What Is Spiritual Trauma

Many of us believe that trauma must occur as a result of traumatic or life-threatening events (i.e. a car accident, experiencing an assault, or the death of a loved one). These events are known as capital ‘T' trauma because they can be extremely traumatic.

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We can also suffer from what is known as small ‘t' trauma, which occurs when we are confronted with events that are completely beyond of our control and, at times, overwhelm our coping abilities.

Trauma of any kind can have a profound effect on our brains and bodies. Trauma can influence people, families, communities, and even identity groups, depending on the nature of the occurrences.

Our biological stress response system is literally altered by the trauma response. Furthermore, we know that trauma persists in the body, regardless of how long it has been since the traumatic events occurred.

To put it another way, our nervous system and stress reaction are unconcerned about the passage of time. When we are confronted with situations that cause us to feel overwhelmed and helpless, our bodies react as if we are still experiencing the terrible incident.

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Moving Onto Spiritual Trauma

Spiritual trauma arises when our essential spiritual ideals and ambitions are threatened and harmed. This can be the result of religious or spiritual people abusing them, or being raised with a poisonous and domineering version of that religion or spiritual belief.

Existential anguish is frequently caused by spiritual trauma. It's common to feel abandoned and alone when a source of meaning and purpose in life turns into a cause of suffering.

Furthermore, spiritual trauma frequently results in a loss of trust—both in the systems that nourished us and in ourselves for succumbing to the abuse or manipulation.

It is NEVER, EVER your fault if you experience spiritually devastating circumstances. Under no circumstances are you to blame.

Religious leaders, systems, and communities have tremendous power. Abuse of authority is never acceptable. Spiritual abuse and manipulation victims are never at fault, and their accounts must always be taken seriously.

How does trauma affect spirituality?

Historically, there have been disagreements between scientists' and healthcare practitioners' beliefs and the general public's. According to one research (2), only 66 percent of psychologists claim to have “believe in God.” These disparities in attitude may contribute to the paucity of spirituality study. Practitioners' views and training experiences may also have an impact on whether and how spirituality is included into therapy.

Relationship of Trauma to Spirituality

Trauma appears to have both beneficial and bad consequences on people's spiritual experiences and perceptions, according to evidence (1). Depression and loneliness, for example, might cause emotions of abandonment and a loss of confidence in God. As time passes and a person moves away from the acute period of trauma healing, these consequences may shift. On the plus side, some people report increased appreciation for life, a stronger sense of connectedness to God, a stronger sense of purpose in life, and improved spiritual well-being after traumatic situations like disasters and rape. Others may experience loss of faith, decreased engagement in religious or spiritual activities, changes in belief, emotions of being abandoned or punished by God, and a loss of meaning and purpose in life as a result of trauma.

Even when trauma survivors acquire psychiatric problems like PTSD or depression, spiritual aspects are linked to beneficial results. Healthy spirituality has also been linked to fewer symptoms and clinical difficulties in specific trauma populations, according to research. Anger, rage, and a desire for vengeance in the aftermath of tragedy, for example, may be moderated by forgiveness, spiritual beliefs, or spiritual activities (5).

Spirituality has been suggested as a pathway by which survivors of traumatic events could improve their recovery trajectory.

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Spirituality may improve post-traumatic outcomes by: (1) reducing behavioral risks through healthy religious lifestyles (e.g., less drinking or smoking), (2) enhancing coping skills and helpful ways of understanding trauma that result in meaning-making, and (4) physiological mechanisms such as activation of the “relaxation response” through prayer or meditation (6). The social support of a spiritual group may alleviate feelings of isolation, loneliness, and sadness associated with sorrow and loss. Being a part of a spiritual community connects survivors with caring people who may offer encouragement, emotional support, and even practical help in the shape of physical or financial assistance in times of need.

Making meaning of the trauma experience

Spiritual beliefs may have an impact on a trauma survivor's ability to make sense of their ordeal. As a result, the meaning derived can have a substantial impact on the symptoms and functioning of the survivor. Several studies have linked negative beliefs or attributions about God, such as “God has abandoned me” and “God is punishing me,” as well as being angry at God, to a variety of undesirable clinical outcomes (1). According to research, these kinds of thinking are linked to poor physical and mental health, as well as increased substance use. Negative religious coping and a lack of forgiveness were both linked to worsening PTSD and depression symptoms in a study of Veterans receiving PTSD treatment (19).

