A Century of Trauma
Part One: What We Are Facing

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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”

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?”

“Sure”.

“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””

Conflating The Preacher with Expertise

experts 2

He stood in his pulpit and looked intently at the 500 people attending. Then he made his pronouncement:

“All mental illness at some level is the result of sin in a person’s life.”

He went on to explain how depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mania, PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, and a host of other disorders were caused by combinations of unrepentant sin, lack of faith, demonic activity, curses, and lack of knowledge of the Bible.

At one point, he claimed that all schizophrenia is demonic possession and the only cure is exorcism.

At the time, he had not written any books or appeared on television. Now, he has books, television and social media outlets, invitations to speak around the globe. Though he has downplayed some of his previous views on mental illness, in several interviews he has reiterated his global stance.

From the pulpit, preachers take similar approaches to other areas of “expertise”:

  • City Planning
  • Medicine
  • Law
  • Immigration policy
  • Monetary policy
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Business practices
  • Investment strategies
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Physical Exercise
  • Law Enforcement
  • Education (both grade school and college)

…on and on.

In our world, we rightfully acknowledge some people have attained levels of expertise in all these areas. Over the centuries, we have come to define the Experts by looking at their education, experience, what they teach, how accurate their assessments and proposed strategies have played out, how respected they are among their peers.

That is how we can identify an expert.

When members of the NRA spoke out against a doctor who criticized their position on gun ownership by telling him to “stay in his lane”, the medical profession hit back. What they said was extremely valid: those who are wounded by gunfire are treated by doctors and nurses. This is our lane!

Society would be foolish not to rely upon experts who are renowned and published in their fields. We would never want someone who has no expertise doing surgery, building a skyscraper, or flying an airplane.

Yet we allow preachers to make bold statements on subjects for which they have no expertise. Not only do they often disagree with the experts, but they demand congregations accept them as the Experts instead.

Why do preachers do this? And why do we allow it? Continue reading “Conflating The Preacher with Expertise”

Cursing, Swearing, and Cussing Explained

hand-over-mouth

Before, you start reading, I am going to warn you explicitly and nicely.

I will be using the “F” word several times. And not a bleeped out version of it. There is a reason for it. This is a very serious explanation of words and how we use them. I am concerned that people are making many mistakes with their speech. We get bent out of shape about the innocent words, and we overlook the really dangerous ones.

So, if seeing the “F” word in print bothers you to the point of distraction, please don’t read further. I post here a sanitized summary of what the Bible says about these things:

Cursing is all about sending verbal harm to others

Taking the Lord’s name in vain is about empty religion

Swearing has to do with taking oaths to guarantee you’re telling the truth.

Cussing is a verbal response to intense emotions inside.

More than any other point I am making, understand this. No word is bad in and of itself. No word. It is the context, purpose, and heart condition that makes a word wrong.

Again, read no further if your purpose is to be outraged that I am using the full version of the “F” word. Continue reading “Cursing, Swearing, and Cussing Explained”

The Dopamine Factor in Porn

dopamine

In 2016, I published my book “Overcoming Porn”. At this time, it has sold over 20,000 copies even though I did little advertising and published it only in e-book format.

Over the next month, I will be excerpting selected portions for this blog. This second article reviews the role that dopamine plays when people use porn.


Porn does stimulate the production of dopamine, but in a much different way than opioids and chocolate. This difference changes the way we must approach kicking this habit.

To understand how porn causes unique brain reactions, we need to review a few things about how the brain works. At this juncture, it would be best to discard most of the metaphors you have ever heard about the brain. It is not a telephone switching system or a complex computer. There are no switches in the brain. You don’t remember things the way a computer does. There are no memory banks ready to spew out information like a laptop.

The brain is a complex chemical soup, able to differentiate between chemicals which some laboratory instruments could not detect. There are hundreds of different chemicals rolling around in the brain, and each of these can affect how you react to information and how you perceive the world. Every time your external senses detect something, the brain releases chemicals from the end of neurons to signal other neurons how to react. You do this a million times an hour, billions of times in a month.

I don’t want to get too technical, but this next part is crucial. Electricity is produced in the brain via biochemical reactions. These reactions take place in the tiny gaps between neurons called Synapses. The signal is carried across the gap by chemicals. When the chemical hits a receptor on the other side, it causes the message to be carried electrically down the next neuron to the next synapse. Think of Paul Revere passing word about the coming of the Redcoats. Your brain sends signals by chemical Paul Reveres. Continue reading “The Dopamine Factor in Porn”

The Five Lies that Victims Believe

falsebeliefs

In 1987, I wrote an article telling the story of four sisters who had been molested by their father. Each of them had been molested the same way. Each experienced this at the same age–he moved on from one to the next with maniacal precision. Of course, each of them had been emotionally damaged by the abuse.

I wrote the article for a psychological journal more to point out the differing outcomes of each one. Though they were all affected negatively by the abuse, they all compensated differently to it as adults. They each gave me permission to share their story since I had counseled every one through to health.

But I was intrigued by what they wouldn’t allow. Their father was still alive and still married to their mother. I had talked about the possibility of all four of them confronting him on what he had done. Though they could not have him charged because of a Statute of Limitations, they could have the satisfaction of letting him know how his crime had changed their lives. There is a healing aspect to confrontation.

But all four refused to do it. Curiously, each of them had a different reason:

  • One was afraid it would kill their sick mother
  • One felt she had somehow participated in the abuse and had no moral grounds to confront him.
  • One was sure confronting him would destroy her inside
  • The final one felt she would never be able to get the words out of her mouth.

