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Childhood Religious Trauma Has Come Back To Haunt Me


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Hi Everyone! This is my first post on this site. I just found you all last week, but I am so glad you are here! I need to share a little back story, and then I’ll get to my current situation.

 

In high school, Christianity quit making sense. Why would my gay friend have to go to hell because of the way he was born, and what about all those people in China who had never even heard of Jesus? My logical brain began to reject the ridiculousness of many of the Christian teachings. So much of it just didn’t make any sense. I went to college and tried to find my faith again, but all I found was more crazy thinking and lots of hypocrisy. The sticking point, though, was hell. I was truly scared (brainwashed, as I now understand) that I was going to hell because I didn’t believe. Fortunately, a college anthropology class released me from that fear. Religion was created by people to explain things they didn’t understand. Ahhh… I get it! Hell is merely a construct of human thought. One lecture and I was free! Whew!

 

After my sudden enlightenment, I pushed away all things religious and spiritual (I thought the two were the same). I went through many of the painful experiences with my family that fellow members of this site have written about, but I persevered. I partied hard in my 20s, doing all the things forbidden by my childhood religion. In my 30s, I began to investigate the new age spirituality, finding it also to be quite full of crap. I studied Eastern philosophy, astrology and the Tarot, all of which were interesting, but they didn’t fill that hole inside of me. I escaped into television. I became a workaholic and got sucked into a job that finally took me down (my boss “suggested” that I look into medical leave).

 

Now here I am, almost 40, and I find myself broke, unemployed and without much interest in life. I feel worthless and don’t know who I am. I am struggling with depression, autoimmune thyroid disease, and digestive issues and I have no idea what makes me happy. I am empty. I can’t even bring myself to write a resume (how can a person who believes she is worthless create a document that says “You should hire me because I’m good at something”).

 

The last couple years, I have been baffled by my experience. What is causing all this pain? I was never abused as a child. My parents didn’t get divorced or abandon me. They loved me then and still do now. No person ever did anything horrible to me. I was never raped. Why do I feel like I survived some great trauma?

 

Then, at a recent yoga retreat, a fellow attendee (a psychiatrist) suggested that I might be experiencing the effects of religious trauma. What? Really? Religion can abuse a person and generate results similar to other forms of abuse? Seriously??

 

So I began my search. I found Marlene Winell’s site journeyfree.org and started reading her book, “Leaving the Fold”. The light bulb came on. Yes, the religion of my childhood, while not fanatical, still prevented me from developing normally in so many ways. All good things are from God and all bad things are my fault. It’s not surprising that I never learned to take care of myself or find value in myself.

 

Now I am reading obsessively everything I can find on the internet. Unfortunately, there isn’t much on religious trauma. I find lots of stuff about atheism and why the Bible is BS and how God and Jesus (and heaven and hell) don’t exist. I feel like I have sufficiently let go of the dogma and the fear. But I haven't found much about how to deal with the emotional deficits that religion causes. Maybe I just have to read all the PTSD stuff and apply it to my situation. I am feeling a bit lost and overwhelmed with this new realization.

 

Have you been through this? Will you share your experience about how you managed to grow up later in life after religion destroyed your self-esteem?

 

Thank you for reading my story and thank you all for the support I know you offer even if you don't post a reply!

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Hi Susan and welcome,

 

I haven't had time to read your entire post yet but thought maybe this website would be of some help to you in the meantime.

 

http://www.recoveringreligionists.com/

 

Good luck!

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Welcome Susan! It is so good to meet you! biggrin.png Thank you for sharing your story. It's so damn close to mine - I can't believe it!! One thing I have learned in the past 5 years - when reality sets in, it isn't a picnic. If we don't see evidence for god - we have to create our own lives. No god in the sky to get us that man, job, hobbie, lottery..........................Hard reality!

 

I just posted this the other day.......have a look.............hopes it helps a little.......

 

http://www.ex-christ...__fromsearch__1

 

Keep reading, keep posting - we are here to support you! Sincerely, Margee

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Hi Susan. It's been around a year now since religion fell apart for me. Marlene Winell's book was an absolute life saver for me. Hell was also a sticking point. The first pastor that I really remember had been an evangelist before some health problems and he took to our church, but he ended darn near every sermon with a vivid description of hell. As a kid, I had a dream about it, that I still remember to this day. Kids screaming at play was "translated" into people screaming in hell. It took some time to get that dealt with. Another issue was I could not figure out why I would get so intensely depressed any time I would get sick - even a bad cold would do it. Finally, I remembered that at one point, I had just gotten saved, and we had communion at church, and mom wanted me to take communion. I was afraid to do so because of the verses that Paul wrote. I must have gotten sick shortly thereafter, or was intensely afraid that I would, and here it was something I was still dealing with, after all these years, and I couldn't even remember where it had started, until Marlene's book helped me unwrap it. At least part of the depression I've been through was directly the result of religion, because I was not able to live above sin. I'm 40 now, and at times I wonder if I'll live long enough to completely get over fundamentalism. Shoot, I have an uncle who has been out of fundamentalism for over 40 years and he still goes to therapy, but he also had to deal with the issues of being gay, which I didn't have to deal with that. You might find Beck's Negative Triad to be interesting in how it easily relates to Christianity. It's been a slow process but studying psychology has been tremendously helpful for me. There are definitely ups and downs because a person thinks they have it whipped and then another layer of the onion comes off. Trust me, it does get better. Best wishes, glad you found us, and hopefully this website can be as helpful to you as it has been for me.