Changes in thinking, participation in meaningful activities, or rituals experienced as part of religious or spiritual activity can all help people rediscover meaning in their lives. Traumatic events, according to some academics, frequently test one's underlying beliefs about safety, self-worth, and the meaning of life (7). Traumatic occurrences may raise issues about the underlying nature of the relationship between the creator and humanity for people whose core values are spiritually based. When the innocent are subjected to severe victimization, survivors may question their faith in a loving, all-powerful God. In this way, horrific events might serve as a springboard for exploration of the various ways in which survivors interpret “faith.”

Guilt and moral injury

Furthermore, in some traumatic experiences, such as war, a person might be both a victim and a perpetrator of trauma. For example, while serving in a battle zone, a soldier may be exposed to the injury and death of others, be injured, and have a role in the enemy's death. Two basic parts of a person's worldview, such as patriotism and faith, might also be in conflict, leading to doubt and indecision regarding the best course of action. These encounters can sometimes result in long-term spiritual and moral dilemmas (9, 3). Loss of faith, greater shame and self-blame, and separation from others and God may be the result. Individuals may feel a gap between their childhood beliefs, their expectations of what military service would be like, and their actual wartime experiences.

Grief and bereavement

Grief and loss are difficult topics for survivors to deal with following a traumatic event. Spirituality is commonly used in American society to cope with tragic death and loss. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, researchers found that 90% of people used “prayer, religion, or spiritual feelings” as a coping method (17). Spirituality and grief healing for survivors of catastrophic loss appear to be linked in general, according to study (20). Spirituality, according to researchers, provides a framework through which survivors can “make sense” of their loss (14). Survivors may also benefit from the supporting interactions that spiritual communities frequently provide (10).

Learn about trauma and PTSD

It might be difficult to provide spiritual counseling after a traumatic occurrence, but pastoral workers can stay up to date on the newest research and therapies for Trauma and PTSD.

Providers who are aware about the effects of trauma can better serve those seeking help. Pastoral professionals can direct traumatized people to the following resources:

This brochure explains what is typical and what indications to look for that suggest more serious issues, such as PTSD.

Collaborate with and refer to mental health care providers

Consider directing someone under pastoral care to a mental health care professional if he or she has a history of trauma exposure and appears to be struggling. See PTSD Screening and Referral: Get Help in a Crisis for more information. Tips for Health Care Providers on how to make the survivor more likely to accept your referral.

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If the victim feels suicidal, it is very critical to get help. For further information, read The Relationship Between PTSD and Suicide.

Assess spiritual beliefs and needs

Trauma survivors may benefit from adding a spiritual dimension to their healing, depending on their beliefs. Following disasters, a quick review of the impact of trauma on spirituality and the role spirituality might play in rehabilitation has been suggested (16). These questions are probably a good place to start for survivors of other types of trauma.

  • Has your religion or spirituality played a role in how you've dealt with this? If so, how would you describe it?

Providers who want to analyze these issues more thoroughly can utilize a quick questionnaire developed by the National Institutes of Health to assess many domains of religion and spirituality (6).

Collaborate with and refer to pastoral care professionals

Spirituality may have an impact on a number of key PTSD symptoms. On the best methods to incorporate a survivor's spiritual beliefs and practices into treatment, mental health care practitioners may want to contact with a pastoral care specialist. You could also encourage the survivor to speak with a pastoral care provider directly.

Spirituality may have an impact on critical clinical difficulties for PTSD patients, such as:

  • Isolation and withdrawal from social situations. These symptoms can be addressed immediately by defining spirituality as a connection to the divine and encouraging trauma survivors to seek out supportive, healthy communities.
  • Shame and guilt. Guilt and shame are regarded as essential psychological concerns, despite not being part of the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. Spirituality can lead to self-forgiveness and a focus on self-compassion.
  • Irritability and rage. Anger and persistent hostile attitudes that lead to social isolation and bad interactions with others can be addressed via forgiving beliefs and practices.
  • Anxiety, hypervigilance, and physiological arousal Spiritual practices that focus inward, such as mindfulness, meditation, and prayer, may help to alleviate hyperarousal.
  • Loss of interest in activities and a truncated future The rediscovery of meaning and purpose in one's life could have a significant impact on these symptoms.


