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  • Writer's pictureJanice Selbie

Why Do Some People Think Religious Trauma Is Not Real?

Trauma is subjective. Two people can witness a deadly car crash, and only one might come away feeling traumatized. The other witness might consider it sad but then proceed with their day and hardly think about it again.

Factors for potential traumatization:

  • Availability of Immediate support

  • Adequate time to process the experience versus cascading traumatic events

  • Preceding traumas

  • Whether the trauma caused multiple losses (did it cost them their job & marriage, in addition to identity)

  • Whether the trauma was expected or unexpected (sudden loss of faith or bit by bit)

  • Was the trauma’s impact isolated or pervasive (still surrounded by religious family and community)

  • Who was responsible for the trauma, and was it intentional

  • Whether the traumatizing event was direct or indirect

  • Whether the person involved considers it a traumatic event

Those who reject even the possibility that religion could be traumatizing typically fall into two categories:

  1. Those who remain religiously entrenched themselves, with a vested interest in protecting their beliefs.

  2. Those who have never experienced religious indoctrination themselves.

In the first category, the identity of religiously entrenched people (AKA fundamentalists/extremists/radicals) has become enmeshed with their ideology. They don’t just believe it; they become it. This is apparent in how they identify themselves. They say, “I AM a Christian,” not just, “I think the Bible might be true.” Because fundamentalism entwines identity with ideology, threats to either are misconstrued as threats to both - and cannot be tolerated. Therefore, they cannot allow themselves to entertain the possibility that their own belief system may be tainted or cause harm. Interestingly, they often have little trouble believing that other religions can be traumatizing.

In the second category, well-meaning (typically never religious) people claim, “Religion isn’t so bad! It does a lot of good!” While it is true that some people have been able to attain sobriety or keep from killing themselves due to a belief in gods and religions, this is not actually helpful for society. What is more beneficial is humans helping each other without the threat of Hell; humans learning to be self-reliant by facing reality and learning from it.

When one is dependent upon belief in a ‘Higher Power” and then suffers a massive existential crisis upon realizing there is no such thing, the consequences can be disastrous. However, if one realizes that they have the ability and simply require the tools and empowering supports to be successful, everyone wins.

I encourage folks in both categories to ask questions and interact with RTS survivors without bringing their own preconceived notions, such as “You were never a true Believer to begin with” or “Just look at all the hospitals and charities run by religious groups!”

Religion always comes with a cost: Either you are part of The Club and accepted into the community with all the benefits, or you are an Outsider and infidel who is denied membership benefits, threatened with damnation, and in danger of being deemed a nonperson. Because religion is often cultural in addition to personal, those suffering from RTS may not receive adequate understanding, compassion, and support, particularly if their family remains tied to religion, leading to attempts to normalize or diminish the suffering of the RTS survivor. Religious Trauma Syndrome is real and pervasive, including survivors from every religion.

If you or someone you know is recovering from religious trauma, reach out to me at to arrange a free 20-minute consultation.

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