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You will find many many people here sharing your experience and suffering. I am sure it must feel hopeless as times, not being able to completely shake the fea and obsessive thinking. Religious conditioning makes people end up in loop, it''s a closed circular system, har t break put of if one has ben the victim of brainwashing. WHat your fearmonegring pastor has done is neuroticising you through a form of neurolignqistal programming and hypnosis. THis will work in your subconscius and take great effort to combat. There may never be a total victory, it's something one has to learn and live and adjust to as a chronic disease for some of us.

 

What is REALLY imoportant is that you try and let yourself off the hok and bit and learn to crae bit for yourself.

Studying, finding intellectual argument can give relief but you need a lot of emotional support to.

 

You can't just think and reason yourself out of it. You need to reach out, get help, every form of help available to you. For some people a more spiritually, undogmatical religious prqctise is what they need. Like finding a Unitarian church, or parctice some other form of spuiritual discilpine, like meditation if you are so inclined. It's important. BEing critical of Christian dogman doesn't mean you can't be spiritual or even religious. <the important thing to remeber that it is alays based on speculation, hopes and dreams, test the spirtis and see what agrees with your emotions and your morll and intellectual compass.

 

If you are one careful to get caught up in other forms of irrational woo. If you are unemployed and poor , a good therapist might be out of your reach, ateending seminatries with Winell too. You can still bget a lot of free advice through her orgsniation and through other's, with simila experiences as you.

It's important to find a supportive community. Even if it's avirtual one it ca n be a tremedous help, finding supportive, intelligent, caring and accepting people. You are in a safe place here. You are talking to like minded people and do not have to confront believers if you don't chose to.

 

They appear here with their fearmongering and preaching sometimes but are usually taken to task by the community. Thery don't win arguments here since people are far to much knowledgeable,well read and experienced in religious matters here..

 

You never have to feel ashamed of your silly thought or neurosis or obsessions here.

 

Most important. Take care of yourself, love yourself as if you were your own child. Treat it with kindness. See to tha you eat and sleep well, give yourself rest and recreation. Try to find spmething to love and be passionately involved with. Create something, help someone.

 

Study, exercise, nature is soothing, if you feel you are without a frind in this world, a pet can do a lot for you.

 

If you can channel some of your feeling of depression and hopelessness in caring for this world, getting involved in politics to change things for the better you can find so much meaning in this unceartin existence of ours.

 

We don't know shit about any supernatural stuff, so better not speculate so much but deal with what little we know an what we perceive as real. Always willing to learn new stuff and revise old ideas and practises.

 

If all else fails, there are medication for deprssion that do help in many cases. And half of the population , young and old in many many modern countries seem to be on those. They are convienient ,to society to keep people a bit sedated and apathetic but are a lost resource for those who really suffer. and a lot better than self medication with alcohol and drugs.

 

The best words from teh bible and the truest ones I have found there is "perfct love cast's out fear". Love the wolrd and the creatures in it, it's the best antidote to fear. It is your ability to love that made it impossible for you to accept cruel and destructive religious dogma in the firts place. Trust that love!

 

Don't trust everybody speing of love. That might have a very twarted interpretation of what love is. And remember. Each and every one, no matter how much authority the have , popes and pastirs and philosopher and reformers and apologists - they are only speaking for themselves. Noone have more knowledge of the ultimate realty than the other. If they did they would be speaking with the same toung, tapping in to the same source as they claim to do. SO we should be be humble enough to accept "I don't know" and still never try to find answers using rational methods. And NEVER force our what we might have come up with down somebody elses throat unless asked. We should always suspect ourselves to be mistaken. This does not mean we are unable to be right. We should just base our opinions and thories on facts and sound open minded reason. And be willing to change given new information.

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After coming out of my fundamentalist cult sect, I realized through other ex-members that I was basically a victim of spiritual abuse, which seems to be along the same lines as religious trauma. An ex-member recommended a book called The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. I couldn't put the book down. Almost everything in the book described the actions of my church.

The book is written by christians (I was still a christian when I left that church), so the advice may be limited given that you're an ex-christian now. Though you can always read the reviews and see if it's something you might find useful.

