When Religion Hurts You
Healing from Religious Trauma and the Impact of High-Control Religion
by Laura E. Anderson
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Pub Date 17 Oct 2023 | Archive Date 15 Dec 2023
Baker Academic & Brazos Press, Brazos Press
"An exposé of the dangers of high-control religions that makes it easier to recognize and resist religious abuse."--Foreword Reviews
Religious trauma is something that happens far more often than most people realize. But religious trauma is trauma.
In When Religion Hurts You, Dr. Laura Anderson takes an honest look at a side of religion that few like to talk about. Drawing from her own life and therapy practice, she helps readers understand what religious trauma is and isn't, and how high-control churches can be harmful and abusive, often resulting in trauma. She shows how elements of fundamentalist church life--such as fear of hell, purity culture, corporal punishment, and authoritarian leaders--can cause psychological, relational, physical, and spiritual damage.
As she explores the growing phenomenon of religious trauma, Dr. Anderson helps readers embark on a journey of living as healing individuals and finding a new foundation to stand on. Recognizing that healing is a lifelong rather than a linear process, she offers markers of healing for those coming out of painful religious experiences and hope for finding wholeness after religious trauma.
“A brilliant blend of anecdotal and academic, this book offers a compassionate road map for those recovering from religious trauma. Dr. Anderson offers guidance on how to put lives back together and provides a thorough resource for mental health professionals to help them counsel others in the process. Poignant and personal, this book is a must-have for anyone in the muddy aftermath of their exit from high-control or extreme religious groups.”—Sarah Edmondson, author of Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult That Bound My Life
“Dr. Laura Anderson has written a must-read for those who want to deconstruct the complexity of religious trauma through a lens that is not only scientific but also compassionate. This book is for every person who has experienced shame, guilt, self-doubt, and self-hate within religious contexts.”—Yolanda Renteria, licensed professional counselor
“When Religion Hurts You is the most comprehensive, reflective, and helpful book about recovering from religious trauma and church abuse that I’ve ever read. Using research, personal experience, and her training as a therapist, Dr. Laura Anderson offers a powerful and poignant methodology toward healing. I needed to read When Religion Hurts You. Anderson’s wisdom is practical and full of empathy, personal and so very hopeful.”—Matthew Paul Turner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of What Is God Like?
“Both compassionate and wise, When Religion Hurts You is the informative guide needed when making sense of and healing from the disorienting and painful experience of religious trauma. I plan to read and reread it, and I believe it will be a book people can come back to repeatedly on their path to individual and community healing.”—Hillary L. McBride, PhD, psychologist, author, speaker, podcaster
“I remember when I first started drawing cartoons and writing posts about religious trauma long ago, so many people claimed it was rare and I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Now we know differently, and more people are talking about it. I’m so thankful such a compassionate and wise professional like Dr. Laura has provided a valuable resource that will help people not only to understand what religious trauma is but also to find a holistic path of healing beyond it.”—David Hayward, a.k.a. NakedPastor
“When Religion Hurts You is a valuable addition to the robust literature on helping people recover from trauma due to either being born into a religious group that isn’t healthy or being deceptively recruited into a religious cult. I am pleased to endorse this book and its recommendations.”—Steven Hassan, PhD, MEd, LMHC, NCC, founder and director, Freedom of Mind Resource Center Inc.
Available on NetGalley
When Religion Hurts You: Healing from Religious Trauma and the Impact of High-Control Religion is an absolutely fantastic book and the first of its kind that I've had the pleasure of reading. Laura Anderson is so knowledgeable and experienced on the topic of religious trauma, and her writing is both accessible and deeply informative. She uses her own experience as a roadmap of sorts, and highlights all the ways adverse religious experiences have impacted her and what she's learned along the way.
Something I truly appreciate about this book is Anderson's unbiased tone throughout her writing; she approaches the subject of religious trauma with compassion and leads the reader toward a deeper understanding of their pain without trashing the idea of religion or using religion as the answer to our problems. Her clinical experience and her in-depth knowledge of complex trauma and high-control religion makes her uniquely qualified to share these insights with us. Something else I appreciate is Anderson's decision to not make this a step-by-step instruction guide for healing. Everyone's journey is different and is informed by their own personal experiences.
This book is truly a gem and I can't wait to recommend it to everyone!
