Religion und Kindheitstrauma, Nacht, Bäume, Mond,  Religion and childhood trauma, night, trees, moon,

Religion and childhood trauma 07 Healing and growth 2/2

Paths to emotional recovery and self-compassion

The complete collection of self-help exercises for dealing with childhood trauma through religion would have been too extensive for a single post. Therefore, here is a continuation of the previous post on the topic.

In the “Religion and Childhood Trauma” series, we have previously explored how deeply religious beliefs and practices affect children’s early development and psychological well-being. So far, it has been about:

  1. Faith and fear
  2. Guilt and atonement
  3. Shame and the sacred
  4. Authority and autonomy
  5. Inclusion and exclusion
  6. Doubt and faith.

Religious childhood trauma arises from faith teachings, practices and communities themselves or from the abuse of religious teachings and structures by authority figures seeking to exert power and control. We have seen that traumatic experiences come from a variety of sources, all of which result in strict, dogmatic parenting that instils fear, guilt or shame to enforce good behaviour in children. Individual freedom is sacrificed to the demand for submission.

4. Development of new coping strategies

Emotional liberation through creative expression

Writing therapy

Writing is a powerful method of expressing deep, often suppressed emotions. It helps to process and release personal experiences and feelings.


  1. Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
  2. Choose an emotionally significant or disturbing topic or event.
  3. Write about this topic for 20 to 30 minutes without interruption and allow yourself to express all your thoughts and feelings without self-censorship. It is not about a perfect essay but your thoughts and feelings in a kind of inner dialogue.
  4. After writing, decide whether you want to keep, destroy or share what you have written to let go of these feelings symbolically.

Goal: Facilitate emotional release and insight for relief and emotional clarity.

In addition to writing therapy, structured diary methods, such as keeping a gratitude diary or a success diary, are also helpful. These methods focus on consciously recognising and documenting positive aspects and personal successes to strengthen self-esteem.

Another method is writing “letters to yourself”, in which you encourage yourself or reflect on past events. Letters to the “perpetrators”, which relentlessly expose the injustice that has happened, also help to process past pain and find a new view of oneself.

Artistic activity

Use art forms to express emotions that are difficult to put into words.


  1. Collect art materials you feel drawn to, such as paint, paper, canvas, clay, modelling clay or collage material.
  2. Focus on a feeling or particular event you want to explore and create something that represents that feeling or experience.
  3. Allow the process to be intuitive and free; there is no right or wrong way to create a work of art.
  4. Reflect on the finished work and your feelings during the process. This reflection can be done internally or shared with a therapist or supportive friend.

Goal: Artistic creation as a channel for and understanding of feelings, relaxation and emotional growth.

Other creative activities such as dancing, music or theatre are likewise therapeutically effective. All forms of emotional expression enable those affected to express their emotions through movement, image and sound. That is liberating. Art therapy sessions in groups under the guidance of an experienced therapist, therefore, promote insight and growth. Techniques and materials are used in such sessions to release deeper emotional blockages and improve self-awareness.

Cognitive reorientation

People who have experienced religious trauma often need to reorganise their thoughts and beliefs completely. Harmful or stressful thought patterns associated with religious experiences must be uncovered, scrutinised and replaced with more appropriate beliefs.


  1. Write down thoughts that come up when you remember your religious experiences.
  2. Ask yourself questions like: “What evidence do I have that this thought is true? What evidence do I have that this thought is not true? Is there another way I could look at the situation?”

Goal: Identify harmful thought patterns and replace them with more positive, realistic beliefs

In addition, techniques such as cognitive restructuring and mindfulness meditation help to break through negative thought patterns and develop a more positive mindset. Regular practice of these techniques allows for an improvement in mental well-being in the long term.

Another approach uses affirmations and mantras, which are repeated daily to strengthen positive thoughts and weaken negative beliefs.

Clarification of values

It is about identifying and affirming personal values that may have been suppressed or conflicted with during religious upbringing.


  1. List the values important to you today and compare them with those you acquired in your religious past.
  2. Think about how your religious experiences supported or contradicted these values.
  3. Create affirmations or intentions that emphasise your commitment to your current values. Think about how you will live by these values in the future.

Goal: Clarity about your values and integration of these values into everyday life.

You can also find a deeper understanding of your values in literature, lectures, and podcasts on spiritual, ethical, and philosophical topics.

The exchange with like-minded people is enriching and contributes to clarity about one’s own values.

Finally, workshops and seminars on topics such as ethics, personal development and life goals offer valuable insights and support.

5. Integration and spiritual growth

It is crucial to deal with different aspects of spirituality and recognise parts not poisoned by trauma. Those affected can completely renounce their faith, develop an individual spirituality or turn to another faith community.

Self-development and individuation

Self-development and individuation can also be successful without personal spirituality. A healthy and authentic spiritual practice arises through the liberation of the self from false shells and the reconciliation of contradictions in the human being.


