioration. What made it difficult for Lang is the Abbey was being used to convalesce injured officers. Eventually Lang collapsed emotionally after seeing too many wounds and groaning soliders, and he left the Abbey in shame. Nothing more is said of him for the entire series.

This poignant portrayal of a character is accurately written. It is estimated as many as 100,000 British soldiers had this condition. If one adds the American, Canadian, French, Belgian, and soldiers of other allied nations, the number of soldiers suffering PTSD may have reached 1.5 million.

It is estimated as many as 100,000 British soldiers had this condition. If one adds the American, Canadian, French, Belgian, and soldiers of other allied nations, the number of soldiers suffering PTSD may have reached 1.5 million. Click To Tweet

According to David J. Morris writing in The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Over half a million men were permanently evacuated from the fighting for psychiatric reasons, enough to man fifty combat divisions.” And though many of them were sent to mental institutions, they were not treated with any compassion.

David J. Morris

Despite its prevalence, shell-shock was often attributed to moral failings and weaknesses, with some soldiers even being accused of cowardice.

Smithsonian Magazine also notes that they used horrific methods to wake up the soldiers from their internal nightmare:

Dr. Yealland asserted that his treatment cured all the most common “hysterical disorders of warfare”—the shaking and trembling and stammering, the paralysis and disorders of speech—sometimes in a single suspect half-hour session. Electric heat baths, milk diets, hypnotism, clamps and machines that mechanically forced stubborn limbs out of their frozen position were other strategies. As the war settled in, and shell shock—both commotional and emotional—became recognized as one of its primary afflictions, treatment became more sympathetic.

Even more tragic are some of the therapies adopted by American therapists. Many of them believed these soldiers needed to be shocked back to reality with a “hair of the dog” approach. Therapists kept these patients awake for days at a time. They re-enacted scenes of loud noises, flashing lights, and people falling down around them. The most heinous methods involved beating their bodies with sticks and hoses. One account says they used what we now call water-boarding to “wake up the dreary warriors.”

The WW1 soldiers drank heavily and commited domestic violence as they suffered through angst and depression. The roots for the American obsession with opiates trace their origin to the first world war and the untreated soldiers who came home with their PTSD pain untreated.

Why were these soldiers treated so starkly with so little empathic response? It was because not EVERY soldier returned with PTSD symptoms. Doctors and family members noticed that though most of the soldiers came home with the same stories about their experiences, only some of them showed the outward symptoms we associate with PTSD. Thus, people concluded that those soldiers with trauma symptoms had moral deficiencies.

Many of those with PTSD didn’t show the more notorious symptoms. They simply suffered in silence. But what is generally agreed is that whether each soldier had PTSD or not, most of them came back and medicated their pain. Whether through drugs or alcohol, whether with angry outbursts or isolation, the American society was shaken by a generation of men who were not the same as when they left.

This is the pattern we’re noting in this series of articles. War changes those who fight it. PTSD affects such a high percentage of them, even if they don’t show outward symptoms that others notice. And trauma sufferers affect their families in many negative ways. Thus, since we have four straight generations where war has affected the families of America, there are few family lines in our country not devastated by trauma.

Thus, since we have four straight generations where war has affected the families of America, there are few family lines in our country not devastated by trauma. Click To Tweet

We call this effect “Secondary Trauma”. Any individual who has had to live with someone suffering Primary trauma–which I contend is the majority of those who fight in war–will suffer some lesser forms of trauma themselves. If the primary trauma sufferer is violent, an alcoholic, or drug addict, many of their family members suffer Primary trauma themselves.

Since this has been occuring for four straight generations, it explains many of our societal ills. We will discuss that in a later article.

The trauma from the first world war went mostly untreated. And if it was treated, the treatments did not bring release and healing to those who suffered. But it didn’t stop there.

Just a dozen years after the end of World War 1, America experienced its worst recession in history. The impact on people recovering from the PTSD of WW1 was disheartening. In the first three years of the Great Depression, suicide rates jumped 20%. People were depressed, full of anxiety, given to violence, drinking, and drugs. In short, they experienced all the same symptoms of PTSD the soldiers did coming home from war.

At the end of the Depression, the US population was just eight years away from entering into the Second World War. I want the reader to consider what that must have been like. Millions of soldiers and their families had untreated PTSD from WW1. Then, just as the children of those soldiers reached teen years, they faced the PTSD as the result of the Great Depression. Before they even grew much older, these same teens were being sent to Europe and Asia to fight a war which was practically designed to create PTSD.