Their unique responses to confrontation underscores how each victim experiences abuse and assault differently. But it also shows that every victim wrestles with different beliefs emerging out of the abusive situation. Continue reading “The Five Lies that Victims Believe”

Two Doors—Two False Ideas

I grew up in a “cowboy” town in central British Columbia in the 1960s. I say it was a cowboy town because our area was surrounded by 100s of ranches, and everyone in the region attended our rodeo and exhibition which centered around 4H events and ranch life. Our rodeo occupies a place in cowboy lore just a step behind the famous Calgary Stampede.

I hung out with several legit cowboys in high school. After high school, I worked on a cattle ranch and cowboy life became part of my biography.

Most Cowboys like to drink, and the men in our town were exceptional at it. My dad loved to drink beer and play poker, both of which were pasttimes of our town. My dad spent many afternoons and evenings at the saloon near our house. He spoke about it in glowing terms. It was like a mistress he was not ashamed to admit he visited.

One day, Dad, Mom and I were out for a walk. We walked by the bar and Dad pointed out this was the place he told me about. I had seen it before, but now I noticed one of its features. It had two entrances.

On the one door was the word “Men”. On the other door it said “Ladies and Escorts”. (Note: in the 60s, “escort” did not mean prostitute. It referred to a person who escorted another person to a social event. It could refer to either men or women).

I asked Dad why they had two different entrances. “It’s to protect the women”, Dad said. “If a woman goes into the man’s side without a man with her, she is not safe. No woman would want to do that.” I believe he was telling me this: This place is not safe for women without male protection. Continue reading “Two Doors—Two False Ideas”

Anger is Increasing – but why?

This morning, my dog and I crossed the road at a four-way stop crosswalk. There were cars at all four corners of the intersection. I waited until all four who had been waiting went and then I started across. It was 7:50, which probably meant some of the drivers waiting for me were almost late for work. That’s the setup for a situation you have already guessed at.

I was halfway across, when the driver right beside me honked the horn. Neither I or my dog was going slowly. As that happened, the car opposite just screeched her tires and ran through, missing me by about four feet. Inexplicably, she gave me the finger.

Yesterday, the Interstate by my house was closed for several hours. At 4 am two men had an incident of road rage. They stopped by the side of the road to argue some more. One of the men beat the other to death with a blunt instrument. Then he walked away from it and while he walked up the freeway, he was hit and killed by a car going by.

Another friend barely escaped an incident in Portland two weeks ago when white supremacists and anti-fascist groups were protesting *something* and my friend came out of a brunch engagement into the middle of it. She told me she had never seen anger like that.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the abominable show of anger and vitriol at Charlottesville, Virginia. Who can get those angry images out of the head?

In the January 5, 2016 issue of Time Magazine, one of the editorials had the title “Why Are Americans So Angry About Everything”. This was two and a half years ago, and they reported that every year for the past decade, people in this country have gotten angrier than the year before. They presented some fairly plausible reasons for this surge of indignation, but they proposed no real solution.

Since I seem to have a regular front row seat for other people’s anger, I am curious as to the reasons myself. Is it the same as it has always been? Perhaps. But I think our obsession with telling the rest of the world our opinion and the means to truly get it out to everyone (television and Internet) has coalesced together into a firestorm of anger.

For the spiritual woman or man, this anger feels like a degenerative disease. Though we have to admit that few things change without someone getting angry, the anger of Today does not seem constructive in any shape. Destruction exists at the core of most anger these days.

What is fueling it? There are many reasons, maybe as many as there are people. But there are some psychological trends which show up a lot.

1. Entitlement. Nothing fuels anger quicker than that sense you are not getting treated the way you are entitled. If someone cuts you off in traffic, doesn’t represent you in government, doesn’t give you a raise, won’t listen to you, this brings out that sense of indignation.

2. Deficit. We do not like to feel we are falling behind others on no account of our own. We do not want to hear the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. This sense of deficit I believe is what caused the person to honk their horn at me and the woman to almost run me down. I had let four cars go before walking through–but I had made them wait. Abraham Lincoln was asked one time why his boys were fighting. “They have this world’s disease” he answered. “I have three cookies and they both want two.”

3. Threatened. Many times, anger is fueled by fear. We are afraid and need to protect ourselves. The Amygdala in our brain is designed to respond to fear with a countering burst of angry emotion. This emotion may be what spawned the fatal road rage incident near my house. It certainly creates the attack/counter-attack scenarios associated with many public protests.

4. Status. We do not want to lose ground in life. The most common “game” interaction between humans is called the Zero Sum Game. That is, if one person is perceived to win in a situation, the other person is perceived to have lost. Because so much of American culture is built around the Zero Sum Game, we don’t even see it any more. We no longer see the Cooperative Principle which states “unless we all win, we all lose”. When we believe we are losing in any relationship, our natural reaction is anger.

5. Intimidation. Building on the concepts of Status and Entitlement, the idea that only the strongest survive also fuels our anger. From the child who throws a tantrum even before entering the grocery store, to the gang member who brandishes his weapon the first time he meets a new gang member, many people feel the need to stake out their territory before it is taken from them or challenged. The best way to indicate this is anger. It is our way of saying to someone, “be wary, I’m watching your every move”.

You may be able to see that all of these are incompatible with the life lived following Jesus. He cared nothing for Status. He could have intimidated others, but instead washed their feet. He felt no need to threaten anyone, and even when he could have called down angels from heaven, he refused to. He warned his disciples to ignore the deficit they felt inside toward each other and to serve each other instead. And he did not feel he was entitled to hold onto his status as God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.

As goes the Master, so go the servants.

It is time we looked at our anger to see if we are being angry in a godly way. “Be angry and sin not” the book of Ephesians says.

Is that your anger?