  1. Look at your own development and coping history from a different perspective.
  2. Use the rewriting technique of your life story to influence your perception of past events positively.

Writing a new life story:

  1. Reflection and selection: Recall a challenging time in your life and choose a specific event or phase to rewrite.
  2. Detailed record: Write down the chosen story as you remember it so far. Capture all the necessary details, including your feelings and thoughts.
  3. Identifying strengths: Read through your story and recognise moments when you showed strength, courage or perseverance.
  4. Rewriting with a focus on resilience: Rewrite the story, focusing on your strengths and survivability.
  5. Visualisation and affirmation: Visualise yourself mastering the events with new strength and confidence.
  6. Share or preserve: Consider whether you want to share your newly written story or keep it for yourself.

Objective: To see the past in a new light by rewriting one’s life story and free oneself from old, painful narrative patterns.

Visualisation techniques and positive affirmations support the rewriting of the life story.

Regularly reflecting on personal progress and setting new goals will further encourage the process. Support from a therapist or coach can help you gain deeper insights and accelerate the growth process.

6 Long-term self-help

Challenges and limits of self-help approaches

Self-help approaches are an effective way of providing support for the psychological consequences of childhood trauma, but they also have their limits.

  1. Effectiveness for severe mental disorders

Self-help approaches are often not sufficient for severe mental disorders or acute mental crises. Such conditions require professional interventions that go beyond the possibilities of self-help.

Self-help is an essential form of support but is no substitute for professional therapy for severe mental illnesses such as cPTBS.

  1. Lack of professional guidance

Self-help books and programmes often offer standardised advice not tailored to a person’s needs or specific circumstances. Without professional guidance, it can be challenging to recognise and effectively address the causes of problems.

  1. Excessive demands and frustration

The perception of self-efficacy and self-worth is closely linked to the success of self-help measures. Self-help methods can be disappointing if they do not produce immediate results. Those affected then feel helpless and either so “broken” that nothing helps or doubt that they are “trying hard enough”. That can lead to frustration and demotivation. Self-help requires significant self-motivation and self-discipline, which is simply out of reach in difficult times.

  1. Lack of social support

Many self-help approaches emphasise self-help. In any case, leaving controlling religious communities is often associated with isolation because there is no social support available outside of them. However, it can be tricky to apply the practices learned in self-help programmes successfully without a supportive network.

  1. Uncritical adoption of information

The quality and reliability of self-help materials vary greatly. Not all sources are scientifically sound. Users of self-help approaches, in particular, must critically assess which information and techniques are appropriate for their specific situation.

  1. Need for in-depth work

Self-help can sometimes only offer superficial solutions, leaving deeper, underlying problems untouched. Simply because they are unconscious and only accessible to reflection to a limited extent. Some emotional or psychological challenges, therefore, require a deeper psychotherapeutic approach to address the roots of the problems:

  1. The complexity of the self with its various components, such as self-concept and self-esteem, challenges the effectiveness of self-help approaches.
  2. Self-help approaches reach their limits when dealing with relapses, especially in the case of addiction.
  3. Self-regulation and self-management have their limitations, especially when it comes to changing behaviours that damage self-esteem.
  4. In general, it is extremely difficult for those affected to deal with their psychological problems on their own, in addition to detaching themselves from a religious community.

Professional help is also necessary whenever several treatment measures are required, such as coordination with social services, family support, and medication prescription. The combination of inpatient, day-care and outpatient treatment and self-help groups also requires professional support, especially during the transition to everyday life.

6. Development of a support network

Building a support network is an essential step for personal development and well-being. A support network should offer help and support in difficult times. That includes family, friends, colleagues, therapists and other confidants. A support network can even influence neuronal networks by offering support to the affected person, whether through people willing to help or the patient’s subjective conviction that support is available. To do this, however, the affected person must be able to open up in personal and therapeutic contexts.


  1. the first exercise is to find a position in the room, stand up, close your eyes or lower your gaze and feel into yourself. Make sure that both feet have good contact with the floor. Then, feel your inner child.

Speak out negative beliefs internally and feel how the inner child feels. Feel its emotions, often fear, pressure, anger, sadness or shame.

2 In the second exercise, imagine that you are bathed in sunlight. Feel how the light flows over your body and envelops you. Imagine you are enveloped in a light cloak and feel its warmth. Connect with the power of the sun or a higher power.

3 The third exercise focuses attention on the physical expression of a feeling. Pay attention to all physical sensations: Pressure, tingling, a lump in the throat, palpitations, etc. Concentrate on this physical sensation level of the feelings and consciously notice which physical symptoms occur when a particular feeling arises. You may also want to stroke areas of the body or apply gentle pressure to them to erase all the images in your head that accompany feelings and become entirely absorbed in the physical sensation. These gentle touches direct your concentration away from the emotional images in your head and towards the sensations you can feel in your body. Perception with pure body sensation reduces the emotional intensity of an overwhelming feeling, and through this perception, you understand how your feelings manifest and are experienced physically.