Spirituality appears to be a resource related with resilience and rehabilitation for many trauma survivors, according to research. However, the circumstances of the trauma may cause some people to doubt essential and previously held beliefs. This might lead to spiritual difficulties or even faith loss. It's critical for helping professionals to feel at ease asking about how trauma has affected spirituality and what role spirituality plays in the recovery process after trauma.


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  • H.D. Delaney, W.R. Miller, and A.M. Bisonoa (2007). A poll of clinician members of the American Psychological Association revealed that psychologists are religious and spiritual. 538-546 in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice.
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  • D. B. Larson, J. P. Swyers, and M. E. McCullough (1997). A consensus report on spirituality and health based on scientific research. National Institute for Healthcare Research, Rockville, MD.
  • D. N. McIntosh, R. C. Silver, and C. B. Wortman (1993). Coping with the death of a child: The role of religion in adjusting to a terrible life event. 812-821 in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • M. McCullough, K. Pargament, and C. Thoresen (2000).
  • Theory, research, and application of forgiveness Guilford Press, New York.
  • W. R. Miller (Ed). (1999). Resources for practitioners that want to incorporate spirituality into their treatment. American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C.
  • W. R. Miller and J. E. Martin (Eds). (1988). Integrating spiritual behavioral methods to transformation with behavior therapy. Sage, Newbury Park, CA.
  • C. L. Park, C. L. Park, C. L. Park, C (2005). In dealing with life stress, religion can be used as a framework for creating meaning. 707-729 in Journal of Social Issues.
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  • Religion and Spirituality: Physical Health Connections
  • 36-52 in American Psychologist, vol. 58, no. 1.
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  • J. H. Wortman and C. L. Park (2008). An integrative assessment of religion and spirituality in the aftermath of bereavement. Death Studies, vol. 32, no. 7, pp. 703-736.

How do you know if you have religious trauma?

Religious trauma can present itself in a variety of ways, and no two people will have the same experience. However, there are a number of common signs and symptoms in adults who were exposed to religious trauma as children, including the following:

  • Avoidance behaviors are a form of avoidance (i.e., avoiding any thing, person, or place that reminds you of the trauma)

What is an example of religious trauma?

“While archetypal traumatic situations, such as sexual assault, do exist,” Slade continues, “there are no predicted sources of overwhelming or disruptive bad consequences on individuals.” Teachings concerning hellfire, damnation, original sin, or belief in the rapture may cause trauma for one person. For someone else, it's being publicly shamed or being'slain in the Spirit.' It's the recurrent sexual, mental, social, or physical stigmatization and isolation for someone else.”

  • A child who is having sentiments of same sex desire may be told that their feelings are wicked and that they must repent.
  • A parent or religious leader may physically chastise or beat a teenager who expresses their ideas in order to “save their soul.”
  • A young lady who becomes pregnant out of wedlock may face consequences and be shunned by her society or religion. Due to religious indoctrination or ideas that she is a bad person, she may experience feelings of humiliation, uncertainty, guilt, or melancholy.

How do you get rid of trauma spiritually?

True story: I'm a cancer survivor, a reformed shopaholic, and a burnout victim. Trauma manifests itself in different ways for different people, owing to the fact that each person's life path is unique. Even modern-day mystics, such as Seeress Deborah Hanekamp of Mama Medicine, have suffered from burnout. “I was working 12-hour days 6-7 days a week to support my slacker partner.” In order to survive, I had to drop practically everything at once… It took me a year to get back on my feet.”

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Similarly, it took cancer for me to see how harmful my lifestyle was to my mind, body, and spirit. But I'm sure and comfortable in the knowledge that my soul picked this road for me. “You had to have that since you had survived such a terrible vibe.” It was medication for you because you needed to let go of something. To heal, you must engage with the energy that exists naturally within you,” Hanekamp added, but that's easier said than done. What is the best way to fully heal? What is the best way to fully cleanse? What do you do first?

Now that I'm a cancer survivor who aspires to live a “balanced” lifestyle, I'm always on the lookout for remedies, rituals, and techniques to spiritually cleanse my being and my surroundings in order to go forward — even if it's just a fast mental reset after a long week. I spoke with Mama Medicine on how to spiritually cleanse your life following a trauma and heal yourself from the inside out.

How do you heal childhood trauma spiritually?

This inner kid could be a clear picture of yourself in your childhood, a patchwork of developmental stages you've gone through, or a sign of young dreams and playfulness.

