Religion has been used for centuries by the human race as a means of guidance and support. It’s at the very center of so many people’s beliefs and understanding of the world. Our communities have been shaped and guided by our religions. As powerful and comforting as the concepts of God, religion and spirituality are – they’ve also been the source of pain and torment in some people’s lives.
Religion is a touchy subject to navigate because it’s personal to everyone. This article isn’t meant to paint religion in a negative light – we respect all religions and spiritual beliefs or lack thereof. A reality that exists is that religion can be used and abused as a means of control and manipulation. Some people have been hurt by religious leaders and their actions, the culture of the religion or harmful doctrine that results in pain and trauma – religious trauma.
People who exhibit signs of religious trauma are mostly the ones who’ve left or escaped from fundamentalist religious groups, cults and abusive religious situations. This is not to say that it’s limited to just them. Anyone can experience religious trauma if there’s spiritual abuse through exploitation, oppression, control, coercion, dictatorship and violence from religious leaders in power and other members of the religion or harmful belief systems/rituals.
Some examples of religious trauma are (these are not limited to one religion):
- Extreme feelings of guilt and shame surrounding sex or sexuality
- Fear (real or perceived) of religious leaders, systems, going against the religion and consequences/punishment
- Staying in abusive situations like abusive marriages
- Passivity – not questioning the religions – its beliefs or authority figures
- Financial insecurity from not having enough money to channel towards the religious institutions
Symptoms of religious trauma are:
- Feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, sadness, grief or other mental health struggles
- Feeling lost or directionless without the religious group
- Extremist thinking or beliefs
- Negative self-view, low self-esteem and negative thoughts about others
- Feeling lonely, isolated or out of place from losing your community or questioning the religion
- Difficulty re-integrating with the world outside the religion
- Lack of critical thinking because of the indoctrination
- Slowed development – mentally, physically, socially, sexually, etc.
- Poor boundary-setting skills or lack of
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder like nightmares, flashbacks, reoccurring thoughts
- Loss of interest in things that would bring you joy in the past
- Blaming yourself for the bad things that happened to you
How To Start Healing Your Religious Trauma
Anyone who has left their religion can attest that it’s a very painful process of leaving behind everything you thought you knew. Coming to terms with the abuse is also difficult because for most people it doesn’t feel like abuse when they’re in the religion. A lot of grace is needed when unlearning and unweaving a lifetime of beliefs and practices.
The best place to start is in therapy where you unpack uncomfortable pasts and emotions in a safe space that welcomes all your questions, fears and uncertainties. Navigating all these feelings of confusion, anger, loneliness, grief and sadness requires professional help. Chances are that you have lost your social fabric if your views and theirs no longer align. You will feel like nobody understands you but not in therapy.
Working with a professional who isn’t biased or judgmental is an important step toward moving forward and gaining clarity. You don’t have to worry about saying the wrong things or being politically correct so as not to offend. We will take you through trauma therapy and walk with you towards recovery. Schedule your free consultation call today.