How do I choose between being true to God and true to myself?
People who grow up in a religious household sometimes have pretty mixed feelings about it. Some things are good, like feeling a part of something bigger than yourself, being a part of a community with a clear identity, participating in meaningful traditions, and having a moral compass or a set of values that give life structure and meaning.
But often those good things come with some pretty steep downsides, too.
A lingering sense of guilt and shame, feeling like you can't measure up, or fear of retribution from a higher power.
Confusion about where your own unique values fit with a more rigid moral tradition.
Feeling stifled and unable to express yourself, especially sexually.
Being conditionally accepted or outright rejected because of your beliefs, your sexual orientation, your gender, or for simply asking hard questions.
Call it religious trauma, spiritual abuse, or whatever other term fits for you: this is something that is just not talked about or acknowledged enough. Both leaving your religious community and staying in a tradition that has hurt you are extremely difficult. And if you have had to make this choice, then you have likely been left reeling, questioning, and feeling incredibly lonely.
Layers of harm, layers of healing.
Religious trauma is tricky because it presents like any other type of trauma, but it can be quite a bit more tangled than it first appears. Because religion touches every single area of our lives, the pain sits in every area also:
Individually. Who am I outside of my religious community? What do I truly value and believe? How much of my identity is there because of a certain set of rules and expectations? What does it mean to have a healthy sexuality when that area has been repressed for so long? Can I really be fully me and still be accepted and loved?
Interpersonally. If I leave the church, will my family disown me? Can I be with the person I love and not be condemned or rejected? Which of my hang-ups about marriage and dating are mine, and which are intertwined with my religious upbringing?
Communally. How can this community that has known me my whole life reject me just because of...? Can my church handle all the questions that I have? If I leave the church, will I also lose all the connections I have with the people there? But if I stay in a place that doesn't fully fit, will I be judged by everyone else?
Existentially / Spiritually. Are we basically good or basically sinful? How could I believe in a God that would send me to hell? What does life mean if I decide to keep my faith? What does it mean if I give it up? If I remove some of my beliefs and traditions, what do I put in that place?
Healing from religious trauma, one thread at a time.
When you come in to a session, your therapist will talk with you about when, where, and how these themes are surfacing. If you're not coping well (and it's totally understandable if you're not), dealing with some practical tools comes first.
Then we take a look at those knots, gently tugging one thread at a time to see where it leads. One week this may be presenting as a fight with your dad, and the next week you may be feeling lost in some existential questions related to God, church, or morality. Whatever is coming up, your therapist will help you follow that thread and outline the underlying themes, beliefs, emotions, and bodily sensations that all interconnect.
Family therapy or couples counselling can also be great ways to address this type of trauma. Whether you are wanting to process how your family members played into the hurt you experienced, or you and your partner are struggling because of your trauma, your therapist isn't afraid to help you go into those messy places and then lead you out again.
Imagine feeling lighter. Less tied down. More like your honest-to-goodness self, the self you didn't think was still in there. Whether you're still involved in church, have left completely, or have found faith in a totally new and fresh way, we want to see you thrive.
Look, we can't claim to be experts in every religious tradition or every expression of them. And we should be honest and say that healing trauma comes slowly. But if you've read this far, it's because something up there is resonating for you. We can help. If you have the courage to go there, your therapist will be right there alongside you helping you to untangle those knots. Give us a call, send a text, or schedule yourself an appointment to get started.