Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems

Religious Trauma Syndrome- AnguishAt 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.

Marlene Winell portraitDr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Area. She is also the daughter of Pentecostal missionaries. This combination has given her work an unusual focus. For the past twenty years she has counseled men and women in recovery from various forms of fundamentalist religion including the Assemblies of God denomination in which she was raised. Winell is the author of Leaving the Fold – A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion, written during her years of private practice in psychology. Over the years, Winell has provided assistance to clients whose religious experiences were even more damaging than mine. Some of them are people whose psychological symptoms weren’t just exacerbated by their religion, but actually caused by it.

Two years ago, Winell made waves by formally labeling what she calls “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS) and beginning to write and speak on the subject for professional audiences. When the British Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychologists published a series of articles on the topic, members of a Christian counseling association protested what they called excessive attention to a “relatively niche topic.” One commenter said, “A religion, faith or book cannot be abuse but the people interpreting can make anything abusive.”

Is toxic religion simply misinterpretation? What is religious trauma? Why does Winell believe religious trauma merits its own diagnostic label?  I asked her.

Let’s start this interview with the basics. What exactly is religious trauma syndrome?

Winell: Religious trauma syndrome (RTS) is a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group. The RTS label provides a name and description that affected people often recognize immediately. Many other people are surprised by the idea of RTS, because in our culture it is generally assumed that religion is benign or good for you. Just like telling kids about Santa Claus and letting them work out their beliefs later, people see no harm in teaching religion to children.

But in reality, religious teachings and practices sometimes cause serious mental health damage. The public is somewhat familiar with sexual and physical abuse in a religious context. As Journalist Janet Heimlich has documented in, Breaking Their Will, Bible-based religious groups that emphasize patriarchal authority in family structure and use harsh parenting methods can be destructive.

But the problem isn’t just physical and sexual abuse. Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging because of 1) toxic teachings like eternal damnation or original sin 2) religious practices or mindset, such as punishment, black and white thinking, or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.

Can you give me an example of RTS from your consulting practice?

Winell: I can give you many. One of the symptom clusters is around fear and anxiety. People indoctrinated into fundamentalist Christianity as small children sometimes have memories of being terrified by images of hell and apocalypse before their brains could begin to make sense of such ideas. Some survivors, who I prefer to call “reclaimers,” have flashbacks, panic attacks, or nightmares in adulthood even when they intellectually no longer believe the theology. One client of mine, who during the day functioned well as a professional, struggled with intense fear many nights. She said,

I was afraid I was going to hell. I was afraid I was doing something really wrong. I was completely out of control. I sometimes would wake up in the night and start screaming, thrashing my arms, trying to rid myself of what I was feeling. I’d walk around the house trying to think and calm myself down, in the middle of the night, trying to do some self-talk, but I felt like it was just something that – the fear and anxiety was taking over my life.

Or consider this comment, which refers to a film used by Evangelicals to warn about the horrors of the “end times” for nonbelievers.

 I was taken to see the film “A Thief In The Night”. WOW.  I am in shock to learn that many other people suffered the same traumas I lived with because of this film. A few days or weeks after the film viewing, I came into the house and mom wasn’t there. I stood there screaming in terror. When I stopped screaming, I began making my plan: Who my Christian neighbors were, who’s house to break into to get money and food. I was 12 yrs old and was preparing for Armageddon alone.

In addition to anxiety, RTS can include depression, cognitive difficulties, and problems with social functioning. In fundamentalist Christianity, the individual is considered depraved and in need of salvation. A core message is “You are bad and wrong and deserve to die.” (The wages of sin is death.) This gets taught to millions of children through organizations like Child Evangelism Fellowship, and there is a group organized  to oppose their incursion into public schools.  I’ve had clients who remember being distraught when given a vivid bloody image of Jesus paying the ultimate price for their sins. Decades later they sit telling me that they can’t manage to find any self-worth.

After twenty-seven years of trying to live a perfect life, I failed. . . I was ashamed of myself all day long. My mind battling with itself with no relief. . . I always believed everything that I was taught but I thought that I was not approved by God. I thought that basically I, too, would die at Armageddon.

I’ve spent literally years injuring myself, cutting and burning my arms, taking overdoses and starving myself, to punish myself so that God doesn’t have to punish me. It’s taken me years to feel deserving of anything good.

Born-again Christianity and devout Catholicism tell people they are weak and dependent, calling on phrases like “lean not unto your own understanding” or “trust and obey.” People who internalize these messages can suffer from learned helplessness. I’ll give you an example from a client who had little decision-making ability after living his entire life devoted to following the “will of God.” The words here don’t convey the depth of his despair.

I have an awful time making decisions in general. Like I can’t, you know, wake up in the morning, “What am I going to do today? Like I don’t even know where to start. You know all the things I thought I might be doing are gone and I’m not sure I should even try to have a career; essentially I babysit my four-year-old all day.

Authoritarian religious groups are subcultures where conformity is required in order to belong. Thus if you dare to leave the religion, you risk losing your entire support system as well.

I lost all my friends. I lost my close ties to family. Now I’m losing my country. I’ve lost so much because of this malignant religion and I am angry and sad to my very core. . . I have tried hard to make new friends, but I have failed miserably. . . I am very lonely.

Leaving a religion, after total immersion, can cause a complete upheaval of a person’s construction of reality, including the self, other people, life, and the future. People unfamiliar with this situation, including therapists, have trouble appreciating the sheer terror it can create.

My form of religion was very strongly entrenched and anchored deeply in my heart. It is hard to describe how fully my religion informed, infused, and influenced my entire worldview. My first steps out of fundamentalism were profoundly frightening and I had frequent thoughts of suicide. Now I’m way past that but I still haven’t quite found “my place in the universe.

Even for a person who was not so entrenched, leaving one’s religion can be a stressful and significant transition.

Many people seem to walk away from their religion easily, without really looking back. What is different about the clientele you work with?

Winell: Religious groups that are highly controlling, teach fear about the world, and keep members sheltered and ill-equipped to function in society are harder to leave easily. The difficulty seems to be greater if the person was born and raised in the religion rather than joining as an adult convert. This is because they have no frame of reference – no other “self” or way of “being in the world.” A common personality type is a person who is deeply emotional and thoughtful and who tends to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday.

Aren’t these just people who would be depressed, anxious, or obsessive anyways?

Winell: Not at all. If my observation is correct, these are people who are intense and involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometime this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, integrity and compassion matter a great deal. I find that when they get better and rebuild their lives, they are wonderfully creative and energetic about new things.

In your mind, how is RTS different from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Winell: RTS is a specific set of symptoms and characteristics that are connected with harmful religious experience, not just any trauma. This is crucial to understanding the condition and any kind of self-help or treatment. (More details about this can be found on my Journey Free website and discussed in my talk at the Texas Freethought Convention.)

Another difference is the social context, which is extremely different from other traumas or forms of abuse. When someone is recovering from domestic abuse, for example, other people understand and support the need to leave and recover. They don’t question it as a matter of interpretation, and they don’t send the person back for more. But this is exactly what happens to many former believers who seek counseling. If a provider doesn’t understand the source of the symptoms, he or she may send a client for pastoral counseling, or to AA, or even to another church. One reclaimer expressed her frustration this way:

Include physically-abusive parents who quote “Spare the rod and spoil the child” as literally as you can imagine and you have one fucked-up soul: an unloved, rejected, traumatized toddler in the body of an adult. I’m simply a broken spirit in an empty shell. But wait…That’s not enough!? There’s also the expectation by everyone in society that we victims should celebrate this with our perpetrators every Christmas and Easter!!

Just like disorders such as autism or bulimia, giving RTS a real name has important advantages. People who are suffering find that having a label for their experience helps them feel less alone and guilty. Some have written to me to express their relief:

There’s actually a name for it! I was brainwashed from birth and wasted 25 years of my life serving Him! I’ve since been out of my religion for several years now, but i cannot shake the haunting fear of hell and feel absolutely doomed. I’m now socially inept, unemployable, and the only way i can have sex is to pay for it.

Labeling RTS encourages professionals to study it more carefully, develop treatments, and offer training. Hopefully, we can even work on prevention.

What do you see as the difference between religion that causes trauma and religion that doesn’t?

Winell: Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world. Religion in its worst forms causes separation.

Conversely, groups that connect people and promote self-knowledge and personal growth can be said to be healthy. The book, Healthy Religion, describes these traits. Such groups put high value on respecting differences, and members feel empowered as individuals.  They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes. They encourage spiritual practices that promote health like meditation or principles for living like the golden rule. More and more, nontheists are asking how they can create similar spiritual communities without the supernaturalism. An atheist congregation in London launched this year and has received over 200 inquiries from people wanting to replicate their model.

Some people say that terms like “recovery from religion” and “religious trauma syndrome” are just atheist attempts to pathologize religious belief.

Winell: Mental health professionals have enough to do without going out looking for new pathology. I never set out looking for a “niche topic,” and certainly not religious trauma syndrome. I originally wrote a paper for a conference of the American Psychological Association and thought that would be the end of it. Since then, I have tried to move on to other things several times, but this work has simply grown.

In my opinion, we are simply, as a culture, becoming aware of religious trauma.  More and more people are leaving religion, as seen by polls showing that the “religiously unaffiliated” have increased in the last five years from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. It’s no wonder the internet is exploding with websites for former believers from all religions, providing forums for people to support each other. The huge population of people “leaving the fold” includes a subset at risk for RTS, and more people are talking about it and seeking help.  For example, there are thousands of former Mormons, and I was asked to speak about RTS at an Exmormon Foundation conference.  I facilitate an international support group online called Release and Reclaim  which has monthly conference calls. An organization called Recovery from Religion, helps people start self-help meet-up groups

Saying that someone is trying to pathologize authoritarian religion is like saying someone pathologized eating disorders by naming them. Before that, they were healthy? No, before that we weren’t noticing. People were suffering, thought they were alone, and blamed themselves.  Professionals had no awareness or training. This is the situation of RTS today. 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.

—-  Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and the author of Leaving the Fold – A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their ReligionMore information about Marlene Winell and resources for getting help with RTS may be found at Journey Free.  Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.  She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

Related:
Recovering from Religion? Give Yourself Time
Psychological Harms of Bible-Believing Christianity
From AwayPoint on Youtube: How Beliefs Change
The Fragile Boundary Between Religion and Child Abuse
Don’t Want Pro-Genocide Bible Lessons in Your Public School? Fight Back! Here’s How.
The Protestant Clergy Sex Abuse Pattern

Humor: Ten Proofs That There is No God.

