What Is Spiritual Trauma?
Spiritual trauma, or religious trauma, occurs when you’ve experienced coercive control (abuse) or events that threaten the core of your belief system with religious connotations. For example, when a pastor, spouse, priest, or spiritual leader uses their position and authority to control your thoughts, choices, and emotions. Common traits of spiritual abuse/harm include bullying, manipulation, condemnation, excessive demands, and threats to your identity or relationship with God. Trauma may result from experiences within faith-based organizations and relationships where the messages (about you & God) were destructive.
Common experiences for those who’ve endured spiritual trauma include feeling a haze of confusion, doubt, anger, isolation, and sadness. Common questions include: Is what I experienced abuse? Is this really that bad? What’s real? Who is God, really? What’s true? What’s wrong with me?
You may experience hypervigilance around the words people use, spiritual terms, verses, places, and people who remind you of what you endured. What you trusted to be true and good turned out to be false and harmful. A healthy sense of safety has been hijacked.
Spiritual harm worms into the very core of what we believe to be true about ourselves, God, other people, and how the world works. When you start realizing that what you’ve been told, or what was expected of you, was damaging, it can feel like your whole foundation for life has been pummeled apart, like a jackhammer destroying concrete.
If you’ve endured spiritual harm, I’m holding space for you. Healing is possible. You’re not crazy or bad. You’ve been injured. There’s grace for that.
Here are 10 things to know about recovery from spiritual trauma that may be helpful in your journey:
1. Your Experience is Your Experience
One of the most painful things about spiritual abuse is the invalidation of your thoughts, feelings, and choices, or the message that everything about you is bad and must change to be “good” or “right.” Shame and feelings of badness proliferate.
Here’s the thing, what you experienced is what you experienced. Describing and identifying your experience helps you sort through the confusion of what happened and how it affected you. Only you can identify what happened and the repercussions of your experiences so you can move through the damage into living clearly, calmly, and confidently.