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VIDEO PODCAST: Reclaiming Spirituality After Religious Trauma

Updated: Apr 26

As an overview, this entry starts with some mistakes — the mistakes of self-protection and over-correction — then wanders a meandering path past a number of probing questions and concepts:

  • What is Religious Trauma?

  • What are some of the long-term effects?

  • How does it manifest in communities and families?

  • What are the characteristics?

  • Is healthy community possible?

  • How is Spirituality different from Religion?

Let me warn you, I am a film/video nerd by trade, so what started as an audio-only podcast entry quickly blossomed into a full-scale assault on the visual field as well, replete with complimentary and tangential on-screen text and images. It can be a lot, so please feel free to ingest the information in a manner that feels most comfortable for you.

If it helps, I have decided to post TWO transcripts after the video (below). The FIRST transcript is of the onscreen text in the video. The SECOND transcript is of the spoken words. So if you just want to listen and then circle back later to scan the additional text elements here, I have made that easy.

Thanks, as always, for your time and attention. I hope you find this informative and/or helpful.

TRANSCRIPT 1: Onscreen Text Transcript

THE INSIDE OUT - Reclaiming Spirituality After Religious Trauma

It is not unusual or uncommon to over-correct or over-protect after a traumatic experience. As a result, we may sometimes deny ourselves access to good things out of an overabundance of caution.

Our conscious mind may not always agree with our unconscious mind. By updating our understanding of the terms and ideas as we have known them, sometimes we can change our thinking to allow for new ideas that unlock new possibilities. Language is powerful. Never underestimate what might be possible by simply allowing yourself to understand old ideas in new ways.

What is Religious Trauma?
“Religious trauma results from an event, series of events, relationships, or circumstances within or connected to religious beliefs, practices, or structures that is experienced by an individual as overwhelming or disruptive and has lasting adverse effects on a person’s physical, mental, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being." (

It is possible to co-experience different kinds of trauma at the same time, or have multiple traumatic experiences across time, which add complexity to the challenges of your lived experience.

When left unattended, the effects from trauma can last a lifetime, and may significantly diminish your ability to experience life to the fullest.

What are some of the long-term effects of Religious Trauma?

  • Religious trauma can cause difficulty in forming and maintaining intimate relationships.

  • Religious trauma can make it difficult to trust or feel trustworthy.

  • Religious trauma can make it difficult to love oneself or to feel confident in one’s own abilities.

  • Religious trauma can make it difficult to feel “good enough,” wanted, or valued for one’s own, essential nature.

  • Even in the face of living one’s best life, underlying feelings of not being good enough may persist and be difficult to eliminate entirely.

  • Religious trauma can cause us to believe that we are essentially bad, unwanted, or require external repair, redemption, or approval.

  • Religious trauma can have long-lasting negative impacts on quality of life, even long after abandoning religious beliefs.

Trauma may also result from family systems built on unhealthy models of power, coercion, and control. Hierarchies and power dynamics, though important, can lead to trauma that harms defenseless individuals, such as children.

To develop secure attachments, children need to feel seen, soothed, safe, and secure. Being seen is not just a matter of being observed; it involves feeling understood and acknowledged for who we are behind our behavior. When a child is distressed, it is an adult's responsibility to help them regulate their emotions and return to a place of comfort. Disobedient or disrupted children are not your enemy or “bad.” Usually, they are struggling with a problem they cannot solve. They need the help of a well-regulated adult to solve their problem. When providing safety to children, it is important to remember, they need to feel safe from “outsiders,” in addition to feeling safe alongside their primary caregivers. When children feel consistently seen, soothed, and safe (both with others and with their caregivers), they develop a deep feeling of security and positive self esteem. Caregiving that doesn’t consistently provide these things will often result in insecure attachments that lead children to experience significant interpersonal difficulties later in life.

Common signs of insecure attachment include:

  • - Difficulty in forming and maintaining intimate relationships

  • - Perfectionism

  • - Low self-esteem

  • - Problems with trust

  • - Anxiety and depression

  • - Difficulty regulating emotions

  • - Difficulty with parenting

  • - Higher risk of mental health disorders

  • - Difficulty with social support

  • - Negative patterns of behavior

  • - Confusion about “why I’m this way”

Under certain religions or religious expressions, there may be a greater prevalence and/or protection of unhealthy models of parenting and interpersonal power dynamics.

Religious ideologies that expressly threaten eternal torture may cause trauma because they fundamentally target the human survival instinct and leverage it for compliance. When only given a choice between total compliance or eternal torture, ideas like “free will” are devoid of value and can cause confusion and trauma, especially in children.

Religious teachings which lack logical, cohesive thinking, yet insist upon obedience and adherence to those ideas under threat of torture or banishment can cause trauma and/or existential conflict. Being required to comply with ideas that do not make sense can diminish one’s own sense of agency by slowly chipping away at identity, dignity, and self-trust. This can lead to a profound sense of “self-loss.”

