Dealing with religious trauma

One of my passions is to help people who have suffered religious traumas. I believe religious trauma is very real and its ramifications affect individuals for years. For a variety of reasons, it is often hidden and untreated. What is religious trauma and what causes it?

From a wide-angle lens perspective, Dr. Marlene Winell, who coined the phrase Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS), defines it as: (note: quoting does not necessarily mean an endorsement or agreement with everything)

“RTS is the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination. They may be going through the shattering of a personally meaningful faith and/or breaking away from a controlling community and lifestyle. The symptoms compare most easily with PTSD, which results from experiencing or being confronted with death or serious injury and causing feelings of terror, helplessness, or horror. This can be a single event or chronic abuse of some kind. With RTS, there is chronic abuse, especially of children, plus the major trauma of leaving the fold. Like PTSD, the impact is long-lasting, with intrusive thoughts, negative emotional states, impaired social functioning, and other problems.”

From a narrow angle lens, these are some situations that can contribute to RTS. Do any of these resonate with you?

  • Being shunned by a community that was supposed to care for you
  • Being told that who you are is sinful
  • Receiving messages from friends and family that they are “concerned” about your faith
  • Being made to feel like an outcast, as though you aren’t good enough
  • Being raised in an environment that taught dualistic thinking (either/or, black/white type of thinking)
  • Made to feel marginalized because of your gender
  • Told that you need to forgive someone who horribly wronged you because “God has forgiven you”
  • Raised in an environment where feelings were seen as negative or didn’t matter because feelings couldn’t be trusted
  • Told that counseling isn’t biblical – that you just need to pray harder, trust more, or sin less
  • Been pressured to keep the injustices / wrongs / evils that were committed against you quiet because of how it would reflect on the church or church leaders
  • Growing up with or living with a faith that is based in fear

Dealing with religious trauma

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Alternatively, perhaps you are finding that your faith beliefs are changing, or you’re asking questions that you haven’t before?
Asking questions about your faith, or having doubts, but you have no place that feels safe to ask these questions

Dr. Winell identified four key areas where the effects of RTS is seen in individuals:

• Cognitive: Confusion, difficulty with decision-making and critical thinking, dissociation, identity confusion
• Affective: Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicidal ideation, anger, grief, guilt, loneliness, lack of meaning
• Functional: Sleep and eating disorders, nightmares, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, somatization
• Social/cultural: Rupture of family and social network, employment issues, financial stress, problems acculturating into society, interpersonal dysfunction

When you work with me, you will not be told that you need to try harder or that you need to “get right with God” in order for your problems to be fixed.

You will not be encouraged to go back into situations that have caused you trauma or made to feel as though your questions are wrong. I am a safe place to ask questions, and to talk about the pain that you are experiencing.

One of my passions is to help people work through the pain, trauma, and abuse that can be caused by religious systems, places, and people. These abuses are rarely talked and as a result they remain in the shadows and unresolved. I’m passionate about helping people because I was diagnosed with PTSD from traumas experienced from churches and church people. I’ve experienced the pain of having been run out of a church home for having the “wrong” beliefs. I’ve lived within a system that saw the world as black and white, and where my worth was found in whether I had the correct beliefs.

Dealing with religious trauma

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

One of the ways that I have experienced healing is from working with a wise, patient, and empathetic counselor as we worked through these traumas. My hope is that I can play the same role in helping others find healing. I would be honored to come alongside and walk with you in your healing journey.

Contact Josh for a free phone consultation or to schedule a counseling appointment.

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Josh Foster, LGPC
15 E. Main Street
Westminster, MD 21157

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