religious trauma recovery journey - 5 things i learned

5 Things I Learned on My Religious Trauma Recovery Journey

religious trauma recovery journey - 5 things i learned

In early March last year, I realised that it was Religious Trauma Syndrome that derailed me and made me self-sabotage my work and Tarot reading business. The first time it happened was in April 2020. There was a perfect storm brewing at that time. I know I’m not the only one who suffered because of it. I somewhat recovered after that but was unable to engage in serious healing because I lacked awareness of Religious Trauma Syndrome and what it does to a person.

The second time I succumbed to trauma-triggered self-destruction was toward the end of 2022. Thankfully, I somehow came across exactly the right information quite quickly that time. And that is when my healing journey began in earnest. Before I delve into my personal lessons and highlights during this journey, I want to outline exactly what Religious Trauma is.

What is Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS)

Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is a condition experienced by individuals who struggle with leaving a religion or deeply held belief system, which often encompasses more than mere faith but a comprehensive identity and lifestyle. These challenges can result from an authoritarian upbringing surrounding religious practices.

There may have been a strict enforcement of beliefs, and induced fears surrounding ideas of sin and eternal punishment. RTS manifests similarly to complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), where the person affected may continue to grapple with a lasting impact on their psychological well-being due to religious indoctrination and the subsequent conflict with one’s innate tendencies, thoughts, and feelings.

Effects of Religious Trauma Syndrome

Individuals suffering from RTS may experience a range of effects that drastically impair their quality of life. These effects include:

  1. Psychological distress: Continuous anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts related to hell or divine retribution can persist.
  2. Social isolation: Leaving a religious group often results in loss of community and family support, leading to loneliness and a lack of meaningful social interactions.
  3. Impaired decision-making: Due to the fear of eternal damnation or divine displeasure, individuals might face difficulty making choices that align with their desires and rational thinking.
  4. Identity crisis: Identity development links deeply with religious beliefs. When we discard or question these beliefs, it can lead to a profound crisis of identity and self-worth.
  5. Physical symptoms: The intense stress and anxiety may manifest physically, resulting in sleep disturbances, fatigue, and other psychosomatic symptoms.

5 Things I Learned on My Religious Trauma Recovery Journey

1. Religious Trauma Can be Linked to CPTSD

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) arises from prolonged exposure to traumatic events or situations, often where the individual feels powerless or trapped. Such backgrounds can significantly affect one’s psychological state, making them more vulnerable to the allure of religious cults. Here’s why someone suffering from CPTSD might find themselves more easily entrapped by religious cults:

Seeking Safety and Structure

People with CPTSD often seek environments that offer safety, predictability, and control, qualities that their traumatic experiences lacked. Religious cults often provide a strict organisational structure and a set of rules. This can offer a sense of order and security that is appealing to someone whose life has felt chaotic and uncontrollable.

Desire for Belonging

Those affected by CPTSD may feel isolated and alienated, which drives a deep desire for social connection and a sense of belonging. Religious cults offer a community and a family-like atmosphere that can be very attractive to individuals who feel detached from mainstream society. This was certainly true in my case. I felt that church was my family and when I finally left after ten years in my late 20s, there was a void that I couldn’t fill.

Authority and Guidance

Due to traumatic pasts, people with CPTSD might strongly resonate with authoritarian figures who promise guidance and protection. Cult leaders often position themselves as such figures, claiming to possess exclusive knowledge or salvation. This is how they attract individuals who crave leadership and definitive answers.

Validation of Experience

Religious cults often validate the emotions and experiences of new recruits. They sympathise with their pain and offer spiritual explanations or solutions to their suffering. This validation can be seductive because it contrasts with feelings of misunderstanding or neglect from the external world.

However, in my case, many of my past spiritual experiences were invalidated by the church. Understanding that what was real to me could not be validated by my ‘church family’ was the start of me leaving the church.

Black-and-White Thinking

Prolonged trauma can lead to polarised (black-and-white) thinking, where the complexity and nuances of life are pared down to simple, dichotomous choices. Cults typically capitalise on this type of thinking. They present the world in terms of good and evil, believers and non-believers, which appeals strongly to those with CPTSD looking for clear, simple frameworks.

2. Not Enough People Talk about Religious Trauma

As much as I hate rehashing my journey and talking about trauma, I realise that it’s my responsibility to share personal insights into RTS with as many people as possible. The reason that not many people are aware of RTS (I certainly wasn’t in 2020 when I felt terrorised enough to rejoin a religious cult) is that it’s a relatively newly discovered condition.

Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is not officially recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the primary guide for diagnosing psychological disorders used by mental health professionals in the U.S. Dr Marlene Winell was the first person to discuss RTS in 2011. She identified it described it as a function of both the chronic abuses of harmful religion and the impact of severing one’s connection to one’s faith and faith community.

Despite its absence from the DSM, clinicians and researchers increasingly recognise RTS as a valid and serious condition affecting individuals who have undergone traumatic experiences within religious settings.

3. Why the Tarot is Not Compatible with Many Forms of Organised Religion

Having self-destructed my Tarot reading business twice due to RTS, I started looking into why so many religions do not approve of or outright condemn the Tarot. You can find a summary of the real reason in the meme below.

religious trauma healing journey meme

Essentially, finally healing from Religious Trauma Syndrome has freed me to finally serve the Goddess as a Tarot Reader/Priestess, a calling I became aware of in my early 30s.

