“No one’s ever sat me down and taught me what empathy is or why it matters more than power or patriotism or religious faith.”
“Christ the man died long ago, but Christ the idea of love, still exists, not in any church, rather in the mind of humans.”
Religion and Trauma
The idea that religion, religious beliefs, or the practicing of our religion might lead to harm for those we love probably sounds ridiculous to many people.
Unfortunately, religious trauma is a reality for many in the United States and around the world. I hope that if you have a knee-jerk reaction of offense at this subject you will read on with an open mind! It is definitely not a judgement on all religious people or an attack on religion as a whole.
Most people in the world practice some form of religion. Only 15% of the population identify as secular, atheist, agnostic, or similar. 56% of the world’s population practice either Christianity or Islam – both of which have both liberal and more fundamentalist believers.
I grew up here in the “Bible Belt” the ultra-religious, mostly Christian section of the United States. Like many if not most, I grew up attending church with my family. Neither of my parents attended church regularly prior to moving to Mississippi but one evening some people knocked on our front door and invited them to come to the Southern Baptist church down the street, so we went. Eventually we joined a non-denominational Christian church before returning to the same Southern Baptist church several years later.
Who Is Negatively Effected by Religious Beliefs?
The LGBTQ population, women, children, racial minorities, blended families and people who have been divorced are just a few examples of those that might be negatively impacted by religious beliefs. That is not to say that men cannot also be negatively impacted because they can be.
While certainly those who have been sexually abused or assaulted within the church have absolutely been traumatized, this post is not about that. We will focus more on how the attitudes of religion as an institution impacts those that are “othered” rather than overt abuse that some individuals within the church perpetrate.
For the sake of brevity, this will be the first in a series of posts so please be sure to read the rest of the series! I will link them at the end of the post as they are available.
“I was convinced by then that I was a complete spiritual failure. My college counseling department had offered to get me real help (which they later did). But to my mind, at that point, such help couldn’t fix the core problem: I was a failure in the eyes of God. It would be years before I understood that my inability to heal my bulimia through the mechanisms offered by biblical Christianity was not a function of my own spiritual deficiency but deficiencies in Evangelical religion itself.”
Whether you are still practicing your religion, have chosen to leave, or are contemplating leaving, there may be no personal journey more alienating. There may also be no personal journey more agonizing. Even if you are now atheist or agnostic, the wounds left behind may be long-lasting and deeper than you can process alone.
I chose to add healing from religious trauma to my specializations for two reasons: in part because of my own deep, painful wounds inflicted by my time in the Southern Baptist faith and because of a story that a client told me about their child who is LGBTQ. The trauma inflicted on their child by those in the church damaged not only that child but the entire family and impacted the client’s own faith. I saw the need for this, especially in the state of Mississippi. I believe that in the helping field that if we are able to meet a need that is not currently being met, it is our duty to do so.
If you have experienced religious trauma, in any capacity, you are not alone. There is nothing wrong with who you are. I have no desire to “lead you back to God.” Therapy is a journey of healing. If you need help healing, you are safe in the office of a mental health professional.