Millions of soldiers and their families had untreated PTSD from WW1. Then, just as the children of those soldiers reached teen years, they faced the PTSD as the result of the Great Depression. Click To Tweet

We call the ones who survived all of that trauma “The Greatest Generation”. As a whole, they were fortunate to survive at all. The ones who did not die or who were not institutionalized were still forever changed by what happened to them. Many of them were forced to serve in the second world war, or volunteered to do so. That started another round of PTSD and severe trauma.

As many as a million men may have returned from this war with PTSD. Almost all of them in combat situations suffered trauma. This is where the nation experienced a curious reaction to the soldiers. For the first time, the psychiatric/psychological community began to see these soldiers as emotionally damaged. And, for the first time, they were not shunned from society when they returned. They were hailed as heroes because of their service. And, since hospitals were no longer torturing them through treatment processes, some soldiers actually received help.

In 1952, a group of psychiatrists working for the APA developed a glossary of terms to describe psychological ailments and disorders. It was called the DSM. In that first volume, they identified a condition called “Gross Stress Reaction”. They recognized this as a disorder related to soldiers in particular. This is part of that diagnostical description:

This diagnosis is justified only in situations in which the individual has
been exposed to severe physical demands or extreme emotional stress, such
as in combat or in civilian catastrophe (fire, earthquake, explosion, etc.).
In many instances this diagnosis applies to previously more or less “normal”
persons who have experienced intolerable stress

Diagnostical and Statistical Manual, 1952

This “intolerable stress” was now definable and discernible by the medical community. But, because it was so new, very few soldiers benefited from treatment.

The television show MASH, set in the Korean War, highlights some of the changing attitudes toward PTSD. Several of their guest characters suffer this gross stress reaction and are sent home or treated in hospital. At the same time, some of the show’s recurring characters, such as Majors Frank Burns and Margaret Hoolihan, considered these men to be slackers and fakers.

Most military leaders were of the same opinion.

The soldiers who came home from WW2 gave birth to the baby boom generation. At the same time, they developed the largest alcoholic problem in history. More men suffered from alcohol addiction than at any other time before or since in America. With this alcohol dependency came violence, abuse, broken marriages, and broken bodies.

The soldiers who came home from WW2 gave birth to the baby boom generation. At the same time, they developed the largest alcoholic problem in history. More men suffered from alcohol addiction than at any other time before or since in… Click To Tweet

The women in these marriages were prescribed tranquilizers to help them cope. There are estimates that between 50-6o% of married women were consuming tranquilizers during the 1950s, most notably Miltown, Librium, and Valium. Together, these drugs were dubbed “Mommy’s Little Helpers”.

Unfortunately, the children of these gorked-out women and drunk, violent men could not be prescribed pills. Instead, they “medicated” with cannabis and alcohol themselves, creating a host of 1960s drug and alcohol addicts. Many of these young men were then sent to Vietnam where they were introduced to even harder drugs.

Though it is impossible to accurately count, between 1-1.5 million soldiers experienced some kind of battle conditions during the Vietnam War. Since it is virtually assured that anyone who undergoes combat situations endures some kind of trauma, these people brought this trauma back stateside when they returned home. If their numbers correlate to the numbers in other wars, perhaps 200,000-400,000 of these trauma sufferers returned home with PTSD.

Today, if you walk the streets of any major American city, you will find that a sizable minority of the homeless are vietnam veterans. Most of these have PTSD. You will also find these people populating VA psych centers, drug and alcohol rehab centers, and any other place where those with mental illness reside.

According to the National Vietnam Veterans Study, a government-led study of those who suffered trauma in the Vietnam War, a sizable minority of the soldiers still are affected by PTSD to this day. Here is their conclusion:

While NVVLS findings confirm that the majority of Vietnam theater Veterans are both mentally and physically healthy, a significant number are still suffering from PTSD symptoms and other chronic health issues related to their service.

National Vietnam Veterans Study

Over the years, how has the Military and the VA responded to this horrific toll on human life? They have sought to cover it up. As one psychiatrist at Fort Bragg told me “The Army has no use for those with mental illness. And we cannot afford to admit we caused it. That would cost too much.”

A study done by Yale University in 2018 concluded that there is significant evidence the Army has pressured non-governmental institutions to deny the effects of PTSD. Though the original DSM had a listing for war-induced PTSD, the second edition which came out during the Vietnam War removed it. According to the April 16, 2018 study published in the magazine “Chronic Stress“, the APA was ordered to eliminate all mention of combat-induced mental illnesses in the DSM-2. Recently released documents confirm the Army felt it would harm the morale of the troops.

