Unraveling Relitious Trauma

What's Religious Trauma?

Before I move on in my story, I’d like to attempt to give “religious trauma” some kind of definition.

This is not an easy task, nor is there only one answer to what defines “religious trauma.”

It’s complicated.

When we hear the words “religious trauma or abuse” or “spiritual trauma or abuse” our thoughts might go to stories we’ve read or seen on the news throughout our lives. You might remember Jim Jones and The People’s Temple in the 70’s, or The Waco Siege or Massacre of The Branch Davidians in the 90’s.

Getting people to drink poison, or a government stand-off with a religious sect that led to the deaths of dozens of people, seems a bit extreme, and it is. The people that lived through these
tragedies suffered in untold ways all in the “name of God” and “for God”. They suffered under an extreme false belief system and developed Stockholm Syndrome as they aligned themselves with their religious captors.

So, we can for sure state the obvious here; these are examples of “religious trauma”.

But, what about the not so obvious, the subtle, seemingly not too harmful, and even sometimes hidden kinds of “religious trauma?” The kind we don’t talk about and that goes unresolved for years, decades, and even lifetimes. Or the kind that is experienced behind closed doors in good “Christian” homes.


    • How is a child affected when religious leaders and teachers are not truly converted, but serve in positions of being examples of God’s Character?
    • How does a “legalistic” approach to religion affect a person throughout their lives?
    • How is your connection to God, or understanding of who He is, affected when force or control surrounding religion is used?
    • What happens to a person when they are not treated as individuals, equals, or respected as free moral agents?
    • What about when unhealthy or mentally unstable people without proper boundaries require we follow “their form of religion” (my way or the highway)?
    • What about when there is so much truth, goodness, and even kindness, but a person is kept in check subtly by guilt, shame, or fear of exclusion?
    • What about being in a situation where one person is in control and there are no “checks and balances” or accountability?
    • What about the types of religious leadership where they are never wrong and you have no voice?
    • What about being in an exclusive religious group that fears being tainted or influenced by those outside of the group?
    • What about groups that require you cut off your family and friends in some form or another, and your social interactions are screened (exclusivity)?
    • What if you don’t comply to the implied rules and there is threat of exclusion if you don’t have the “right spirit”.

    I’m sure there are more questions we can ask but this is enough “food for thought” to demonstrate this is a complicated subject that is extremely hard to make an exact definition.

    But for simplicity’s sake, I’d like to present two definitions.

    The first, I found in a google search and it seems accurate and helpful.

    The second, my own after a lifetime of seeing these abuses all around me.

    Then, we’ll get to the signs, symptoms, and outcomes of religious trauma and touch just a bit on where this all started. And then as promised, back to my personal story and recovery.

    Spiritual trauma occurs as a result of events that
    threaten and damage our core spiritual values and goals. This can be a result of either abuse by religious/spiritual figures or being raised with a toxic and overbearing interpretation of that religion or spiritual belief.

    I like this account because it mentions “our core spiritual values and goals” as being threatened or damaged. It makes sense this can be, or feel, very serious. Also, this definition doesn’t totally disqualify religion, but states the damage comes from someone’s “interpretation” of religion. This can certainly include generational traumas, patterns, prejudices, and false beliefs that have been passed down to us.

    After-all, for most people, religion is a source of strength in difficult times and can give guidance throughout life’s challenging moments. It can also supply a much-needed sense of belonging and support. So it’s important to realize here the abuse comes either directly from a religious figure of some kind, or from being raised with a toxic or overbearing “false” interpretation.

    Any action, word, concept, or behavior towards us from an individual, parent, teacher, organization, or other authority figure that misrepresents ‘God’s True Character’ and causes us to create ‘Trauma Patterns’ surrounding our relationship to God and others.

    Can you relate to either of these definitions? Do you have a definition of your own from your own experience?

    There’s no doubt religious trauma is serious and can have lasting effects. Often, it leaves cracks in the foundation of the most sacred parts of our soul. It also keeps us from “seeing” God and experiencing HIS UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.

    OK, let’s look briefly at how people are affected by these kinds of abuses.

    Cracks In Your Religious Foundation

    Signs & Symptoms

    The signs, symptoms, behavior patterns, and characteristics of someone that has trauma patterns surrounding religion.


