"We have to live today by what truth we can get today, and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood." -William James
RTS shares many symptoms with complex PTSD - but we need not remain stuck there. I want to help you grow in self-awareness and effectively manage your transition from sacred to secular.
"Not in their goals but in their transitions are people great." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
American psychologist Dr. Marlene Winell defines Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) as a set of symptoms and characteristics that are related to harmful experiences with religion. Dr. Winell points out that these symptoms and characteristics are the result of two things: Immersion in a controlling religion, and the impact of leaving a religious group.
Loss of faith occurs for a variety of reasons, leaving significant psychological scars. Having to rebuild life from the ground up without the help of our former community and the strength of our former beliefs is a daunting task. If we are married to a still-believing spouse, the task becomes significantly more challenging. In a society where religious faith is encouraged (or in some cases, demanded) can make our exit from the faith community formidable if we lack the adequate education required to support ourselves. Those who leave groups such as the Amish, LDS, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Scientology find themselves utterly alone and cut off from all family. Those who leave Islam face the very real threat of torture and death.
It is not just a matter of simply growing up, waking up, or disbelieving in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. When your life has revolved around your faith, and your energy and resources have all been devoted to that end, breaking from the group can leave you utterly bereft and extremely vulnerable in a secular society that often does not understand your multiple losses. In addition to the fear, confusion, and anger we may feel, we are engulfed by ambiguous loss, disenfranchised grief, and unresolved grief.
You may be familiar with the phrase "Closure only occurs in real estate." Ambiguous losses occur when there is no closure for the bereaved; no body to bury. For us, this means the dissolution of our entire world view. With no understanding of our loss by the secular community, our grief is also disenfranchised: It is unrecognized by society because of its relative and subjective nature. Society at large cannot relate. Not permitted to grieve our losses, we suffer with unresolved grief, which is cumulative and can be re-opened. Essentially, unresolved grief is a form of unfinished business, and it can show up in our life in detrimental ways. Sometimes, we do not understand why certain situations or people evoke from us seemingly disproportionate reactions which may, in fact, be the result of unresolved grief from ambiguous loss.
Our beliefs form our views of the world. They are like a pair of glasses that we put on every single day, affecting how we interpret everything that we see and experience. Beliefs become attachments which we hold to varying degrees, for good or ill. It is impossible to overestimate the control that attachment, loss, and grief hold over us. Suffering comes when we do not recognize our attachments and we fail to complete the necessary tasks of grieving our losses.