I’ve been in the Christian church all my life, including serving several different churches in pastoral or clergy roles for some 25 years. Over the years, I’ve walked alongside countless parishioners who experienced religious trauma in various forms. To be honest, I experienced it myself. Religious trauma occurs more subtly that we realize, yet results in serious mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical, yes physical health issues.
Consequently, although my perspective comes from Christianity, religious trauma occurs within any religion.
Throughout those years, as I worked with parishioners from a pastoral care perspective, I discovered religious trauma uncomfortably common. Most often, trauma came from experiences with bad theology, rigidity, judgmentalism, religious perfectionism, guilt and shame, strict laws, codes, and traditions to follow. Underlying those issues exist conflict stemming from dogma, doctrine, and hypocrisy. More heinously, some parishioners suffered trauma from verbal, physical, or sexual abuse at the hands of clergy or other religious leadership or members.
Tragically, throughout our history, religions have used sacred texts to weaponize their theology to destroy and dehumanize other people groups that believe differently, even to the point of death. Unfortunately, it is still rampant in our world today.
As I have moved from pastoral care work into professional counseling, I have found many clients suffer from religious trauma in some form, often of which they were unaware. It breaks my heart. It angers me.
Christianity and her church are considered vehicles for parishioners to worship, train, educate, and serve for the purposes of creating peace and heaven on earth and in the after life. Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Unfortunately, they often fail to provide community as Christ intended, a place of healing and transformation into our best Christ self. Instead, for some, it undoes their best Christ self and influences guilt, shame, and inner conflict, leading to serious health issues.
As the health care community learns more about the tremendous effects religion can have on holistic health, we give it more attention. It’s referred to as Religious Trauma Syndrome. Although you won’t find this diagnosis in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which clinicians use to make their diagnoses, the term has been gaining attention with psychotherapists, counselors and others working with folk bruised and damaged by religious indoctrination.
I for one am thrilled to see it coming to the forefront. As it does, perhaps churches and her leaders can see the potential harm that can be done to people. Perhaps parishioners can understand their trauma and not feel confounded by God and God’s representatives. Perhaps they might not feel as outcasts and less than human. Perhaps guilt and shame won’t undercut their growth. Perhaps they can become their true self, best self, and fully integrated self. I’d be happy to help you on that journey.
I will speak more on specific topics concerning RTS in the future.