Aim: To learn to perceive and understand oneself on a physical, mental, emotional and social level, to strengthen one’s own well-being and to open up to connections with others. Self-compassion and self-care as a basis for helping oneself and accepting support from others, thereby building a supportive network.

7. More specialised exercises for those affected by religious childhood trauma

  1. Belief System Review:
    • Write down the central beliefs that you have adopted from your religious upbringing.
    • Consider which of these beliefs are helpful to you and which are a hindrance.
    • Develop new, positive beliefs supporting your current life situation and growth process.
  2. Self-forgiveness:
    • Write a letter to yourself in which you forgive yourself for things you think you have done wrong due to your religious upbringing.
    • Read the letter out loud and allow the feelings to come up.
    • Symbolically burn or cut up the letter to let go of the burden of guilt.
  3. Visualisation of a safe spiritual environment:
    • Close your eyes and imagine a place where you feel spiritually safe and secure.
    • Visualise the details of this place: colours, smells, sounds and feelings.
    • Return regularly to this place in your imagination for inner peace and security.
  4. Develop a positive mantra:
    • Develop a mantra that supports your growth, e.g. “I am strong and free from the constraints of the past”.
    • Repeat this mantra daily, especially in moments of doubt or fear.
  5. Self-help groups specifically for religious trauma:
    • Look for support groups or online forums that deal specifically with religious trauma.
    • The exchange with other affected people provides a sense of community and support and promotes the growth process.

8. A self-care  plan for ongoing self-care and growth

Long-term perspectives and resilience

Resilience is the ability to bounce back and emerge stronger despite adverse circumstances. A plan for continuous self-care and growth must consider all of these aspects. The process requires time, patience and a willingness to engage with yourself and actively work on your own development.

Daily self-care

Take time for self-care every day, whether through small gifts to yourself, regular relaxation exercises or setting clear boundaries. You already know the following exercises.


  1. Meditation of loving-kindness:
    • Sit comfortably, close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing.
    • Silently repeat phrases such as “May I find peace, may I be healthy, may I be happy” to yourself.
    • Also, direct these wishes to others, from loved ones to neutral people and even those with whom you have difficulties.
  2. Self-compassion break:
    • Consciously take time during the day to step out of stress or discomfort and build self-compassion.
    • In a moment of stress or discomfort, pause and recognise your feelings. Allow yourself to recognise the discomfort without judging.
    • Tell yourself words of comfort and understanding as you would to a friend.
  3. Vision board:
    • Gather magazines, printouts and other materials that align with your self-care vision.
    • Cut out images and phrases that align with your self-care needs and goals.
    • Stick them on a board to remind yourself of your daily self-care goals.

Integration of therapeutic resources

To maintain a connection to therapeutic resources, be it professional counselling or supportive communities, it is crucial to stay in constant contact. That means attending regular therapy sessions, participating in support groups or talking to trusted individuals about your challenges. A stable connection to therapeutic resources can support and encourage growth by providing a safe space for sharing thoughts and feelings and ensuring additional support during difficult times.

A plan for continuous self-care and growth must consider all of the above aspects.


First of all, those affected must overcome toxic self-criticism and self-neglect. The inner critic must first be pruned back and even become a friend in the long term. That is what makes self-compassion and self-care possible in the first place.

Finally, the difficult balance between autonomy and dependence within relationships comes into play. It’s about asserting yourself, but also being adaptable and responsible. For all their goodwill, partners often find it difficult to deal with the newly found self-worth and self-acceptance of those affected, at least initially. That can strain a relationship to the breaking point.

Overall, self-compassion, self-knowledge and the strengthening of different personality parts should result in a comprehensive plan for personal growth. Creating such a plan requires time, patience and the willingness to engage with yourself and actively work on your own development.


Dealing with religious childhood trauma requires courage and determination. By understanding and acknowledging the trauma, developing self-compassion and utilising supportive relationships and therapeutic approaches, those affected will find their own path to personal growth. The process may be challenging, but it opens up the possibility of developing a deeper understanding of oneself and leading a fulfilling life.


Afford, Peter. 2019. Therapy in the Age of Neuroscience: A Guide for Counsellors and Therapists. London – New York: Routledge.

Anderson, Laura E. 2023. When Religion Hurts You: Healing From Religious Trauma and the Impact of High-Control Religion. Ada, Michigan: Baker Books.

Arendt, Hannah. 1981. The Life of the Mind. San Diego, New York, London: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Arendt, Hannah. 2012. Das Urteilen: Texte zu Kants Politischer Philosophie; Dritter Teil zu “Vom Leben Des Geistes”. München: Piper.

