Religious trauma and Spiritual abuse explained

I’ve mentioned religious trauma several times before but many people are unfamiliar with the term. You might have heard of spiritual abuse or religious abuse which leads to trauma when you’ve experienced that abuse for years, but any of those terms can be used to describe harmful religious teachings.

Religious Trauma Syndrome or RTS, is a function of both the chronic abuses of harmful religion and the impact of severing one’s connection with one’s faith or faith community. RTS is not yet an official diagnosis but there are many common symptoms of those affected by it that I’ll share later in this post.

Spiritual abuse is abuse administered under the guise of religion, including harassment or humiliation which may cause psychological trauma. This abuse can be coming from a faith leader such as a pastor or church elder who is inflicting abuse on congregation members, often by creating a toxic culture within the church or group by shaming and controlling members using the power of their position.

I get angry even writing about this because I have personally experienced this many times in churches. The most common thing I have experienced in religious groups is harassing, shaming and controlling women of any age. Pastors abusing their position to force their own agenda. I’ve seen pastors or other faith leaders using God as an excuse to mistreat others, saying things like “If you have a problem with my teachings, God said it first, not me”.

You might have grown up in these types of environments like I did and are sure you have been affected by spiritual abuse but here are some examples that you may have experienced if you are affected by this:

  • You have been shunned (persistently avoided, ignored, or rejected) because of your beliefs, gender, race or lifestyle.
  • You were threatened to remain in your faith community.
  • You left your faith community and are living with psychological trauma from years of being in that community.
  • You have broken or lost relationships after leaving your faith community. Your parents or other family or friends cut off communication with you or treat you poorly.
  • You feel inferior to others and assume no one is genuinely interested in who you are.
  • You lost interest in anything related to spirituality and have negative views of God and the church.
  • You assume people are judging you and you do not express yourself around others.

Some situations are extreme, people receive death threats, loose their jobs, or loose relationships after leaving a religious community but no matter what you personally experienced, we can all relate to many of these examples and more.

Religious Trauma can be compared to a combination of PTSD and Complex PTSD.

PTSD is short for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and causes anxiety or flashbacks triggered by a traumatic event.

Complex PTSD is a condition where you experienced some symptoms of PTSD along with additional symptoms, such as: difficulty controlling your emotions, feeling very hostile or distrustful towards the world.

Some symptoms of religious trauma are listed below:

  • Confusing thoughts and reduced ability to think critically.
  • Negative beliefs about yourself, others, and the world.
  • Trouble making decisions.
  • Feelings of depression, anxiety, grief, anger, or lethargy.
  • A sense of feeling lost, directionless, and alone.
  • A lack of pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy.
  • A loss of family, friends, or romantic relationships.
  • Feeling isolated or a sense that you don’t belong.
  • Feeling “Behind the times” with cultural happenings.

You may also be struggling with black and white thinking, irrational beliefs, difficulty trusting yourself or others, low self esteem, skewed views of sex, discipline, self expression, or relationships.

If you have been affected by spiritual abuse or trauma like myself and many others, there is hope for spiritual freedom and healing through exposing the damaging beliefs we were taught and starting the journey to a personal relationship with God. My hope for you and for myself is that through learning the truth of spirituality and trusting God to guide and bless our lives, we will find fulfillment and a purpose in this life.

So there you have it friend! I hope this was informative. Leave any questions or comments for me down below.

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