Religious Trauma Syndrome

During one of my bouts with anxiety, I saw a Christian counselor. She listened to me talk about my fears. Then she asked, “Did something happen to you during your childhood?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Were you abused?”




She could not understand how a person could develop this type of anxiety for basically no reason. I had explained that the anxiety, panic, and depression manifested after 9/11, but that I remember having similar, just less extreme fears as a child. She felt certain that something I endured during my childhood was the cause. It took me five years to realize what that something was.

It was religion.

After telling a dear friend that that I was no longer a Christian, she pointed me to an online interview with a lady named Reba Riley. Reba talked about her recently published book “Post Traumatic Church Syndrome” which chronicles the pain she went through during and after Christianity. I immediately identified and began researching the topic further.

I found out about a psychiatrist named Marlene Winell who incidentally began counseling people who suffered from the negative effects of Christianity. She has since coined the term “religious trauma syndrome” and is pushing for its listing in the DMS.

Winell writes, ”The doctrines of original sin and eternal damnation cause the most psychological distress by creating the ultimate double bind. You are guilty and responsible, and face eternal punishment. Yet you have no ability to do anything about it.”

Dr. Winell lists the symptoms of religious trauma syndrome and I exhibited almost all of them.

*poor critical thinking ability
*negative beliefs about self-ability & self-worth
*black & white thinking
*difficulty with decision-making
*unfamiliarity with secular world
*information gaps (science)

While my critical thinking ability is rather good, I suppressed it for so long and forced myself into cognitive dissonance. Negative beliefs about self-worth is inevitable in a Christian mind. One can’t truly be a Christian unless he believes he is worthless and deserving of eternal damnation. I saw everything in black and white and always looked for black and white answers. The times where a black and white answer was not available, were the times I experienced anxiety. I am a perfectionist in some areas, not all – definitely when it came to doing God’s will. And yes! I certainly had information gaps. HUGE ones! In high school and college, if something did not coincide with my biblical world view, I simply tuned it out. I learned nothing about the age of the earth, fossils, or anything that did not support a literal six day creation.

visions of symmetry

MC Escher “Visions of Symmetry”

Learning about religious trauma syndrome gave me much longed for peace and comfort. I was not crazy and I certainly was not alone. Yes, a lot of people can go through a fundamental belief system and remain unharmed. But for those of us whose brains are wired a bit differently or feel emotions a bit more intensely, the indocrinization proves to be severely detrimental.


2 thoughts on “Religious Trauma Syndrome

  1. Trauma is right. It feels like withdraws and Delerium tremors and Fitts too. The Soma is wearing off and I’m starting to feel myself again, but I don’t fully know or trust who that is yet.


  2. We are on the same wavelength today! I mentioned Religious Trauma Syndrome in my post “‘Winning'” Kids to Jesus through Manipulation and Fear.” I am so glad that you mentioned those resources because as I was writing the post I realized that there is WAY more trauma there than I had realized.

    Liked by 1 person

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