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
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153 Responses to Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems

    • Jack Schlotte says:

      The best advice or philosophy of living is to give up any and all supernatural beliefs and endorse science and rationality. Some would say morals come to us through religion. I say poppycock! Dame Jane Goodall, George Schaller and Frans de Waal ALL have evidence PROVING that altruism evolved in the animal kingdom long before mankind or ANY religions existed. Religion only knows retreat, as science advances. Failed televangelists, burning of “heretics” and witches at the stake, defrocked priests, pedophilia scandals and an ever increasing exodus FROM religion in our 21st century, all spell doom for the gullible, indoctrinated folks who cling to outmoded supernatural beliefs. True happiness comes from a thorough understanding of man’s real place in nature through scientific knowledge and reasoning.
      Look up the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” on wikipedia to see religious sarcasm at its best.
      Then Google “the Clergy Project” to see how countless pastors, priests, imams, rabbis and ministers have recanted their religion and turned instead to reality, i.e. science!
      Religions are so paranoid, they put Galileo under house arrest, trying to get him to recant reality! They’re still doing similarly incomprehensible and reprehensible acts to this day.
      There is ZERO place in the 21st century for those who thump their Bibles and state that “you cannot escape GOD!” That is their personal shortfall, an outmoded belief system, steeped in ancient myths and too long-held coercion and brainwashing that rules their gullible minds. Want a genuinely majestic and real view of man’s true place in nature? Cast off your lifelong indoctrination from “those religious folks” and read Dr. Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” for a rational, scientific and beautifully poetic orientation to the marvels and truths of the scientific, yes EVOLUTIONARY development of mankind.
      Look up “List of Deities” on wikipedia to see THOUSANDS of former gods, idols, talismans and other “supernatural” entities that are no longer worshiped and have been cast into the dustbin of history, myth and fable. I believe in one less “god” than you do… YOURS! When one frees their mind of such false idols and the Dark Ages thinking of religion, true enlightenment will follow.
      “… the use of our intelligence quite properly gives us pleasure. In this
      respect the brain is like a muscle. When we think well, we feel good.
      Understanding is a kind of ecstasy.” ~Dr. Carl Sagan quote.
      RELIGION FAILS, SCIENCE PREVAILS!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, after decades dealing in depth with both psychology and theology, that “supernaturalism” is a serious problem that encompasses most forms of most religions (but not all!). However, strict naturalism (atheistic materialism), on the other pole of an imagined two-pole view of reality, is also a major problem.

        There is only one well-developed system which makes good scientific AND intuitive sense in “bridging” the gap created when we think either as supernaturalists or naturalists (in the reductionist sense). That is process philosophy/theology. Begun, in its main expression, by the brilliant mathematician-turned-philosopher, A. N. Whitehead. On a basically parallel track was the related system of a similarly brilliant Catholic (barely!) scientist, Teilhard de Chardin. Check them both out, and their successors in people like John B. Cobb, David R. Griffin, Daniel Day Williams, Schubert Ogden, etc. You may be surprised.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Cameron says:

        Sir/Ma’am/Other:

        I understand your viewpoint. However, your continuous use of the word “gullible” and the like are more than just demeaning; it borders on hate speech.

        People who embrace religion are usually scared or raised in it. They aren’t stupid — more often than not, they’re terrified! You ask us to look up all sorts sites and articles. I ask you to research the psychological trauma that people go through on account of their religion (or in leaving their religion).

        Please, I beg of you, understand before you judge. Certainly, don’t put all “religious” people in one group. They aren’t stupid. They aren’t the enemy, they’re your fellow man. Understand them. Love them. Listen to them. Help them. That is true altruism, is it not?

        Like

      • Sha'Tara says:

        “What is the meaning of it, Watson? What is the object of this circle of misery, violence and fear? It must have a purpose or our universe has no meaning, and that is unthinkable. But what purpose? That… is humanity’s great problem… to which reason, so far, has no answer.” (Sherlock Holmes; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.) I read the articles and comments on this blog and many others, looking for a pattern, some sense, some purpose in the give and take, and it all reminds me of the Atlantic’s stormy waves beating against the cliffs of my homeland, each statement, each comment, each claim, each assertion, each plea but another wave smashing against an indifferent cliff, perhaps creating a couple of grains of sand to be washed under the tides, ever and anon creating the seabed, but the ocean blindly beating the cliff farther inland over billions of years is met with just more cliff. That cliff is the Matrix, the reality creator and man’s relentless enemy. This Matrix is greater, more insidious, more subtle and deadly than any god, devil, science or invention of man. This is what man lives within and must ultimately extricate himself from. Seems however that “man” has so far been satisfied in engaging his windmills springing up ever and anon to mock him and keep him forever off-stride. Perhaps in the far, far future “man” will finally discover that the answer did not exist until he created it from his own mind, individually reasoned and understood, through self-empowerment; through taking responsibility within himself for everything he encounters, whether within spirit, physical “reality” or within his own mind. One day perhaps he’ll notice that oar lying athwart the dinghy he’s been cast adrift in, hungering and thirsting, lay his hands on the spar and sail that need but be lifted… by himself, and then he will set sail in some certain direction that had been waiting in his own mind, just like birds, insects and land animals do on their seasonal migrations. One day perhaps, “man” will realize he does not need to be anyone’s slave any longer; that he won’t be at the beck and call of systems and beliefs that force him to deny his nature. And that will make all the difference; the turning point and the beginning of a new species of humanity. Until then… good luck!

        Like

    • anonymous says:

      Thank you so much for this… I knew my childhood religion had ruined me in a way I could never express in words (evangelicalism) to my now husband who never grew up with the trauma of cult like religion….. im hoping he can read this and understand why I cant handle life sometimes.

      thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Amy says:

      I added it to my Spiritual Recovery Forum start page. http://forums.delphiforums.com/sarecovery/start

      Like

  1. dckanz says:

    Not only is it real…it really never goes away….

    Liked by 1 person

    • nenamatahari says:

      I understand that. =(

      Liked by 1 person

    • Amy says:

      It can, but it takes work; it doesn’t just go away on its own like other emotional pain does. The best book on this is Trauma and Recovery; it was sooo helpful to me. The author says it takes an average of 5 years to recover from trauma and that is with working at it. I had PTSD from an authoritarian Christian cult and after 2 years of therapy, study, personal work (like journaling) and social support all my symptoms went away. I think having good therapy might have been the most important factor.

      Like

  2. syrbal says:

    Trust me, it can be SENT away. The process of deconstruction simply isn’t as easy to find as the build up our society smilingly allows!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Fuck Godot, You Can TOO Do Something! | herlander-walking

  4. aprilrayne says:

    Reblogged this on An Open-Minded Journey and commented:
    Exactly.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. glandix says:

    Thank you. You gave a name to how I feel.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Recent Recanter says:

    Very eye-opening, and the first I’ve heard of this mental illness. I don’t believe I suffer (much) from it, but I very definitely understand! Tiny cracks in the theology of my growing-up years caused me a lot of consternation, but the close-knit denomination is like family. Even now–toward the end of middle-age, I remain a member and go through the motions because 1) this particular Christian denomination has grown much more liberal in general, and 2) I can basically ditch all of the beliefs, and yet go on having after-church lunch out with friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you (and your denomination) have grown so much! I LOVE this: “… I can basically ditch all of the beliefs” and [enjoy friends]. If many pastors knew how many of their congregation this applies to THEY would probably have RTS!

      Personally, I “recanted”, stayed away a few years while re-working worldview and theology, and now am enjoying a very progressive church (oh… and I WAS a part-time minister, teacher and “defender of the faith”).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Perry Bulwer says:

    I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD as a direct result of fundamentalist Christianity. Forced Catholicism started the process, but my life was basically ruined by the Children of God, now known as The Family International, that I ‘joined’ when I was 16. Some object that the group is not a legitimate Christian group. Religion reporter, Don Lattin, anticipated that objection in the introduction of his book on that group “Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge” http://www.donlattin.com/pagejesusfreaks/dl_jesusfreaks.html Here’s what he wrote in the introduction:

    “SOME CHRISTIANS MAY take issue with the title of this book, Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge. They may argue that the crazy cult chronicled in these pages has noth­ing to do with Jesus or the evangelical movement. They may say its founder was not a Christian–that he was a spiritualist or controlled by demonic forces. His sexual immorality, they may argue, is the very antithesis of moral values in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
    That’s an understandable reaction, but the odyssey of David Brandt Berg is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. Berg, the founder of The Family, came straight out of American evangelicalism. His grand­father was a famous minister with the Methodist Church, and his father was ordained into another mainline Protestant church. His training as an itinerant evangelist was at his mother’s side in the Christianity and Missionary Alliance. And it was in the Alliance that Berg began his own late-blooming ministry. During the spiritual counterculture of the late sixties, this previ­ously unremarkable evangelist embraced a strange brew of Christian witness, radical politics, apocalyptic doom, and free love. His follow­ers–known over the years as Teens for Christ, the Children of God, The Family of Love, and The Family International–survived Berg’s 1994 death and continued to operate in 2007 as an international Chris­tian ministry with thousands of devoted members living in cells and missionary communes around the world.”

    I understand the distinction being made here between RTS and PTSD, but Complex PTSD is different and more closer to RTS, if not the same thing.

    Complex PTSD “A psychological injury that results from protracted exposure to prolonged social and/or interpersonal trauma in the context of either captivity or entrapment (i.e. the lack of a viable escape route for the victim) that results in the lack or loss of control, helplessness, and deformations of identity and sense of self.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_post-traumatic_stress_disorder

    Trauma and Recovery, Judith Lewis Herman, M.D. – Complex PTSD “A history of subjection to totalitarian control over a prolonged period (months to years). Examples include hostages, prisoners of war, concentration-camp survivors, and survivors of some religious cults. Examples also include those subjected to totalitarian systems in sexual and domestic life, including those subjected to domestic battering, childhood physical or sexual abuse, and organized sexual exploitation. http://www.uic.edu/classes/psych/psych270/PTSD.htm

    A very good book on this issue of the direct harms associated with religious belief is, “Deadly Doctrine: Health, Wellness and Christian God-Talk” by Dr. Wendell Watters

    http://books.google.ca/books/about/Deadly_Doctrine.html?id=4RPms9pKULYC&redir_esc=y

    Prometheus Books, Publishers, 1992 – Religion – 198 pages
    The Christian religion presents itself as the way to contentment, spiritual health, and salvation. But is this really true? Dr. Wendell Watters offers a powerful argument, based on his many years of clinical experience with individuals, couples, and families, that Christianity’s influence actually militates against human development in such vital areas as self-esteem, sexuality, and social interactions. The tragic end result of Christian conditioning is too often antisocial behavior, sexual dysfunction, poor psychological development, anxiety, and even major psychiatric illness.Christian indoctrination is not simply a problem affecting individuals or single families; the noxious effects of its teachings over nearly two millennia pervade society at large, even those who are not Christians, and in ways that seriously undermine human welfare and the quality of life. Christianity’s aggressive pronatalist policies have encouraged large families, despite parents’ inability to cope either emotionally or financially. With this the Christian church has formulated rigid sexual roles, forbidding all practices not leading directly to conception. By actually promoting sexual ignorance and irresponsibility, Christianity has allowed the proliferation of such social ills as rape, child molestation, and pornography.In the face of so much human suffering resulting from Christian doctrine, it is imperative that health care professionals, recognizing the Christian belief system as an addictive disease, develop a religious status examination to help evaluate how notions about life derived from Christian god-talk compromise individuals’ healthy functioning. In failing to determine the role of oppressive religious beliefs in mental illness, physicians and other health care workers actually promote Christianity’s continued stranglehold on human happiness and self-fulfillment.Dr. Watters covers ground many Christians will find uncomfortable. For that he is to be thanked.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your own story and this resource, which sounds like an important one, Perry.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        My story is more common than most think. In the U.S. at least, more religion related abuse occurs in Protestant churches than in Catholic ones. http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.ca/2010/12/more-us-children-are-abused-by.html

        One recent case was the First Baptist Church of Hammond, where the pastor was jailed for sex with a minor member of his congregation. The daughter of the founder of that church has now issued a public apology, not for what she did, but what her father and other church leaders did. That is similar to my situation.

        My traumas and subsequent psychological problems were a result of not only what was to done to me spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, socially, but because I was unable to stop or report the abuses of others I witnessed. My only choice was to find a way to escape, which I finally did. But getting out of the cult turned out to be easier than getting the cult out of me. Through education I finally did, which is why I am now an atheist, but that was not the end of my troubles. As the bible says about Jesus, “so there was a division among the people because of him”, and that still plays out in my recovered life, because although I no longer believe, important people in my life do, and so communication between us if very strained. That’s one of the reasons I said above that my life was basically ruined by the Christian indoctrination I was subjected to. Although I have overcome that indoctrination, others in my life have not and so it is next to impossible to have an honest conversation about so many things. Yet I understand why they cling desperately to the myths and lies they’ve been taught, because the universe is an uncertain, scary place so religion comforts them. I was exactly like them, they just don’t realize it because they think the ‘cult’ I was in was somehow different from their mainstream church. But other than some extreme doctrines on certain topics, at the core there is not much difference between fringe fundamentalist Christian groups and mainstream evangelical churches.

