Thoughts on Religious Trauma Syndrome

“At age sixteen I began what would be a four year struggle with bulimia. When the symptoms started, I turned in desperation to adults who knew more than I did about how to stop shameful behavior—my Bible study leader and a visiting youth minister. “If you ask anything in faith, believing,” they said. “It will be done.” I knew they were quoting the Word of God. We prayed together, and I went home confident that God had heard my prayers. But my horrible compulsions didn’t go away. By the fall of my sophomore year in college, I was desperate and depressed enough that I made a suicide attempt. The problem wasn’t just the bulimia. I was convinced by then that I was a complete spiritual failure. My college counseling department had offered to get me real help (which they later did). But to my mind, at that point, such help couldn’t fix the core problem: I was a failure in the eyes of God. It would be years before I understood that my inability to heal bulimia through the mechanisms offered by biblical Christianity was not a function of my own spiritual deficiency but deficiencies in Evangelical religion itself.”

(From “Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems” by Valerie Tarico, AlterNet | Interview)

I have read the interview with Dr Marlene Winell in the above article – I think her counselling work is very important for helping people who left institutional churches, especially the highly controlling religious groups that use fear, guilt and shame to discourage followers from questioning their teachings and/or leaving the groups. This form of emotional, mental and spiritual manipulation tends to have long-term emotional and psychological impact on the followers and therefore it is helpful for counsellors to identify this syndrome in order to address it and minister healing and help to the sufferers. As Winell noted, “Authoritarian religion is already pathological, and leaving a high-control group can be traumatic. People are already suffering. They need to be recognized and helped.”

I also noted the author of the article, Valerie Tarico, has a book called “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light“. It has positive reviews, and one reviewer wrote:
“Alienation, mis-trust, anger, frustration…freedom. Such can be the experience of people who choose to leave the religious world that they might have believed to be home for much of their lifetimes. In her book “Trusting Doubt”, Valerie Tarico provides precious insights into the reasons that cause these experiences, as well as hope that a life “outside the fold” is not the hell that has been deeply drilled into us. If you see the hypocrisy, if you question a belief system that you have bought into, I highly recommend reading this book.

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