“Trauma-inducing experiences can vary greatly, ranging from teachings about hellfire, damnation, original sin, or belief in the rapture to public shaming or being ‘slain in the Spirit’ to repeated instances of stigmatization, isolation, or abuse—be it sexual, emotional, social, or physical.”
A Slade Expert
The assumption ingrained in society regarding religion is benign. Theoretically, the beliefs of religion heal the afflicted while practically ignoring the other emotional needs of individuals. This way, the consequences are severe, resulting in Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS).
A few psychologists and psychotherapists recognize the implications of RTS, while the majority are yet in the learning phase, or they entirely deny the notion. The framework is recognized by the following symptoms, which vary with the severity level, including social and cultural, affective, cognitive, and functional issues.
To be specific, the issues particularly include a decreased sense of self-worth, a struggle with fitting in the religious group, a struggle with building relationships with family and friends, poor critical thinking power, and many more.
The RTS occurs as two-fold trauma: first includes the prolonged abuse resulting due to the existence of indoctrination by the religious community from imposing authoritative and controlling regulations. Secondly, many reject religious beliefs by leaving the controlling religious group. The ideas often conveyed through the RTS revolve around the notions: “You are not safe” and “You are not okay.”
The more religion and state are intertwined, the more oppression is caused. Thus, many, as a result, leave the controlling religious group. The subsequent act causes a major traumatic event for individuals, impacting people at varying levels of magnitude.
According to a survey, approximately 21.9% experienced religious trauma, including sexual abuse scandals and hypocrisy in the Catholic Church. At the same time, 14.9% of respondents left the religious community due to personal adversity like unwelcoming behavior of the religious community and social reasons. Since religious communities constitute the pillar of individuals’ life, offering social support and a sense of purpose along with emotional satisfaction. Leaving access to those resources creates a void, ultimately causing one to observe a significant loss.
Nonetheless, the impact of religious trauma has varying magnitude on each individual, ultimately blurring the line between self-esteem and self-identity.
“Choosing to avoid talking about money, sex, religion, or mental health doesn’t make them go away. Each of these taboo subjects is part of the human experience, and to exclude them from normal life is silly, in fact impossible.”
– Natalie M. Esparza
The toxic positivity anchored by the religious communities and their ideologies promotes a positive mindset and happiness while ignoring the painful emotions, hence, leading to suppressing emotions and fueling the problems in the long term. However, the underlying issue doesn’t resolve and looms around, deteriorating mental health and, in some cases forcing the individuals to leave the religious community. Thus, the symptoms of RTS drive the need for counseling.
Such that Adam Elmasri, residing in Australia while entrenching his roots in Egypt, practices religious trauma counseling along with contributing as a life coach, human rights activist, and content creator. He identified the gap in Arabic resources to support the existence and purpose of religious, academic study. Thereby, he improvised his knowledge in the following domain and attained the certification to pursue life coaching and counseling to facilitate individuals enduring faith and identity crises.
As a result, in 2021, Elmasri initiated online sessions to assist individuals in conquering their fears of being judged by society and unpacking their baggage of trauma to live fulfilling life. In order to create awareness about religious trauma, he started creating content on YouTube and conducted public debates and interviews in collaboration with other influencers and artists – a way to help people to recover from feeling paralyzed due to flawed principles of religion.
Elmasri believes religious trauma paves the way for disconnection from the community, hence causing one to question their identity. With his content and counseling sessions, he ensures to guide individuals to navigate through the challenges by drawing a non-judgmental space so the individuals, without hesitation, can share their experiences. Thus, counseling helps to foster a sense of acceptance by overcoming the fear of being dissociated from the community.
Religious trauma impacts various aspects of life – both holistically and individually. Apart from the disconnection with the community, the subsequent leads one to experience alienation from the family in terms of encountering rejections. The counseling sessions shed light on the teachings of adopting an ethical approach without incorporating religious beliefs.
Religious trauma isn’t ‘normalized’ in the community yet, which is why either the victims feel ashamed to talk about it or doubt themselves. Simultaneously, a similar scenario is experienced when finding the right therapist. However, Elmasri is known for strong religious values based on academic studies which support LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, particularly in the Middle East. Due to his unshakeable beliefs and commitment, he feeds the power of growth in others by validating their emotions.
By tailoring sessions, Elmasri empowers individuals to overcome obstacles by cultivating the power of self-esteem. While not ignoring the underlying issue encountered by the majority, he authored the book How Did Christianity Begin… REALLY? in Arabic in February 2022, presenting the historical analysis of the birth of Christianity. Presently, he is in the process of launching another book titled The Art of Disbelief: Building Bridges in Faith-Based Discussions.
The emotional damage does not disappear overnight. Since indoctrination is powerfully ingrained during childhood that the fear of judgment stays for a long time – hampering confidence and self-esteem. Elmasri, nonetheless, recognizes the implications and caters to the solution by offering to counsel as well as creating awareness with the aid of his content.