        You can read about the First Baptist abuse at:

        http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.ca/2011/04/independent-fundamentalist-baptist.html?showComment=1364596576104#c3975458129458499493

        Liked by 1 person

    • kenny martin says:

      The problem with religion is people like the people on this site and who wrote the book.. religious people! Jesus Christ came to speak AGAINST religion.. atheists are every much as religious as fake Christians.. they worship man and what man can do.. stop holding God accountable for what people like you do, even though they “claim” it is Christianity. Man is the problem, man is the issue and man cannot solve anything..

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I blog a lot but have seldom “reblogged”. Valerie, are there any “rules” for it, or preferences you have?… This one SHOULD be on my blog also, I feel. Thanks for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There is soooo much to discuss about this topic. There is just way too little education and awareness in our culture of many issues to do with religion and with psychological/social well-being, and then how the two intertwine (or clash) at key points. Good things have been written at least since the famous William James’ work at turn of the 19th to 20th century! But they are not known to most people; and youth are especially unlikely to seek out or encounter and want to read (or even listen to, watch) good material that could prepare them to either not be as vulnerable or be able to spot quicker and leave unhealthy religion while it’s easier, or know how/where to get support if it’s tougher.

    I follow trends pretty closely and do see hopeful, helpful things in place or developing, certainly including your work, Valerie, and that of Dr. Winell. But large cultural trends as well. And actually some of them come from “within” religion (or its institutions). I wasn’t sure about this for quite a while after realizing my Evangelical belief system was fatally flawed and contained much that WAS indeed, toxic (and leaving it… in my case relatively untraumatically, largely because by then I was very psychologically and theologically savvy…. something not encouraged generally within conservative religion).

    Included in such healthy trends is the development, within “Progressive Christianity,” of more clear and consistent principles, values and “theology” (but without so much of the theo–God/supernatural–aspect). Running roughly parallel and intertwining with this has been the development of Process philosophy and theology. Much of the reason why religion has become culturally reactive and particularly toxic in the last century has to do with the polarities set up between it and science (for which not “true” science, but “scientism” and pure materialism has to bear responsibility as well). A great (but little known) mathematician/scientist/philosopher noted this clearly in the early 1900s… left formal mathematics to work on it, philosophically. That was Alfred N. Whitehead. His very insightful (“healthy” and balanced) system for understanding reality for modern humanity was subsequently honed into a thorough “theology” that is Christian in the sense of using Christian texts, stories and traditions but re-works the dogma and encourages things like independent thinking and care for the earth, human rights (especially feminism come the 70s and 80s), etc.

    I don’t know if I should give links or more specifics here, but if this sounds appealing and potentially helpful to anyone, a quick internet search will lead to some solid resources. Some of my blog posts deal specifically with it, and most are framed by it in one way or another, even though I haven’t studied the approach in great depth myself. One reason I mention this relatively hidden “secret” is that some of our deepest thinkers and most careful observers on issues of psychological health and personal development believe that, ironically, with all their drawbacks and flaws, religious institutions and people are NEEDED to help society move beyond the very problems of toxic religion — religion that suppresses rather than encourages personal growth.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It pains me to see such things. Unfortunately the loving saviour has been turned a Monster in the name of Religion. What is religion? It is man made. Jesus never asked us to make religion –
    Note: The law was given to Moses / but to live in grace from Christ, the son of God.
    Following Christ and being a Christian are distinctly 2 things.
    In the garb of WANTING TO control God- Humans have made LAW the WAY OF LIFE.

    Let me plead here- Its NOT TRUE.. God never preached law… he only scattered Grace and Love. Why is this so tough to understand

    I am not born a christian, but yes- have followed Christ and the his love for long now. Its the law and the preachers of this LAW – that we have to get against.. not the LORD who ONLY and ONLY showed Love and Grace.

    I may sound a little emphatic but- Following Christ is Just a WAY OF LIFE and not the LAW. There is a lot to discuss in this. Having read the truth of the vedas/ the upanishads/ the love in Islam and the Grace of Christ- today i am on the ground that I can speak of all this.. My research and study is still on, and i do agree that in the name of religion, MAN is wanting to control god, but on the flip side, if we can take a step ahead to understand his grace, you will feel peace

    Priya

    Liked by 1 person

    • quattrone says:

      Your book begs to differ:

      Matthew 5:17-20
      English Standard Version (ESV)
      Christ Came to Fulfill the Law

      17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

      Liked by 1 person

      • kenny martin says:

        Your problem with your reply is you do not understand what you read or what is written or the historical context of which it speaks.. a Follower Of Jesus Christ Who has been Born Again is not under the law but does not continue in sin, therefore if they do sin again. and all do.. we have a forgiveness as long as we do not habitually and purposely practice sin..

        Liked by 1 person

    • hologram says:

      what a bunch of nonsense, Priya talks LMAO

      Liked by 1 person

    • Sofia Stella says:

      The LOve in Islam, seriously? LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

    • San says:

      You chose, i had nothing else, it was the only thing i knew.
      And here I am: personality disorder, anxiety disorder, major depression and so on..

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: A Psychologist Doing it Right | Sihathor's Open-Air Temple

  12. Reblogged this on Natural Spirituality – Loving Forum for Spiritual Harmony & Growth and commented:
    This article is very important for the mental, emotional and spiritual health of many sincere people. It is also important for everyone, leaders and lay people, religious and non-religious. The discussion here is one that impacts us all, directly or indirectly… one we need to pay much more attention to and participate in. Note my own response following my re-posting of the original article from Valerie Tarico’s blog. I know her and can vouch for her deep knowledge and professionalism.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. jcbolow says:

    A very good remedy for this and many other (or what may be considered Mental Health issues)
    “The Power of Myth” with Joesph Campbell and interview by Bill Moyers

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: “Should agonizing be your religion?” – God | power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

  15. Pingback: I hear the road to hell is paved with good intentions – gaytaylor

  16. Ferdi Businger says:

    Great article Valerie. Doesn’t brainwashing already have it’s own mental health category?

    With regard to children I would call religious indoctrination child abuse plain and simple. And that’s where most of it begins. As with other forms of abuse, when these kids grow up they tend to abuse their own kids in the same way, thereby perpetuating the suffering.

    I wasn’t even brought up in a religious household, but still consider myself to have suffered religious trauma. That just shows how insidious it is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unfortunately, “brainwashing” and “indoctrination” are imprecise categories with widely varying techniques and levels of application. But there ARE identifiable techniques. Religions often employ them unwittingly, without knowing or respecting their power. There was a British psychiatrist, William Sargent, who was one of the first to study and “label” brainwashing. Started with WW II and Korean War veterans. He wrote a classic book based on that, back in the ’50s, which included religious groups like snake handlers in the US. He gets fairly specific on the way neurological and psychological functioning work as a person first resists mightily and often eventually (and usually suddenly) “flips” and joins what he or she was resisting (or cooperates with the “enemy”, as in the case of soldiers who end up giving info, though not physically tortured in many cases).

      Unfortunately this book, “Battle for the Mind”, never had really broad influence and didn’t much penetrate religious circles, perhaps partly because Sargent was a controversial as well as brilliant psychiatrist, and some of his practices, which were well-known in England, were in fact questionable in themselves. But I highly recommend the book! (I think still in circulation, probably via Amazon, some libraries, etc.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        Howard, and anyone else interested, one of the best books on this subject is (from wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misunderstanding_Cults

        “Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field” was edited by Benjamin Zablocki and Thomas Robbins. The book was published by University of Toronto Press, on December 1, 2001 and includes contributions from ten religious, sociological and psychological scholars. The book is unique in that it includes contributions from scholars who have been labeled as “anti-cult”, as well as those who have been labeled as “cult apologists.” The book features a section which discusses the need for scholarly objectivity when researching cults, as well as emphasizing the danger of partisanship while researching these controversial groups. Other topics discussed include brainwashing, cult violence, the conflict that exists between new religious movements and their critics, as well as the ramifications of raising children in controversial religious movements.”

        The essays on ‘brainwashing’ or indoctrination are fascinating, as they reveal a very strong rift in the academic community on that subject, with those who say ‘brainwashing’ doesn’t exist relying on the concept of automatons with no will of their own, as in The Manchurian Candidate, whereas the concept of indoctrination is much closer to what the general public usually understands as ‘brainwashing’. That book helped me tremendously with my own cult recovery, although it is still incomplete 20 years after I escaped. Stephen Kent, a cult expert at the University of Alberta, is one of the contributors, and his work on ‘brainwashing’ describes exactly my experiences. See his website at: http://www.artsrn.ualberta.ca/skent/ You can read some of his articles there, including one that is in that book Misunderstanding Cults.

        He has done important work on Scientology and other cults such as the one I was in, the Children of God. His specific insights on that group helped me understand certain things that I would not have had known otherwise. He knew things about the cult, based on extensive interviews with former members, that I had no idea about while I was a member,
        things like the psycho-sexual history of the Children of God’s founder, David Berg, which you can read on Kent’s site in an article title “Lustful Prophet” at: http://www.artsrn.ualberta.ca/skent/Linkedfiles/lustfulprophet.htm

        The best thing about him, from my perspective as a survivor of religous abuse in that group, is that he does not simply reject outright the claims made by ex-cult members about their experiences, as many academic cult apologists do because they assume that they have axes to grind so embellish their abuse stories. You can often find such apologists behind the term, new religious movement, which they prefer to ‘cult’. Instead, Kent starts from the premise that cult survivor stories are true and not embellished. That makes him a hero to me and people like me who are generally not believed.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. jcbolow says:

    The truth contained in religious doctrines are after all so systematically distorted and disguised that the mass of humanity can not recognize them as truth

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you so much Marlene and Valerie for your work. I have seen RTS many times and experienced it myself and it’s nice to have a clinical name and description. For those interested in a coming-of-age story on the subject, my novel “Stick Man” is thematically about RTS as a young man makes a journey from fundamentalism to freedom. Amicably, Richard Rossi

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Catherine Walters says:

    Well said! I’d like to train in this as I am a former member of the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Former JW living a RTS free life says:

      I was born and raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. I left at 18, after spending my entire life trying to appease my parents. It was never a fear of god for me, ever. It was always fear of reproof from the humans in my life and I think that is why I had an easier time to break free. They taught me how to defend their unprovable beliefs, while simultaneously breaking apart other religions and their beliefs, which were VERY close, so the jump to questioning the JW beliefs and why they were “exempt” from intelligent thought was not that long. And then, it was not far to getting out because I was taught intelligent thought…and there is nothing intelligent about picking and choosing what works for a religion versus another one and never allowing any “cross contamination” and isolating a group from others merely based on their thoughts. However, questioning is NOT ALLOWED in any of the religions that cause this cause of trauma. You must have FAITH, which is a religious synonym for “belief without proof because there is none to be had.” So I left at 18, the day I turned, because I knew I could not be a hypocrite. They created their own monster.

      I am one of the fortunate ones who let it go and didn’t let the emotional damage rule my life. And that is tough, considering that I left behind every single person I knew and loved my entire life and had to begin over at 18, unable to go to college because my parents wouldn’t sign for loans and with only a few “forbidden” friends that I had talked to in school against the rules. It took a lot to rebuild a life and try to find myself and I still continue to search for what I need. The problem is that religion is not built upon truth, tolerance or love. There are many good teachings from many different places, religious leaders, scientific minds and more and there is no need to be so attached to one thing so much that you hate others for thinking something different.