When I was younger, I thought of the word "trauma" as a purely physical term. It's what can happen after a bad car accident, or a reason someone might go to the ER. Then I started seeing it used a lot more in an emotional/psychological sense. And lately, it's come with other modifiers attached, such as, in this case, "religious trauma." It seemed like a very dramatic term, and I wasn't sure how exactly it was applied and how someone determined whether they were suffering from it.
In that sense, this book was helpful. Anderson is a therapist and a survivor of what she refers to as a "High-Control Religion" or HCR, and while she references specific flavors of Christianity in her own story and others', she primarily speaks of HCRs in a general sense -- it seems fairly subjective as to whether a particular church or group could be considered an HCR, because personal experience is the key. And she explains this is also the case for trauma -- two people can experience similar things and one can be traumatized by it and the other won't be. So trauma is really about what the experience is for the person who's dealing with it.
With that in mind, she provides a general discussion of how the nervous system works and why our bodies can "remember" trauma even if we've tried to eradicate it from our thoughts and environments. She also discusses examples of religious trauma and its effects, such as purity culture, hierarchical relationships, anxieties about hell/punishment, etc., and gives some advice for taking baby steps to heal. I like how she emphasizes a big-picture view of healing -- that it's not about arriving at some pre-determined point, but about making progress and using the tools you've developed to help manage things like triggers and flare-ups.
She doesn't offer a one-size-fits-all prescription for how to get to a point of being healed (which is good, and in line with how she also warns that it can be easy to jump from one form of fundamentalism to another), and also is not out to try and demonize religion, recognizing that faith is important for many people and can still be a part of the healing process (though this is not written from a Christian perspective). But there are some helpful tips and observations here that are worth thinking about. Emotions, relationships, sexuality, and embodiment are areas that may be affected by life in an HCR, and while some people of faith may not agree with everything here, the topics can bring up good questions to ask ourselves. I especially appreciate the emphasis on curiosity, particularly when trying to get out of fundamentalist, black-and-white thinking.
This book was everything I hoped for, and more. Well done, Dr Laura!
The author outlines what High Control Religions are, what C-PTSD is, how it relates to religious trauma. She looks at many facets of religious trauma, such as patriarchy, purity culture, corporal punishment, adverse children experiences. She gives ideas and tips on how to start healing these areas. I appreciate this quote she repeated different times, in different words: “the goal of healing from trauma is not that you will never be triggered. Rather, a marker of living in a healing body after religious trauma is that when you are triggered, you can access different resources internally so that a different ending can occur.”
The author switches back and forth from her own personal experiences, academics, and as a professional therapist. At times it felt more personal than others. I was highlighting so, so much.
Thank you for taking the time to write this much-needed book. It will be a big help to many leaving HCRs.
Complex PTSD is not as widely known or widely researched as PTSD, and when you pair that topic with high control religions there is even fewer resources available. Dr. Laura Anderson's book is truly needed and very enlightening. Those who grew up in a HCR will find that her story resonates. The personal details intersperse the academic information in this book, which makes it more readable. This book is a valuable research for those of us who have survived a high control religion and came away with scars.
"When Religion Hurts You" by Dr. Laura E. Anderson is a courageous and eye-opening exploration of a topic often swept under the rug: religious trauma. Drawing on her own personal experiences and professional expertise as a therapist, Dr. Anderson sheds light on the devastating impact that high-control religions can have on individuals.
This book provides a comprehensive understanding of what religious trauma entails and dispels common misconceptions surrounding it. Dr. Anderson delves into the specific aspects of fundamentalist church life, such as the fear of hell, purity culture, corporal punishment, and authoritarian leaders, which can lead to psychological, relational, physical, and spiritual harm.
One of the book's strengths is its compassionate approach. Dr. Anderson acknowledges that healing from religious trauma is not a linear process but a lifelong journey. She offers valuable insights and markers for healing, making it a valuable resource for those who have experienced painful religious experiences.
In "When Religion Hurts You," readers will find hope and guidance for reclaiming their lives and finding wholeness after religious trauma. Dr. Anderson's honest and empathetic exploration of this important topic is a vital contribution to the conversation surrounding mental and emotional well-being within the context of religious experiences.
If you or someone you know has been affected by religious trauma or if you're interested in understanding the impact of high-control religion, this book is a must-read. It provides a compassionate and informative roadmap to healing and recovery from religious trauma.
