religious trauma syndrome

What happens in the aftermath of religious trauma or cult abuse.

What happens in the aftermath of religious trauma or cult abuse.

What is Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS)?

The term Religious Trauma Syndrome was originally created by psychologist, Marlene Winell. She described a set of symptoms that happened when someone was leaving dogmatic, rigid, demanding, and fundamentalists religions. RTS describes a wide range of symptoms, including cognitive, emotional, social, and functional outcomes after leaving controlling religious environments.

Religious Trauma Syndrome has two essential parts. The first part of the trauma response occurs due to the chronic abuse and mistreatment during the overwhelming indoctrination into a dogmatic or fundamentalist religion. The second part of the traumatic experience begins when trying to leave that religion.


Religious Trauma Syndrome Symptoms

The symptoms of RTS fall into several important categories.


Folks with RTS might experience generalized anxiety, OCD, panic attacks, depression, anger, grief, guilt, and shame. The emotional aftermath of living in a controlling or fundamentalist religion is far reaching and many report ongoing symptoms even after they have left the group.


Most cult or fundamentalist groups threaten those that leave. Those that leave are typically separated from their families and shunned by their close support network. Many with RTS are struggling with the impact of feeling socially isolated and rejected for their decision to leave the unhealthy religious environment.


The are many ways in which the brain is trying to make sense of a really upsetting experience. Those with RTS might feel confused, easily overwhelmed, dissociative, or numb. They might struggle with their identity , decision-making, or feeling stable in their self of self worth.


Those with RTS might struggle to function or live as they would like. They might feel physical symptoms in lieu of their mental symptoms, or experience terrifying nightmares and flashbacks. We also see those struggling with RTS having issues with substance abuse, addiction, pain disorders, and eating disorders.


Unfortunately, rigid religious environments can cause delayed emotional development across the sexual, emotional, or identity development. When someone is oppressed or repressed while in their groups, they might struggle with immaturity when it comes to relating to others, themselves or making healthy decisions for themselves without the staunch rules to keep them in line.

So, what's next?

Do these symptoms resonate with you? Are you beginning your journey of unraveling what happened within your rigid or dogmatic religion and you're looking for relief? This is common for folk leaving high-demand religions and you've found the right place to support you.

Do you Have Religious Trauma Syndrome?

Do you Have Religious Trauma Syndrome?

We have a free and quick quiz to help you evaluate your religious experience?
Religious trauma can have far reaching impacts. Naming the trauma is an excellent next step in helping yourself recover.

Are you a religious trauma survivor?

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How we help you recover:
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4 Trauma Responses

Learn the four different trauma responses: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. Get the basics on each of these trauma responses and how they impact your nervous system, your behavior, and your thoughts and feelings. Learn how these can be changed over time through intentional grounding and self-soothing exercises.

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