      I have three children and I allow them to be exposed to many different teachings from many different sources, and they will be free to make up their own mind on what they believe. I don’t hate religion, I hate that they make it so hard to be an individual and to look for your own truth and to ask questions. It stifles intelligent expansion and I feel so sad for the people who blindly believe and use those beliefs to express hatred toward others.

      When I first left, I tried to go to some of the ex-JW forums but all I saw was more hate. I understand the frustration, but I will never be comfortable expressing hate. That isn’t what I believe. I think we have a base instinct that puts us into fight or flight and those who have left a binding religion have a lot of those emotions flowing and while I agree that talking with people who understand can be healing, in many cases, it just ends up making those people more frustrated and angry. We need to learn coping techniques that can help us to let go and move on from the pain that was inflicted upon us, whether as children or adults, whether from religion or from other abuse and move on in a way of peace.

      It’s a harder road, but peace if the only answer. Love one another is one of the most important things we can ever learn, and no matter who said it, it still is truth. Love means that we treat each other with respect and care and tolerance and religion does none of those things for people or the human race. It only causes division. We need to be one and as long as there is religion, that can never happen.

      Like

      • Bonnie Sue Wright says:

        I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. I was under stress my entire life “standing firm,” by not participating in the practices of the “world,” such as not pledging the flag, participating in holidays at school, and within my extended family caused real physiological stress responses daily. I am grateful that I do know how to stand against the crowd, but it was gained at a great cost. The worst was believing all things but Witnesses would die in Armageddon. It was like living in a horror film everyday. As I aged the promise of a “New Earth” seemed non-ideal, to have to be a submissive woman for eternity in a New Earth led by Jehovah God was not something I wanted. I was disassociated at the age of 15 because I would not repent the sin of smoking. It seemed hypocritical for me to repent when I did not want to live forever with these people. Witnesses believe that those who are unworthy are thrown into the Lake of Fire and disappear as if they were never born. Such a spiritual suicide was my choice. Since it was actually against their practices to expell a child who had not been baptized, I was reinstated and had to continue to attend meetings until I was 17. At that point, I moved out of my parent’s home. I learned many good things as a child among Witnesses. I do not hate them, but I do think that it is a toxic and stressful way for children to be raised. If you are a person who converted to the Jehovah’s Witness faith as an adult reading this, please understand what you are expecting from your child/ren. You expect them to stand against all the values and beliefs in their school and extended family. This causes raised heart rate, blood pounding in their ears, fear fear fear, strength streng strength for those who are brave. There were children who lived a double life, lying about following the practices at school. I do not know how they feel as adults, perhaps shame? perhaps smart? Maybe their stress was the lying? Anyway, you are raising a social warrior. Further, you are telling your child that all around them will die horribly in apocalypic flame. This is stress that you cannot imagine as an adult convert. You are doing this for nothing. It is not the TRUTH. Sit down and read the Bible from beginning to end without any other reading material telling you what the Bible says, and you will discover the real truth about the Bible. Do this for your child/ren. Be as brave as you expect them to be.

        Like

  20. Karen Costantini says:

    I am so not surprised at these articles, but surprised that I, too, suffered from RTS. The most damaging was Jehovah’s Witnesses – who got my Mom, hook, line and sinker. As a young girl (grade school) I was expected to “study” with my Mom and a witness, then go out and tell other the people the “good news”. THAT’s an oxymoron! I was so petrified that the “end of days” was truly upon us. Would I live long enough to graduate from HIgh School? Get Married? Have kids? I married right out of high school and had kids right away, always fearing that it will all come to a horrible end any time – and was I going to be a survivor??? I went to different churches in my life – Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalan (sp?) – read about Budda, Wiccan, etc. My inner peace finally came when I made a conscious decision that Religion is not what I need. I am just fine believing that there is something bigger than us that maybe someday we will understand. But, I prefer to live my life being a good neighbor, friend and human being, mindful of the strife of others and trying not to be too judgmental (hard to do these days!). I feel sad for people I know who do not see the destructiveness of a lot of religions. They all say they are right and true, then act in such a way that I am absolutely sure that Jesus would never stop throwing up at the things done in his name. So much for teaching love, compassion and love of truth. Don’t see it today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam Thorne says:

      Then you missed the point of being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and most likely, so did your mother – at least while you were involved with them.

      Hopefully by now your mother has learned that, regardless of what it was about which you were made to feel guilty or inadequate, the sacrifice that Jehovah God made through Jesus Christ was more than adequate to compensate for it, and only those who refuse to give up wickedness when offered an opportunity to do so have been – or ever will be – destroyed by Jehovah.

      (I’ve confirmed that our publications identified all those destroyed by Jehovah as, “incorrigibly wicked”, at least as far back as the 1950s and up the present, and in a convention lecture I heard today, it was confirmed that even before 1914, our brothers believed that, “millions now living will never die”, specifically because even though there then were only thousands who would eventually become Jehovah’s Witnesses, millions of others would survive Armageddon.)

      Liked by 1 person

  21. gregw says:

    As a minister, I have witnessed first-hand the trauma and dysfunction caused by toxic religion. I spent years cleaning up the psychological and spiritual fallout from one of my predecessors who not only was a holier-than-thou, super-spiritual, control freak, he was also a serial sexual predator of men, women and children (including his own children and his sister). How people let leaders like this control them is beyond me . . . but every once in a while, somebody takes something I say the wrong way . . . and I live in fear that my words might be twisted into similarly damaging thoughts . . .
    But you know what really bugs me? It absolutely frosts my cookies when my leadership and I attempt to genuinely follow Jesus Christ in offering mercy, grace, love and understanding . . . and we’re told we’re not as “spiritual” as the abusers . . . Yeah . . . go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jcbolow says:

      The Term “Jesus Christ” needs to be understood as a Metaphor! “All Religions” Refer to you!
      Have you “died to your animal nature and been reborn! This is the meaning of that, There is no
      Third Party vendor

      Liked by 1 person

    • Amy says:

      “How people let leaders like this control them is beyond me” — A great book which explains this is “Combatting Cult Mind Control” by Steven Hassan. People don’t LET it happen. There are many techniques to unethically influence people into beliefs which gives one control over them. Truly, it can happen to anyone, unless the person knows about those techniques in order to recognize them when they are tried on them. These techniques are used by charismatic narcissists in all kinds of settings, from Chinese war prisons to Nazi Germany to cults and controlling churches in the U.S.

      As a minister, it would be greatly worth your while to study this much more in-depth so that you can gain a better understanding of the dynamics of the controlling leader and his followers, and therefore be better able to help and sympathize with your church members (or others who come to your church from another abusive group).

      Like

  22. Donna Faulkner says:

    It goes to show you that the people of the world are growing further away from God, do not want to know God, do not care About God or His Word and will do anything to slap His face. This is why they do not understand Him and His Love. They concentrate on consequences of what their sins and then blame that on God and completely ignore what God has promised is for and Eterniy of bliss. What a shameful human race and what stupidity from His creatures that He loves so much. The miracles he and healing she has for us and we need only ask and He gives. Where are His children? He has saved my life from drunkeness, cancer, smoking, myself and you people, gave me back my family, and you condemn His works? Shame, you blame religion (organized) but do not attack Christianity it’s true form as it is not religion…the difference is wide and vast and if you do not know what it is then you do not know what you are talking about. Religion you DO…Christianity you LIVE now you do know what you are talking about!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Donna, I appreciate you sharing here. I celebrate with you the return of your family and what I imagine you’d say is your “life” (quality of life). I’ve read Valerie’s and Marlene’s writings for a long time, and do not see them as an attack on “Christianity” itself… only the all-too-common forms in which people express or teach about it that confuse and misguide many. You may note I’ve commented in this post thread as well, and consider myself a “progressive” or “Integral” Christian. “True religion”, as the author of James (New Test. book) speaks it, of reminds me of what you are saying… compassionate things we DO, especially for the less fortunate, struggling people; how we live! I think I can speak for the authors that they are in full agreement with that and seeking to point others there, rescuing them from manipulation when necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

    • A concerned citizen says:

      You are exactly what is wrong with religion.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Amy says:

      This article repeatedly references “fundamental,” “authoritarian,” and “controlling” Christian groups. There is a difference between mainstream and fundamental Christianity, and healthy and controlling churches. The people that this organization is helping are Christians from controlling/authoritarian churches. A lot of mainstream Christians don’t realize the true extremism of fundamentalism because fortunately they haven’t been part of it. Fundamentalists make up only about 25% of Christianity worldwide (and 37% in the U.S. according to http://religions.pewforum.org/affiliations), but they are extremely vocal and love to strong-arm everyone who isn’t one of them–politically, socially, religiously and personally. I grew up Presbyterian which is very liberal (they have just started performing gay weddings), and then at 18 I joined a fundamental Christian church which actually is also a cult, as many of them are.

      Fundamentalist groups in any religion are problematic because of the extreme narrowness of their beliefs, the control they exercise over their members, and how they deal with the ‘outside world.’ Orthodox Judaism is fundamentalist Judaism. Al-quaeda and Taliban are fundamental Islamic. They are each only part of what makes up those religions, just like the fundamentalist churches in Christianity are.

      It is very difficult to come out of these groups on many levels. I had PTSD as a result of my membership in one, and it took 2 years of intensive therapy, personal work with journaling, studying, etc. to heal. And a big part of my healing was talking online with other people who had left that group.

      It is troubling that rather than expressing compassion for the experiences of the people who give their testimony in this article, the only thing you write about is your own experience of Christianity and a defense of it. According to the Bible, Jesus values compassion far more highly than religiosity. He stated that the ONE criteria for salvation was caring for others in his parable about the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). And the Samaritan was his example of goodness, not the religious leaders who passed the robbed man by on the road (Luke 10:25-37).

      Like

  23. Pingback: Do We Need Religion?: Part II | The Big Slice

  24. Pingback: Religious Trauma Syndrome | Living in a World Without God

  25. I’m sorry to hear that others go through this, but it feels nice not to be alone. I didn’t have to go through what the poster went through, but I certainly have my problems. I have anxiety and OCD, which I think was caused by religion. I was raised Catholic and got a pretty good dose of it growing up. My parents don’t know yet, but I’m becoming atheist. People say that religion relives us from anxiety, but what if it’s the cause of it? Religion reminds me of the Matrix. Religion tells us that the world is the problem and that religion (the matrix) is the only we it can fix it. I truly think the only way we can be free is if we leave religion for good.

    While it hasn’t been proven, I think there is a strong link between most of everyone’s anxiety and religion. Most people have had some sort of religious upbringing and a lot of people seem to have some anxiety. Religion teaches us to fear the end of days; definitely a great thing to teach a child growing up. Humans have a natural tendency to fear death, and religion plays upon that fear. We are taught to fear Hell and that we have to be perfect to enter Heaven. Humans can never be perfect and I think this creates a vicious cycle of anxiety.

    I think that original sin screwed me up the most. We are taught that we are never good enough for God. Most people look at the Jesus story and think of it as a wonderful tale of redemption. I see it as a way for religions to control us. Not only do they teach us that we are horrible people, but we need someone to suffer the most violent death to save us. This can’t be healthy for our us.

    They do the same thing for sexuality. Most religions look down upon masturbating when it’s completely natural. The cycle of shame and guilt is endless in religion. In the Catholic Church masturbating is seen as a mortal sin which can send you straight to Hell. Even lusting after a women is seen as adultery.

