Finding spiritual meaning is a major component of addiction treatment and recovery. Unfortunately, spirituality can be a significant source of trauma for some. This article talks about spiritual trauma: what it is, how it can be harmful, and what you can do to heal.

When Your Beliefs Are Used Against You

Ideally, your spirituality should be a source of healing. How you worship and feel connected to the larger world should be a time filled with love, joy, and connectedness. Unfortunately, that isn’t everyone’s experience. Not every single congregation, church, or worship space is loving, accepting, and healthy. For some, their spiritual or religious upbringing can be a source of deep-seated trauma. This form of trauma is called “spiritual trauma” or “religious trauma” and is often the result of religious abuse.

This type of abuse can come from individuals or the community as a whole. A person can experience spiritual trauma from religious leaders, parents, or spiritual community members. Examples of spiritual or religious abuse can include:

  • Using beliefs to embarrass, shame, or humiliate you either publicly or privately
  • Financial exploitation
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Using fear to coerce you into following beliefs or scripture
  • Using beliefs to justify abuse or keep you in an abusive relationship
  • Isolating, or threatening isolation, if you choose to leave the spiritual community
  • Insulting or belittling other belief systems
  • Using beliefs to discriminate against your gender, race, or sexuality

Spiritual Abuse Can Block Spirituality

When a person is a victim of spiritual abuse, it can cause them a lot of harm. It can make it difficult to want to dive into spirituality because that part of their life is so intensely triggering. It can also make a person feel lost and confused after their experience. Betrayal from your community or faith affects a deep part of you. Spirituality is an intimate aspect of a person’s life. It’s a source of healing for many who turn to a higher power to make sense of things and to feel a sense of purpose. Losing that part of yourself can be devastating. However, even if you are a victim of spiritual abuse, it’s possible to heal and reconnect with the bigger picture.

Victims of spiritual abuse also struggle during recovery. There are many faith-based treatment and recovery communities, 12-Step programs being the most popular. A program that centers on God or a higher power can be a significant turn-off and potentially triggering.

How to Heal From Spiritual Abuse

While spiritual abuse can be devastating and make you feel disconnected from your community or even your core beliefs, healing is possible. Recognizing the trauma and healing from it allows you to utilize this powerful resource in your future recovery.

Recognize That Trauma Occurred

This might seem obvious, and you may have already started this step, but one of the first things you need to do to heal from trauma is to acknowledge that what you experienced was traumatic. This is an important first step because many people aren’t aware that they’ve experienced trauma. They might feel confused and lost after their experience. They don’t know why they feel awful. Once you’ve acknowledged and accepted that your experience was traumatic, you can begin to process the events.

Reprocess Your Experiences Through Therapy

There are plenty of options when it comes to processing trauma. Choose a therapist or a form of therapy that works best for you. Types of therapy that help with processing complicated feelings toward an event can include things like psychotherapy, group therapy, EMDR, and even trauma-informed yoga.

Let Yourself Feel Complicated Emotions

Processing trauma can be an emotionally difficult experience. It opens up old wounds as you relive events you pushed into the back of your mind. What’s worse is sometimes the emotions don’t make sense. There might be parts of you that feel nostalgic about that time, while at the same time, you feel disgusted. You might feel angry at your community for not supporting you but sad that you lost that support. Let yourself feel these feelings without judgment. Whatever you feel is normal and valid. It’s okay if your emotions contradict each other. That’s a natural part of being human.

Grieve and Accept What You’ve Lost

After experiencing spiritual trauma, you most likely lost a whole community of support. You might feel that loss deeply. Unfortunately, leaving a community can mean losing friends, mentors, and even family. You are allowed to grieve this loss. Grieving the loss of a toxic community doesn’t mean you wish to reenter it, but rather that you’re processing the feelings of losing something that was central to your identity at a point in time. Take time to process feelings of grief until you eventually accept that loss.

Reclaim Your Values and Beliefs

Sort through your beliefs and values when you are ready. Try to separate what you truly believe and what you were taught to believe. This process can take a lot of time, and it’s okay if there are some things that you aren’t sure about. It can also be difficult and potentially triggering, especially if questioning established beliefs resulted in punishment. When you feel safe, dig deep and answer the big questions. These big questions can become the stepping stones to finding your greater purpose on your own terms.

Spiritual and religious trauma can shake up your worldviews and connection to the bigger picture. It might be hard for you to reconnect to spirituality after what you’ve experienced, but it’s important to heal. Spirituality is a vital part of life, allowing you to discover your purpose and answer life’s biggest questions. It can help to talk to someone about your experience so you can begin the process of healing. Bella Monte specializes in treating trauma lying underneath addiction. We also have trauma informed therapists who specialize in trauma-related therapy. At Bella Monte, every client will go through EMDR therapy. This therapy can help you process your trauma and let you begin your journey of healing. If you would like to learn more ways to heal from spiritual trauma, please call us at (800) 974-1938 for more information. We’re here to help you heal.