Religious Trauma Signs & How to Heal

Have you ever wondered if you have religious trauma? Whether you are devoutly committed to your faith, a non-believer, or somewhere in between, it is possible that you have some level of religious trauma. Religious trauma can not only result from experiences like abuse but can also result from many other experiences, practices, and even beliefs.

What is religious trauma?

What is religious trauma? The Religious Trauma Institute defines religious trauma as “the physical, emotional, or psychological response to religious beliefs, practices, or structures that is experienced by an individual as overwhelming or disruptive and has lasting adverse effects on a person’s physical, mental, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” Religious trauma can impact every area of life. To learn about how religious trauma impacts the nervous system, I invite you to watch this excellent presentation on that topic:

Religious trauma can result when someone has an Adverse Religious Experience. Adverse Religious Experiences can include various forms of abuse, neglect, and communal practices (see examples here). I invite you to check out this Questionnaire to explore what Adverse Religious Experiences you may have had.

Not all Adverse Religious Experiences cause religious trauma. But if you have experienced an Adverse Religious Experience, trauma responses that may result include:

  • Chronic shame & self-hatred
  • Perfectionism
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Chronic anxiety & fear
  • Delayed social milestones
  • Hypervigilance
  • Depression & other mental health challenges (PTSD, OCD, etc)
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Self-harm
  • Nightmares
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Risky behaviors
  • Lack of boundaries
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Social/relationship challenges

If you have had Adverse Religious Experiences and/or religious trauma, I highly recommend religious trauma therapy with a religious trauma therapist.

Deconstruction is disorienting

Leaving a church, religion, or an abusive belief system is one of the most courageous things a person can do. While leaving may be a necessary component of healing, leaving alone does not heal religious trauma. We may leave a religious experience but the religious experience does not leave us. Religious trauma is embedded in our nervous system. Healing still needs to happen.

Doubting, questioning, deconstructing, or deconverting from religion can be disruptive and disorienting. It can turn your world upside down. It can lead to fear, depression, hopelessness, and loss of meaning. It can impact relationships, sense of self, and sexuality. If you are experiencing any of these challenges, getting the right support can make such a difference. You are not alone. There are many who have traveled these paths, finding the freedom, community, and healing they needed.

Benefits of healing religious trauma

I know how difficult it can be to question long-held beliefs, leave a faith community, heal religious trauma and sexual shame, and find ones own way in the world. With the right tools and support, healing is possible. We can heal the pain, fear, shame, and trauma that is embedded in our bodies. We can choose beliefs that feel right and safe to us. We can stop hating ourselves. We can learn to trust and care for ourselves. We can experience healthy sexuality and shame free pleasures. We can reclaim our worth. We can courageously create lives that are authentic and free.

At times we will feel like toddlers learning to walk for the first time. But with with the right support and practice, we will learn how to walk in new and wonderful ways. We will learn how to be ourselves fully and celebrate who we are. We can decide if religion or spirituality have a place in our lives or not. We can decide if we believe in God or not and what kind of God feels safe and healthy for us to believe in or not. As we heal, we will feel more empowered to think for ourselves and claim responsibility for finding and creating safety in our own bodies and relationships.

Other potential benefits of healing religious trauma could include:

  • Increased self-worth
  • Finding and creating meaning
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Increased connection with our body
  • Decreased sexual shame
  • Increased sexual expression
  • Healing religious trauma triggers (places, people, beliefs)
  • Self-regulation
  • Decreased self-criticism and self-hate
  • Decreased black and white thinking
  • Connection with our Inner Child
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Healing fear of hell and/or a punishing/angry Deity
  • Healing beliefs that we are defective, a “sinner,” evil, or broken
  • Learning to trust ourselves, our emotions, and our intuition
  • Increased self-compassion
  • Decreased self-policing behavior
  • Decreased codependency and fawning
  • Increased courage to use our own voice and stand up for ourselves
  • Decreased dependency on external validation and authority figures
  • Increased connection with self and others
  • Feeling free and safe
Religious trauma quote

Healing from religious trauma can be difficult and scary. But with the right help, we can do it. With the right help, we can heal our religious trauma and release our sexual shame. I can tell you from personal experience that every effort we make to heal will be worth it. We are worth it.

Healing religious trauma using IFS

If you believe you have religious trauma and are ready to begin your healing journey, I am here to help. I provide compassionate, evidence-based support to help individuals heal religious trauma and sexual shame. I help people compassionately reconnect with parts of themselves they lost to belong in religious institutions and families. I help them reconnect with their body and learn to love themselves again. I use IFS to help people heal religious trauma and sexual shame.

Religious trauma therapy quote

To heal religious trauma, you cannot use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or talk therapy alone. You must use an evidence-based therapy modality that has been shown to heal trauma. I have found IFS to be a safe and effective way to treat the religious trauma and sexual shame of my clients. It is not the only way to heal religious trauma but it is the modality I use and love. IFS has helped me personally to deeply heal my religious trauma and sexual shame as well. IFS is a model of psychotherapy useful in treating anxiety, depression, CPTSD, addiction, and other mental health challenges. IFS heals the pain of losses and increases self-connection, helping people move forward in creating the life they want. IFS increases self-compassion and self-love. I am Level 1 & 2 trained in IFS and love introducing people to this life-changing modality.

There is also an important place for psychoeducation in religious trauma therapy. Providing education and recommending relevant resources on topics such as religious trauma, sexuality, critical thinking, indoctrination, IFS, and beyond supports the process of healing. This type of education helps people understand what they’ve been through and plan where they want to go. I love equipping clients with effective tools to practice and resources to explore between sessions. There is so much to learn as we heal from religious trauma.

Online religious trauma therapy

If you are ready to begin healing your religious trauma, I am accepting new clients for online therapy throughout California and I would love to work with you.

I am currently working on a certification in Religious Trauma Studies. I provide non-religious therapy and respect the beliefs of those I work with.

I invite you to contact me for a free 15 minute phone consultation to see if my services are the right fit for you and your situation. If you are outside of California and in need of religious trauma therapy, I recommend you check out the Reclamation Collective’s religious trauma Therapist Directory.

Whether you and I have the opportunity to work together or not, I wish you deep and lasting freedom and healing.

In compassionate support,

Forest Benedict, LMFT
IFS Level 1 & 2 Trained

I invite you to follow me on this blog, FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for encouraging, informative, and inspiring content.

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