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How To Recognize Religious Trauma

Religion can impact the way that we see the world. Treat your neighbor how you would want to be treated. Sounds like good advice, doesn’t it? Treat your neighbor better than yourself, not so good advice.

Some feel that religion has very limited benefits for mental health, others see it as a support system and source of strength.

Our religious and church environments are meant to be safe, supportive, loving, and respectful of its people. When our religious environment is anything other than that, the people that are part of those communities can suffer from trauma symptoms.

Religion can impact individuals differently, and can have a devastating effect on someone’s self-esteem, sense of self-worth and identity. There are religious systems, beliefs, and rules enforced by religious leaders, communities, parents, mentors, etc. that may lead to abuse and trauma.

Religion can be used as a tool of power and control, that sometimes leads to abuse and trauma. This abuse occurs when someone uses religious teachings, beliefs, or practices for their own purpose and design to gain, or maintain, power and control over others. Continue reading to learn more ways religious abuse happens.

Toxic Positivity

Seeing the cup as half full and being positive is great. After all, we want to be around fun positive people. Being positive all the time makes it easy to deny the existence of problems.

Our Savior

Throw in faith that a higher power will fix your issues, save you from the bad experience you are having, and you have a lot of helpless victims waiting for someone to come save them. Instead of taking charge of your situation and doing something about it, you wait to see who will save you.

Few religious leaders are trained in mental health and yet they provide counseling to others causing some to neglect the mental health support they need. Leaders will minimize or ridicule mental health symptoms as “sinful,” “demonic,” or “weak faith.” Some may say, “If you had more faith.” Others will say that you chose to, “let them in” or did something sinful that let them in. Did you know that a symptom of Graves Disease is mental hallucinations?

Couples counseling with religious leaders, keep couples in relationships that are abusive and toxic.

Other Religions

When a religious leader train you on other religions, stating you need to know their religion when encountering their disciples. This makes it appear that your belief is better than other beliefs and practices.

Giving up friends and family by attacking, dismissing, or alienating others who do not believe the same way you do or refuse to join your church.

How Leaders Talk About Death

When leaders talk about death as it’s going to happen and it’s ok. Talking about God protecting others from poison if they believe in the power of God.

When someone is dying and the leaders feel it’s a waste of time to continue studies because they are just going to die anyways.

Talking about the end is coming soon, war predicted in the bible, and everyone is going to die and that’s normal. Are you ready to die for God. If you deny God, he will deny you in heaven!

If you become terrified of death, evil, the rapture, the devil, and hell or experience nightmares/fears of when the world will end, they are subliminally controlling you.

Weaponized Religion

Religious can lead an individual believing that they are inherently bad or condemned for something they have done. This can lead to low self-esteem and an abusive persons dream victim. Using religious beliefs to control your behavior, including what you wear, who you date, what job you have, how you parent, and how you manage your finances. Dating a non believe, you are told you are not “equally yoked” and you can’t date that person is an example. This was the technique used when children wanted to date someone outside of their race. People are told if they commit suicide they are going straight to hell.

Twisting Words Or Meanings

This is a tactic used by most abusers. The abuser will use words to manipulate and make you think something completely different. They can use religious texts or “words from god” with the purpose and design to exert power and control over others. This technique is a known technique used to sexually abuse minors or peers in the religious community. Feeling forced or coerced to do things that you don’t want to do, including but not limited to engaging in sex, giving money, sharing resources, etc.

Being told that most of your financial resources should go to the cause of furthering the message of the religion, causing financial hardship, is financial abuse.

The Devil Is Causing You To …….

When anything bad happens, especially not being able to tithe or attend church, it’s the devil after you! Devil is making you sin! If you are afraid of being “led astray” by the devil or evil and so you become afraid or critical of the “outside world.”

Shunned By Others

Church members fear that if they choose to question the faith or even part of the faith, they will be kicked out of the church community. They are afraid to disappoint others or that they may go to hell for not following God commands or because of their “lack of faith.” If you are being shamed, criticized, or ridiculed for your beliefs or practices that go against the church rules and the church ask you to not attend service or be on their worship team, this is being shunned. If your sin keeps you from participating in an activity, but other’s sins are accepted because they are “working on their sin,” know it is not a good thing.

The Devil Made Me Do It

Blaming the devil on their bad behaviors so they do not have to be accountable for their actions. It wasn’t them it was the devil who made them do it. They didn’t want to do it but the devil made it hard to resist doing it. The devil set them up!!

Men maybe be afraid to get too close to a woman because then they will “fall into sin” by lusting after her.

If you are taught that the body is wrong or bad. Women are made to feel bad that their body will make men sin. Women feel it is their responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen by wearing baggie clothes or not looking beautiful.

An adolescent expressing their thoughts may be physically disciplined or beaten to be submissive by a parent or religious leader to “save their soul” or not make the parent look bad in the eyes of their community.

What Is Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS)?

A syndrome is a coping mechanism used by a victim to survive or deal with abuse. When religion is weaponized by twisting the information to fit the agenda of the messenger, and mentally confuse the victim into feeling shame, guilt, and condemnation. The victims believe what the abuser is telling them. The messages lead to lasting and deep mental health wounds and damage to the psyche or trauma.

When an individual struggles with leaving a religion or beliefs that has led to their indoctrination. The symptoms of religious trauma can be the same as that of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).

If you feel that you are unable to disagree with the teachings in your community, know that you are experiencing the first sign of religious syndrome.

Many people lose their sense of self and identity as they learn that most of the things that they knew to be untrue. Feelings of being lost, grief, or loneliness with difficult to trust others or your-self are common. Some of the symptoms religious trauma syndrome can overlap with other mental health disorders including bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorders, or clinical depression.

Religious Trauma Symptoms

Impeded emotional development. You might feel “behind” or different from your peers.

Poor decision-making skills. Feel you need approval or help with decisions since your understanding of the truth was not the truth at all.

Lack of self-confidence or self-esteem. Messages you received were incorrect so you can’t trust yourself or your instincts.

Pervasive feelings of guilt or shame. Difficulty forming relationships with others different from you.

Start To Get Help

A trauma-informed therapist specialized in Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) can be a great starting point for getting additional support. Therapy techniques that have proved helpful for recovering from trauma include EMDR and Somatic Therapy.

Sources By Caitlin Moretz, LICSW by Gideon Psychology

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