    Sorry for the long post. I’m just trying to get to the root of the problem and thought I would put my back story here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think there are many, many of us on parallel journeys.

      Liked by 1 person

    • kenny martin says:

      Think your screwed up now!? Wait until you die!!! Then you’ll have hell to pay but for all eternity, THAT’S suppose to scare you into SEEKING God and not turning against Him. He Is only telling you The Truth that when you die you WILL be judged. Nothing you can say, do or think can ever change that! It’s just a shame no one has ever been able to prove He is real to you.. and Hell is real.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kenny, what you have to try and understand is that from the outside you sound like a brainwashed cult member. All of us who have been Christians have memorized the same phrases, the same justifications, the same mental framework, the same denial that Christianity is a religion.

        Liked by 1 person

      • James F. says:

        Kenny, keep in mind that your faith is just that. Faith. If it was true you would not need faith. You would understand it as truth because of evidence, but since your parents were given a book and were told that it was true, and then in turn they gave that same book to you, and said to you it was true, a vicious cycle has been created. A cycle of mind control, and money intake.

        Until you can prove your faith to be true, I cannot believe what cannot be proven.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Amy says:

      And just like the Matrix, some people choose to stay in it because they prefer the comfort, while others value freedom more. Having experienced both, I’m glad I chose freedom and it has ultimately brought me much more comfort!

      Like

  26. Pingback: Scallywag and Vagabond | Atheists and agnostics. Do they exist?

  27. Pingback: 10 Signs Religious Fundamentalism Is in Decline | Believers vs Non-Believers

  28. Rowlena says:

    I think Gandih got it right ‘I like your Jesus, I dont like his followers’. I’m studying to be a chaplain in mental health and want to help encourage others towards growth and healing in personal relationships with GOD not the church or religion

    Liked by 1 person

    • ludwig44 says:

      Doesn’t have to be an “Evangelical,” “cult-like,” or even organized faith to cause great harm. I was raised Lutheran, but just really believed it all for half my life, and my departure from believing it almost killed me. It is wrong no matter which way it is taught, because it simply is not true and following a myth cannot help but lead those who eventually see the truth to great suffering.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Julio says:

        Religious victims need only to understand a VITAL point about fanaticism, and that will resolve the conflict once and for all.
        Religion is all of it based on the FALSE premise that there is an almighty that “told some agents to tell you”!
        Religion is a dishonest, fanatical LIAR telling you “God told us to tell you!”
        It is FALSE: no Almighty God with enough self-esteem would need AGENTS or COURIERS or evangelists or popes or priests or any other professional AGENTS to deliver a message he wanted you to receive!
        The same ALMIGHTY would not need to write any “holy book” saturated with codes & mysteries to be interpreted since we are intelligent enough to understand a straightforward message.
        The other offensive evil Religion plays is to quote MEN from some holy book and call them God!
        It is the number one evil of Religion, without a doubt: Quoting MEN that wrote some story in a labelled “holy book” and call those MEN the God the VICTIM needs to FEAR.
        The third EVIL Religion portrays is to deliver some almighty’s message with THREATS & CURSES and still charge a cash fee for the service to support the parasitical elite that tell us God told them to tell us!
        .
        Therefore: when you understand these points well, you have reached a stage in your intelligence and IQ level where you are no longer a possible VICTIM of Religion and its charlatans!

        Liked by 1 person

  29. speeddemon2 says:

    I have also come to view Evangelical Christianity as mental illness. Those who seem the deepest in it’s throes have histories of unbelievable childhood trauma, alcoholic, psychotic, sociopathic parents and grandparents. I’ve lost my son and my grandchildren to a cult of “christianity” because my daughter-in-law comes from one of those extremely dysfunctional families. She has indoctrinated her children, isolated them from the larger society through home schooling and prevented any contact with anyone who doesn’t share her belief in her cult.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Amy Howard says:

    I was brainwashed from an early age in Southern Baptistry, but fortunately had good pastors. Unfortunately, I still find myself angsty on leaving religion totally because of the early ‘hell’ training. I have a huge amount of anxiety related to even possible agnosticism even though I understand that Jesus is another incarnation of the dead god mythos, and that not everything in the bible is true, or even partially true. I came out to my mother about a year and a half ago as not believing in Biblical Creation, her reaction was semi-predictable. I am really conflicted. Intellectually I don’t need religion, but emotionally I do, and I’m not sure how to deal with that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy says:

      The article talks about this emotional need, and how it can be fulfilled through groups of people who are agnostic or athiest.* Unitarian Universalism is a very well-established group like that which you could look into.

      *”They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes. They encourage spiritual practices that promote health like meditation or principles for living like the golden rule. More and more, nontheists are asking how they can create similar spiritual communities without the supernaturalism. An atheist congregation in London launched this year and has received over 200 inquiries from people wanting to replicate their model.”

      Like

  31. Rebecca W says:

    New to this site. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Head Of Shiz says:

    I’m a recovering mormon and this article has so many “ah-hah!” moments in it for me. Thanks for your research and thoughtful interview. I think it would be a good read for many people leaving mormonism that still question their place in the world and their own sanity as they exit a potentially very controlling religion.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Pingback: Your religious life can cause you mental health problems | The Two Agreements: A Good News Story for Our Time

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  35. julio says:

    Low-IQ fanatics seem to believe that yes there is a nice almighty god out there that can hear prayers.
    Fine, any junior/immature almighty can hear prayers, what the hell!
    The problem is that none of the almighties in the Pantheon answers real prayers, the bastards!!
    Yes, you can have prayers answered, like the small change ones – pray for rain in Cape Town from April to September!
    But go pray for REAL problems, like find MISSING CHILDREN quickly to their anguished parents and you will notice the almighties left to play cards with their friends, the creeps!

    Liked by 1 person

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  38. Reblogged this on kindism and commented:
    Christian Science isn’t really into the hellfire, brimstone and apocalypse, but it does manage to instill a deep distrust of doctors/medicine, and some dangerously unrealistic ideas that you can heal yourself through prayer alone — and when that fails, it means you’ve failed, so you have to pray harder… Not a healthy cycle to fall into.

    Liked by 1 person

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  43. sorayajan says:

    Reblogged this on Among the Whispers and commented:
    I don’t agree with everything here, and I don’t think I’m leaving my religion (really), but…this is so me.

    Liked by 1 person

  44. Kaitlin says:

    This is wonderful. Thanks so much for publishing this. As someone who spent a good chunk of my adolescence surrounded by evangelicals, I can relate to a lot of what is described here. It’s great to be shedding light on this issue.

    Liked by 1 person

  45. This confirms so many things I’ve been saying and feeling about my own experience, which I go into here (particularly in the section titled “In religion, but not of religion”: http://bit.ly/1n8VjkG

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  46. Deb Thornley says:

    THank you, thank you, thank you!Great article as always Valerie. RTS is real and there are a lot of us who can attest to that from first hand experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  47. Kristi Draper says:

    “Conversely, groups that connect people and promote self-knowledge and personal growth can be said to be healthy. The book, Healthy Religion, describes these traits. Such groups put high value on respecting differences, and members feel empowered as individuals. They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes. They encourage spiritual practices that promote health like meditation or principles for living like the golden rule.”

    This paragraph from the article has been my experience in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It has also been my experience that people — teachers AND followers — can twist, misinterpret, and completely misunderstand Christ’s teachings and thus create or suffer from RTS. My heart goes out to them and I sincerely hope they find their faith again through service, love, compassion, and forgiveness.

    Liked by 1 person

  48. humanistfox says:

    Reblogged this on Humanist Fox and commented:
    Everyone should read this.

    Liked by 1 person

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  50. lorenakoran says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. it all makes sense to me. I came out of a Christian cult about six years ago. i was in it for almost twenty years. (I’m almost 44 btw.) I was raised in a very tight over protective extremely Christian family. It was almost like a cult of four so actually going into a cult was perfectly natural for me. Waking up however, was a major life event. When I did come out of it I was in need of people who understood but I couldn’t find anyone. That’s when I decided to blog about my life. I am aware I am not the only person who goes through what I go through and if I needed someone then maybe someone needed me and I would be there for them. About a year or so later Dr. Phil had the ex-fundamentalist Mormons on his show. It really helped me a lot to hear what they had to say and what they were going through. It helped me to stop mentally beating myself up because they helped me realize why I had been the way I was and how real brain washing was. Writing also helped me heal. i wrote many dark poems and lyrics and such for quite a while. I was embarrassed to tell anyone about the images I had of myself busting my head open on the cement wall behind my bed. Not that I would ever do that but the image would play over and over as if it would somehow offer me relief. Over time as I healed that image changed to less and less horrible images until I was finally free from those images. I have believed I had a form of post dramatic stress syndrome. Now I can relabel that to RTS and it fits. Anyway, thank you! I wrote a blog the other day and just got it published on WP that relates somewhat so I posted a link to this article. My recent blog I am referring to is at – http://wp.me/pTuxz-xW.

    Liked by 1 person

  51. lori says:

    Reblogged this on lori abercrombie and commented:
    Hello again. Excellent article on the effects of bad religion on mental health.

    Liked by 1 person

  52. Doug Wilson says:

    When did this idea about the God in todays bible begin… fairly recently… I don’t have any beliefs in gods… don’t belong to any religious, social, cultural, political groups… The question I ask when I have the opportunity is, “Why would anyone care about anything other people make up?”

    Liked by 1 person

  53. I was born into the ultra-high control religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses and have had very real experiences with the symptoms you mention above. Indoctrination through fear, isolation from all worldly people and their worldly things(read: anyone non-JW), then the ultimate punishment of total shunning when one decides to stop attending the required five kingdom hall meetings a week. Now take that and add childhood sexual abuse, a traumatic brain injury or two, and a horrific marriage marked by domestic violence akin to torture and all I can say is thanks be to god that I am actually still alive. See, not all RTS survivors are atheists. RTS is very real and the consequences are very devastating.

    GREAT POST! Keep on going!

    Liked by 1 person

  54. Very eye-opening post and I learned a lot. I started reading, expecting maybe an article on scrupulosity, but instead learned so much about RTS….it all makes sense to me. Keep up the great work you are doing to help people!

    Liked by 1 person

  55. Pingback: What’s a Pastor To Do About RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome) | Go-Before Grace

  56. Wow!! It is so comforting to know that others experienced this problem as well and that there is now a name for it and something can hopefully be done. It has been so lonely to try and explain this to people. Obviously my religious friends and family could not begin to understand how I felt when I really let go of Christianity and most other people are or were just casually religious or not religious. It is a very specific group of individuals that is affected by this syndrome in my opinion. It would have to be someone like myself who made their religion their whole life growing up as the religion commands and then realize that it’s all bullshit in adulthood and have to learn who you really are. When I left religion I had no idea who I was anymore because my whole self identity was entangled with my belief in Jesus/God. I was intensely resentful towards churches and my family. I became very angry and spent a lot of time fighting with Christians. Being raised as an evangelist, I just flipped the switch from Christian to atheist and continued my evangelism. It was hard to let go of the black and white view of the world. I also was flooded with true knowledge such as evolutionary biology that I had ignored all my life because my church had told me it was against god. It was intensely overwhelming and became my obsession. I have worked through much of my anger, depression and bitterness stemming from religion but I there are some problems that I often feel will be with me for life. As I mentioned earlier, it is lonely and feels hopeless due to the religious majority that rules this country.

