The Harm Of Spiritual Trauma

Note/Trigger Warning: Spiritual trauma has long-lasting impacts. Sometimes, reading about past and recent experiences of spiritual trauma and spiritual abuse can trigger us to re-live those painful memories and emotions. If you see your life experiences reflected in this topic, please prioritize your physical and emotional safety and wellbeing. Abuse of all kinds should always be taken very seriously, and this includes spiritual abuse. We encourage everyone who has survived spiritual trauma and abuse to monitor your emotional regulation while exploring this topic and please take care of yourself 💛

Spiritual trauma may be a controversial topic to address during the month of Ramadan. However, we think it's the most fitting time to bring it up!

Why? Many people struggle to observe Ramadan (and other religious holidays) due to their experiences with spiritual trauma and abuse. Those experiences matter. In a month where we focus on mercy, forgiveness, and charitable deeds, we must also extend our compassion to those who have been harmed by religious/spiritual figures and systems.

It's important to validate the experiences of those who have survived spiritual trauma, even if our OWN experiences with those religious/spiritual figures and systems has been largely positive or neutral

What Is Spiritual Trauma?

Let's start by discussing what trauma is in general.

First, A Recap Of Trauma

Anything that overwhelms our coping capacities can be traumatic.

Many of us assume that trauma must be a result of  momentous or life-threatening situations (i.e. a car accident, experiencing an assault, or the death of a loved one). These events can certainly be traumatizing and have come to be referred to as capital 'T' trauma.

We can also commonly experience what is referred to as small 't' trauma, where we are experiencing things that are entirely out of control and at times overwhelming our coping capacities.

Both types of trauma can have a tremendous impact on our minds and bodies. Depending on the nature of the events, trauma can affect individuals, families, and even entire communities and identity groups.

The trauma response quite literally alters our biological stress response system. Moreover, we know that trauma lives in the body, regardless of how much time has passed since the actual traumatic events.

In other words, our nervous system and stress response are not aware of the passage of time. When we find ourselves in circumstances that trigger those feelings of being overwhelmed and unable to cope, our body responds as if we are still living in the traumatic event itself.

This is how childhood events continue to affect the way we cope with stress and behave in relationships today

Now let's apply to this specifically to spiritual trauma.

Moving Onto Spiritual Trauma

Spiritual trauma occurs as a result of events that threaten and damage our core spiritual values and goals. This can be a result of either abuse by religious/spiritual figures or being raised with a toxic and overbearing interpretation of that religion or spiritual belief.

Spiritual trauma can often cause existential anxiety. When a source of meaning and purpose in life transforms into a source of pain, it's common to feel abandoned and alone.

Moreover, spiritual trauma often leads to a loss of trust- both in the systems we relied on to nourish us and in ourselves for falling victim to the abuse or manipulation.

Spiritually traumatic events are NEVER, EVER your fault. You are not the blame, under any circumstances.

Religious figures, systems, and communities hold enormous amounts of power. Abuse of this power is never okay. Those who are impacted by spiritual abuse and manipulation are never at fault and their experiences must always be believed.

How Does Spiritual Trauma Occur?

There are many ways spiritual trauma can occur. While reading this, it's important to keep in mind that your own experience of trauma is not invalid just because it is not captured here. This list is by no means exhaustive. Please also be mindful of taking care of yourself if this topic is triggering.

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by a religious or spiritual authority figure
  • Constant fear-based education about religion that results in anxiety about the world and lack of trust in our own abilities and decisions
  • Using religion or spirituality to oppress or manipulate others into behaving a certain way
  • Religious education that imposes shame on learners about their bodies and natural (even sacred) human functions
  • Being rejected or judged harshly by friends or romantic prospects on the basis of religious observance or non-observance

The Harm Of Spiritual Trauma

Survivors of spiritually traumatic events and upbringings often report devastating effects on their spirituality and religiosity. This is especially true when survivors are devoted members of a religious institution and community. The collapse in trust can leave survivors feeling unmoored, unanchored, and lonely in the world.

Here are common issues that emerge as a direct or indirect result of spiritual trauma:

- Feeling angry with God

- An unshakeable sense of feeling unsettled and empty

- Struggling to connect genuinely and deeply with other people

- Feeling forgetting, forsaken, or neglected by God and the world

- Experiencing trust issues in relationships and friendships

- Constantly carrying a deep sense of shame and unworthiness

Before You Go

Spiritual trauma is a valid form of trauma that is not often discussed. The same environment of shame and silencing that enables spiritual harm to occur also keeps us from talking about it!

Please know that your experiences are valid. Often, years of gaslighting can warp our own memories and interpretation of events. Surround yourself with people who will recognize your truth and not shame or judge you for it. Seek professional help if you are able to work through the fall out of spiritual trauma. You are never alone 💛

Once again, if you are feeling triggered by this piece, please close the tab and do what you need to do to calm your nervous system and feel alright again.

Until next time!

Mental Health Content Specialist

WellNest Psychotherapy Services