We all want a way forward: a way that is positive, supportive, and compassionate.
If we worship regularly, we want our religion to lead the way, to be our guidepost, to offer solace when we are suffering through difficult circumstances. Many of us have benefited from our religious community – found friendship and support there. Some of us have not had a positive religious experience. Others of us have been traumatized by our experiences within our religious community and by the religious beliefs of family and others.
For years now we have not addressed the issues and traumas that happen inside our religious communities. Therefore, there are many traumatized people and religious leaders who have been fearful to discuss their issues within their community or within their own family. They have lived with the pain.
New terms are popping up in the mental health community – terms like sacred trauma, traumatic religious experience, RTS (religious trauma syndrome), and religious trauma therapy. There is obviously a need for the many books written on this topic.
WHAT IS RELIGIOUS TRAUMA AND ABUSE?
“Religious trauma occurs when a person’s religious experience is stressful, degrading, dangerous, abusive, or damaging. Traumatic religious experiences may harm or threaten to harm someone’s physical, emotional, mental, sexual, or spiritual health and safety.”
Religious abuse “is the harm or mistreatment of another, often for the purpose of exerting power or control. Spiritual abuse occurs when a person’s religion or spirituality is used to exert control over another person.”
Both quotes are from Therapist.com
SIGNS OF RELIGIOUS TRAUMA AND ABUSE
- Religious beliefs or practices used to manipulate a member of the religious community
- Inability to practice your beliefs or practices at home, work, or school
- A parent forcing religious beliefs and practices upon their children
- A partner forcing religious beliefs and practices upon their partner
- The justification of domestic abuse to protect the abuser or a member of the religious community
- Religious and life decisions made for you by a partner, parent, or institution
- Condemnation because of your sex (no leadership roles for female members)
- Condemnation and exclusion due to sexual identity and preferences
- Rejection from friendship groups due to religious differences
- Inability to speak openly about your beliefs and religious practices
- Forced financial donations to the religious group
- Shame and guilt
- Difficulty making decisions
- Poor critical thinking
- Feeling helpless or powerless
- Feeling sinful – needing to change or repent
- Fearing severe punishments from parents for religious slip-ups
- Difficulty within social and romantic relationships
- Lack of familiarity with mainstream society
- Trouble fitting in at school, work, social groups
- Loss of religious community
- Loss of family and friends
- Lack of healthy boundaries
- Delayed social milestones
SUPPORT GROUP INFORMATION
If any of the above feels familiar or you have experienced religious abuse or trauma, you are invited to join our support group. There are no fees, but you may donate much like you would at a 12-step meeting – a dollar or two per meeting or $5.00 or $10.00 per month. The meeting schedule is not yet set.
The first meeting began on Saturday, January 6, 2024, and will repeat every other week until further meeting dates are set. Start time for the Saturday meeting is 11:00 Eastern Time.
Meetings will last for 60 minutes. The meetings are open, and you may explore or join at any time.
Each person has the freedom to discuss issues and challenges openly without criticism or judgment and without cross talk (direct advice from another member in the group).
The Path Taken: Why I Left Organized Religion
BY JANET NESTOR
"As a child, I was often confused and hurt. Our home was difficult and often unhappy. My stepfather adopted me before I started first grade. He and my mother told me he was my biological father – they had become pregnant after meeting in a restaurant in Pennsylvania where my mom worked. My mom left him and went to her parents’ home in West Virginia where I was born.
I did not believe the story. I remembered the adoption and the chaos around their wedding. I felt I did not know who I was and that there was no one in the world who would tell me the truth. The truth stayed hidden until just a few years ago. I have 3 siblings and a small herd of cousins. I have met two of my siblings and several of my cousins – especially two who came to meet with me in person. I was invited to a family reunion last year! Amazing and glorious."
Here is a video from Dr. Marlene Winell, the woman who coined the term RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome), and her book, Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion.