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Spiritual & Religious Trauma

"Healing was learning no one has ever laid a fingerprint on the part of me that's infinite"

               —Andrea Gibson


A Deep Wounding

Religious or spiritual trauma can arise when an individual has been excessively influenced by highly dogmatic or authoritarian individuals, environments, or communities. Such communities typically exert specific forms of control (also referred to as “undue influence”) over an individual’s behaviour, the information they are privy to, their thoughts, their emotions, and reality in general. In our culture there can be an assumption that religious and spiritual ideas are benign or generally positive, but this is not always the case. The problem does not necessarily rest within the ideology itself, but rather the psychological, emotional, and physical ways in which it is communicated and used to control others. 

Living With Spiritual Wounds

While we may have noticed trauma responses such as hypervigilance or a reactive nervous system happening within us for some time, our worldview and existential orientation can shatter when we begin to question indoctrination and excessive forms of influence. Often, we feel extreme confusion, dissonance, and emotional pain when we begin to parse through conflicting beliefs and identities that we may have always assumed to be true, and that we have been taught not to question. It can be distressing to try to logically confront ideas that are not logical or rational in nature, yet threaten our sense of wellbeing not only in this life, but potentially the afterlife as well. As confusion grows, sometimes we are left with no choice but to leave behind friends, family, and communities that have nurtured us for significant portions of our lives, and this can be highly traumatic. 


A Path of Reclamation

If you have suffered from religious or spiritual trauma, it is vital to connect with supports and resources that are invested in understanding the particular contexts, practices, and beliefs of your religious community, as well as the origins of this unique form of suffering. Religious and spiritual communities and orientations differ greatly. Religious trauma counselling is a collaborative process of differentiating which beliefs are truly yours from those that have arisen out of a process of indoctrination. It aims to identify your inherent strengths and capacities and put you back in the driver’s seat of your own life. The process usually involves discovering and incorporating new systems of belief and practice that are chosen by you, and are more aligned with your innate sense of integrity and your individuation path. As religious or spiritual trauma can mimic other forms of psychological distress, it is important to develop an understanding of the sources of suffering that arise specifically from a high-demand or oppressive environment and to unpack the systems of belief and behaviour that have interrupted your rights to autonomy and individual expression.

A Hopeful Future

It is important to know that you do not have to become an atheist to heal from religious trauma. While recovery from spiritual trauma can be extremely challenging, it is an opportunity to reclaim one's own relationship to spirituality, and atheism is only one option within that vast realm of possibility. Recovery from spiritual and religious trauma is a process that enables a person to emerge increasingly into a sense of freedom, integrity, self-awareness, and spiritual self-ownership. It is a reclamation of rights, agency, and authenticity, which are inherent and essential to a meaningful, aligned life, and which are our birthright.

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