When Religion Hurts You notes
In Dr. Laura Anderson’s When Church Hurts You, I immediately found myself drawn to the book’s title. I too am a survivor of what is colloquially called “church hurt.” I have mixed feelings toward the book. It’s a good overview of the hows and whys of getting to convoluted feelings toward church and God with a big G which brings on trauma with a big T. You find yourself trying to exorcise demons you didn’t even know were demons in the name of the Lord.
I certainly appreciate Dr. Anderson’s efforts which are greatly needed in a time when caught preachers is a weekly podcast or Youtube post on someone’s social media which can range from the hilarious with a prostitute recording the preacher/john who has decided not to pay this time as he tries to escape the hotel room to the tragic where someone is murdered or harassed to keep the church from finding out their secrets (usually sexual). The book is sorely needed, but I think it is something written more toward the counselor than the lay person. I hope it gets through to those open enough to cater to the needs of the holy and wholly wounded amongst us.
Countering the various theoretical frameworks Dr. Anderson offers her own personal experience and even harkens back to an original story of a male leader who chastised her for having the gumption to have her own mind. Years late, she realized the abuse under the banner of “spiritual authority.” Sometimes called “overseer” or “spiritual father” in the Black church. All of which I have no respect for nor will ever surrender my spirit to no matter who wants to consign me to a hell none of us has ever seen except on earth.
In the earlier part of the book, Dr. Anderson tries to distinguish religious trauma from beliefs to make the experiences talked about herein general or human. I don’t see how you can distinguish one from the other. She also says it’s not the event but the response. It’s both! I think of girls passed around by preachers and deacons. I think of gospel singers on the circuit like Lou Rawls who was raped by a woman as a boy and it gave him issues for life toward black women. It’s the context of church, God and the person that are all framed by religion. To recognize that is an attempt to give Christianity a pass. The entire framework is Christian and the religion must be looked at as a culprit as well.
I know there are those who wish to give Christianity as pass as it has offered them some comfort in a menacing world. I get it. Coming from the Black church, I’ve felt something far removed from the auspices of Christianity I call “divine.” I don’t let it off the hook either. I don’t know any prophets who didn’t sit up with God and the religion of the day.
When Church Hurts You has its salient moments on the page and for that, I’m grateful. It skates over the surface of church hurt which has committed high crimes against whole peoples and these can never be forgiven. I wonder how a black same gender loving man who is aware of the genocide of the church can really reconcile with its tenets. It’s like trying to make an abusive lover not be abusive. I don’t know if it’s possible but I do thank Dr. Anderson for her effort to name the problem. There is a whole lot of work to be done and if Christians own it, I’m not sure the religion will be recognizable in a century or two. Maybe, it will look Christ-like.
With my own experiences with spiritual abuse, I wanted to understand the depths of trauma that can happen to someone. Maybe also reveal if I have any trauma myself. I realized that I didn't have it as bad as the author has experienced but I do know that I have experienced trauma through spiritual abuse. What I love and appreciate the author doing is that no matter how small, my experiences are valid regardless.
This is not a subject that is talked about. Lots of times, this message is severely shunned by other Christians and kept hidden away. When I tell my experiences, it is like I am talking to the wind. It's either they are disbelief that it could possibly be or worse that they are completely blind to it. So shedding like on this subject is amazing.
When the author wrote, "I contemplated giving more details and sharing more experiences, but I am more interested in the process of healing than in what I have experienced." I knew that I picked up a good one. Because the author is interested in healing and not just sitting in the trauma. This has been my experience with people who went through worse spiritual trauma than I have.
I also like that she didn't agree with just walking away from religion as a source of healing the trauma. Dealing with it at a different level. I wholeheartedly agree with the message she is telling.
Though the author had many good things to say, I did struggle to get through it. It has lengthy pages of information that was hard to get through. Many times, there was one long paragraph of information that read like a textbook. So it felt like a 200-something-page book took forever to get through and found myself struggling to connect to the writing style and the message she was trying to convey. So, I wished there were more page breaks and less info dump on the subject.
All in all, this is a book worth going through, but just realize you may have to take this in bite-size pieces.
RECOGNISING AND HEALING FROM RELIGION THAT HURT YOU
Dr. Laura Anderson, herself a victim of High Control Religion, has conducted an extensive study into the effects the methods and teaching have on people’s mental health and physiological, emotional, and spiritual well-being. This is not a church or religion-bashing book but an honest review of how fundamentalist teaching can harm people, especially children whose brains and neurological systems are still forming.
