Religious or Spiritual Trauma
Religious and spiritual trauma is the result of individuals being forced, coerced, or committed to high-control and high-demand belief systems, usually in churches, residential schools, and other faith-based institutions. This experience causes trauma through controlling, manipulating, and forcing people to adopt beliefs without question in the name of faith. In Canada, colonization is an example of religious and spiritual trauma that has caused great harm to many people, even generations after the offences took place.
Often in cases of religious and spiritual trauma, any beliefs, practices, and perspectives that don’t align with the church, school, or religion are rejected. Instead, concepts like sin, hell, suffering, evil, God, and a belief that everyone must be heterosexual are used as weapons of fear to oppress people and enforce submission. People experiencing religious or spiritual trauma may have internalized these beliefs and values, which can deeply compromise and threaten their sense of self, how they think about and interact with others, the purpose of life, or even what is morally right or wrong. As a result, the nervous system is always under perceived threats.
Symptoms & signs of religious or spiritual trauma
If you’ve experienced religious or spiritual trauma, it’s probable that the systems of belief you’ve been exposed to have promoted dividing all thoughts and behaviours into good and evil, and as a result skewed your understanding of well-being, health, love, pleasure, culture, etc. You may experience (or may have experienced):
- Dissociation (feeling disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, and memories)
- Nightmares or flashbacks
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Hypervigilance (always being on the lookout for threats and potential threats)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Persistent guilt and/or shame
- Suicidal thoughts
- Self-esteem issues
- Grief and loss
- Inhibited healthy emotional, psychological, social, and sexual development
- Feeling indebted to a community
- Struggle with creating healthy boundaries with others
- Subjected to gaslighting (questioning your own reality and accuracy of your memories)
- Racism and other forms of discrimination
- Sexual and intimacy issues, such as vaginismus
- Sanctified suffering (the more you suffer, the “holier” God makes you)
- Spiritual bypassing (using spiritual beliefs to avoid confronting or resolving other emotional or mental issues)
- Emotional, physical, psychological and sexual abuse and manipulation.
- Those who are working on separating themselves from harmful theology may feel codependent and experience loss of connection with others and grief.
When is it time to get help?
It may be time to get help from a religious and spiritual trauma informed therapist if you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, or symptoms of other psychological disorders. If you’re feeling isolated, rejected, unworthy, judged by others, or uneasy about your beliefs, or if you’re experiencing sexual confusion, shame, guilt, lack of pleasure, or believe your value is compromised, working with a mental health professional is recommended.
Religious or spiritual trauma treatment methods
There are several treatment methods that are effective in dealing with religious and spiritual trauma. Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all therapy – so your therapist will talk with you to determine the best treatment method for you and your situation. These may include:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to treatment that focuses on how people’s thoughts, emotions, and beliefs influence their behaviour and how they perceive themselves.
- Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) is defined by EMDR Canada as an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma and many other mental health problems.
- Mindfulness Therapy is an approach to treatment that focuses on how people’s thoughts, emotions, and beliefs influence their behaviour and how they perceive themselves, others, and the world. The ability to be in the moment, to acknowledge and regulate your emotions helps you to break free from negative thought patterns.
- Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a treatment method that is similar to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) but emphasizes building skills to manage stress, mental health issues, and the psycho-social aspects of relationship building.
- Emotionally Focused Therapy is based on observations and experience. It looks at emotions and emotional intelligence, which helps support stronger and more secure relationships by helping better understand how our actions impact others, and how our emotions drive our interaction.
- Sex Therapy is the treatment of sexual dysfunction and also includes working with concerns about sexual feelings and intimacy, less common alternative sexual practices, kink, gender issues, sexual offending issues, or work on optimizing or exploring new experiences. Sex therapy can also include distressing sexual behaviour, sexual abuse and trauma.
- Family Systems Therapy looks at the family as one emotional unit. This therapeutic approach looks at the relationships within the family and the structure as a whole.
- Grief Work Therapy refers to the methods used in counselling that help people to grieve loss and understand their emotions associated with the loss in a healthy way with the ultimate goal of moving forward.
What will I get out of treatment with Insight Psychological?
Know that you can get help if you’re experiencing the symptoms of religious and spiritual trauma. If you want to deconstruct your beliefs, your relationships are suffering, you feel out of touch with yourself, or you want to explore your spirituality outside of certain religious confines, we have therapists with experience in this area who can help you to move forward from this trauma. Please contact one of our offices to learn more to book an appointment.