Blumenberg, Hans. 1986. Die Lesbarkeit der Welt. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Blumenberg, Hans. 1988. Work on Myth. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Blumenberg, Hans. 2001. Lebenszeit und Weltzeit. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Blumenberg, Hans. 2006. Arbeit am Mythos. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Boyer, Pascal. 2001. Et L’Homme Créa Les Dieux: Comment Expliquer La Religion. Paris: Robert Laffont.

Buber, Martin. 1995. Ich und Du. Stuttgart: Reclam.

Celano, Tommaso da. 2016. La Vita Di San Francesco D’Assisi  (Italian Edition). Le Vie della Cristianità.

Chomsky, Noam. 2011. How the World Works (Real Story (Soft Skull Press)) (English Edition) Kindle Ausgabe. Soft Skull.

Denborough, David. 2017. Geschichten des Lebens neu gestalten. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Eliade, Mircea. 1954. Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

Eliade, Mircea. 1964. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Penguin Books.

Eliade, Mircea. 1978. History of Religious Ideas, Volume 1: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.

Eliade, Mircea. 1982. History of Religious Ideas, Volume 2: From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity. University of Chicago Press.

Eliade, Mircea. 1988. History of Religious Ideas, Volume 3: From Muhammad to the Age of Reforms. University of Chicago Press.

Finch, Jamie Lee. 2019. You Are Your Own: A Reckoning With the Religious Trauma of Evangelical Christianity. Independently Published.

Foucault, Michel. 2009. Hermeneutik des Subjekts: Vorlesungen am Collège De France (1981/82). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Franz, Marie-Louise von. 2001. Psychotherapy. Shambhala.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1990. Hermeneutik I: Wahrheit und Methode. Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik (Gesammelte Werke 1). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1993. Hermeneutik II: Wahrheit und Methode. Ergänzungen, Register (Gesammelte Werke 2). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Herpertz, Sabine. 2008. Störungsorientierte Psychotherapie. München: Urban&Fischer.

Iagher, Matei. 2018. “Beyond Consciousness: Psychology and Religious Experience in the Early Work of Mircea Eliade (1925-1932).” New Europe College Stefan Odobleja Program Yearbook (2017+ 18): 119–48.

Kant, Immanuel. 1910. Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft. Text der Ausgabe von 1793, Mit Beifügung der Abweichungen der Ausgabe von 1794. Philipp Reclam jun.

Korsch, Dietrich, and Volker Leppin, Hrsg. 2020. Martin Luther – Biographie und Theologie. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1962. Anthropologie Structurale. Paris: Librarie Plon.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 2018. Strukturale Anthropologie I. Suhrkamp.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 2019. Strukturale Anthropologie II. Suhrkamp.

Levine, Peter A., and Bessel Van der Kolk. 2015. Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Working With Traumatic Memory. Berkely, California: North Atlantic Books.

Maxwell, Paul. 2022. The Trauma of Doctrine: New Calvinism, Religious Abuse, and the Experience of God. Lanham • Boulder • New York • London: Fortress Academic.

Moellendorf, Darrel. 2019. “Hope for Material Progress in the Age of the Anthropocene.” In The Moral Psychology of Hope, edited by Claudia Blöser, and Titus Stahl, 249–64. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Nussbaum, Martha C. 2012. The New Religious Intolerance. Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

O’Gieblyn, Meghan. 2021. God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning. Anchor.

Otto, Rudolf. 1924. The Idea of the Holy. Ravenio Books.

Petersen, Brooke N. 2022. Religious Trauma: Queer Stories in Estrangement and Return. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.

Peterson, Jordan B. 2002. Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (English Edition) Kindle Ausgabe. New York – London: Routledge.

Price, Max D. 2021. Evolution of a Taboo: Pigs and People in the Ancient Near East. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.

Rizzuto, Ana-Marie. 1979. Birth of the Living God: A Psychoanalytic Study. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Russell, Bertrand, and Simon Blackburn. 2004. Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects. Psychology Press.

Sagan, Carl. 1997. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

Schauer, Maggie, Thomas Elbert, and Frank Neuner. 2017. “Narrative Expositionstherapie (NET) für Menschen nach Gewalt und Flucht. Ein Einblick in das Verfahren.” Psychotherapeut 62 (4): 306–13.

Schiraldi, Glenn. 2009. The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth: A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Scholem, Gershom. 1997. On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism. New York: Schocken.

Stein, Alexandra. 2016. Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems. Taylor & Francis.

Thomas, Megan S. 2023. “Church Hurt: A Therapeutic Approach for Treating Religious Trauma and Spiritual Bypass.” Psychology Doct or al Specialization Projects. 25.

Wikipedia-Autoren, s. Versionsgeschichte. 2024. “Religion.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *