Religious Trauma

“Religious trauma is like you’re trapped in a cage and you’ve been taught to love the bars. Even adore the bars. You’re told the bars are the only thing keeping me safe. You wouldn’t dare question what you are taught because if you did, that means there’s something wrong with you. You can see that the door unlocks from the outside, but you are told scary stuff is going to happen if you dare reach through the bars to unlock the door. Yet, you are still compelled to stretch and reach for the keys. Others in the cage shake their head in disgust at your audacity to believe there is something good outside the bars.”

-Apricity client

Religious Trauma

Religious Trauma, also known as spiritual trauma or spiritual abuse, refers to the psychological and emotional harm that individuals experience as a result of their involvement in a religious or spiritual context.

This trauma can occur within organized religious institutions, cults, or even in the context of individual relationships with religious or spiritual authority figures. It occurs when an individual experiences distress, fear, guilt, shame, or a sense of powerlessness due to harmful or abusive practices, teachings, or dynamics within a religious community or belief system.


Symptoms of Religious Trauma

  • Very low sense of self-worth, unsure of yourself.
  • Perfectionism driven by anxiety about being good enough
  • Compulsively striving for external validation
  • Difficulty sleeping, nighmares
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Struggle to make decisions because of a preoccupation with making the “right” decision.
  • Depressive and/or anxious symptoms 

Symptoms of religious trauma may also share common symptoms of trauma and PTSD. This includes experiencing flashbacks, trouble sleeping and having nightmares, restlessness, lack of pleasure in things you used to enjoy, hypervigilance, avoidance, and more.

Religious trauma happens all across the world
in many different types of communities.

Examples of Religious Trauma

  1. Authoritarianism: The religious environment may be excessively controlling, demanding unquestioning obedience, and punishing dissent or critical thinking.

  2. Guilt and Shame: Religious teachings or practices may induce a sense of guilt and shame for not adhering to strict moral codes or for natural human feelings and behaviors.

  3. Fear and Anxiety: Some religious environments may use fear-based tactics, threatening punishment or divine wrath for non-compliance or doubt.

  4. Isolation and Alienation: Individuals may be cut off from friends, family, or society at large if they don’t conform to the religious norms, leading to feelings of isolation

  5. Doctrinal Confusion: Contradictory or harmful teachings may lead to confusion, cognitive dissonance, and inner turmoil.

  6.  Emotional, Physical and Sexual  Abuse: Religious settings may enable emotional, physical and sexual abuse, often justified by religious beliefs.

  7. Loss of Autonomy: Individuals may feel their personal autonomy and decision-making abilities are undermined or taken away by religious leaders or doctrines.

  8. Suppression of Critical Thinking: Questioning or doubting aspects of the faith may be discouraged, leading to suppression of critical thinking and personal growth.

  9. Sexual and Gender-based Trauma: Some religious environments may perpetuate harmful attitudes toward sexuality and gender, leading to trauma for those who don’t conform to rigid norms. Purity culture and the stigmatization of the LGBTQ+ community falls within this category.

  10. Religious Deconversion: Leaving a religion or losing faith can also be traumatic for individuals, especially if they face rejection or hostility from their religious community

  11. Religious Scrupulosity: This refers to obsessive worry and fear of committing religious or moral wrongdoings, often driven by rigid religious rules.

  12. Trauma Bonding: Some individuals may feel bound to their religious community due to a combination of love, fear, and loyalty, even if they recognize the harmful aspects.

  13. Spiritual Confusion or Crisis: Religious trauma can lead to a crisis of faith and identity, where individuals struggle to reconcile their experiences with their previous beliefs.

What Will Happen In Therapy

Through various therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma-focused approaches, mindfulness, and inner child work, you can work towards healing and reclaiming your personal power. You develop healthy coping strategies, challenge negative beliefs, and rebuild (or build for the first time) your sense of self-esteem and autonomy.

Therapy for religious abuse also encourages you to rediscover and redefine your relationship with spirituality. Additionally, your therapist will help you differentiate between the harmful and positive aspects of their religious experience. This then allows you to decide if there are positive elements that you would like to continue.

Ultimately, therapy for religious trauma syndrome empowers individuals to reclaim their lives. It offers guidance, support, and tools that will help you navigate your healing journey. This frees you to create a brighter future based on your own values and choices. If you are ready to begin this process, please schedule an initial consultation.