This book should be essential reading for people going through seminary, teachers, counselors, leaders, and those responsible for raising children. It is valid for any fundamentalist agenda, including religion, education, institutions, the LGBTQ community, and those affected by terrorism. It is also a valuable resource for those who are affected by fundamentalist teaching, as Dr. Anderson outlines the neurological effects, which result in anxieties and hypervigilance, to name a few.
Once I understood the neurological process of trauma, I felt a surge of relief as I read this book, as I, too, had been a victim. Healing from spiritual trauma is a lifelong process. It is not a quick fix; forgive the perpetrator and move on sort of book. It is a lifetime of relearning and teaching your body somatically to recognize when you are being triggered and learning new coping skills.
I felt an unexpected shift in my body after reading and understanding this whole process, like a weight had been lifted from my chest!
I liked the precise way the author spelled out the different types of neurological responses and also how she explained that not everyone is affected in the same way, even those in the same environment. It is an individual’s neurological response that must be considered. There could be many, as this is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, not just one event, but a person has been immersed in it for a long time. I did find the abbreviations for all the different neurological effects a bit tedious.
I could not put this book down once I had started reading it. The subject matter caught my attention, but I think the less clinical way Dr. Anderson wrote the book makes it easy for the layman, especially victims of HCR, to understand and apply the many healing techniques and resources she gives. I would heartily recommend it, especially to those in ministry and those hurt by religion.
I’m glad this book exists, and I wish it had been around earlier when I was struggling with my faith. It’s no secret that religion has done much harm, but not a lot has been said about the long-term effects of religious trauma. I hadn’t heard the term in any context until I stumbled across a blog post discussing the spiritual abuse that had been inflicted at a church I once attended. The author of the post had worked at the church and was one of the victims.
Through the years, I have grown in awareness of the abusive nature of what Dr. Anderson calls High-Control Religions. While I don’t believe I suffer from religious trauma, I do notice the long-lasting impact it has had on me (stories for another time). Others who have experienced similar abuse from religious bodies either walk away from faith entirely, or continue to perpetuate the same abuses themselves.
Dr. Anderson begins by sharing her own experience with fundamental Christianity and the cPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) that developed from it. Though this book takes a clinical look at religious abuse and trauma, it is written from a personal lens with sensitivity and empathy. She presents a balanced perspective; in fact, she warns against swinging to the other side of the pendulum and trading one form of fundamentalism for another. She also doesn’t disparage religion, but rather the practices that lead to extremist, black-and-white thinking.
The book goes through several examples of religious abuse, details what neuroscience and psychology have to say about it, and offers potentially helpful coping strategies.
What I found helpful was the discussion on the nervous system and how that plays into the healing process. Even for those of us suffering from other types of trauma, it can become discouraging when we “revert back” or “backslide” in our recovery. Dr. Anderson writes about the non-linear process of healing; it’s something people say often, but she does so from a scientific point of view. She explains why our bodies and brains still “remember” trauma even if we’re years removed from it or have worked extensively on it.
Dr. Anderson writes with compassion and grace, like a therapist you wish you had. She also writes in a way that’s easy to understand, especially as she gets into the clinical aspects of the subject. Her book is both gentle and challenging, as she doesn’t shy away from the reality that complex trauma is often a condition one will have to live with for the rest of their life. However, she offers ways to manage symptoms so that it doesn’t have to be a death sentence.
Those who have had any upbringing in a strict, rigid setting (religious or non-religious) can benefit from reading it. Dr. Anderson gives words to wounds most of us don’t know how to voice and therefore don’t know how to heal from. Giving language to our experiences and emotions is the very first step toward healing.
"When Religion Hurts You" is a book that I've recently picked up, and I must say, it holds immense promise. I didn't finish it, but not because it wasn't worth it—rather, it was too soon after my own religious hurt.
This book resonates deeply with my experiences, and I can already tell that it's going to be a crucial part of my healing journey. I had to put it down because I realized I wasn't in the right mental space to process everything it has to offer. But that's not a fault of the book; it's a testament to its power.
From what I read, the author's insights are profound, and their writing is compassionate and understanding. It's like having a wise and empathetic friend by your side, guiding you through the intricate emotions and complexities that arise when religion causes you pain.
I can't wait to pick up "When Religion Hurts You" again when I have the mental capacity to fully delve into its pages. I'm certain it will provide me with the guidance and solace I need to heal and grow. This book is a beacon of hope for anyone who has ever felt the sting of religious hurt, and I'm confident it deserves every one of those five stars.
