Most research into religious abuse focuses on extreme trauma such as FGM (female genital mutilation), honour killings, medical neglect etc. There is surprisingly very little published when it comes to subtle forms of religious abuse and barely anything on religious shaming practices. For that reason, I have personally coined the term, religious emotional abuse related shame or (REARS) which is the focus of this article.
What I was taught to believe as a child
I'll start by sharing my own experience in terms of what I was programmed to believe as a child. I actually grew up in an Islamic household and attending a Catholic Convent School for 10 years (unusual mix, I know!) The list below is personal to my own experiences and the culture I was raised in and doesn't reflect actual religious teachings.
Here are some examples of things I was repeatedly told:
if you don’t make your parents happy you will go to hell
getting married completes your “deen” or is half of your religion (without mention of divine inner union)
what happens in the world such as war and famine is God's punishment to the non believers
you’re not living for this life you’re living for the “afterlife” so don't get too happy or too comfortable or too emotional about anything, paradise awaits!
or hell, if you don't do the above!
you must repent for your sins every day, multiple times a day, if you can, all day
you must beg God if you want something because HE will deem you worthy enough to receive it
you don't ever know if you're going to heaven or hell it's God that decides, you just keep repenting for your sins and hoping for the best
one good 'deed' can erase all your sins but you won't know if it's happened or not until the day of Judgement
On the day of Judgement you will be JUDGED by your benevolent God for whether you are worthy enough to enter paradise or whether you will burn in hell for undisclosed period of time
If you're more bad than good but not really that bad and somewhat guilty and remorseful you may enter Purgatory but again, nobody knows for how long
if you want something you’ll only get it if it’s Gods will, you're not actually in control of anything - oh except your sins, that's not God's will that's all you
if you don’t want something and you don't get it this is also Gods will, God did not want you to have it (and you must suck it up or repent further in order to push the odds in your favour of receiving said experience)
all religions are wrong and there is only one true path, there are believers and non believers and categories of believer, not all are right, not all can be right
you can only be successful in life if you pray. If you pray and you’re not successful then God doesn’t want you to be. Or you need to pray harder because you probably have loads of sins that are getting in the way of you and your success
God favours those who FEAR HIM (literal patriarchy fuelled fear designed to subjugate the feminine to her own power) so fear him in every waking moment
Don’t be too happy because at any moment God can take it away from you
The devil is an entity that you must protect yourself from. The devil is external to you and can lead you astray. You must avoid the devil. He comes out at night and plays in the trees. You must come home before it gets dark. Don't hide under trees. (Encourages splitting and complete shadow projection)
you must strive to act as the Prophet Muhammad did at all times and if you fail, you must repent- and bear in mind that you inevitably will fail, because you are not capable of being who he was, so therefore you are destined to failure and to feeling bad about yourself
you can never repent enough, especially if you feel bad about yourself
be a good person by doing what you’re told (all of the above) and you’ll go to Paradise
Paradise is a place where there are streams of honey and tasty fruits and plenty of virgins (for the hungry men) and you will have all the money in the world and be eternally happy
you have no right to interpret scripture because you are not an Imam or scholar, the only people who can be Imams are men, all scholars and teachers must be men
your connection to God comes from upholding these rules and rituals without question or challenge
God must be feared at all times because he can take your life away in any moment and take everything away from you so fear God
Do not dance because dancing is the work of the devil. Haram.
Do not sing because singing is the work of the devil. Also Haram.
Playing music is mostly forbidden except it's a grey area, so don't play music just to be on the safe side. Phew. That's quite a list, as you can see, of toxic brainwashing. Fortunately I've been able to challenge these generational cultural belief systems that have actually tainted the religions themselves.
As you can see, these deeply toxic teachings can be quite shocking to read when written down.
The truth is, as a child I literally believed everything I was told, like many children. I tried hard to reconcile the nature of a loving benevolent God that I simultaneously had to fear would throw me into the flames of hell to burn me alive.
When I was 3 , after hearing so much of this day in and day out I remember asking my mum how she knew that the flames of hell were so hot if she hadn't been there herself.