    Liked by 1 person

  57. I´m a former spiritual speaker and I left it for the same reason the realisation that the new age is just another religion in another package that promotes all the psychological abuse and violence that this author mentioned in this article. It is shocking to see how having a belief even a good belief becomes our oppressor something that abuses and controls us renders us unable to think but through the filter of our ideals. Which also ends up making us blind or with severe tunnel vision. I saw how having beliefs in religion and new age always lead to either self abuse or an abusive relationship with another person it also encourage and promotes the abuser while the victims are told to be more loving send love and light or with religions case turn the other cheek love your enemies but love does not mean think or understand just take more abuse and live in hope and faith that they will stop abusing you but that never happens and always makes things worse for these people. its a classic pattern and I am wondering why no one can see it? The problem is that when we have a belief no matter what it is we are not thinking we become blind followers falling in the same pot hole blaming ourselves or some imaginary enemy. Of course when one has a belief system they must have the opposite belief that creates the internal conflict like pendulum fluctuating back and forth rendering us exhausted, then we get some rest and the whole dirty pattern starts again. We are unable to think historically either, or how many have cried and died because of this loving jesus and god, not to mention the fear behind having such a belief. How many people in the past were tortured and starved and killed so we would accept Christ? All that violence, blood, fear, and insanity is on every believers hands. are we responsible for the billions who have suffered cause of this and how we are further promoting this violence and repression by promoting our faiths which is really promoting Stockholm Syndrome?
    Also I wonder how many read the bible? I´m very concerned when I hear people say they want to be like god or jesus when there is overwhelming accounts of violence, bi-polarity, petty, racist insecure, psychopathic attributes of these characters that it seems is always over looked or used for fear or we just look at the bible the way our pastor wants us to as they conveniently skip those parts. You would think a supreme god would be over those things but apparently not so no wonder with so many wanting to striving to be like these man made intentional ideas that we have taken on all these characteristics as well.
    the invention of god has single handily led to us feeling like we have the right to destroy the planet and all the life on it as well such beliefs have made us a culture of extreme negligence.
    why aren´t these things taught in school? We were not born with belief systems, they have sure done a number to our psyche spending our whole life trying to undo the psychological damage.
    think about these things.
    No animal cares about beliefs builds temples or goes to war, nor did we care about these things when we were kids.
    If we do not understand the root of the problem and just focus on the solutions then the solution no matter what it is will always turn into and add to the problem.
    So many follow such beliefs cause they want to do good and be good they think by doing and following certain things that they are helping I did to but then I found out how its actually doing more harm then good, and making things profoundly worse and unnecessary all because we refuse to think because we know longer know how to think because we are afraid to think.
    I saw a sign at a church that said thinking is evil…. Are you kidding me?
    Since when did thinking become evil and something to fear?
    There is so much I an say on this subject but I will stop there. I just also wanted to add that now I am speaking out and exposing the dangers of following with out thinking and have started a project called The EOF Project or the End Of Fear, in which we dismantle and dissects our beliefs and confusions so as to understand and see how we have been told what to think rather then how to think. If we know how to think then we can see these psychological pot holes/mine fields a mile away. We are working with Universities on this as well as it must be profoundly investigated and understood.

    for more information our websites are here if anyone wants to contact me I am open to it and i will be writing the author here personally as well.

    http://WWW.EOFPROJECT.ORG
    http://www.jessicamystic.com
    http://endoffear.weebly.com/

    This Blog is Awesome! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amy says:

      “Also I wonder how many read the bible? I´m very concerned when I hear people say they want to be like god or jesus when there is overwhelming accounts of violence, bi-polarity, petty, racist insecure, psychopathic attributes of these characters that it seems is always over looked or used for fear or we just look at the bible the way our pastor wants us to as they conveniently skip those parts.”

      It’s not necessarily that people haven’t read it (though that could very well often be the case). I have read the entire bible several times in my life. Yet I mentally justified the “unsavory” parts about God’s character, because I was taught that God is beyond our understanding and perfectly good so anything he did or decreed or approved of had to be good, even if I didn’t understand it. I was reading it through a filter of this belief. I watched one of Betty Bowers’ videos a couple of weeks ago, and so many of the scriptures she referenced were ones that I didn’t remember or had just glossed over!

      Like

  58. James F. says:

    I have a unique situation. My wife has been very domineering in my oldest daughters life. For as long as I can remember, what seemed like a loving mother teaching her child to read, then into other basics of math, and language, has transformed into what I consider a complete and utter living vicariously through my oldest daughter. Standards are extremely high for my daughter by her mother and with homeschooling, she has been drilling this extreme excellence, and inability to let my daughter to fail.
    In addition, it extends into other parenting like doing chores, or housework. My wife is constantly on my oldest daughter to do everything completely with complete and utter obedience. My wife demands instant replies to questions, is a complete helicopter parent ensuring that everything that is expected of my daughter is done to moms liking. I feel helpless in this situation and I have tried to talk to my wife, but it ends up in either a heated battle or my wife pointing out the fact that I have the problem, and not my wife.
    I am prepared to walk out on my wife in less than two weeks, because the love is not there anymore, and I can’t stand living with her anymore. My mind is made up, and my wife knows it, but still wants to control the situation. She wants me to stay – of course – but not because she loves me, but to keep providing for her to stay home and homeschool our girls. Oh, my oldest has graduated high school at the tender age of 15. Okay, now what is she going to do?
    I have tried to be the man of the household, to say my other two girls are going to public school, but my wife appears to be loading up her proverbial weapons so when it comes time to register, she will find any reason to fire the arguments off to not allow them to go to public school.
    My oldest girl is clearly struggling with her faith. I am no longer a man of faith, and I can see the hurt and emptiness that my daughter is feeling. She is apologizing for the silliest stuff. And she asks for forgiveness, like I have some spiritual superiority over her. My wife says that you need to forgive so you don’t harbor any bitterness. I say the things she asks forgiveness for are absolutely not needed. I chalk it up to her learning, and don’t feel the need to send out forgiveness. It is hard to explain on a post, but I am really annoyed by my wife’s demand that my girls always asking for forgiveness for the most silly offenses.
    So, I guess, I am asking for some advice about what I should do with my wife. I believe that no matter what happens, I will be leaving my wife. She is not healthy, and refuses to go to any counseling. We tried to go to two sessions with a family counselor, and was resistant at both sessions. I realized then that I did not love her anymore, and wanted out.
    Please, if you have any questions or know how I should handle this situation, I would appreciate any help. This appears to be an awesome site/blog! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi James –
      I’m so sorry you’re having to go through all of this. Trying to figure out how to take care of yourself and your kids through a separation process would be hard enough without these extra worries. What you are describing certainly doesn’t sound healthy, and I can see why you would want your children to get some breathing room–including public school. My biggest advice to you would be to take your feelings and concerns seriously. Find someone who can really help you think through this process: how to hold firm about the things that really matter and compromise on the things that don’t, and how to tell the difference. Especially, you will want to discuss what to tell your children and when, and how to structure things as well as possible for them. If you liked and trusted the family counselor, that would be a good person to ask for a referral. Also, this is a time to really give yourself permission to ask for support from friends or relatives who love you.

      Give how you describe your wife, my guess is that she may be part of an authoritarian church community, and if so she may ask other people to talk with you, to change your mind. You should feel free to say no to such conversations, or to insist that you be allowed to bring a trusted friend, or that the conversations happen in the presence of your therapist so that you have someone to help you stay anchored to your own your thoughts and feelings and to process things afterwards.

      It sounds like one of the better things that could happen to your 15 year old would be for her to have her next phase of schooling be one where she is free to start expressing her own opinions and ideas. It also sounds like she is an intelligent and capable girl, and she might value genuine conversation with you about the changes in your family. Bashing your wife, her mom may only make her feel trapped between you, but it may be important to be honest about the things that weren’t working. And remember it’s always ok to say “I don’t know or I’m still figuring that out; I’ve never been in this situation before.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • James F says:

        Valerie:
        Thank you so much for this blog! It is awesome. It is exactly what I have needed to read. You are doing a wonderful service if you can call it that. I am much clearer in my understanding about RTS than before, and that I have experienced it first hand.

        What you have said is exactly what I am planning to do. I do have friends that are helping me with what is going on. They see the danger in me staying around, especially for my health, and of course the danger to my children. I do believe that a therapist would be beneficial, but would it be best to go to a Psychologist, Psychiatrist or therapist?

        For the sake of the blog, I will try to stick to how this relates to Religious Trauma Syndrome.
        I would say that through all my learnings in life, when I heard about religion, I thought I was missing out on the real meaning of life. Like I wasn’t part of that special priveleged group that I wasn’t really making it in life, and of course I wouldn’t make the “afterlife.” So, I bought the message hook line and sinker in 1996. For about 4 years or so after that, I dove in full bore into the bible and Jesus.
        Through all my studies of other material, such as the plentiful Christian media, prophecy, and radio show hosts, other souces of information, etc. I learned that maybe life in general isn’t entirely what the Christian people are telling me. I went to many different denominations, and these churches seemed to be quite empty from my perspective. If the Bible gave us all the answers, why do these people seem to not have any answers, or only the typical one answer that doesn’t really satisfy? No one shared my quest for answers to the deeper questions. Not even the pastors. I thought that the Church should be the first place I should get truth, shouldn’t it? I didn’t get it.

        To make a long story short, in about 2008 around lunchtime, after about 8 years of reading, and learning, I came to the conclusion that the structured church setting wasn’t for me. No matter what church leaders said, I thought they were biased, and part of a (for lack of a better term) mind control community. Of course I never shared that view with anyone, and on that day, I had the most traumatizing emotional event in my life. To realize that everything I knew to be true was false. The whole way of life, belief structure, the everything. I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I was at work, by the way which added to the stress, so no one could see me like that I tried to hide it.

        Through all that, I struggled how to handle this new found conclusion. About three years ago, I decided to share this view I had with my wife. Of course, I heard it all. I’m a heathen, going to hell, and I am an immoral person now all of a sudden.

        Yeah, that really helped me. So, I decided to go back to church thinking it was a phase I was going through, and since I really don’t like confrontation, I went for the family, to keep the peace so to speak. I kept the peace, but still was torn inside about what to do. About a year ago or so, I decided not to go to church anymore, period. That was another even in my wife’s issues with me. Repeat all the accusations, again. Not willing to try to understand me, no. She judged me as this horrible person, and doomed to hell.

        I met what I consider a great friend now, but he is an agnostic. I never realized what they believed, but his questions to me helped me to rid myself of the control structure of the church. To clean my mind, to think with reason and logic. To get rid of the bias and tradition that never progresses.
        With all this going on, last August, My wife and I went to two counseling sessions which I thought would either help or at least help me understand whether to work on our marriage or not. What the sessions did do is they made me realize that it was not worth working on my marriage for my health’s sake. Our differing belief structures or better said my lack of belief is what is one of the issues at the core of why I want to leave. I never left because my wife is homeschooling our three daughters, and I didn’t want to upset their school year by me leaving. Now that summer is here, it is time to move out. Before school starts in August.

        You said above that “My biggest advice to you would be to take your feelings and concerns seriously.”
        I did that in that second counseling sessions when my feelings told me that I don’t love my wife anymore. That whole event was disturbing because I finally came to grips with that feeling, and accepted what it was. I have had that feeling for years before that, justifying to suppress that feeling because I am supposed to love my wife. I have children, it is wrong for me to not love her, so I carried on the lie to myself. I lied to all of my family, and worst of all to myself. That made me a miserable person. I verbally lashed out at times to help justify my feelings, but once I realized my feelings were genuine, I accepted them, and I am trying to move on.

        My wife is not in a domineering church. Quite the contrary, it is very kind, loving, and non judgemental. That is the confusing part. I believe that my wife has standards for herself and her children that are well above any normal society’s standards. They are set so high that she can’t even reach them, let alone her children. Of course she has those standards for everyone in our family, including myself.

