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A Shattering of the Self

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I just submitted my thesis. I did a deep dive into Polyvagal Theory, which is called the science of safety – and applied it to healing from the wounds of trauma experienced in church or as a result of exposure to toxic theology, you know the kind; messages of worthlessness, shame and only one way of being, become embedded in our souls.

Firstly though. Big, heavy sigh, so many of you messaged me after last week’s blog. There is collective grief and sadness over abuse in churches, and how hard it is for victim-survivors to find justice. It’s my privilege to see some of you in counselling and connect with others of you as you bravely heal. I see you. You’re not alone.

Months of study on one topic tends to focus the mind. I now see religious trauma and embodied practices for healing everywhere.

Religious trauma lives in our bodies as all trauma does. This sounds like a bit of an ethereal concept, you can’t see it or test for it like you can a bacteria or a raised white cell count. There’s no religious trauma-shaped physical change, and yet there it is. Trauma leaves us with a changed nervous system.

There’s so much complexity around religious trauma. People may still believe in God but can no longer stomach church. People may find the Bible and fundamentalist readings of it unacceptable and triggering (my hand is up) but still value faith community. Others may be somewhere in between these or somewhere else entirely. It’s not black and white. Unlike fundamentalism.

I’m not anti-church or anti-God, however God is defined or expressed for you. I’m anti-fundamentalism. The all or nothing, literal and dogmatic ways to be a Christian that I grew up with. These are unhealthy at best, and can be toxic, life threatening. Far too many people experience these as trauma.

Some of the key takeaways from my study include these;

  • Religious trauma is experienced as deep, visceral shame
  • It can be like a shattering of the self to lose your faith
  • Hell and eternal damnation are problematic and toxic
  • Day-to-day habits like trusting God to provide for your needs and support you in times of stress and pain, are now empty, leaving you unsettled and anxious
  • There’s a gap where prayer used to be
  • People find themselves lonely and cut off from community
  • It can take many years to rebuild a sense of confidence and self-trust
  • To be LGBTQIA+ in church is uniquely painful
  • One study reported LGBTQIA+ people experienced “erasure, social distancing, and psychological trauma.” In the book of Romans, what is surely a terrible translation of the original language and meaning, says they are “deserving of death.”
  • The value placed on the traditional family unit in church communities also compounds LGBTQIA+ ‘otherness’. The same is true for single people.

Dr Hillary McBride says religious trauma can be like “someone handing you an inner critic and telling you it’s the voice of God.”

My course Freedom from Religious Trauma will be available in November.

The content will cover Belonging – Anger, grief & fear – Understanding the brain, nervous system & trauma – Critical thinking – Healing – Coming home to yourself.

You can register your interest here and I’ll email you when it’s ready. In the meantime, you can download my ebook The Sentimental Non-Believer, on Loving & Leaving God, here.

You can make a time to see me here.

In my next blog I’ll write up the key takeaways I found from the beautiful “science of safety” that is Polyvagal Theory.

Go gently.

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