Laura Anderson presents a well-researched and evocatively personal account of the many ills behind high-control religion. It's quite clear from start to finish that manipulation is just that, however godly it is dressed.
This was an interesting look at religion and the aftermath of extreme views and religion. If religion does not give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, then you should take a look at this book. Laura Anderson has been there and done that, and gives you practical advice to move you forward in your life.
My goodness, this book is just so important. I will for sure be going back to read it again and again, I have no doubts about that. I am so happy that I found this on NetGalley (thank you for the opportunity to read this). For anyone that is questioning, left or just having doubts about their own religious upbringing-read this. Trauma is a word that I’m no stranger to, but learning about it within a context of something I’ve been brought up in, it really helped with my own healing. I enjoyed this book immensely
When Religion Hurts You is the most comprehensive and accessible book on healing religious trauma on the market. The author combines her expertise as a licensed therapist, trauma coach, and co-founder of the Religious Trauma Institute, with her personal experience living with complex trauma from her own religious experiences.
Dr. Laura Anderson is one of the foremost experts on religious trauma. As a therapist and coach myself, she is my go-to voice for learning about the mind-body connection when it comes to spiritual abuse. She coined the term adverse religious experiences and defines what a high-control religion is. According to Dr. Laura, religious trauma is trauma; trauma is subjective; and trauma cannot be healed by just changing our minds because the effects of trauma are stored in the body. These concepts have been revolutionary in my conceptualization and treatment of trauma.
The book is not a step-by-step guide to healing, but covers “healing themes” that someone with religious trauma may address. Dr. Laura discusses topics like rebuilding your identity, your relationship with your body, boundaries, grief, emotions, sexuality, healthy relationships, and the nervous system. As Dr. Laura says, we are never “healed” from trauma, we are living in a healing body. I appreciate this emphasis on healing as a lifelong journey in which we “integrate the living legacy of trauma” into our stories.
The chapter on reclaiming sexuality and pleasure spoke to my area of expertise in purity culture recovery. Dr. Laura’s advice on how to prioritize embodiment and experience pleasure in safe ways is in line with my approach. I appreciate how Dr. Laura encourages developing a sexual ethic that avoids the pendulum swing from purity culture to its opposite. Instead, she advocates for a sexual ethic that reflects an individual’s “unique personhood, character, and values”.
As Dr. Laura no longer identifies as religious, some readers will not agree with her description of high control religion. For example, the doctrines of original sin, heaven and hell, and the practice of tithing are all labeled as types of abuse (or adverse religious experiences). Some readers who still identify as Christians will be left to wonder how and when these beliefs and practices are abusive—and when there are just differences in theology.
I appreciate that Dr. Laura states, “Neither religion nor its practices and beliefs are inherently traumatic; rather, the effect of an experience, belief, or practice on an individual is specific to that person.” Because trauma is subjective, what is traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for another. “Practically, this means that trauma is in the eye of the beholder,” states Dr. Laura. This leaves lingering questions about how to resolve differences in beliefs and their effects on individuals.
In Dr. Laura, I have found a trustworthy, compassionate teacher who has expanded my knowledge and understanding of trauma, the body, and healing. I am grateful that I can recommend this book to almost any of my clients or audience, for I believe we can all learn from Dr. Laura’s wisdom and hard-fought experience.
United States Publication: October 17, 2023
Thank you to NetGalley and Baker Academic & Brazos Press for this advanced reader's copy. In exchange, I am providing an honest review.
I'm having the hardest time composing any sort of articulate review beyond a *speechless* utterance of, "Read this book!" And that's just not helpful, is it? The dedication at the front of the book introduces this title and its contents in a succinct way. "For all who have been harmed by high-control religion, who have suffered adverse religious experiences, and who live with religious trauma. May this book provide hope and healing - abundant life does exist." Several years ago, a close friend and I half-jokingly bantered about our spiritual PTSD - not wanting or needing to diminish the seriousness of PTSD. However, little did we both know what we were describing to one another wasn't far off the mark. I didn't realize how accurately we were processing our years in an HCR.
