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Megachurch drama & the promise of home.

4 min read

If you’ve connected with me because you’ve experienced religious trauma or you’re curious about all the megachurch drama in the media at the moment, you may want to keep reading.

You might be thinking, religious trauma sounds quite dramatic, I don’t really know what you mean.

Trauma of any kind is what happens inside us because of what happened to us.

Two people can experience the same event and have vastly different experiences of trauma, so while we may refer to events as being traumatic, it’s not the thing that happens, but the impact of the thing that happens.

It can show up in beliefs we have about ourselves, physical reactions, becoming stuck, distressed, depressed, anxious, confused. Trauma overwhelms our coping mechanisms.

It makes us feel unsafe.

Religious trauma is what happens inside us because of adverse experiences in a religious context.

This can apply to rigid and controlling belief systems, being shamed, the fear of a literal hell. It can be due to ongoing and repeated experiences or a one-off experience or both.

It can be the impact of abuse at the hands of religious clergy, pastors, ministers and leaders, or witnessing others’ experience of this. It can be what Brene Brown refers to as institutional betrayal; we expected more of an organisation that let us down.

It can be damaging messages you absorbed about yourself and your body, your sexuality, your behaviour, due to toxic theology.

Or the exhaustion that was called serving, whatever it takes, all for the kingdom, even if that meant you were burnt out and your relationships suffered.

It can be the promise of home and the desire to belong, that disappointed and hurt you.

And, trying to figure out how to be in relationship with people still in it.

Right now I’m finishing my clinical hours for my placement and writing my thesis. My thesis is on Polyvagal Theory which, beautifully, is called ‘the science of safety.’ I’ll be linking this approach to therapy to supporting people who have experienced religious trauma, and I’ll leave some related thoughts, tools and content here in blog form each week.

I hope it will be helpful for you. It won’t be shouty, reactive or tabloid. There’s already so much of that. I lurk on those accounts too sometimes, I’m not being judgey, I just know I won’t find peace or freedom there.

I’ll be writing about belonging, anger (rage!) and grief, confusion, finding calm in our bodies when they’ve been the place of overwork, purity messaging, abuse and shame. On coming home to ourselves.

I watched a doco last week that you may have watched too. I don’t usually consume that sort of media but current church drama keeps coming to me professionally and personally and I wanted to see how it would be handled. It was very close to home, familiar. It pressed on the anger, deep sadness, disappointment and shame that are still there in me, among so much else.

I let myself have a cry, messaged some friends, swore a little, then stood in my living room and did a grounding exercise. It helped. I let it wash off me, calmed myself, went to bed and slept well.  I avoided the shouty online spaces for the next few days.

There are so many ways we can connect with this sort of peace when we’re rattled, I’ll share some of them with you each week.

When I started unravelling, or ‘deconstructing’ as it’s often called, I would have loved a touch point. A me too place to be seen and understood, even in blog form, but especially from an Australian, there’s not many of us in healthy public spaces.

So let me leave you with this exercise to build on. Grab a notebook and a pen, old school slows us down a bit so we can think and reflect better.

Write down the things that push your buttons and make you crazy or teary.

What are your core pain points, issues and grievances? You may think you know but writing it out makes it really clear. (note: you’re allowed to have these, tell the truth here).

There may be a lot. Just keep writing. Once you have a list, group your hot topics into themes. Belonging, betrayal, abuse, exploitation, hurt, anger, disappointment, confusion, shame.

Next, consider where you’re getting your info from and how it makes you feel. Note those emotions and where they show up in your body. A flush of rage, tightness in your chest, shakiness, nausea.

We start with self understanding.

You can also reach out at any time and connect.

Be kind to yourself.

BOOKMARK: In the coming months, there will be an online course available for those who have experienced religious trauma. It’s called ‘Freedom from Religious Trauma: Coming Home to Yourself’. It’s packed full of learning activities, videos, storytelling, research findings, and ways to find your centre.

I’m really enjoying putting it together, I know it will help so many of you. It’s the course I would have dearly loved when the ground started to give way beneath me. You can read my story here in the meantime.

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