A similar thing was done at the end of World War 2. Famous director John Huston created a documentary called “Let There Be Light” where he chronicled the almost 20% of soldiers who had PTSD from the war. The Army successfully blocked the release of this movie until 1981. At the time, they claimed it was to protect the privacy of the soldiers. But this has been shown to be completely false. It was to bolster the Military’s ability to recruit more soldiers.

Since the Vietnam war, we have experienced both Gulf Wars, wars in Afghanistan, Syria, the former Yugoslavia, and various peacekeeping flare-ups. One estimate is we have had another 2,000,000 soldiers coming home with some form of trauma.

One thing is clear from the overwhelming data and research: The U.S. Government and specifically the U.S. Military are quite aware of the psychological damage that war does to its soldiers. As I have read over 200 articles and 4 books on this subject, I come to a further conclusion: Because war PTSD has gone unrecognized and untreated for four consecutive generations, America has suffered completely from national PTSD, the likes of which few nations have ever faced.

Because war PTSD has gone unrecognized and untreated for four consecutive generations, America has suffered completely from national PTSD, the likes of which few nations have ever faced. Click To Tweet

In the next article, I want to show how this PTSD both affected and was treated by an institution which should have come to the aid of the wounded: The Church.

Instead of aiding the fight against the ravages of PTSD, the church has made it a lot worse.

Why I Work with Sex Offenders

This short article is part rant and part catharsis.

A common question I am asked is how I can be an advocate for those who have been horribly victimized in sexual assault and child sexual abuse, and also be a therapist for sex offenders.

Isn’t this, at the very least, a conflict of interest? Shouldn’t there be a separation of duties where one therapist focuses completely on one group, and a different therapist works with the other group?

I don’t see it that way. Please keep an open mind and heart.

In 1984, I was finishing up courses in abnormal psychology with Northwest Baptist College. As part of my study, I had to do an internship in related fields. Since one of those fields was sexual deviance, I enrolled in one of the programs the Province of British Columbia offered. I lived in a remote region of Eastern B.C. They were giving paid internships to anyone willing to work with men who had been released as sex offenders.

For six months, I met with seven different men. All of them had been convicted as child molesters. In addition, I also did case study interviews with three more men who were spending the remainder of their lives in jail for molesting children. One of those men had admitted to over 250 molestations; he kept a journal of all of it. That journal was the basis for his life conviction.

The first time I met with “Jake” he put me to the test. He peppered me with hundreds of details regarding his abusive behavior. I didn’t think I should walk out on him at the time.

I should have, actually. His behavior was classic Narcissistic Personality Disorder symptomology. The Narcissistic offender loves to self-aggrandize and make his exploits worse and more deviant than anyone else. I was feeding his lust for an audience. I have since learned not to do that.

After his first disclosure to me, I ran into the bathroom and threw up. This was something repeated several times over the next six months with others of my “clients”. I learned so much about sex offenders. I learned about their disordered thinking, their sociopathy, their lack of basic human empathy, the deviant nature of their inner parts.

After that internship, it was only a year before the first person came to me for counseling regarding sexual difficulties. Though this was not a strict abuse situation, it regarded the actions of a pastor and a congregant. I now know that his actions were a breach of his authority over this woman. I now know he may have broken the law. But, like other advocates, I was learning about these things and realizing we needed new labels for this behavior.

Though he was not as deviant as the men I had interviewed in the offender’s program, he did have some of the same tendencies, though in lesser form. In my work with him as a pastor and a therapist, I sought to integrate my spiritual understanding with my psychological knowledge. He became the first of almost 100 people I have worked with who have committed some kind of sexual crime. I have learned a lot.

And I apply a lot of that knowledge to my work in advocating for victims. I do have a good sense of what goes into the making of a sex criminal. I also know how the sociopathic, narcissistic, and borderline personalities work as they groom and control their victims. I know this because they have disclosed their messages in our private sessions.

This perspective gives me the tools I need to help the victims not be victims any more. It helps me to work with organizations and institutions to figure out how to guard against predators among them.

At the same time—and this will shock and anger some of you—I also have compassion for the sex offenders. I don’t excuse them. I don’t defend them. I don’t sin-level or rationalize their behavior. But they are human beings for god’s sake. I am going to be the one who shows them a shred of decency in our society. They are one of the only groups that no one—NO ONE—will show any compassion for, for the rest of their lives.