According to Dr. Diana Raab, author and research psychologist, being conscious of your inner child might help you remember happier, more carefree times. “Reconnecting with the joys of childhood can be a wonderful way to cope with difficult circumstances.”

However, not everyone associates childhood with joy and playfulness. Your inner child may appear little, defenseless, and in need of protection if you have experienced neglect, trauma, or other forms of emotional anguish. You may have buried this pain deep to shield yourself — both your current self and the child you once were — from it.

Hiding pain does not make it go away. Instead, it manifests itself in adulthood as conflict in personal relationships or trouble meeting your own needs. Some of these issues can be addressed by working to repair your inner child.

It may take some time to heal your inner child, but these eight suggestions are a wonderful place to start.

How do you get over religious trauma?

Breathwork, meditation, dance, yoga, and other physical exercises are all effective methods for releasing trauma stored in the body. While we all know that you can't think your way out of a bad situation, talking to a mental health counselor is always a helpful first step in the healing process.

What is religious trauma therapy?

Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) is a combination of symptoms, ranging in intensity, experienced by persons who have participated in or left behind authoritarian, dogmatic, and dominating religious groups and belief systems, according to psychology and psychotherapy. Cognitive, affective, functional, social/cultural, and cognitive difficulties, as well as developmental delays, are all symptoms.

RTS is triggered by two types of trauma: first, repeated indoctrination abuse from a dominating religious community, and second, the act of leaving the controlling religious community. RTS has evolved into its own heuristic collection of symptoms, informed by psychological trauma theories such as PTSD, C-PTSD, and betrayal trauma theory, and takes relational and social context into account while conducting additional study and therapy.

Though the phenomena was documented long before that, psychologist Marlene Winell developed the term religious trauma syndrome in a paper for the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies in 2011. Psychotherapists, former fundamentalists, and others recovering from religious indoctrination have coined the term. The need for a label and the benefits of naming the symptoms encompassed by RTS are similar to the benefits of naming anorexia as a disorder, according to Winell: the label can reduce shame and isolation for survivors while promoting diagnosis, treatment, and training for professionals who work with those who suffer from the condition. When survivors learn that RTS is “real,” they express relief.

Do I have trauma?

A major accident, a physical assault, war, a natural disaster, sexual assault or abuse are just some of the ways trauma affects our life. It could have an impact on you or those you care about. These incidents can be distressing because they put your and/or others' safety in jeopardy.” – From Beyond the Blue.

We all react differently to specific experiences in our lives as people, and as a result, we all have to deal with distinct symptoms and feelings related to trauma. We wanted to talk about some of the main warning indicators to be aware of before they have a serious impact on you. It's crucial to understand that many of these reactions are natural right after a trauma; nevertheless, if they persist months later or we feel stuck with them, it's time to examine the event's impact.

What are the key signs and symptoms trauma?

We often assume that trauma can only affect us psychologically, however there are a variety of ways in which the effects can emerge physically:

  • You've noticed that you're hypersensitive to emotional stuff (movie, song, book etc.)
  • Thoughts and pictures that are intrusive and related to the traumatic content you have seen or heard
  • Lacking enthusiasm for activities that used to bring you joy, such as sports or other hobbies
  • Personal connection changes, such as others avoiding you or you avoiding others
  • There is no distinction between personal and professional time, and people try to be busy all the time to avoid being reminded of the trauma.
  • Isolating oneself from the rest of the world or only communicating with people in your field or who can relate to your experiences

If any of these indications concern you and you believe they may apply to you, it may be time to seek assistance or solutions to help you manage your trip.

What should I do if I feel I've been affected by trauma?

It's critical that you take care of yourself both physically and mentally.

It's critical to remind yourself that you're safe and that your current feelings will pass.

Physically, strive to exercise and eat healthily, since this will frequently provide you with a healthy basis from which to work, and avoid using alcohol and drugs as an escape.

The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies has published research that shows a substantial correlation between traumatic events and substance use disorders, therefore it's important to keep in mind.

Find someone you can trust and confide in, and tell them how you're feeling.

It's possible that this isn't always familial.

If you are experiencing persistent behavioural and physical signs of trauma that are interfering with your everyday life, you should seek professional help.

We have years of experience and training at the Centre of Clinical Psychology in navigating and managing the impacts of trauma.

To assist you in coping and developing ways to control any unpleasant symptoms, we employ a variety of techniques. We emphasize the use of evidence-based and trauma-focused therapies that have been proved to help people cope with the effects of trauma.