Religious & Spiritual Abuse
When we experience authoritarian and high-control religious groups, we often cope by overriding our own experience in favor of the group. We learn to override our own thoughts, feelings, and emotions so that we can maintain connection and inclusion in the group.
The threat of rejection and abandonment is simply too much pressure to override. We learn how to obey, respect, and perform but not how to listen to, understand, and use our own internal wisdom. If you were a part of a Purity Movement you may feel disconnection from your body. Guilt and shame often are internalized as core beliefs.
Deconstruction of these messages in therapy creates a space for you to be curious about what is yours and what is not. Somatic awareness and integration will support the release of toxic messages. Depression and anxiety as well as other symptoms may be eased or ended as we come into and privilege our own experience, beliefs and values.
In my ongoing process of deconstruction and healing...
I have found the body to be the central place where the conformity trauma is held. This relates to our nervous system and its interpretation of threat as well as our views of our body as it is held in our younger parts. Cognitive reframing and deconstruction are critical for change. I believe that somatic work helps us get in touch with ourselves and reconnect in profound ways.
We must learn to give ourselves permission to explore and reach for experiences of greater ease in our bodies. What do you need to feel safe and supported? How can you make sure that you have the capacity to participate and the knowledge that you can leave when you are ready.
Survivors of spiritual abuse learn the opposite of boundaries, choice, and consent in these high-control settings. Our task is to relearn how to trust ourselves to check inside and determine what is okay and not okay for us at any time.
The current evidence shows that religious trauma requires BOTH an intellectual and body-based knowing that we are not now where we were then.
My understanding of the importance of nervous system and somatic awareness for healing religious and spiritual trauma comes from my own journey of recovery. No matter how much "healing" and work we may do intellectually, our bodies still carry the imprints of past experiences of threat and boundary violations. We must disown our own inner knowing in order to stay in relation to important caretakers and mentors.
What does that mean? All of the world comes to us through our senses. If we experience feelings and thoughts that come from those past experiences in the present, it is hard to determine what is safe and what is not. Our nervous system is set to one speed: watch for danger around every corner because I have been taught that I can't trust myself and what I see, think, and feel.
Healing for each person is unique and cannot be rushed. If we try to make ourselves feel better, we may just be triggering those traumatic responses. Our bodies can't distinguish who is applying force and why.
First, we have to have some head knowledge about how our nervous systems work so that we can recognize and normalize these experiences when they happen. Next, we start to listen to the body as it speaks through feelings, thoughts, sensations, and urges. In this way, we start to reclaim the parts of ourselves that we had to disown in order to be accepted and loved by those important to us.