What is Religious Trauma?

Religious trauma is something that impacts millions of people every year. It is defined as the struggle to break away from a religion that has controlled you mentally, emotionally, or even physically. Breaking away can be very difficult since in many cases your religion is ingrained in your identity and impacts the decisions you make.

Many people have experienced religious trauma in different ways such as feeling your trust has been broken by religious leaders, experiencing sexual assault, or experiencing negative treatment as an LGBTQIA+ person.

religious trauma, women looking down

Breaking Trust

It can be hard to trust anyone after your trust has been broken in a big way. This is especially true of people who have recently left their religion and have had their trust betrayed. Learning about the actions your church has taken or ways that they have lied to you can be very hurtful.

Many people place all of their trust in the words of a spiritual leader and allow that trust in them to shape their entire worldview. When that trust is broken and you are forced to confront your own ideas about the world it can be very scary and difficult to figure out what to believe in now. Taking the time to process all of those feelings and thoughts can take a long time and be really difficult. Starting therapy can be a big help to people who are struggling to process all of that. Visiting once a week with someone who understands trauma and mental health can help you to figure out how to get past it quicker.

religious trauma, man looking sad

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is all too common in religion. In high demand religions there is often an imbalance of power that leads to sexual exploitation of members in a religion. When a spiritual leader sexually assaults someone they often can make the person think that it wasn’t really sexual assault or that they really deserved it. They often do this by telling them that they can only receive religious blessings by performing specific sexual favors or that God wants them to have sex with the spiritual leader. Making people feel like their salvation rides on their willingness to engage in sexual acts is a form of coercion which is sexual assault.

Another tactic frequently used in religion is to make people think that they deserved to be sexually assaulted. They will make the person think that because they were sinning or because they dressed a certain way or allowed themselves to be in a certain situation that they deserved to be sexually assaulted. None of this is true. Sexual assault is always the fault of the perpetrator and not the victim.

Therapy can support and assist people who have experienced this kind of trauma. Being told that it was your fault or being coerced into sex is a very harmful experience and many people can struggle to open up or forgive themselves for being assaulted even though they were not at fault. Going to therapy can help you to find more inner peace and happiness despite the things that have happened to you.

High Demand Religious Missions

Within high demand religions there is an expectation for intense religious experiences like serving as missionaries or attending religious conferences or trips. Within the LDS church, it is very common for people who have served an LDS mission to have trauma from those intense experiences. This trauma can be the result of missionary companions or roommates; whether it comes from fighting with a companion, being yelled at constantly by a companion, or even being physically threatened by them. Being with a total stranger weeks at a time can be quite the challenge and often the relationships between companions can become very toxic. Sometimes missionary companions can act nice and caring when in public and abusive in private. This can cause feelings of anxiety and fear around your companion and after a mission can still affect someone as they become scared to open up to the people around them.

Another cause of trauma for LDS missionaries can be sexual assault, especially for sister missionaries. Often sisters will get harassed in the street which can create severe feelings of stress and anxiety. Stalking can also lead to a lot of fear for missionaries as they begin to fear for their safety. Experiencing this kind of trauma as a missionary can lead to lasting damage to a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Processing these kinds of trauma can be difficult. Many people have trouble with relationships after their missions because of the experiences they had while on them. Going to therapy to unpack and process all of these feelings can be life-changing.

teenager in therapy

Treatment of LGBTQIA2+ People

People who are LGBTQIA2+ are often harassed and talked about very negatively in religious contexts. Even if you yourself do not identify as LGBTQIA2+ but see the negative treatment towards people you care about who are queer then you may have trauma and intense negative feelings from belonging to an organization that can discriminate against those you love.

High Demand religions often talk about LGBTQIA2+people in very derogatory terms. This can include statements about how being queer is a sin, or that it’s just a bad choice that you can choose not to make. This is very harmful. Being LGBTQIA2+ is something to celebrate even if people make you feel like you shouldn’t exist.

A lot of this kind of trauma can also stem from family members who cannot accept being LGBTQIA2+ because of their religious beliefs. Being afraid of how your family will react is very common due to the number of religious families who respond very poorly to LGBTQIA2+ family members revealing their sexuality and gender identity.

At Symmetry Solutions we believe in helping everyone to be the best version of themselves. We understand that all forms of religious trauma can be extremely difficult to process. Having a therapist, friend or coach who is understanding can help you through the process of unpacking your emotions and working through your religious trauma. There will always be people who can accept you for who you are as well as people who cannot. Going to therapy or coaching can be helpful as you learn to navigate the difficult intersection between religious experience and trauma. The therapists and coaches at Symmetry Solutions are very experienced in helping people with religious trauma and would like nothing more than to help you live your best life.

Schedule an appointment today and see how it can change your life.

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