        It is my opinion that my wife is like this because she is holding things from her past against herself, that she is trying to help my oldest daughter avoid the pitfalls of life that she would discover in her youth (sin, sex, swearing, whatever). She is very negative, judgmental, domineering, critical of others, strict. The term I used in the first post does not give what is going on any justice. If there ever was a term that was an understatement, it is that she is living vicariously through my oldest daughter. I told my wife back in 2006, and 2007 that if she continued this way, she would lose her daughter. So far, it hasn’t happened, but the day of reckoning is coming. It is inevitable now. My daughter’s thoughts are so secret, she is terrified of sharing anything for fear of the negativity, and critical nature of my wife. She is holding it in, and not talking in a lot of situations, my oldest has very few friends if any. She has no time to spend with them, anyway. She doesn’t call any other girls, or anything like that. I am so heartbroken for her. I want to get her so far away from her mother so she can heal, but I don’t know how to do that. The only thing I feel I can do now is leave, so that is what I am doing at this point.

        What my wife does not realize is that my daughter HAS to go through those tough things early in her life in order to understand people, and of course understand herself, so when she gets older she can handle tough situations. I believe that my wife is prolonging the struggle my daughter will inevitably go through later, and it will be that much more difficult because it won’t be at a child level it will be at an adult level, where the consequences of wrong choices will be much greater.

        I weep for my oldest daughter, and she has absolutely no ability to understand any of this even if I talk to her.

        You say Religious Trauma Syndrome. Is there a stronger term to define this? I feel it is not truly indicative of the pain that it causes.

        Liked by 1 person

  59. Ann Palmo says:

    I don’t know if I suffered from Religious Trauma, but I am still working through some very bad religious experiences. I still have difficulty getting involved in any church group activities. I keep somewhat separate from other members due to the bad experiences I had. I was ostracized by other young people, as my parents were rather poor and most of the members were well to do and were mostly Southern bred Christians, and my parents were newcomers. I was raised in a very fundamental legalistic, Christian Church. The members and leaders were not bad, but were so legalistic, that I never felt good about myself. I remember feeling “spiritually depressed” most of the time. I stayed with the church until my parents passed away and have now in my late 50’s found a church that is a great place to worship God. I leave feeling good. I want to do more for God. I don’t feel weak, guilty and impure as I did previously. It is sad that I had to spend 55 years in a place that stifled my soul. It is so important for each of us to search for the right life with God for ourselves and not stay for family or habit.

    Liked by 1 person

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  62. anonymous says:

    I was born and raised in an apostolic cult, (LWAF) in Chicago,IL and it has pretty much ruined my life. All the man made rules and teachings that were instilled in me as a small child has been the cause of some serious psychological issues. I think I got it worse than anyone because I was born into it, and both my parents are ministers/ pastors. All my life I have felt out of place because I was told that I was different than everyone else. I was kept from outside family members(cousins, aunts, and uncles) that were not a part of our religion. We were told that watching television was a sin, wearing jewelry was a sin, women were not allowed to cut their hair or wear paints or makeup. We were not allowed to date, and could not even wear a wedding band or engagement ring. Couples had to get the pastor’s approval before engagement and marriage, and had to marry with a watch instead of a ring. I am glad I found this site, I feel better knowing there is nothing wrong with me and that all these issues were caused by a religious cult. I still believe in God and choose to do right instead of wrong, but I now know that I was a victim of people’s ignorance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What an ordeal. So many people, even many who aren’t religious think that religion is benign. They just have no idea of the emotional and psychological cost many pay–how it can derail a person’s life for years or even decades–how some spend a lifetime healing. I’m so glad you have found a better path.

      Liked by 1 person

  63. Jim Rousch says:

    All religions should be banned, and every place of worship should be torn down, with a mental rehabilitation center erected in its place. Free help-courtesy of the religions which destroyed people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That seems a bit extreme, but I do fantasize sometimes about holding religious institutions accountable legally for the harm they do and for false advertising.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Amy says:

        It is so unfortunate that the U.S.’ insistence (right though it is) upon “freedom of religion” has had the bad side effect of shielding religious groups from being held accountable the way they should be.

        Like

  64. Roalnd Frank says:

    I became a christian through an assemblies church that was tied in heavily to YWAM.years later i went to YWAM. I ended up having panic attacks for a year and on medication.I have never fully recovered from the pschological damage.there were times in my life when I was not attending church and just living my own life was when I was the most happiest.Sometimes fundamentalism brings a lot of stress into your life.

    Liked by 1 person

  65. Roalnd Frank says:

    There are times that I felt that preachers in general just want to get at your pocetbook, and they are experts at it.At my old A of G church I was told that the pastor was yelling” Where have you robbed me,you have robbed me in tithes and offerings!”I had left years ago but heard from a member.I have been to so many bad churches,I think that the assemblys of god and pentecostal churches are one of the worst.They teach that you can lose your salvation.I remember listening to a kieth green concert in the 70;s and thinking this guy is whacked.Very extreme teaching.If I had known what I know now, I would have taken some courses in psychology and became a dive instructor/yoga instructor in hawaii.

    Liked by 1 person

  66. Roalnd Frank says:

    YWAM SUCKS!!!!! I wish that somone would do a documentary on this harm
    ful dangerous group!heavy handed leadership and brain-washing is their calling card.

    Liked by 1 person

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  69. Garlynne says:

    I can relate to Dr. Tarico on many aspects of experience. My wife became a born again Christian 3 years ago. Since then it has had an adverse effect on our marriage. Is the religion to blame, or is my wife crazy? This is the question that constantly needs to be addressed. From all of the people I have encountered in her congregation, they all share some strange similarity and yet, they are quite diverse ethnically. They all come from tragic upbringings whether it be dysfunctional families, violence, multiple broken marriages, trauma, tragedy or some other life altering experiences that drew them to the church. I see them as injured children who are constantly seeking approval, love and acceptance.

    Liked by 2 people

  70. Rebekah Redus says:

    I thought it was just me..

    Liked by 1 person

  71. nenamatahari says:

    Reblogged this on Breaking Out of the Box and commented:
    Religious abuse does a lot of damage to people to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

  72. nenamatahari says:

    I know what she is talking about first hand. I am a victim of religious abuse. I still suffer the effects of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  73. Joel Lanier says:

    Jesus died to cover the inequity of our Guilt and wrongdoings. He came to set us free from all of that. He is the healthy way. Unfortunately, Organized Religion has generated a class of professional people who make their living off of the guilt and sin of the people. There is money, glory and recognition and the ability to become a someone by doing religious activities. It’s too bad that the motivation for all of this is to cover up personal guilt and inadequacy. Jesus never had that in mind. He came to protect and nurture. He wants us to be like him by us letting Him be in us. It is ok to call sin sin, and go to him because we need His perspective to be whole. So He works in me minute by minute, much like any good counselor which folks might look to. It is sad to see so much mis-directed guilt ridden religion over what is a good thing. Many religious people have a hard time believing that they are forgiven (I’m not talking about breaking of religious rules made up by men, but true wrong doings, which we have all done and know about.) They refuse to accept God’s forgiveness and healing in Jesus Christ. They would rather proceed to make their own religious garments of activities to cover everything, including false guilt. In the process the ones who proclaim the Christ, whom they really don’t believe in, damage many people through manipulative guilt.

    We need to get back to basics as Christians. Christ died for us because He loves us despite our sorry state, and wants us to believe in Him as The Counselor. He came to heal the sick, including sick in heart. The ones that need Jesus the most, are the ones who refuse let him in (Frequently the most religious). All that is required is that to agree with His assessment and offer and follow Him. As for me, I have had enough of religion, but I really need Jesus all the time, not because of guilt, but because He (and only He) is really good! And I like His way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Doesn’t it strike you as a bit arrogant to say that you know what Jesus intended, when scholars have a hard time even piecing together when and where he existed, if he did? Does it not strike you as a bit arrogant to assert, while making handed down assertions about Jesus based on handed down texts, that your religion, unlike all the others, somehow isn’t a religion?

      Liked by 3 people

  74. stacygturner says:

    Reblogged this on stacygturner and commented:
    Worth following.

    Liked by 1 person

  75. Pingback: Vridar » Some Christmas Holiday Reading

  76. Alan says:

    Great Post. I believe that I am dealing with RTS right now as the result of going through 2 years at a Christian faith based addiction rehabilitation program. This program isolated me from my family and told me that God would heal me through my faith. I was told that the sooner I said the sinner’s prayer the sooner Christ would begin working in my life.. Myself and the other men in the program were completely immersed in Christian doctrine with very little contact to the outside world for the entire program. The staff at the facility were completely untrained and uneducated in dealing with addiction and recovery and I was constantly told that I had to pray harder to be released from my troubles. I was told that relapse was a result of my sin nature and that I wasn’t trusting enough in Him if I had thoughts of using again. Fear of the ‘real world’ was a constant teaching and formal accredited education was taught to be full of untruths and lies. Science and evidence were taught to be some kind of conspiracy by the non believers and ultimately by the enemy satan.. I watched many men come and go, most feeling more angry and hopeless than they were before they arrived. Most including myself relapsed shortly after leaving the program and when we did were offered little help other than returning for another year long program where we were to be paraded around churches giving testimonies that generated sponsorship from the Christian communities and working for free to bring money into the program. This experience has been nothing but traumatic for me and as a result I am more isolated from my children and direct family that ever before. I have sought out professional counseling and am currently dealing with my issues. I have walked away from the church but feel very alone, judged and let down. How could I have been so stupid to believe in this. This ‘recovery’ program has had a extremely negative affect on me and your article has helped because I now see that I’m not alone in the way I feel. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  77. Pingback: Religious Trauma Syndrome: Is it Real? (Valerie Tarico) | Scott Nevins Memorial

  78. Sarie says:

    Thankyou for this. I’ve been searching for this info. I grew up in an extremely full on assembly of god church. ( as in there would be meetings/ prayer/ music practice/ revival meetings etc pretty much every day.) I feel as though I was brainwashed in a damaging way. I left 13 years ago and I still haven’t completely recovered from the negative pattern of thought, constant self analysis and self loathing and guilt and anxiety

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sarie says:

      So Thankyou for writing this, its good to know other people understand and that thewhat I’ve been feeling is an actual thing. I spent a long time feeling shellshocked, trying to make sense of the world and build up my own identity.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Amy says:

      I highly recommend counseling with a licensed psychotherapist. It helped me tremendously when I got out of the cult I was in to overcome the resulting PTSD, and to gain a healthy, positive view of myself.

      Like

  79. jean says:

    Hello , I’m a Filipino .. I feel lonely in my life . I can’t understand my Mom she’s very religious pentecostal/Born again .. But my Father was not a religious man . Our family is broken . I lived alone from ny family .coz my mom work in abroad she left me here in her friend they are very religious , Her friend is a birn again Christian . She enrolled me in ministry even if im not ready . I can’t say no because I don’t want my Mom to be disappoint to me . Please help me . I can’t get out of this life .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jean-
      I am so sorry that you are in this situation. At this point in your life, your best path may be simply to learn what you can (whatever is of value) from the people around you, and bide your time with regard to religion. Think of using where you are as a stepping stone to where you want to be. I went to an evangelical college and in hindsight the insider understanding of Christianity has been helpful to me as a psychologist and as someone who now seeks to help those in recovery from fundamentalism. Understanding the Bible and the way that religion can capture the emotions–or understanding how religion builds community–these are very valuable in understanding human nature and the course of history and politics. So, if you are interested in any of these broader areas of knowledge, perhaps you might think of your present course of studies as research. Until you find like minded people and are free to associate with them, you may have to rely on virtual, on-line communities for the company of kindred people. There are places specific to recovering from religion–like ExChristian.net. There are also many websites for people who are simply curious. I imbedded a bunch of links of this sort in my article, http://valerietarico.com/2013/01/18/religion-may-not-survive-the-internet/.