    • Impeded development (social, emotional, sexual)
    • Depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns
    • Poor decision making skills
    • Lack of self-confidence and self-esteem
    • Sense of isolation
    • Pervasive feelings of guilt and shame
    • Difficulty forming healthy adult relationships
    • Poor interpersonal boundaries
    • Nightmares, and/or recurring uncontrollable thoughts
    • Avoidance behaviors
    • Health concerns/sleep issues/appetite problems/addictions

    You, or someone you know, may have experienced one or more of these symptoms. Just know, you’re not alone.
    *Taken from THE REFUGE, a Premier Trauma Treatment center.

    The Religious Trauma Survey

    Also, as mentioned in “Discover the 3 Biggest Challenges facing ‘People Healing from Religious Trauma’ when it comes to Connecting to God“ survey I put out last year...


    • I feel disconnected from God
    • I never feel good enough
    • I don’t understand God or feel unconditionally loved
    • I don’t feel accepted as I am by God
    • I don’t trust God or His Providential Leading in my life
    • I don’t trust people
    • I find it hard to form deep connections with others
    • I feel empty
    • I’m angry at God

    You can take the survey for yourself here: RELIGIOUS TRAUMA SURVEY

    Go ahead. I’ll wait.

    OK, I hope you found that helpful.

    So now, just to bring things into perspective, I think there is one more important question to ask before we move on.

    Religious Trauma

    Where Did It Start?

    I personally believe it started in heaven.

    At the exact moment the Great Deceiver began misrepresenting God and infiltrated heaven with disbelief and wrong thinking about who God is and what “kind of character” He possessed.

    The first lies reverberated consequences that for some will last for ETERNITY.

    Namely, the angels that were cast out.

    “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” Rev. 12:9

    Now, that’s some serious “religious trauma” to consider. And while those angels did not recover from it, we at this moment in time, right now in this world, can recover and find a true, deep, and real connection to God and understand HIS TRUE CHARACTER.

    Now, on to the rest of my personal story and recovery.

    The Fishbowls Of My Life Religious Trauma

    The Fishbowl

    The next years were a wild blur of public school, marching band, friends, parties, lots of personal freedoms, and taking up my mother’s responsibility which she inadvertently handed over to me while she “really lived” the life she never had before.

    All with a very important purpose, no doubt.

    But, before we get on to “My Life in the Fishbowl”, I want to insert here, THIS IS THE HARDEST WRITING PROJECT I’VE EVER ATTEMPTED!

    I imagine most people that write about their own traumas must feel this way, but I never fully realized what a challenge it would be until I put my fingers to the keyboard. It would certainly be much easier to go about my own business, or remain living an isolated life, where it would never be required of me.

    But I’m here. Right now. I’m here for ALL those I love, and have loved me.

    For my family, far and near, blood and spiritual. For my friends. For myself. For YOU. For those that have suffered in silence without a voice. But mostly, I’M HERE FOR GOD.

    I can never repay what He’s done for me. I can’t even express it. But one thing is sure. I’m compelled to tell the truth about Him, and for Him, and to comfort those with the comfort I’ve been given.

    “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Cor. 1:3-5

    I’m a loyal-hearted person and I know when I owe a debt. A REAL DEBT. I also know, I’ll never be able to “even the score,” or repay this debt, and I’m fully aware of that fact. So, this is just a feeble attempt to do “something” in hopes that one or two people (which may be you) find hope, and see God for who He really is, and begin to know His unutterable MERCIFUL LOVE.

    Because if there’s something I’ve learned, it is this: There is only ONE THING that can break through the “religious trauma” patterns that keep us stuck and blocked. It is summed up in ONE word – HESED. An inexpressible word that surrounds the mystery of God’s Loving-Kindness.

    Here is, as stated by Michael Card in his book entitled, INEXPRESSIBLE – Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Loving-Kindness, an ever-incomplete working definition of the word:

    “When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

    Until we understand the concept of True Unconditional Love (Hesed) we cannot find freedom and hope and a clear path safely out of false indoctrination and generational religious trauma.

    And to that end, and for that aim, I continue my story.