Religious trauma is real!

Religion, and religious identity, carries deeply impactful meaning in our lives. Losing that identity or a religious community can be traumatic – and that trauma can stay with us for years. But, there is a way to heal and move forward.

Today, some churches are “weaponizing” religion (as one religious leader calls it), which can cause very serious and deeply rooted emotional damage. In some religious institutions, for example, gay, lesbian and trans people are told that God condemns them because their traits are considered evil or sinful.

There are many sources of religious trauma: a divorce, a change in core beliefs, a sexual identity issue, or even sexual assault. In the case of divorce, a religious body may pressure someone to stay in a broken or even harmful marriage because of its dogmatic belief. For those going through a sexual identity issue, the church may ostracize that person.

When individuals feel they have no choice but to leave the religious community that has harmed them, this experience can be devastating! They have lost an identity and belief structure that has been integral in their life for many years; friends and family have turned their back on them; they feel betrayed, alone, and confused. Even though the decision to leave can be healthy and even life-saving, it can leave a person feeling broken and traumatized.

Psychodynamic therapy is particularly well-suited to address the short- and long-term harm caused by religious indoctrination and trauma.

I am seeing a number of clients who are working through confusion, stress, anxiety, depression, self-doubt and feelings of social inadequacy because the religion they have followed and believed in their entire life no longer works for them.

Walking away can be an incredibly difficult step, and the healing process can be just as challenging. Where ostracization from a religious community can happen overnight, understanding the harm caused by religious trauma can feel like deconstructing a house, brick by brick.

How does the healing process start?

As a therapist trained to help victims of religious trauma, I begin anywhere the client wants to begin. The biggest step is deciding to seek professional help.

In their first visit, many people dealing with religious trauma feel hopeless and helpless. Without their religion, they feel ill-equipped to navigate life.

As a therapist and someone who personally has experienced religious trauma, I understand the pain, the anger, and the loneliness clients may feel. I can help.

The “deconstruction process” helps clients separate from their trauma and allows them to rebuild a new set of beliefs. I work with them to understand the ways in which their religious community caused harm, and how they can move forward from this as a stronger and healthier individual.

Deconstruction begins by helping clients examine the pieces of their religious beliefs and practices that are causing them pain. We break down the trauma into small, manageable components that allow clients to identify each specific issue and start making positive emotional “replacements.” They can begin to develop an adjusted set of beliefs that will give them new meaning in their life and their relationships. They can begin rebuilding their worldview and self-worth, and feel empowered to embrace life again in a much healthier way.

It’s not easy to separate personal values from religious beliefs, but with time and therapy, those facing the impact of religious trauma can create a life for themselves outside their religion – one that feels safe, healthy and authentic.

I know from personal experience how daunting it can be to deal with religious trauma. Having faced some of this trauma myself, I am passionate about working with others who are interested in starting the deconstruction process. Life can be so very rich on the other side.