Faith and Trauma
At this time of year, with the holidays upon us and a greater visibility of faith and religion, it is important to realize that this may be particularly difficult for trauma survivors. The impact of trauma and abuse on spirituality and faith is not one that we talk about much.
According to Bessel van der Kolk, “the essence of psychological trauma is the loss of faith that there is order and continuity in life.” As human beings, we seek meaning and purpose and this loss can be profoundly wounding.
There are many ways that going through a traumatic experience can change one’s faith or spirituality.
One way is by becoming angry at your higher power. This can be seen in the questions about why God would let this happen. It can lead to people leaving their faith, thus cutting off a potential source of support, coping, or further meaning making.
The feeling of being godforsaken is common, particularly among those with chronic abuse and trauma. These chronic experiences lead a person to wonder how there could possibly be a higher power who would allow this and to feel either forsaken by God or to conclude that there must be no higher power at all.
Some trauma survivors believe that they are being punished by God. This is particularly damaging as it points to some inherent badness about the person that is so terrible it had to be punished by their higher power. This can result in profound hopelessness and helplessness in an individual.
Finding a way to reconnect with one’s faith or finding new meaning and purpose in another tradition can help lead to healing of both the spiritual wounds and the psychological wounds.