The Truth About Spiritual Trauma and How It Could Affect Recovery

The Truth About Spiritual Trauma and How It Could Affect Recovery

Table of Contents

Since many addiction programs and resources come from places of worship or faith as the main feature, those who have experienced trauma from their religious background might be reluctant to seek treatment due to associated triggers.

Often, spiritual abuse, like many forms of abuse or sources of trauma, can lead to people turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with their past. Many find the element of spirituality to be a topic they avoid to protect themselves from the pain they’ve experienced and the resentment they feel regarding their place of worship. Spiritual abuse has recently become a topic of discourse, but many are finding the label fits their experiences. Helping a client heal from spiritual abuse might be necessary for treatment to be successful.

Religious Abuse and What It Looks Like

Many might not have heard about spiritual abuse, but are familiar with it, especially if they have been victims of or have witnessed toxic dynamics in their religious community. Unfortunately, not every religious community is healthy, healing, and loving, and many have fallen victim to abuse that has affected their relationship with themselves and their spiritual self.

Spiritual abuse can come in many forms. Some might not even realize they’ve been a victim of spiritual abuse, especially if this behavior is normalized in the community. Many who joined the community when they were young or were slowly indoctrinated in the toxic community through coercion and manipulation might not realize how wrong they were treated until they’ve moved on from that setting.

Spiritual or religious abuse can look like:

  • Shame about personal choices in appearance
  • Using a place of worship to keep you from seeking professional help
  • Using faith to shame a person’s sexuality
  • Sexual abuse by members of the place of worship
  • Pressured to continue toxic relationships like unhappy or unsafe marriages

Many have been subjected to abusive or exploitative situations that have soured their personal spiritual experiences. Many who are in the LGBT community might have a negative association with religion. This could be due to a traumatizing coming-out experience due to their parents’ or place of worship’s reaction.

A person might have been the victim of fear-mongering as a child if their parents or religious leaders told them they would go to hell for doing something they disproved of. Older adults might be victims of religious abuse through financial exploitation by larger places of worship that might not use their donations and tithes appropriately but for personal means.

Church abuse doesn’t only happen in Christian denominations. It is present in many religious groups, from new-age reiki practice spaces to Wiccan covens to Buddhist temples and Jewish synagogues. Unfortunately, a place that should have been a spiritual haven became a vessel for a traumatizing experience that affected your client on their most profound level.

Spirituality Is Essential to Recovery

The difficulty with those who are victims of spiritual trauma is that many addiction recovery programs and centers include spirituality as a major component of healing. This can become a significant turn-off for those seeking treatment but are triggered by religious doctrine or spiritual spaces, even if the facilities have good intentions. This doesn’t mean that recovery is impossible, but it does create a barrier.

The mind, body, and spirit connection is an essential triad that needs to heal. Addiction destroys a person spiritually, making it difficult to see the greater picture and enjoy life for what it is. Many find reconnecting with their spirituality as a massive shift in perspective. This doesn’t necessarily have to come from reconnecting with a place of worship but rather taking a personal inventory of values and morals, which can exist outside of religion.

Finding a Safe Place to Talk About Experiences

Healing begins with your client talking about their experiences in a safe space. Many who were victims of spiritual abuse were shamed into silence by members of the community or by family. Many might not have felt like they could speak up about their experiences. However, they must talk about and process the pain they experienced from a faith that should have been supportive and loving. Allow your client a space where they can be heard without judgment and validated.

Appreciate the Difference Between Spirituality and Religion

Your client might not be open to becoming religious or seeking God or a higher power in the traditional spiritual sense, and that’s okay. What many tend to forget is that it is possible to have a connection to your spirituality without religion. Let them know that there is no wrong answer for spirituality and that they are free to find their path in a responsible search for truth and meaning in life. They should feel free to choose between what makes sense to them on a grander scale.

Learning to trust again after experiencing spiritual abuse can be very difficult, especially if the wounds are deep. In 12-Step programs, believing in God or a higher power isn’t a necessity. Many of these programs only ask for openness and for a person to look for something larger than themselves. Those who have been victims of spiritual abuse might be close-minded or resistant to treatment centered around religion. The best approach is understanding and acceptance, rather than shame or coercion, which might confirm their initial feelings. Ultimately, no one should be denied care due to religious or spiritual beliefs. Jaywalker is a proud supporter of the 12-Step method and understands how spiritual connectedness can guide a person through recovery. Believing in a higher power isn’t required, but healing all trauma is a significant step in treating addiction, as addiction and trauma often go hand in hand. To learn more about recovering from spiritual trauma, call us today at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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