Anderson begins her book by sharing her personal story of growing up in an HCR and eventually leaving. She then went to school for psychology. Following the disastrous United States election in 2016, her therapy practice filled up with bewildered clients who were feeling betrayed by friends, family, the evangelical church, and its spiritual authorities. Her clients began asking, out loud, the questions they had about life, faith, and God. They started sharing physiological and psychological symptoms consistent with trauma, extreme stress, and shame, all of which mere cognitive shifting wasn't and couldn't help. As Anderson and her clients processed together, she recognized that some of the triggers and responses were reflective of PTSD and others were exhibiting complex trauma from enduring decades of religious indoctrination and practices in their family of origin and churches. And these weren't people from the churches and denominations you might expect to hear, these were people from the run-of-the-mill church down the road, so to speak.
Anderson moves on from her personal story to discussing trauma. And she wants to make it clear that religious trauma IS trauma. In 2019, Anderson decided to create a resource for other mental health professionals to assist in educating them on religious trauma, abuse, and adverse religious experiences. While religious trauma is trauma, it differs in some ways from the trauma experienced through sexual abuse, war experiences, or an event like the collapse of the World Trade Center, etc and Anderson knew that a resource educating on the specificities of religious trauma would be welcome and needed.
Along with co-founder, Brian Peck, she created the Religious Trauma Institute and partnered with the Reclamation Collective. Through her own continuing personal processing and healing and meeting with clients, Anderson realized that religious trauma was a very deep and wide wound that would take consistent therapy and work to heal from and in some ways, the healing would never end - it would ebb and flow throughout the remainder of one's life. That's not meant to discourage, it's meant to affirm the process and work.
Anderson begins first by explaining what trauma is, how it manifests in the body and soul, its physical afflictions, and its mental affectations. She then redefines healing. We want it to be a fixed event but Anderson explains why it is not. The remainder of the book outlines and discusses in depth nine key areas that are impacted when someone sets out on a healing journey. Anderson acknowledges the nine areas don't form an exhaustive list but are comprised of what Anderson herself experiences and has seen through her practice.
I realize this is, to this point, a summary rather than a review of this title so let me now get on with some semblance of a review. I began reading this book after having experienced a couple of moments in which it was clear something I heard or saw had triggered me regarding my former religious life. Was it trauma responses or just benign flashbacks? Fortuitously this book became available for me to read in advance of its publication. And, thanks to this important discourse from Anderson, and some other conversations and realizations, I now know what kind of work is ahead of me and I have confidence in stating the truth of what I am experiencing - religious trauma. I am someone who has experienced deep and sustained religious trauma that I need help processing and working through to healing. I am extremely grateful to Laura Anderson for her life experience and her professional work and for her generosity in sharing it through her therapy practice, her founding of the Religious Trauma Institute, and now in this published work. I will now be a benefactor of her generosity as I know now how to pursue help for my own religious trauma.
Anyone still deeply involved in their religious institution will scoff at this book and the important information it contains. But anyone who has begun to disentangle themselves will recognize themselves and realize there is help and healing in the post-religious life.
This book is a not a "how-to" for one's deconstruction process or what topics one should revisit, but rather is like someone walking you through the side effects of a procedure and offering validation and suggestions on how to navigate them.
In this book, Dr. Anderson walks through the various ways high-demand religious environments and their messages - eternal conscious torment, purity culture, the exclusivity of the social dynamics, the power imbalances between "anointed pastors" and volunteers, and more - get engrained into one's body and nervous system. Healing from religious trauma isn't just a theoretical exercise, but also involves getting in tune with your body to process trauma and engage in new, healing ways forward.
She also provides notes on remaining curious through deconstruction, navigating the online deconstruction world, and how to navigate healthy disagreement and rebuild community after leaving a religious institution.
Through it all, she encourages the reader to prioritize their autonomy and what healing looks like for them. What is trauma for one isn't for everyone and same goes for healing. The goal isn't to simply swing to the direct opposite of whatever teaching or tradition was painful or demonize religion altogether, but to embody the values that reflect your priorities as you continue to grow and heal beyond adverse religious experiences.
Whether you're deconstructing or are wanting to learn more about religious trauma from a psychologically sound viewpoint, this is a handy guide to all who desire to heal together.
This book was deeply impactful and hopefully will become necessary reading for all mental health professionals.
I have experienced the difficulty in getting help with religious trauma, and have been made to feel like I was exaggerating or crazy by the glassy-eyed stares of therapists. This book did the opposite. I felt validated, educated, and hopeful in the most realistic sense.
First, I loved how this book defined trauma as our bodies response to something instead of an event that happens. When we define trauma as a specific type of event or experience, it becomes easier for people to discredit trauma in others, which happens frequently with religious trauma. By defining it by our bodies response, it becomes difficult to discredit because it is a physical, biological, heightened response from our body.