Some of you are saying: “No one should show them any decency. They have done the worst thing you can do to another human.” I don’t disagree. I have worked with more victims of child sex abuse than maybe anyone reading this. I know the damage that offenders do to others. I don’t want to see them hurt anyone else, which is why I work with them. Most therapists refuse to work with offenders.

But they are virtually the only ones left in our society with Scarlet A’s on their chest. Even in prison, the other prisoners beat them up, rape them, murder them. Once they get out, they will never ever get a decent job. For the rest of their lives.

If you cannot have any compassion on someone in that situation, I don’t know how to help you have some. Some of you reading this are thinking, “Mike has lost it”. I have not. I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. That is my choice.

You are allowed not to.

You are allowed to have a scale on who the worst people are.

That is your choice.

I choose to work with both victims AND sex offenders. That is my choice.


My Struggle to Believe in a Bible Without Errors

I have believed in the doctrine of Inerrancy at various times during my 50 years as a follower of Christ. But I can’t say I have always believed it. For me, the evidence that this doctrine is true gets slimmer as time passes.

I want to make this clear: I am not trying to convince anyone. This is just my journey. This article may help others who are in situations where they cannot express their doubts about Inerrancy and still maintain relationships with other Christians of their tribe.

Just so you know. You can believe whatever you want. These are my struggles.

This morning, I texted my wife and asked if she would read Numbers 31 again. I suggested she read it as if she was not a follower of Christ, and not someone with a high opinion of the Bible. As we digested its contents together, we realized it was saying that God had ORDERED the Israelites to:

  1. Kill all the Midianite boys
  2. Make all the virgin girls their sex slaves
  3. Kill all the women who had sex before
  4. Kill all the men
  5. Set fire to all their towns
  6. Reward the most violent soldiers with more spoils from the massacre.

Get your head around these stated “facts”: God commanded sex slavery. God commanded slaughter of children.

Get your head around these stated "facts": God commanded sex slavery. God commanded slaughter of children. Click To Tweet Continue reading “My Struggle to Believe in a Bible Without Errors”

A Polymath and the Pain

A polymath (Greek: πολυμαθής, polymathēs, “having learned much”; Latin: homo universalis, “universal man”) is an individual whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.

–Wikipedia definition of “Polymath”.

This past year, I have learned a hard truth about myself. I’m not who I thought I was, and who other people may still think I am. And it hurts me to have to admit that to myself. It is painful but cathartic to admit it to you.

Around this time last year, I had a minimal existential crisis. A certain SiriusXM radio station broadcast their list of the 1000 greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Because I was on the road a lot that month, and because they kept repeating the 1000 songs, I got to listen to various sections many times. There were so many songs that I didn’t bother arguing with where they should be placed on the list–until we got to the top 150.

That’s when I had my crisis. I actually only knew a few songs here and there. At one point, I listened for an entire hour and never heard a song I knew. The critical point came when I realized that the top 150 had five songs by The Who, and none of them were “Pinball Wizard”. And, I knew none of those songs. Not one. I also knew only two of the five Rolling Stones songs, none of the Grateful Dead songs, none of the Grand Funk Railroad songs (though I called them GFR like I was their biggest fan), and only a single Jimmy Hendrix song.

I was a fake. I thought I knew rock music, but it became apparent I only knew enough to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about. Once you scraped off the thin veneer of my rock music knowledge, I was all guitar solos and no substance.

My undergraduate degree is theology. I graduated Summa Cum Laude. My minor was in ancient languages since I wanted to be a bible translator at one point. I know how to sight translate Greek and Hebrew. I have extensive theological libraries.

But recently, I have listened to excellent podcasts like “The Bible for Normal People” and “Almost Heretical” and I realize I am the theological equivalent of Jon Snow: I know nothing. I am not being falsely humble to make a point. There are so many questions people are asking recently where not only do I not know the answer, I don’t even understand the question.

I realize this is another veneer of knowledge.

And there’s more. I have several thousand dollars worth of woodworking equipment. I know how to use most, if not all, of the tools. I can talk a great game. Most people assume that my house is full of hand-made furniture. And it could be considering the tools I have. But I pick up almost any woodworking magazine and realize I couldn’t make a simple box properly that they showcase. I just don’t know how.

I have a $2500 Taylor 514 guitar. I love it. I can play a lot of songs on it. But when musicians sit down with me to jam, I realize I cannot even begin to keep up with any of them.

See where this is going?

