Trauma is an emotional response to a stressful event in your life. It is typically a traumatic event such as abuse, a natural disaster, or something that evoked fear or shock in you. When you are traumatized, you may suffer from denial, shock, flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, or even physical issues such as nausea, sickness, and headaches. 

Trauma can manifest itself in many different ways. But, what about religious trauma? What is it, what are the signs, and how can you recover from religious trauma? Let’s find out. 

What Is Religious Trauma?

Religious trauma can happen when an individual’s religious experience has been damaging, abusive, degrading, stressful, or traumatic. When a religious experience is traumatic, it can damage your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Religious trauma can also occur when someone struggles with leaving a religion or belief system. They may have been indoctrinated at a young age, and it is often difficult to break away from this lifestyle and religious setting. 

The symptoms of religious trauma are very similar to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Individuals may suffer from low self-worth, and low self-esteem, or they may be lacking in self-identity. It can make sufferers feel guilty, wary of the world, or that they are somehow condemned because they have broken away from their religious culture.

In short, religious trauma can be very distressing, and those affected may not know where to turn, or who to trust anymore, which can be very isolating. 

Examples of Religious Trauma

Some examples of religious trauma taking place are:

  • An individual attracted to the same sex may be ostracized and told that they are condemned or sinning as a result
  • An individual gets pregnant out of wedlock and is shunned by their community
  • Pressure may be added to spread the message of their religion
  • A young individual may be condemned when expressing their thoughts
  • Physical discipline to promote submission
  • Religious indoctrination
  • Diminishing self-autonomy by controlling finances, social interactions, etc.
woman sitting with hands folded together in front of her face

How to Heal From Religious Trauma

If you grew up in an abusive religious organization, it may be difficult to break out of that mindset. After all, it’s what is familiar. It won’t be a walk in the park, but with time and effort, you can heal.

The first step to healing is to recognize and identify that something has happened. You may have made excuses in the past, or simply believed that your parents and those involved were just misguided, but you have experienced trauma and harm. It’s important to accept that.

You also need to figure out who you are and what your morals are. Your values may be separate from the religious beliefs you were taught, and that’s okay.

You can also heal by connecting with others outside of your religious community. You could join a support group or find new friends online that you can talk to. In addition to this, create healthy boundaries, as this may have been lacking in your religious community. Identify what makes you uncomfortable and don’t let others step over this line. 

Finally, it’s vital to know that you are not alone in this. Religious trauma is more prevalent than you may think. To help you heal from this, it is essential that you reach out to a therapist that specializes in trauma, who can offer you effective treatment options to help you heal, and move forward. 

Treatment depends on the individual, but the most effective seems to be Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR), somatic therapy, and talk therapy. With trauma therapy, you can learn how to identify healthy coping mechanisms, and make steps toward your recovery. Reach out to get started soon.

About the author(s)

Owner and Clinical Director Karen Conlon Head Shot

Karen is the founder and Clinical Director of Cohesive Therapy NYC. She earned a Masters in Social Work from New York University and has extensive training in Hypnosis, Anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Brainspotting, and DGBI. She is a member of the Institute of Certified Anxiety Treatment Professionals, The Rome Foundation, the National Association of Social Workers, The Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, and the American Social of Clinical Hypnosis.

About Cohesive Therapy NYC

At Cohesive Therapy NYC, we believe that you have an immense amount of inner strength and resilience, even if it is yet to be discovered. Cohesive Therapy NYC is a private group psychotherapy practice in New York City that focuses on treating adults who struggle with Anxiety, Trauma, Chronic Illness, and the adult impact of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). Cohesive Therapy NYC therapists see clients all throughout New York State (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester, and statewide) using online therapy and are also available for in-person visits in their NYC offices, located at 59 East 54th Street, New York, NY 10022. We specialize in helping people who are dealing with anxiety, relationship issues, chronic illness, and digestive and adult trauma related to childhood family dynamics. We all deserve a chance to be well and have support.