Next, I loved that healing was not described as something we simply arrive at. Instead, healing is a journey we will always be on. And healing will look different for everyone. I appreciated that the author did not make leaving all religion required for healing.
Finally, I found many of the examples very relatable. All of the subject matter was approached with a level of care and nuance that is not often seen. I will definitely be recommending this book to friends.
Thank you Netgalley and Brazos Press for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
Jonestown. Heaven’s Gate. Those words bring horror to the reader’s mind. Most reasonable people agree cults have great power to harm their members. But most people wouldn’t add religious sects and Christian denominations to the list of potentially dangerous organizations.
I know I didn’t. But after reading Dr. Laura Anderson’s book, When Religion Hurts You, I have a whole new understanding of how something with great potential for good can turn into something hurtful and even harmful.
Let’s take care of the elephant first. Religion can hurt you. But not everyone will feel the same effects of religion in the same way. Webster defines religion as 1) a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. 2) The service and worship of God or the supernatural. 3) Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.
Our personalities, values, character, Enneagram number, and temperament (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic) determine how we react to religion. Maturity also plays a role in religion’s ability to hurt us. What scares us at one point in life might not scare us at another.
Dr. Anderson wrote the book as part of her doctoral program in counseling (her dissertation). She shares anecdotes about how religion hurt her as a young child, adolescent, and adult.
Most people who work with youth have heard of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The higher a child’s ACE score, the more likely the child will suffer from trauma. Dr. Anderson explains how ‘trauma is not the event or the thing that happened to us; rather, it is how our bodies and nervous system respond to what happened to us.”
If four people experience the same event, their bodies will react in four different ways. The same event may only traumatize one of the four people. It might also traumatize all four of the people. We can’t predict or know with certainty what will or won’t traumatize someone.
Trauma doesn’t only happen on the battlefield. It can happen in a church, too. Dr. Anderson relates how traumatized she felt as a very young child when she first heard about Jesus dying on the cross and how those who didn’t accept Jesus would burn in hell.
Dr. Anderson also brings two new terms to the table: HCRs (highly controlling religions—the Amish, for example), and AREs (adverse religious experiences). The more controlling a religion, the more likely those who belong to it will experience multiple AREs. The author also explained an important new term: complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD)
She grew up in what she calls a “strict fundamentalist, evangelical, Reformed theological background.” This HCR, combined with her unique personality, caused her body to react to incidents she experienced in a religious setting (AREs) as trauma.
Untreated over time, this trauma manifested itself in her body as CPTSD. She isn't the only one. If you feel triggered or traumatized by all things churchy, this book is for you. If you have a friend or family member who has deconstructed or deconverted, this book is for you, too.
It's time we engage in honest conversation about the not-so-shiny effects of religion.
This was an interesting book that discussed the trauma that can be caused by high control religions. There is a good foundation of the science behind trauma and PTSD, and how aspects of high control religions can lead to long term trauma, though I did sometimes find it a little tedious at points. I appreciate the author's personal story as it made the book more engaging and personal.
I have been in the church for my entire life, though not in what I would consider a high control church, as such much of the book was looking at issues that I haven't personally experience. There were however pieces that apply to much of the christian world in general and so it did help me to think about some of the issue that I have been noticing and trying to work through in my own life. The part where she mentions the acronym for JOY, as Jesus, others, you, was especially helpful, as I had just come to this conclusion, including how bad that view can be, in the month before I read this book. Having it affirmed was helpful for me.
I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
This was an interesting take on ways to cope with and address religious trauma. I was expected more of an anti-religious approach as that is the one that I take. The author does state that she’s still a Christian which does affect her point of view. As someone who dealt with forced religion through their teen years, it’s hard finding someone to talk to who understands it. Young readers will be glad they picked this up if they too have no one to talk to. It’s nice knowing you’re not alone.
This book is destined to help many, many individuals. It is groundbreaking in the discussion of religious trauma from a psychologist's perspective. And I love the way she shares her own personal experience. I highly recommend it to anyone who has been exposed to a high controlling religion.
Laura Anderson provides the healing HCR community with a helpful resource. Part psychoeducation and part
therapeutic. The author is current with research and articulates complex ideas well. It lacks a developed positive way forward and leaves much to be wanting. While rightly critiquing purity culture, there is no theology of the body or sexuality set forth.