The problem is, I’m a polymath. I like to know a little bit about EVERYTHING. But I lack both the ability to concentrate and the drive to be an expert on just a few subjects. So I dabble, and read, and allow people to consider me an excellent conversationalist. Because, if polymaths can do anything, they are able to speak intelligently on many subjects. But they are experts at almost nothing.

The current theory on what it takes to be an expert at something says a person must log 10,000 hours in doing something to be an Expert. I guess I could call myself an expert counselor since I have accomplished at least that many hours. I have read over 500 books on counseling and therapy, I have certifications for eight therapies and approaches to emotional healing. And, I am always looking for new trauma approaches and ways I can help victims of sexual assault.

Of course, not everyone agrees of that definition of expertise. Robert Root-Bernstein believes that the future belongs to the polymath, not the expert. He shows in his research how polymathic adults achieve a much higher degree of creativity and original thinking compared to so-called “experts” in the same field. He notes,

Yet, I emotionally struggle. There is part of me that wants to achieve and make my mark on this world.

But I am just an avid and unfocused learner, and someone who remembers what he reads. I average over 100 books a year. I know that is a pittance compared to Teddy Roosevelt who read a book a day over his adult life. But then I compare it to our current President who says he has only read five books cover to cover in his life. I’m on that continuum between TR and DJT.

Though I don’t have a photographic memory, I do remember most of what I read quite extensively. It makes me a fair to middling polymath.

Here are subjects I can speak on without fearing others will know I don’t have much of a clue:

–Computer programming (I know COBOL, QBasic, and FORTRAN)

–Sleep disorders

–Psychopharmacology (I have taken 5 courses in the subject)

–Science Fiction (perhaps I have logged the obligatory 10,000 hours, but when I get around other Sci-Fi people, I am Jon Snow again).

–Fly Fishing

–Preaching and Teaching (I am ordained)

–Narcissism (I’ve written papers on it)

–Writing (I have published 4 books of my own and my writing is in four other compilations. I have also published over 150 articles on many subjects).

–The game Go (I’m a 14-Kyu level)

–Mathematics (I started out as a math major before abandoning it to go to theological school).

–Medicine. My math major was the first year of my pre-med. They forced me to change to a biology major for my second year…thus,


–Human sexuality. I have read over 200 books on the subject and done at least 1000 hours of counseling with others. Yet, I’m not certified as a Sex Therapist where I now live.

–Rubik’s cube (my fastest time is 3:45)

–Memory tricks (I can create and remember a Memory Palace of ten items in less than a minute)

–Music theory

–Creative Writing (I have taught high school classes on this subject). Yet, with the writing I have done, I don’t think I’m that skilled. Two of my four books I was forced to self-publish because I couldn’t find a publisher. I have had seven other books I abandoned because no one would publish them either.

–Economics. (Over 50 books read)

–Church history (over 100 books read)

–Poetry (I may have written 1000 poems. None are published)

–Sports. I played five sports in high school: Golf, track, rugby, soccer, football. I played all at a mediocre level except track. The reason I did better at Track was because I was on relay teams which were exceptional. I also played one season of basketball because they were several players short of the minimum needed to field a team. I suck at basketball.

–Cooking. Before my heart attack, I was known for my smoking and grilling knowledge.

–ADHD. I have it, I’ve lived it, I’ve studied it, I’ve counseled others on it. Some days I hate it. Some days I don’t.

–Personality Studies. I am a licensed trainer for Myers-Briggs (MBTI). I am licensed to administer the Strong Interest Inventory and I regularly consult on it. I am also knowledgeable about MMPI-2, Enneagram, IDAK, StrengthsFinder, DISC, and Big Five.

–Marriage. Married to one woman for 39 years.

I could keep going. But the longer the list gets, the more depressed I get. The story I tell myself is if I had focused on even two or three of the elements of this list, I could have accomplished so much. I can’t tell you how painful it is to feel like both a failure and a fraud.

I feel like a failure because I know I have so much potential to learn.

I feel like a fraud because I know that any day I may be found out as having less than minimal knowledge in most of these areas. And yes, I do know that is called Imposter Syndrome. I’m a polymath, remember?

Some of you reading this are polymaths. Even though Dr. Root-Bernstein thinks highly of us, I have my concerns. Though no one has ever recognized it as a psychological disorder, I feel at times that it is. Due to spending a year in a foster home at age three, I have struggled all my life with attachment styles that cause me pain if someone does not think well of me. That may fuel the polymath drive. I also was molested as a child and suffered severe depression before teen years. That may be a catalytic force for my driven nature.

