Over the years I have heard hundreds of ministers tell me their stories of loss and pain. The symptoms that they describe most often resemble those who are experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It would be good for each NetMender to learn more about this condition. There is one additional complication for a spiritual leader that must be considered – that being the spiritual attack that accompanies most forced terminations which devastate the inner being.
It would be wise to look at some of the studies about PTSD to understand the emotional difficulties wounded shepherds face. A couple of helpful websites are http://www.amerrescue.org/ptsd.htm and http://www.sidran.org/ptsdbrochure.html (while these web pages may be useful for information, we cannot vouch for the website in general) . The more we learn about their troubles the better we can offer the practical and specific aid that will help them recover.
While it is my personal belief that Jesus is the ultimate and immediate healer of wounded shepherds, the following advice can spur on the process in the natural realm.
Most of all wounded shepherds need to feel safe. Anyone who has been extremely hurt by other people has learned not to trust anyone. This is how you survive. They will not trust you at first. It takes patience and persistent caring. But, you can make them feel safer, which in time will greatly aid in their recovery. All of us know how to do this. Begin with simple acts of kindness and let them know you actually care. When they need their space, leave them alone. The following are the things that they need to know:
They need to know you will respect their boundaries and not force them to do anything that they do not want to do. The trauma that wounded shepherds has experienced bulldozed down their walls of safety, protection and sense of self. It shattered all of their boundaries and dragged them to places that they did not desire to go. They loss control of all that matters to them. So, to return to health they need to know that their wishes matter and you will not demand things of them that they do not choose to do. Even if God gives you insight to the depths of their being, they need to know that you will not attempt to invade their privacy.
They need to feel accepted and not judged. When a shepherd has been violated they turn to inspecting themselves and discover many things they cannot stand. Their self judgment is harsh and may tell them that they do not deserve to live. These thoughts are enhanced by the enemy who wants them to turn from God’s grace and forgiveness. NetMenders need to remain close to them and accept and affirm them as having great value. They need it repeated to them that what they have been through did not “spoil or ruin” them. They are still valuable to God and needed here on earth.
Shepherds need to talk and be listened to. This is a sign of respect and care. Read each email and respond quickly. Hurting shepherds may want to talk about their problems a lot – perhaps more than you are able to bear, but it is vital that you provide ample opportunity for them to just talk. It is one of the most important things that you can do.
Pay particular attention to their feelings, allowing them to fully express themselves. When a shepherd has been deeply wounded their feelings can freeze up. They go numb and turn on their survival mode. That is God’s way of helping them get through what they have to endure. When it is over they need to get their feelings back so they can function again and not go through life shut down on their inside. If their feelings are not awakened they may attempt to self medicate themselves with alcohol, drugs, porn or sex to give them good feelings to mask over their buried feelings of pain and sorrow. Don’t push them. God’s healing is on the way. By allowing them to vent their feelings, you will promote the Lord’s natural healing process.
At times we all need to be left alone. Help shepherds only when they want help. Sometimes shepherds are simply not ready to face what happened to them, or to experience their own feelings. When they do not want to talk about something, respect it. Some healings take more time than others. If you are uncertain when to speak or when to back off, ask. Asking permission to talk about something empowers them and helps them to reestablish their own boundaries. If the shepherd is having flashback moments or nightmares, this is normal. It is a means for the person to attempt to bring some of the forgotten experiences to be a part of their life again, to master them, make sense of them and integrate them into their life so they can move on with living. This is a major step forward in the healing process for a wounded shepherd.
What are the best things to do to help?
- Your continued presence is the most important gift that you can give. Many people think that the best help comes from professionals as they have medical training and know what to say. That is simply not true. What is most important to the badly injured is that they know you are there and that you care. They need to know that you are focusing all of your attention on them. They need you to be open and honest while you are reading their emails with your whole heart and gift of discernment. They want you to feel their life.
- You are to be a neutral party. Wounded shepherds need your neutrality. Many of the events that you will hear about will elicit very strong personal feelings in you. You may feel anger, sadness, shock, horrified or deeply disturbed. It is OK to share a little of these feelings so you can identify with them and to remind them that it is appropriate to feel. But, our goal is to help them feel their own feeling again and they usually need to have a calm, grounded presence rather than your emotional reactions. Their feelings need to occupy their life, not yours.