Arguments like “that’s just the way it is” or “God’s ways are not our ways” are often used to shut down critical thinking and may be used to maintain power and control over individuals or groups. Be careful. If we are created by God, then so too was our intellect. Given the amount of people and groups who would like to manipulate and control us, it is wise to use caution with anyone asking us to forfeit our good sense.

Feeling shame, fear, or doubt for asking honest questions should be viewed as a warning sign.

If someone discourages or punishes us for seeking information, it is important to proceed with caution and evaluate the situation carefully.


The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control

Steven Hassan – @CultExpert on Twitter

  • Behavioral Control

  • Information Control

  • Thought Control

  • Emotional Control


Characteristics of Traumatizing Religious Beliefs

  • Reality is unreliable.

  • Self-neglect is normalized.

  • Rejection of personal agency is normalized.

  • Rejection of personal worth is normalized.

  • Feelings of guilt, shame, inferiority, and being 'less-than' serve as the basis upon which a child's sense of self is constructed.

Future dysfunction may include:

  • Over-giving

  • Over-sharing

  • Over-servicing

  • Over-sacrificing.


Religious trauma is real, pervasive, and damaging.

Religious trauma can occur when a person experiences spiritual or religious beliefs or practices as abusive, harmful, or threatening, leading to emotional and/or psychological distress.

It is important to recognize and address religious trauma in order to support individuals who have experienced it and to promote healing and recovery.

That is one purpose of this episode.


While facing trauma on your own can be challenging, here are some strategies that may be helpful:

Practice self-care: This can include taking care of your physical health by eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. It can also involve engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as spending time in nature, listening to music, or reading a good book.

Build a support network: Even if you are facing trauma on your own, it is important to have people in your life who you can turn to for support.

Use relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help you manage stress and anxiety and promote feelings of calm.

Write about your experiences: Keeping a journal or writing down your thoughts and feelings about your trauma can help you process your emotions and gain a greater understanding of your experiences.

Learn about trauma: Educating yourself about the nature of trauma and its effects on the mind and body can help you feel more in control of your experiences and better equipped to manage them.


The Linnaean System of Classification

  1. Kingdom

  2. Phylum (or Division, for plants)

  3. Class

  4. Order

  5. Family

  6. Genus

  7. Species

  1. Spirituality

  2. ?

  3. ?

  4. ?

  5. ?

  6. Religion

  7. Doctrine


Rigidity of thought is a common characteristic of the trauma response and is also often observed in contexts involving coercion and control. Not surprisingly, it may also be found in certain religious expression. Choosing to re-engage with spirituality may necessitate being prepared to face disapproval or rejection from your former religious group, its members, or the religious community that surrounds them. When we discover something new, we often need to adapt or let go of what we currently consider old.

The decision to create a new path for oneself may require being willing to face feelings of loneliness, which can be surprisingly painful depending on the strength of the bond with one's previous community. To reduce the pain and duration of isolation and separation, one may choose to intentionally redefine their understanding of 'community'. I eventually had to come to terms with the church's unspoken "terms and conditions" for community.

This made me realize some key things:

What religion called community was almost entirely conditional, based mostly on sameness, proximity, accessibility, and loyalty. It didn't actually have much love or acceptance at its core. I no longer agree with that definition and have taken back the right to decide what works for me as a community and what doesn't.

With this shift, the concept of community became mine to define for myself.

The result is that now I wouldn't dare try to replace the “big-group of clones” with another one. My friends are now scattered, extremely diverse, contact is sometimes intermittent, and no one owns any kind of rights to the other. It is a cast of characters who likely wouldn't play well together in the same sandbox but work well as a tapestry within my heart and mind. Our common unity is that we ultimately care to know one another as interesting and lovable characters, not as reflections of ourselves.

Certainly, this makes the experience of community feel a lot different than gathering in large groups at regular intervals and telling one another how correct and righteous we are, but I'm done with that bland, flavorless dish anyway. Anymore, the community I experience is not as predictable or consistent. It is filled with flavors and variety that religion was never capable of achieving, and I would never dream of going back.

It is far, far better.


“I think, therefore I mediate.”


Immediacy: A state or quality of being direct, unmediated, uninterrupted, or unfiltered.

"Unmediated spirituality" can be defined as the inherent capacity of every individual to directly and authentically connect with the source of life without the need for external intermediaries or prescribed doctrines. It posits that upon emergence into consciousness, every person possesses innate faculties, such as intuition, awareness, and introspection, which enable them to establish meaningful and profound contact with the transcendent or divine, as they understand it. This concept implies that individuals have an inherent, self-sustained potential for spiritual exploration and growth, unencumbered by external dogma or authoritative structures, and can access their own unique path to connect with the source of life based on their own internal resources and experiences.

  • What would be the harm in trusting, without hesitation, that our very existence is exactly as it needs to be?

  • Has your experience of