I admit it is possible I may have become a polymath notwithstanding those factors. Who can say?

In recent years, I have let go of some of the things on this list. I have forced myself to read only down certain lines of thought. I digest more and more psychology/counseling texts, and more sexuality books on my reading list. I only occasionally read a Sci-fi novel, just to break up the litany of serious works.

It actually hurts to narrow my focus like this. I’m not even sure it is the right approach.

But sometimes, we have to go against the grain of our own ego state to accomplish what is really there for the taking.

A Century of Trauma
Part One: What We Are Facing


I am not slamming the Greatest Generation–or anyone else. This is a retrospective on what brought America, and its institutions, to the emotional crisis we are facing today. Click To Tweet

In 1998, the broadcaster Tom Brokaw published one of the most significant cultural books of the 20th century. He called it “The Greatest Generation”. It told the story of a generation of men and women who survived the Great Depression and then immediately went on to fight and win in World War II. There are many things I could quote from that book, but here is one which summarizes his thesis:

“There on the beaches of Normandy I began to reflect on the wonders of these ordinary people whose lives were laced with the markings of greatness….when they returned home,they married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinctive generation, the Baby Boomers. They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.”

Brokaw wrote these 464 pages to pay tribute to the bravery, sacrifice, and solid principles lived out by the survivors of that generation. There is one glaring problem with the book though. It only tells one side of the story.

And the other side of the story is dark and ominous.

In this article, I am not slamming the Greatest Generation–or anyone else. This is a retrospective on what brought America, and its institutions, to the emotional crisis we are facing today. We are identifying sexual abuse, sexual assault, leadership abuse, and significant trauma by victims in every corner. Some are asking if the Millennial generations are over-reacting or if things have gotten worse.

The primary thing I want the reader to know by the end of this study is that what we are experiencing now is hopefully the final season of healing for almost 100 years of PTSD as a nation.

Let’s begin again with Brokaw and his own words. In this video, he is remarking on people’s reaction to his book. One grown daughter of a WW2 veteran says this, “As I read your book, I realized that I never really knew or understood my father.”

I have heard this story too often in counseling. It is not just younger generations saying it;  I hear it from baby boomers who grew up with parents of the Greatest Generation. Here are the most common observations of those parents:

  • I never really knew them
  • They seemed distant
  • They were cruel, angry, and hurtful
  • They seemed locked into their own world
  • They weren’t very affectionate.

What caused the Greatest Generation to react this way? 

I contend they are not the only generation that has manifested strange and harmful behavior to their children. I believe that harmful and destructive behavior has been on display in American families for several generations. Where did this all start?

I believe it began with the 1st World War. The soldiers returning home from the war brought devastating post-traumatic stress with them. And this was never diagnosed. And if it was diagnosed, it was called something different. And then it wasn’t treated properly.

Long before the effects of this world war began to wear off, the entire nation entered into a brutal Depression. This Depression caused PTSD through hunger, danger, malnutrition, familial suicide ideation, alcohol abuse and many other reactions. 

Then, before this trauma could be processed and treated, the second World War happened. The effects of this, as I will show, were even more devastating than the first war. Within a generation of the first wave of trauma-recovery, an even bigger double wave came made up of survivors of the Depression and WW2.

Before the country had any chance of recovering from the effects of WW2–which we will describe in the next article–the Korean War happened. Then, before the effects of that war had diminished, the Vietnam War took place. There are many trauma scholars who feel the Vietnam War may have been the most devastating of them all in terms of its effects on the American family.

So now, from WW1 to the end of the Vietnam War, three straight generations of Americans had to cope with the effects of trauma. That is when we had hoped for a lull in the activity. But, by the time the Baby Boomers were entering adulthood, the Vietnam vets had all returned and were affecting their families with all the devastation of the other wars. The Baby Boomers experienced what is known as Secondary PTSD which can be almost as life-threatening as primary PTSD. 

Before a generation passed, the nation endured two Gulf Wars, the nationwide horror of 9-11, and one of the most prolonged recessions in American history. We add a fourth generation of PTSD to the mix. 

Thus, it would be proper to understand how trauma effects a person, that person’s family, and the culture which has to embrace it.

According to the book “Trauma-informed Care in the Behavioral Sciences”, trauma, 

including one-time, multiple, or long-lasting repetitive events, affects everyone differently. Some individuals may clearly display criteria associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but many more individuals will exhibit resilient responses or brief subclinical symptoms or consequences that fall outside of diagnostic criteria. The impact of trauma can be subtle, insidious, or outright destructive. How an event affects an individual depends on many factors, including characteristics of the individual, the type and characteristics of the event(s), developmental processes, the meaning of the trauma, and sociocultural factors.