I remember she was immediately flustered by my question and told me to ask my father. As a child I could inherently feel the discord between what I was being taught and my own inner knowing. This set me on a path of seeking and questioning which was never supported by my own family who wanted me to just agree with what I had been taught, despite the fact it generated perpetual shame, disempowerment, disconnection and fear. This in itself makes it impossible to connect to the inherent divinity because it leads to armour around the heart field. I was determined to heal, to discover my own truth and to unravel my own religious and cultural conditioning. Now I help my clients around the world to do the same. Many have been taught similar things but in different contexts. Some have been raised in harsh and abusive religious families or have been abused by religious teachers. Some have been forced into cults and have lost everything and everyone when they chose to free themselves from these systems of oppression and fear. If you've been through this journey and you want support to heal, please don't hesitate to reach out to me.
Religious abuse is actually perpetuated unconsciously through culture and conditioning
The truth is, religious abuse is perpetuated through culture and conditioning, subtle use of language, disciplinary methods and unconscious parenting behaviours.
There may not even be a specific or explicit event that happens. This makes it hard to identify that this kind of trauma is present for you. Infact it's the constant enacting of shaming words and behaviour that becomes normalised under the guise of religious morality, right and wrong, good and evil, that is deeply damaging to the development of young children and their sense of self. When this is tied in with being worthy enough to be loved, forgiven and respected, it can create lifelong disconnection, attachment issues and impact self esteem. To me, this is a form of subtle child abuse.
Below are some of the methods that are commonly used including threat of punishment in the name of religion but particularly the use of shame based on religious dogma and cultural interpretations of scripture.
The constant reinforcing of good vs evil and the notion of being a sinner is an experience that many young children internalise. This affects their adult life and ability to believe in themselves.
This toxic cocktail of hostile and abusive religious beliefs, physical punishments or threat of punishment and shaming behaviours and culture actually perpetuates shame, trauma and violence inter-generationally (Good, 1999). In client work the threads of ancestral conditioning often becomes clear as people start to unravel the conditioning they were subject to, recognising that it has been a force or tool of repression in previous generations.
Shame is not something that children just 'grow out of.' To the contrary, shame is held in the body, forms the foundational sense of self and has a real impact on the developing brain. Studies show that children who reported high shame scores found it harder to learn, self regulate and soothe their own emotions and were more vulnerable to stress, chronic disease and mental health conditions.
What religious emotional abuse can look like:
Promoting religious beliefs, values and expectations to invoke fear, shame and humiliation
Promoting religious expectations based on unattainable ideals of perfection and purity
Enforcing religious based punishment within the family including physical and emotional
Shaming a child in the name of sin, or judging them in the name of God
Creating a disciplinary environment based on invoking shame and guilt and reparation
Using religious teachings to suppress freedom of thought and expression
Using religious ideals to deny gender / sexual equality
Enforcing dogma to gain compliance and control
Enforcing views of humanity based on inequality/superiority that encourage splitting
The reason why this topic is so important and yet not often discussed is because of how subtle the above examples can be when they are woven into parenting styles and communication methods / choice of words etc.
Children often internalise emotions as an unconscious adaptation to their environment . Embodying shame and building an identity on a deep sense of somehow being 'impure' or 'bad' or 'a sinner' has implications far into adulthood.
I have worked with clients who have held such a deem shame for their early life sexual activity or desires that it has lead to womb dissociation and disconnection, inability to be intimate and vulnerable with a partner, inability to orgasm and experience sexual pleasure and a feeling of being blocked by some unrecognisable force.
When womb dissociation goes untreated it can create a deep tension in the pelvic floor, pelvic misalignment structurally and even birth complications.
On a spiritual level it can often lead to a disdain for 'God' or 'divinity' because God is punitive and sees them as a sinner. This can lead to an abandonment or loss of faith and a feeling of disconnection from something greater and a seeking of salvation in the material world. I have worked with clients whose deep rooted shame impedes their healing process and leads to beliefs such as
I am not worthy to be on earth
I am inherently not pure / a bad person
God is punishing me for what I did
I deserve to suffer because this is God's punishment
God has abandoned me
How does religious emotional abuse show up in your body?
The emotional world of the REARS client is often characterised by intense grief and rage (Read: Why the liver holds rage) that threatens to destroy them if they dare try to access it. For this reason it is usually buried and unconscious. Anger is projected outwards but there is no real awareness of what the person is angry about.
There is often inability to make coherent meaning from their trauma experiences because there were no specific events that occurred. This can be confusing and frustrating as a client seeks to know 'what happened' when really they are holding imprints of subtle environmental experiences, belief systems that were passed down and normalised etc.
At a deeper level there is often existential confusion, despair and disconnection from soul. There can also be resistance to accepting currents of inner joy or worth that emerge during the healing process because the underlying core belief and frequency is one of shame.
