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When Religion Hurts You

One thing that seems to be indisputable these days is that more and more people are leaving organized religion. There are many reasons for this and if you are one of those who has left the religion you were born into, you most likely have a clear understanding of what those were for you. If you are like so many who have moved on from their childhood religion, it is most likely because the fundamental beliefs of that religious tradition no longer made sense to you. The journey from releasing the old religious beliefs to embracing new religious/spiritual beliefs is often referred to as deconstruction and reconstruction.

While some individuals may be quite comfortable in travelling this road alone, others prefer to seek out assistance and guidance. This is the role that a spiritual director can play. Don’t get hung up on the term spiritual director. There are other names for it like spiritual companion or spiritual guide.

Religious experiences vary dramatically. There are those who find great value in their religion. Others find the religious beliefs of their current religion to be confusing and not representative of how they currently perceive the world. This can lead to internal tension which often resolves itself by leaving the church altogether. Still others have unfortunately experienced being hurt by their religious community. This can often happen in what psychologist and author Laura Anderson refers to as high-control religions. When the hurt continues over a long period of time, it can lead to religious trauma.

In her new book, ”When Religion Hurts You”, Anderson gives a clinical description of just what she means by trauma. “Trauma is not what happened to you but your body and nervous system’s response to what happened to you. Trauma is anything that is too much, too soon, or too fast, and that undermines our normal ability to cope and return to a sense of safety”. She goes on to point out that abuse is what happens to us and trauma is our individual response to prolonged or intense abuse. When the what happened to you is a result of your religious community or your religious beliefs, it is referred to as religious trauma.

Recognizing that religious abuse that continues over time can lead to religious trauma is significant. When someone has truly experienced religious trauma, they are most likely beyond being helped solely by deconstruction and reconstruction. The religious trauma needs to be treated like all trauma, by a trained professional in the mental health field.

Fortunately, not all individuals who are involved in deconstruction and reconstruction have experienced religious trauma. The skills of a trained Spiritual director are well suited for these situations. Being able to work with someone who has experienced what you are going through, who has walked the same path as you are now walking, can be very rewarding.

If you are interested in learning more about religious trauma, I highly recommend Dr. Anderson’s book. It is available on Amazon.

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