Chapter 3 – Understanding the Impact of Trauma
Before a generation passed, the nation endured two Gulf Wars, the nationwide horror of 9-11, and one of the most prolonged recessions in American history. We add a fourth generation of PTSD to the mix.  Click To Tweet

Literally hundreds of books have been written to chronicle the possible effects of trauma. But, for the sake of this article, I want to highlight some of the most common ones which have affected families in America, and therefore, America as an entire society.

Look at this list, and see if you can figure out how this may have changed the very nature of the American family.

Trauma can cause:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Family violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Emotional dysregulation. This can result in emotional outbursts, completely shut down emotional response (known as Flat Affect), shame, sadness, out-of-control anger, panic attacks, and paranoia.
  • Body reactions, such as autoimmune responses, weakness, proneness to injury, injuries that won’t heal, back pain, migraines, digestive problems, heart problems, sexual dysfunction, neurological disorders, etc.
  • Sleep disorders
  • Schizo-affective reactions
  • General distrust toward people

Scan that list and ask yourself this question: If this trauma is not treated, how would it affect the family of the person who suffers the effects of trauma.

In the next article, we will explore the ways that trauma was perceived and dealt with by the four generations since 1914.

The Six Stages of Deconstruction

(This 2004 article appeared in its original form on the MTPastor blogger site I used to manage. The number of people experiencing Deconstruction has greatly increased since then. I decided it could use an overhaul).

“Tearing things apart is a powerful aspect of human nature.”

–Patti Smith

Greg and I had gone to high school together. We attended the same church and youth group. We graduated Bible College together and were ordained within a few months of each other. We genuinely liked each other.

So why did I want to punch him in the face?

I was just beginning to Deconstruct.

It was 1983 and my wife and I were at the national Congress of our Canadian denomination. The big issue being debated was whether women would be allowed to serve as pastors and elders in churches. For two years I had passionately advocated for full inclusion of women into ministry leadership positions. I had done my homework and was ready with all the theological arguments. I was ready to tear down the arguments of the Complementarians. I was even the person who brought the proposal to the committee which introduced the measure.

I had no idea Greg would make a complete ass of himself. I had no idea it would throw me into such an emotional tailspin.

He didn’t address the doctrinal issues. He didn’t appeal to historical precedent or denominational practices. He simply said: “Everyone here knows if we do this it will tear apart the church and God’s judgment will come on us all.”

With that, he was able to sway enough people to defeat the motion.

At that moment, I wrestled with whether to leave that denomination. They had already refused to ordain my wife at the same time as me the summer before. I had thought I would quit then, but she talked me out of it. When two of my close female friends from college had moved to a different denomination so they would be allowed to preach, I wondered why I was staying. Again, my wife talked me out of leaving.

When Greg used his scare tactic to convince thousands to make this decision, I actually decided to stay. But I was no longer, in my mind, part of the mainstream. I was tearing down the “good old boy, just stick with the majority” approach.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning what it means to deconstruct. Continue reading “The Six Stages of Deconstruction”

Myths and Misunderstandings about Demons

The 45 college-aged students were stunned and frightened. Some were weeping, and others were so angry they balled up their fists and held their breath. They looked around as if they were about to be the next victim in a Hallowe’en movie. “Jumpy” describes their mood. Some of them reported weeks later they had not had a good night’s sleep since that horrific weekend.

Was this a murder mystery experience? Did they just do a horror movie marathon? Or did they really experience a supernatural phenomenon?

Actually, none of those things happened. They went on a college-and-career church retreat with their church. They invited a group of seniors from a local Bible College to come and do some teaching and direction for their weekend.

“It will be fun”, they thought.

“It will be instructive”, they hoped.

“It will be the most chaotic moment of our lives”, imagined none of them.

The worst part was…I was one of the teachers that weekend. I and my fellow college students were zealous and ignorant–a very toxic combination. Continue reading “Myths and Misunderstandings about Demons”

How to Hang with God When you don’t want Church any more.

[Trigger Warning: This article contains references to child sexual abuse, religious abuse, church discipline, and bad treatment of members of the LGBTQ community which may trigger some readers].

She revealed to her Associate Pastor’s wife she was gay and hoped to find a female life partner. Within days, she was called before a meeting of the Elders. They demanded she repent from her wickedness.

