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January 19, 2023
Religious Trauma: How Do We Navigate This Sensitive Topic?

Michelle Mailhiot

A woman with black dress rests her head on a church pew, appearing distressed.

How Does Religious Trauma Affect Us And How Can We Recover?

I was born and raised Roman Catholic. At times, I’ve questioned my faith when I see victims of abuse in the church. This has made me ask many questions: where is God in the church and the community? How do we find light, recover from abuse or religious trauma, and live with our intended purpose? 

I’ve been exploring these questions for a year through my Master of Theological Studies program. I’ve taken courses on sin and evil to help me understand why this dark force exists in the world. How can we navigate a world where there is such darkness? 

Life is a journey with both storms and beautiful days. We can learn to understand the world we live in and what’s important to us in our faith. When we do this, we can stand strong in who we are and not be shaken by outside forces.

What is religious trauma?

In my own words, religious trauma is when you feel guilty, ashamed, or worthless due to your religious beliefs. You may experience these feelings about who you are or a decision you’ve made. These feelings may prevent you from seeing a loving God. 

Religious trauma can happen when:

  • Religious leaders use power to control others through the “Word of God”.
  • Your religious community shuns you because of your personal values and beliefs.
  • You attempt to disagree with leaders in your religious community and you are shamed or made to feel guilty.
  • Others shame you for your religious beliefs, causing you to question your faith.
  • You don’t allow yourself to question your faith when it comes to important life decisions.
  • You are a victim of violence, domestic abuse, ridicule, or isolation due to your religious beliefs.

The purpose of faith

Faith is meant to guide us to become better people, to love our neighbours, and to support the poor and vulnerable. I believe that religion is meant to support you and provide strength, not to control its followers and create a life of fear, abuse, or trauma. Feelings of shame and guilt can hinder us from living out the purpose of our faith. 

We are all human. We make mistakes, and we may hurt the ones we love, intentionally or unintentionally. In times of desperation or loneliness, we may have questioned our faith, believed that God has left us, or even committed a terrible act. 

How can I recover from religious trauma?

Religious trauma can be difficult to process, but therapy can help. Therapy is a safe space to share your internal struggles, how they have impacted you, and how your religious community (past or current) may be causing harm. 

An empathetic, non-judgmental therapist can help you work through religious trauma and alleviate feelings of guilt and shame. They can support you to become a balanced person again, feeling confident in who you are and your purpose in life.

If you’ve experienced religious trauma, you’re not alone—and there’s help. We invite you to reach out to a trained, compassionate therapist for a Meet & Greet, or reach out to our care team to explore the next steps. We’re here to walk with you as you heal.

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