 

You may want to use the keyword "spiritual abuse" in your internet searches, and see if that brings you some helpful links.

 

On a personal note, being indoctrinated from a young age into fundamentalism had a huge effect on me, and I would have to admit that I am still working my way through it. It affects every single aspect of your life: how you perceive others, what your worldview is like, how you deal with emotions, how you don't deal with emotions, your personality, and so on.

 

What makes it worse is that there are few psychologists that have experience with the subject, so the only real help for these ex-members is other ex-members. The most therapeutic thing I did to shake off those mindsets was talking to others that had come out of the same church.

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susankm, welcome to Ex-C! My opinion is that being raised from childhood in fundamentalism sets a person up for the rest of their life for depression and a low self image. There is a deep conditioning that took place, with constant messages that said "you are a sinner" "you were born totally depraved" and "God doesn't love you unless..." There is also the tendency toward black and white thinking, dualism, us vs. them, a hole you can never fill, and all other kinds of unpleasant mental consequences.

 

The only answer I have found is that you just have to take charge and work on it yourself. Not to say a therapist can't help, but its you living everyday, every hour with these issues. Just work on this problem everyday. Knowing where the problem came from is great, it is a revelation, but it is not going to end the problem.

 

One thing I discovered is that Christianity was so deeply a part of me that there was no way I could simply discard it. It took me many years of exploration before I could even discard the dogma, and then it is still there sometimes.

 

You mentioned yoga and eastern spirituality. I have gone into Buddhism and meditation. This is what has helped me more than anything I have found so far. Meditation helped me see in an experiential way that I was not what the fundamentalists said I was. This is not a realization that is intellectual. It is just something that is seen.

 

I even became involved in a group of Buddhists, something I never thought I would do. Having been damaged by it, I approach any form of organized religion like handling a dangerous snake. I am very careful, but a community of somewhat like minded people is something I discovered I can't do without. Is there a perfect system or an absolute truth conveyed by a particular system? No, but It is possible to retain spirituality and toss the lousy system you were raised in.

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Susan, Here's a really good article on spiritual abuse.......hope it helps, my friend.

 

http://www.ccaa.net.au/documents/SpiritualAbuse.pdf

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Hi Susan

 

I noticed in your post that you mentioned you have an auto immune thyroid disease. I also have an auto immune disease (ulcerative colitis) and I am finding after 15 or so years that the tiredness and depression is growing. People that don't have auto immune problems really don't understand how it feels. They think you can just psych yourself up to do stuff. This came to me very strongly a couple of weeks ago when the woman I sit next to at work shared that she had crohns disease (similar to UC). Her comments really made it real for me.

 

You may need to consider anti depressants, not because you have thinking issues but because your disease could be distorting your neuro transmitter levels. Check this out with an on line support group for your disease.

 

I feel for you being unemployed. It must be a scary time for lots of people in the US with the country's economic problems.

 

Welcome and best wishes.

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I am also struggling with getting help for rts..I have not read marlene's book yet, but in googling religious abuse and religious trauma I have found a few articles exploring the subject. maybe you and i and others will be the ones to educate the world on the horrors we experience. somebody has to. why not us? I dont think anybody will listen unless we ALL speak out. I just don't know how yet. I am dealing with my own depression and trauma currently by reading. I know it is not enough. I wanted you to know you are not alone.

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A couple things that popped out at me :)

 

1 - I tried raising my kids as Christians. My oldest (now 19) was baptized when she was 10 - but stopped going to church a little while after that - when my wife deconverted. She (wisely, in hindsight) refused to insist they go to church, and would not let me force them to do so. To keep the peace I relented, because I didn't want to have to explain why they had to go if mom didn't. At the time I was a little frustrated, because I felt I *needed* to teach them while they were young so they'd always have that and not have to go finding it themselves. Now I'm grateful.

 

2 - Following up to that - and the comment on Buddhism, since deconverting earlier this year I've become a Buddhist (an Agnostic Zen Buddhist, is probably the most accurate way of putting it.) My daughter has shown a lot of interest, but we've had conversations about the *weirdness* of it and how she has a hard time looking at Buddhist philosophy without that veneer of her upbringing causing guilt and unsettling feelings. Now I regret that, of course, and am grateful for my wife's wisdom, some 8 years later :)

 

That said, my 10 year old still thinks it's very weird I'm a Buddhist. He came into my office (I'm a sales rep and keep my office at home) just as I had finished meditating, had stood up from my zafu, and was blowing out the candle on the little altar I have. He looked at me and said, "I think I'll just go now," and backed out of the room :)

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One book came to mind immediately when I read your story.

 

 

This Thing Called You

 

If you get a chance to look it up, it has some good things to think about yourself in it.

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