4. Healing from RTS Can Be a Lonely Journey

Because RTS is a newly discovered condition, you’re not likely to come across many who can relate. This is why it’s so important to do your own research. It’s also, as I said at the top of this article, why I feel obliged to share my journey.

The best resource I came across, right at the start of my journey is the journeyfree.org site by Dr Marlene Winell. However, intellectual knowledge about the condition is not enough. Additionally, finding a therapist who understands your condition may be tricky. Living where I do, in the North of England, I didn’t bother going down the talk therapy route. Instead, I decided that reading up on my condition and engaging in healing therapies that I know work for me was the best way forward.

However, if you can find a therapist who understands RTS, this may be one of the best routes you can take. I have benefitted from person-centred counselling in the past. What I will say about talk therapy based on my own experience is that it’s not enough for me. And I say that as someone who has a certificate in person-centred counselling.

5. Healing the Deeper Layers of RTS Can Take More Than Talk Therapy

Determined to heal myself and bring as many of my blindspots into conscious awareness as possible, I used two tried and tested methods: Art Therapy and EFT

Art Therapy and Religious Trauma Syndrome

Art therapy offers a creative outlet that can be incredibly therapeutic for individuals dealing with Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS). This form of therapy uses various artistic mediums to express feelings and thoughts that may be too difficult to put into words. I used this extensively to heal not only myself but also my relationship with the Tarot in my Wyld Godde Tarot posts. Here’s how art therapy can assist in healing from RTS:

Expression without Words

Often, the experiences and emotions tied to RTS are complex and deeply rooted, making them hard to articulate. Art provides a non-verbal mode of expression that helps us externalise and visualise our inner turmoil.

Processing Repressed Emotions

Art therapy can help uncover and process emotions that have been suppressed due to religious conditioning. Creating art can bring these hidden feelings to the surface, allowing for recognition and healing.

Regaining Control

For those who may have felt powerless within their religious communities, art therapy offers a space where they are in control. Decisions about what to create and how to create it are entirely up to the individual, fostering a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy.

Identity Exploration

Leaving a religion or a tightly-knit community often leads to an identity crisis. Art therapy aids in the exploration and reconstruction of a new, independent identity outside of those religious confines.

Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and Religious Trauma Syndrome

Emotional Freedom Techniques, or EFT, often referred to as tapping, is another effective tool for managing the psychological distress caused by RTS. EFT involves tapping on specific points on the body while focusing on particular negative emotions or traumatic memories. Here are the benefits of EFT in dealing with RTS:

Reducing Anxiety and Stress

EFT helps to lower stress and anxiety levels by calming the nervous system, making it easier to cope with the emotional distress associated with RTS.

Altering Harmful Beliefs

Many individuals with RTS harbour deep-seated, harmful beliefs instilled by their religious environments. Through EFT, we can address these beliefs directly, working to dismantle them and replace them with healthier, self-affirming ones.

Improving Emotional Regulation

EFT enhances emotional regulation, teaching individuals to better manage and respond to their feelings rather than being overwhelmed by them.

Holistic Healing

EFT is a holistic approach that considers the interconnectedness of the body, mind, and emotions, making it an appropriate treatment for the complex nature of RTS, which affects all these areas.

I’m still learning about religious trauma recovery and may update this post in the future. I would love to hear from you if you feel this post has been helpful or if you have any questions.

Benefits of CBD Oil During Trauma Recovery

CBD oil capsules have gained popularity for their potential therapeutic benefits, particularly in the context of trauma recovery. Here’s how CBD oil can assist during the healing processes after a traumatic experience:

Reducing Anxiety and Depression

CBD has been shown to have anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and antidepressant properties. It interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system to regulate mood and alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, which are common among individuals recovering from trauma.

Enhancing Sleep Quality

Trauma can significantly disrupt sleep patterns, leading to insomnia and restless nights. CBD oil can promote relaxation and improve sleep quality, which is crucial for the physical and psychological healing processes.

Alleviating Physical Pain

Many individuals experience physical pain as a symptom of psychological trauma. CBD oil has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce such pain and discomfort, making it easier to engage in daily activities and therapeutic practices.

Promoting Emotional Regulation

CBD can aid in the modulation of neurotransmitters associated with emotional regulation, such as serotonin and dopamine. This helps stabilise moods and improve overall mental health, which is beneficial for those in the throes of trauma recovery.

Supporting Cognitive Function

Trauma can impact cognitive functions, including memory, concentration, and decision-making. CBD has neuroprotective properties that may support cognitive health by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain.

Non-Psychoactive

Unlike THC, another compound found in cannabis, CBD does not produce psychoactive effects, meaning it does not cause a high. This makes it a suitable option for those who want the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive side effects.

Overall, CBD oil can be a valuable addition to the toolkit for managing and recovering from trauma. It is a good complement to the therapies and healing methods mentioned above. As with any supplement, it’s vital to consult with a healthcare provider before starting use, especially when other medications or treatments are involved.

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Comments 4

  1. I’m very happy you came to terms with your trauma and are actively working on it.
    I’ve always felt kind of “left out” being raised in an atheist family but when I read about your journey ( and some others as well) I believe it was a blessing in disguise.

    Do you believe one can still have a relationship with Jesus/Yeshua but not be influenced by a church?

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      1. I just love them as well. But, I can’t resonate with a religion.

        Those Mary Magdalene cards really grew on me. I’m glad I didn’t get rid of them in my usual hastiness.

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