This book made me cry multiple times. I have read a great many psychology, trauma, and self-development books, and this one ranks right there with Brene Brown's works for how validating and helpful it has been. I completely recommend this to everyone who has become disenchanted and disenfranchised from religion, especially those who come from the conservative and evangelical background like I did.
As someone who has personal and professional experience working with the impact of religious trauma and spiritual abuse, I have been following the work of Dr. Laura Anderson, psychotherapist and co-founder of the Religious Trauma Institute, for years now. When I saw she was releasing a book, I immediately signed up to be part of the launch team. The book, When Religion Hurts You: Healing from Religious Trauma and the Impact of High-Control Religion, released to the public on October 17. I knew this book would be good, but it exceeded my expectations and I have already been recommending it to clients, colleagues, and friends.
Anderson’s book skillfully and smoothly weaves together her own story of healing from complex trauma (including religious trauma), qualitative data from her work with therapy clients who have experienced religious trauma, and the most up-to-date research in the field. She emphasizes that trauma healing is an ongoing process, not an endpoint (and that many people coming out of High Control Religions (HCRs) have to rewire their brains from what evangelicalism taught them about heaven and life on earth in order to embrace this). Her tone throughout the book is that of a well-informed expert in her field, but is never patronizing or arrogant. Most of the content in the book is accessible to a layperson, unlike some other well-known books on trauma that are written more like PhD-level textbooks. This book would be helpful for anyone trying to understand the impact of growing up in a HCR, whether it was their own experience or someone else’s. Dr. Anderson provides clear definitions for many of the buzzwords going around the internet/social media related to trauma and explains in a non-judgmental way how and why HCRs impact individuals long after the individual may have left the HCR environment.
When Religion Hurts You is well-organized and broken down into chapters grouped by content/themes. I’d recommend reading this book in sections, not all at once, as there is a lot of information to take in as well as a deep emotional impact of reading the stories in it. The first few chapters explain why and how she came to do the work she does now, including her own experiences leaving a HCR, the history and current context for trauma research and specifically religious trauma research, and the components of the self that are affected by complex trauma including cognitive beliefs and the nervous system. Later in the book she includes brief exercises that readers can try in order to move towards nervous system regulation, embodiment, and self-trust.
As someone with personal experience growing up in a HCR, I appreciate the nuance, respect, and thoughtfulness that Anderson displays throughout the book. In the chapter on grief, she notes that after leaving a HCR there are many things to grieve, including: childhood, education, sexuality, view of others/the world, and the good, because not all parts of HCR communities are bad. The following chapter appropriately discusses the importance of developing a “robust spectrum of emotions” because HCRs tend to discourage any intense emotions, or only encourage positive ones. The chapters on sexuality and pleasure and establishing healthy relationships with others explain how and why HCRs impact people in these areas of life as well as provide guidance on how to heal them. She concludes by referencing the work of my personal favorite trauma therapist, Dr. Janina Fisher, who talks about the “living legacy of trauma” and how we can integrate the parts of ourselves as we are, triggers and wounds and grief and all.
I’ll close this review with one of my favorite passages from the book:
“This is what healing is all about — the process. Perhaps this year or next year or ten more years down the road my body will no longer respond to trauma-versaries, but that is no longer my goal. I have lived far too much of my life with the end goal of eternal life in heaven, and so I missed a lot of life on earth. These days, even in the dark, difficult, and painful moments, I let my body take the space that I need to come back home to myself. I give myself many moments to reflect and to celebrate how far I have come.”
As someone who has dealt with religion/church hurt like Dr. Anderson discusses in her incredible book, I do not know that I can remain impartial in my review. What I can say is that while I was hesitant to read a book that addresses my lived experiences as I was concerned I would be triggered, this was not the case. I found Dr. Anderson's writing and care for those who have been hurt to be healing. The book helped put to words many things I felt but had not been able to express. I will be thinking on this one for a while and will likely need to read again at least once more to fully grasp everything. Thank you, Dr. Anderson, for you work and this book!
When Religion Hurts You deals with the psychological (and sometimes physical) issues that happen when church culture is extreme, misogynistic, or even cult-like. Laura E. Anderson looks at the trauma from the church in the latest scientific terms. This is the first I have read of the idea of PTSD being related to church but it is not wrong and I commend the author on making religious trauma a certain kind of psychological practice. The only issue is that I saw no new way to handle PTSD that hasn't been used before in other areas.
That being said, I recommended this to a friend. He bought it and (with a therapist) has begun to work through his own issues,