What Is Religious Trauma Syndrome?

Religious Trauma Syndrome refers to the psychological and emotional distress that can arise as a consequence of religious trauma or spiritual abuse. The term was a term coined by Marlene Winell in 2011Although not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, this term has been increasingly recognized and acknowledged.

Acknowledging The Pervasiveness of Religious Trauma

Acknowledging the pervasiveness of religious trauma is crucial for understanding its impact on individuals and communities. Many people have experienced psychological distress as a result of harmful religious teachings, practices, or environments.  The study, Percentage of U.S. Adults Suffering from Religious Trauma: A Sociological Study,  concluded around one-third (27‒33%) of  U.S. adults have experienced religious trauma at some point in their life. From rigid dogma to abusive authority figures, religious institutions can inflict lasting emotional scars on those who have been subjected to them. By recognizing the widespread nature of religious trauma, we can begin to address the needs of survivors, offer support, and work towards creating environments that promote healing and acceptance.

Understanding The Severity Of Religious Trauma

Many people who are not or weren't religious don't understand. They think it should be as easy as discovering there is no Santa Claus that we should just get a good dose of reality, grow up, and move on. The reason is our religion was all-consuming. It was everything to us. It defined us, our identity, our morality, our social network, our worldview, our sex lives, the structure of reality, history, meaning, and so much more. Unlearning toxic beliefs and healing from our religious trauma takes time. It's a process.

Religious Trauma Syndrome Symptoms

  • Persistent worry or fear related to religious teachings, beliefs, or experiences.
  • Sexual shame or guilt about sexual desires, experiences, or behaviors due to religious teachings that label them as sinful or immoral.
  • Difficulty understanding how to set appropriate boundaries
  • Persistent dread or anxiety about punishment in the afterlife based on religious teachings.
  • Guilt associated with our sexualities 
  • Feeling unworthy or inferior because of religious teachings that emphasize sinfulness or inherent flaws.


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