She reminded them that she had just identified/admitted to herself that she was only attracted to women. She had not had sex and had not even kissed a girl.

Yet she was told it was time to repent or face church discipline. She told them she could not in good conscience pretend to be heterosexual. Days later, they informed her that the following would happen:

  • She was suspended from membership pending a time when she would publicly repent.
  • The Elders would read the notice of her suspension from the pulpit.
  • All members of the congregation–including her family members–would be told if they saw her or spoke to her they could only bring up the issue of her sin. They could not be friends with her or talk casually with her.
  • If she repented, she would never be allowed to do children’s or teen ministry. This was to prevent her from influencing young children toward lesbianism in the future.

She got angry at the church, God, and her family–who indeed shunned her–and vowed to never go to a church again. That was seven years ago. Continue reading “How to Hang with God When you don’t want Church any more.”

How Parent Teen Exchanges Work

A mother called me one afternoon all angry and confused. She got my name from her friend, one of my counseling clients. She agreed to meet me so she could discuss how to handle a disagreement between she and her daughter.

“Mike, I went into my daughter’s room and looked through all of her drawers. When she figured out I had done this, she became livid and won’t talk to me. It seems all year we’ve had this deteriorating relationship. I don’t know how to fix it.”

“Maria, can I ask you some questions to help you work this through?”


“Why were you looking through your daughter’s private dresser?”

“Well, first, I don’t consider her dresser as her private space. I bought it, I brought it home, I own the house, I set the rules.” I let this one slip for the moment. She continued.

“But the real reason I was doing it was because her best friend Nicole’s mom called me concerned the girls were doing Ecstasy at a party last week. I wanted to find out if she was hiding drugs in her room.”

“To your knowledge, has your daughter ever used recreational drugs?”

“I smelled pot on her earlier this year, but she denied it.” I also wanted to bring up the issue of acting upon unwarranted suspicions without having dialogue first, but I left that issue to another time.

“I didn’t find any drugs, but there was some stuff that really scared me. I found condoms in the bottom drawer. I found “Fifty Shades of Grey” in there as well. It just makes me sick to think about it.”

“Do you and your husband own your house outright or do you have a mortgage?”

“I don’t know why that’s important, but yes, we have a mortgage.”

“And Maria, if the bank sent over tellers and loan officers and began ransacking your house, looking through your financial statements and searching in all your drawers, how would you react?”

“Listen Mike, I know where you’re going with this. It’s not the same thing. My house is still mine, even if I have a mortgage. I’m protected by basic rights.”

“Of course you are. But don’t you think the attitude should be the same even if the laws governing our teens does not explicitly recognize their rights to the space they call their own? Shouldn’t we afford them certain levels of respect and dignity?”

Maria didn’t know what to say to this, so I continued.

“Maria, the basic idea behind Respectful Parenting is that teens must be afforded the same level of respect we give other adults. And it teaches that they must be allowed to make mistakes and be held accountable for those mistakes without parents always jumping in to save them or head off the problems. Most of that overseer attitude is reserved for the time before children become teens. As they reach age 11 or 12, we must change the rules and recognize their rights as adults.”

This was a lot for Maria to take in. Since she had never really recognized her daughter’s adult status, she was still operating as if she was a taller more mouthy child. The daughter however was aware of this and resented it. And the daughter was correct in resenting it. It is not appropriate.

If you treat a teen as an adult, there is a greater chance they will act like an adult sooner than their peers. And if they don’t, they were never going to act that way in the first place.

“Mike, what should I have done?”

“First, you start with some agreements between you and your daughter. Continue reading “How Parent Teen Exchanges Work”

Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel”

As a sophomore studying theology in 1975, I read the textbook for my Pastoral Counseling class and was shocked. Though at that stage in my life I had taken no psychology courses–that would come several years later–I knew enough about the basic philosophy of psychology to suspect this textbook was not accurate.

Little did I know that book would sell millions of copies and affect the viewpoints on psychology for an entire generation. The book is called “Competent To Counsel” written by Jay Adams. The book, and Adams are the cornerstone of an entire counseling methodology called “Nouthetic” or “Biblical” Counseling.

Though the Nouthetic group (referred to now as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors ) has many other resources they lay claim to, none is more influential than this book.

I do not like this book. I can state that up-front. I also do not agree with its premise: All psychology is humanism and must be rejected. Continue reading “Reviewing the Introduction of Jay Adams’ “Competent to Counsel””