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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Why Talk About Religious Trauma?

As people began sharing their stories of trauma, the ripples of healing began to spread from one person to the next as more and more became willing to talk. As an advocate who supports those who have experienced childhood trauma, it is rare when a story shared with me doesn’t include elements of religious trauma. It is also rare for the person sending the email to identify the trauma as religious.

Until five years ago, I would not have recognized religious trauma as part of my story. Accepting the existence and impact of trauma was a slow awakening for me as it is for many others—recognizing religious trauma in my story took even longer.

Why is acknowledging religious trauma difficult? It could be denial since it is hard to accept that those who are called to help also sometimes harm. Also, it is not a subject that I have ever heard discussed in any legitimate way within the church. Naming religious trauma or defining it can almost immediately cause one to feel uncomfortable. There is often an uproar about harming the cause of Christ when people share their stories. And finally, the problem can simply be a lack of necessary vocabulary to express what you sense to be true.

While the topic will be discussed in my next book—the working title is Trauma in the Pews 2.0: Healing as a Spiritual Practice—I feel it is necessary to step into the arena to share information and begin the discussion before the publication date. Publishing never moves as quickly as I would like it to! Thus, starting this next week, I will begin a series of blogs that will define Religious Trauma (the umbrella term I use for several types of abuse), offer perspectives, and share additional resources.

While my next book is specifically about how to adapt spiritual practices for the purpose of healing, this blog series will not be. Why not? Because I am writing these blogs for an audience that does not necessarily desire to pursue faith because of the religious trauma they have experienced. To paraphrase what an individual told me recently, “Could someone talk about healing religious trauma without using religion as the path to do so?”

Yes, that is what we most often do. We ask people to heal with the very thing that harmed them. I am not going to do that in this series of blogs. For those who know or follow me, this does not mean I don’t think faith played a part in my healing; it means this cannot be true for everyone. Healing comes first.

This Religious Trauma series will begin--in the next blog--by defining terms. Yes, the researcher in me want to do this, but I am also informed by the Princess Bride quote when Inigo Montoya says, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” It is important to be on the same page! The posts will arrive on the blog on Friday, and I will share them on social media on Monday. So, stand by!

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Oct 10, 2023

Thank you for doing this, “for helping my daughter heal”. This is another layer to that healing that is still very much in the beginning stages. Try as I may and I have over the last 3 years, church just hasn’t found it’s way back into my life, but I hope that one day… one day it will. Annette


Oct 07, 2023

Looking forward to the wisdom you have been given.


Oct 06, 2023

Nice twist


Oct 03, 2023

So looking forward to this!

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