      Warmly,
      Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

  80. Pingback: “I just don’t believe this anymore”: Why I abandoned my faith - Atheist Boutique

  81. Amy says:

    Great article. I got PTSD as a result of my membership in a Christian cult, and it’s all the same symptoms. But calling it RTS is a good way of putting it in a specific context in order to treat it correctly. It’s really hard when people come out of an authoritarian church or cult or other religious group, and are completely on their own with it, don’t even realize what they were in, or try to get help from people who don’t have knowledge for this kind of trauma. The more knowledgeable support that is out there for us, the better!

    I joined the cult (ICOC) in 1990 and left it in 2004. In 1997 I started having panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. When I finally went to the doctor about the attacks, he prescribed Celexa and that was all that was done (I never would have dared to talk about suicidal thoughts with “lost non-members”–to the outside world I had to act happy!). After leaving the group, I sought counseling at the behest of my husband who saw that I had become anti-social and depressed over a few years. In the first or second session (in which I cried almost constantly), my counselor (a Christian) said to me, “You were in a cult, and you have PTSD.” Whoa!! In that one sentence it was like I had been released from a tiny jail cell and was free out in the bright sun for the first time since I joined. I had a LOT of healing to do but my worldview was changed. Over the next 2 years I continued counseling, and did a lot of studying about cults, spiritual abuse and recovery from them. I participated in an online forum about the ICOC and it was great to commune with other ex-members. I am actually glad that I saw a Christian counselor because she at least knew the basic doctrine and the commonalities that all churches share, and didn’t try to influence/change my religious beliefs (which I did on my own). All my PTSD symptoms were gone after 2 years.

    Like

  82. Jamie Marich says:

    Thanks for the piece! If you are interested in connecting, check out some of the work I’m doing on a bit broader of a concept called spiritual abuse: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/02/spiritual-abuse-yes-its-a-real-thing/

    Like

  83. gretchenj173 says:

    Thank you for this article, it is very insightful. As a former evangelical, I do agree with much of what you wrote. A book called, ‘Toxic Faith’, as well makes similar observations. I’ve seen or experienced firsthand some of the abuses (including marriage destroying by outsiders). I will suggest that RTS is not confined to evangelicalism, but also pentecostal branches (observed from my counseling practice). Truthfully, real faith is not defined by labels but by a heart of compassion, kindness, and generosity; it was modeled, though isn’t much followed, by Christ.

    Like

  84. Reblogged this on In Jeweled Tones and commented:
    Oh, how I wish I had a counselor for myself for this specific thing:

    Like

  85. Nora says:

    i have a question and i don’t want to hear anything about this god or that god, i know a young woman who was extremely smart and had even gotten her own book published. Her father was a shamon and her mother was a catholic. when she finally moved out of her mother’s house, she opened up about being a “in the closest wiccan”. That was 3 years ago. i recently talked to her after hearing that she was at the doctors office and learned that she was going on a daily basis for stomach uclers, inablilty to sleep, trouble focusing, lack of apatite and anti social desires when normally she was a very social person. I thought it was just stress and said so and she said they ruled that one out. I asked about the guy who was with her and it was her boyfriend who she said she loved. Thats when she said that she had decided to give up her wiccan ways and become a christian like him in order to improve their relationship. She figured that if she wasn’t talking to nature or doing her chanting and mediating thing and actually agreed that there was one god, and a male god, the relationship would greatly improve. my question is this, Is it possible that the sudden change in religion from something that made her extremely happy to something that she didn’t honestly believe cause her to become so sickly?

    Like

    • Hi Nora –
      That does sound like an enormous loss and change for her, and I’m guessing that her doctor might be exploring a similar set of questions. Even if there is another physical cause for her symptoms, I have to wonder about emotional health issues. When someone gives up that much of herself to be with another person, I find myself wondering why she would give up so much? Was she already wounded in some way? Is something keeping her from being able to live by her own yearnings and aspirations and sense of what is real?

      Like

  86. Valerie, I love your work, having myself survived my first 20 years of being raised a fundamentalist zealot and left it to become – to my own surprise – atheist, and then to evolve in a direction some might call spiritual, though atheist it remains in any literal sense.

    I have a question regarding the non-theist congregations. It’s my observation that most of fundamentalist christianity is a cult of authority – mostly patriarchal – with “God” serving as the booming scary voice of the Wizards of Oz – the pastors. It’s also important to not just have enough of a bad experience – “This church is horribly abusive!” – but to see through the curtain and exit, not to another rival organization with the exact same problems under other names, but to a different way of operating.

    I think non-hierarchical, community-consensus groups that have learned the lessons of human hierarchies of power and fear under the guise of “putting God first” are the necessary counter to religious abuse.

    Do you see reconfiguring our methods of social congregation as a primary tool to counter abusive religious structures?

    Also, have you ever read M. Scott Peck’s book “People of the Lie”? It will likely foster some complicated reactions particularly on the subject of exorcism, but he makes comments about how easy-in church conversions and authority structures create an all-too-convenient cover for malignant sociopaths to operate behind.

    Since malignant religion is a human creation, how do we avoid creating another trap for ourselves when we leave it?

    Like

    • That is a great question, because I think there is a risk in people gathering around charismatic figures and oversimplified life scripts whether those include the supernatural element or not. I think of communism, for example, as a secular economic philosophy that took on many of the characteristics of a religion, replete with dogmas, saints, sins, etc. There are models for spiritual gatherings that are not hierarchical — the Quaker meeting, for example–but they tend to be less viral, I think for that very reason.

      Like

  87. Lauren says:

    There are so many sides to this & I am so saddened to hear how many times this has been people’s experiences. My heart breaks that so many have missed the heart of God through “man” & “his ways.” I hate to be the bringer of bad news but that’s all of us. Those men we speak about, those people who hurt intentionally & unintentionally, who control situations & who judge..that’s all of us. And to say you don’t do it too is just lying to yourself. How many times have you walked down the road & judged someone’s hair or clothing? How many times have you hurt a friend? We are all human beings, not doings & although I have experienced this myself in a lot of ways, I can’t help but be humbled by how much we need this Jesus bloke in our world. Forget what we think religion looks like. Have you experienced his joy? His love? His peace? I have. And I’ve never been the same. Now before you write me off too & join the judgement bandwagon, bear with me. My last year has been horrible. An abusive ex husband who used religion as a cover for his own mistakes, a mask he so eloquently wore so well. I too have been through religious control at its finest, the wrong people getting awards for all the wrong things. Promoted for what? Doing what we were called to do..love others. But I’m telling you, I prefer to have a gentle heart than an unforgiving, ungracious & bitter one. I would prefer to take what has been done, & let Jesus turn the mess into a message. Yes it’s not ideal, no I would have preferred not to go through it but I am reminded..His perfections cover our imperfections & we are all imperfect people. Although it’s not an excuse for behaviour, people operate out of what they know to believe to be true at the time, don’t we all? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, sometimes you’re blind when you’re right in the middle of it. Everyone definitely is on their own journey. The church needs Jesus just like the world does, we all do. That God gap can’t be filled by anyone but Him. I’m so sorry that the love of the father wasn’t reflected in the heart of the people, now we have a choice to be that for someone else. Hugs xx

    Like

  88. Tjay says:

    ANY belief system built on self-deception is harmful. Dysfunctional families often live on a web of lies. See if there is a malignant narcissist at the center. They project their symptoms onto others.

    Like

  89. Pingback: Churches are using creepy facial recognition technology to track congregants — here’s why | digger666

  90. mast3rblast3r says:

    Glad there’s a name for it and is getting more attention. But these phenomena have been observed and documented for decades going all the way back to Carl Jung (Freud’s protege) who observed that too much conscious control exerted over the basic instincts, like food and sex (two things that almost every religion tries to control in one form or another, that is, what you are allowed to eat or drink or put in your body, and who, when and how you are allowed to have sex) results in neurosis. He didn’t say “increased the likelihood”. Simply stated an inevitable cause and effect. It is no coincidence that the majority of child sexual abuse takes place in the bible belt where the prevailing religions shame sexuality. As Jung pointed out, your subconscious demands to be dealt with, so the things you repress tend to come back but in a mutated, perverse form of it’s original state. Unhealthy religions are basically neurosis factories.

    Like

  91. mast3rblast3r says:

    Glad there’s a name for it and is getting more attention. But these phenomena have been observed and documented for decades going all the way back to Carl Jung (Freud’s protege) who observed that too much conscious control exerted over the basic instincts, like food and sex (two things that almost every religion tries to control in one form or another, that is, what you are allowed to eat or drink or put in your body, and who, when and how you are allowed to have sex) results in neurosis. He didn’t say “increased the likelihood”. Simply stated an inevitable cause and effect. It is no coincidence that the majority of child sexual abuse takes place in the bible belt where the prevailing religions shame sexuality. As Jung pointed out, your subconscious demands to be dealt with, so the things you repress tend to come back but in a mutated, perverse form of it’s original state. Unhealthy religions are basically neurosis factories.

    Like

    • Sha'Tara says:

      as in… what you resist, persists. Of course that’s too simplistic, but that is what happens to anyone resisting instinctive impulses without self-empowerment, i.e., under duress. It is, of course, in the nature of an empowered human to choose this or that over one’s basic desires, but for that to be a real choice, it must be entirely free of compulsory external force. Self-empowerment, sadly, is not something taught in Christianity and perhaps was lost a long time ago to the entire planet. It is my understanding that the “ancient” Buddhist monks practiced that sort of thing, before they made the Buddha into a god. The “problem” with self-empowerment is that it does not fit within any collective agenda, regardless of how basic (family unit) or large (empire) that collective is.

      Liked by 1 person

  92. Since I am a retired minister on pension, and married with children, I hesitate to reblog your site.
    Nevertheless, I have followed similar paths as others who read and give comments. Religion is a human manufactured institution that has always been constructed by those who intend to control others by controlling their beliefs, including their worldview.

    As far back as we look in history and archeology, religion has had the modus operandi. The chaotic morass of religious groups is one more example of the age-old story of the few conspiring to enslave the many.

    So many well-meaning religious leaders have been trained to carry out programs of religious dogma, believing that it is the honest-to-God truth, when it is completely opposite to the teachings of a person like Jesus. Jesus has been mythologized to appear to be the one person of holy birth created by God. Yet Jesus quotes a psalm to ask, “Don’t you know that you are gods?”

    The Bible is replete with evidence of events and sayings that have been wrongly misinterpreted, and/or intentionally twisted to support a doctrine manufactured by religious leaders. Religion and establishment history has hidden, distorted, and left out history to control beliefs and evidence of human origins for the purpose of controlling human self-understanding and its resulting expanded worldview.

    My move away from active ministry had evolved. In retirement my research has reinforced most of what I have just stated.

    Liked by 1 person

  93. Sha'Tara says:

    Would you consider it a fair comment to say that, if one truly wanted to try to be an actual follower or disciple of Jesus (not the Christ: that was an added title to move Jesus into the Greek pantheon, making him a god and distancing him from his Jewish roots) according to the demands he made in the gospels, one would first and foremost have to completely abandon one’s religion? Pushing this further, isn’t true that discipleship to Jesus entails total detachment from all the “things of earth” including one’s closest family? “If anyone would be my disciple and does not hate… and etc.” seems to say it clearly. So what are all those billions expecting when claiming to believe in “Christ” but completely failing in taking on the responsibilities that are commanded by Jesus? If they are “saved” as claimed, doesn’t that make Jesus out to be a liar and con artist?

    Like

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