Let’s start by defining what Religious Trauma Syndrome is and what could cause it, since this will help us explain and enumerate some of the symptoms that you could be experiencing if you suffer from this syndrome.
Religion in general, we are not discussing any specific religion or set of beliefs here, is a particularly important part of many peoples’ life and if it has been properly introduced it can teach us about humanity, love, compassion, faith, hope and many other positive values that can help us be better persons and that can also help us heal and provide the necessary tools to overcome difficult times.
Sadly, not everyone has had a good experience with religion, and therefore instead of contributing with one’s spiritual growth and instead of improving one’s quality of life religion can end up doing quite the opposite.
Growing Up in A Strict Religious Home
In strict religious homes it is very early on in life that children are taught about good and evil, and many times this information is accompanied by images of hell and a very long list of what makes us a bad person or a sinner, what is right and wrong, even our thoughts and most intimate feelings can be judged and can make someone feel dirty, immoral, guilty, confused, ungodly, inadequate, etc.
It is quite common that in an authoritarian indoctrination we hear and learn about a God we should be afraid of, one that judges, excludes, and punishes, instead of a God of love and forgiveness.
As humans we are bound to make mistakes, sometimes we do, say or feel things that we are not proud of. When you are brought up in a authoritarian religion or faith community and/or your parents or religious leaders are the type to manipulate and control through religion, your spirit will be crushed, you will not be able to forgive your mistakes, every “bad” thought you have or every single thing that you do or say that could be considered “immoral” will hunt you and be a cause for shame, low self-esteem, feelings of being underserving, and the list goes on.
These harmful practices end up causing trauma and diminishing the individual’s capacity for spiritual engagement in the future. Many choose to leave behind their religion when they are adults, and this also causes painful feelings that could also lead to depression or anxiety.
In the worse cases individuals can suffer not only spiritual abuse but they can also be victims of physical, emotional and even sexual abuse within their religious community which leads to more serious post-traumatic effects that can raise to the level of diagnosable PTSD.
Symptoms of Religious Trauma Syndrome
- Confusion, negative beliefs about self-worth, poor critical thinking.
- Anger, grief, anxiety, depression, loss of meaning, anger.
- Feeling of being alone and lost.
- Difficulty with pleasure, sexuality, and relationships.
- Loss of social network, family rupture, community isolation.
- Difficulty belonging.
- Symptoms of PTSD: nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, emotional difficulty.
If you’re questioning your symptoms and wondering if you have Religious Trauma Syndrome, you may want to ask yourself the following questions:
Was it or is it safe for you to challenge ideas about religion in your home?
Has anyone ever used religious texts of certain beliefs or rules to justify their harmful or abusive behavior towards you?
Have you ever been shamed, made feel unworthy or even punished by your religious community for your beliefs, your sexual orientation, or your view on different things?
Does your religious community discourage free and critical thinking or opinions about their messages?
Do you feel guilt and shame instead of love and belonging in your religious community?
Do you feel uncomfortable going to church for any reason it may be?
If you have answered yes to some of the questions above and/or are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, you should consider exploring how your religious community had or is impacting your mental health and your quality of life.
Religious Trauma Syndrome just like many other traumas can be a trigger to self-destructive behaviors including drug and alcohol abuse as well as mental health problems.
Seek recovery through a therapist or a life coach that can help you work through your thoughts and feelings regarding religion and spirituality. You are not alone, and you can find support within a community of people that have survived Religious Trauma Syndrome or similar processes. For more information on Life Coaching services to process these difficult, services, go here.