Body wise, certain patterns can present themselves as numbness, dissociation, disconnection between mind-body-spirit, between heart and voice and excessive thinking of traumatic events which keep a patient at the narrative level rather than the feeling level i.e talking about what happened rather than being able to express authentically how they feel about what happened and move through their inner feelings.
There is often structural misalignment particularly in the pelvic area, persistent health issues with the gut and stomach as a result of sympathetic overstimulation and unprocessed emotion and a feeling of unworthiness.
At a metaphysical level shame is inherently related to the root space, womb space and solar plexus (root, sacral, solar plexus chakras) which pertain to sense of safety and trust, creativity and nurturing and belief in self.
Equally important is the connection with ancestral trauma (Read / Listen: Ancestral trauma: the cure or the curse?) Shame is compounded by ancestral trauma whereby previous generations had also buried their strong emotions of anger and grief and had perpetuated their guilt and unworthiness through culture, religious teachings and parenting methods. Often these have reflected in conditioned beliefs and perceptions of God which may have led to spiritual experiences of being punished for being a sinner for example. A patient's spiritual experiences are important to take seriously, honour and support to evolve during the therapeutic work. It can be a huge turning point for a client when they finally allow themselves to reconnect with their divinity.
Why shame is an existential psycho spiritual wound
Shame is buried deeply in the psyche and soma and covered by a layer of guilt, ‘guilt keeps shame hidden, burying it deep within the soul’ (Casey, 1998). It is imperative that shame is understood and treated in a psychospirital context (Kim, Park 2016).
Shame is a soul wound that requires a soul cure. This means the root causes need to be addressed and the identity itself, at an existential level needs to be supported to evolve. This requires both psychological, somatic and spiritual work to support deeper realisation combined with embodiment of a child's inherent perfection and divinity.
When later in life, an adult eventually turns up in therapy and the trauma layers are peeled back, for some, this reveals the deeper root causes based in religious emotional abuse and the shame that they silently held in their bodies as children.
Healing shame reconnects my clients to their connection to the earth, their self worth and their deeper path. It requires deep inner healing work to get to the roots of shame but it's definitely possible.
The issue is not the religion
It is the humans limited capacity for interpretation of the sacred (using mind over heart, spirit and embodiment), the need to follow to belong rather than lead oneself and risk isolation and the rejection of innate divinity and unity that comes from ignorance of one’s own source and essence that creates these programmes. Healing what you were handed down and fed will only happen when you a) wake up and realise how destructive it is and b) accept your own destruction and allow yourself to be de conditioned ie free
Finally, some words of advice
Do not allow your childhood brainwashing and belief systems built through ancestral trauma and mental based ego structures that nobody before you has been free enough to challenge, to keep you from your own knowing and sense of innate worth and wisdom
Become a conscious creator by knowing your own power and freeing yourself from your unconscious beliefs and trauma.
Trust your body and your gut feeling when someone is teaching you something, don’t just swallow it because you assume they must know more than you. No, you are the source of your own truth Your heart rules. Own your sovereignty and trust your own heart.
Have compassion for the people whose pain led to these limiting beliefs and fear based projections. These people can be your own parents. You cannot set anyone free, but you can love them for where they are, in their pain and turmoil and simply show them with your heart and frequency that CHOICE is everpresent. The void abandons nobody. We all have within us, the ability to go through this journey if we truly want to FEEL Divine Love.
When you go on this path of healing you may feel rejected. This is just your ego inviting you to become at peace with yourself at a deeper level. When you cannot be controlled you will become a threat to the hive mind and everyone who has bought into a way of operating that is comfortable and doesn’t require radical levels of psycho spiritual awareness and embodiment. Become a threat. Be the weapon of light that you are. And love with a ferocity that can crumble old kingdoms and return them to source. Choose where you exist in this holographic miracle
Anyone who doesn’t empower you to believe in YOURSELF and master your own creation is themselves still powerless. We master creation by surrendering to the mercy of the void. Then the reflection of all creation and the forces that govern all movement are revealed
Be the weapon of light that you are. Be silent but hold the mirror. And love with a ferocity that can crumble old kingdoms and return them to source.
Everything should lead you back to yourself. All paths, modalities and methods. Your heart field. Your Womb. Your source of conscious creation.
If you have been affected by REARS and want to heal shame that you are holding in your body, please reach out to me for a free consultation.