Transcending the Flames of Hell: Healing from Harmful Religion
Updated: Aug 20
An angry judgmental God can stay in our heads long after we leave the church. It has been said that the voice of our parents becomes our inner voice (in therapist circles, anyway- is this saying common knowledge?). The same is true of religions we are raised in and by.
Are you suffering from the consequences of being raised in a harmful religion? These are some of the symptoms people have reported in life after an authoritarian or fundamentalist church:
-Quite literally, nightmares of burning in hell (or trying not to).
-Incessant worry that you are doing something wrong- or, more accurately, that you are something wrong.
-Difficulty trusting your thoughts, feelings, and instincts- more specifically, not feeling entitled to your own thoughts.
-Trouble relaxing and enjoying yourself, especially sexually.
-Significant anxiety. -People pleasing fueled by worry that others are judging you.
-Strong inner critic (often unconscious, at first). -Lack of closeness or rejection from your family (it is hard to connect when you develop a different worldview, which is seen as opposing).
-Tough time finding direction without the guidance of the church.
-Deep inner conflict about your sexuality or gender identity, particularly if not straight or cisgender.
-Low self-esteem; feelings of worthlessness.
This list is not exhaustive. Consider it a starting point to pause and reflect. If you have suspicions that you are needing some support recovering from harmful religion, you are probably right. Recovery can feel like navigating a field of land mines on your own. We can help you find your footing through this difficult terrain.
To make things more confusing, you may have been taught mixed messages- that God was loving and accepting but also vengeful and punishing (as evidenced by the belief that some people are condemned to burn in hell for all eternity). The rules may have been different for certain people, like girls and boys. These types of mixed messages can be crazy making- but you can get past them.
My work in helping people heal from this particular type of trauma- and, make no mistake, it is traumatic- involves assisting you in finding your own voice separate from the church (versus that extremely harsh inner critic you may have developed), knowing, loving, and trusting your self, and finding true belonging and community in new and healthy relationships.
In time, your life can look and feel entirely different- good from the inside out. Having a counselor who has worked with these struggles and is prepared to take a longterm, compassionate, and trauma informed approach on this journey with you is key.
The devastation left by harmful religion- and the inner turmoil that brought you to the point of leaving or being rejected by the church- is nothing short of overwhelming. But, most likely, you are safe, now (and, if not, we will work to get you there). It is my job to support you in feeling that safety- the first step in healing- and creating a healthier happier life from there- from the inside out.
You can build a new life after religious trauma. I have seen it firsthand. And, there are things that we can do to help you.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by religious trauma, don't hesitate to get in touch with me or another trusted therapist who can assist you in this arduous process. It is well worth it.
Yours in Healing,