Archive of ‘Shame’ category

Do You Suffer from Religious Trauma?

When you hear the words “religious trauma,” what do you think of? You’re maybe thinking something along the lines of Catholic priests and altar boys. And while that’s certainly one of the most egregious examples of religious trauma, it can be much subtler than that. 

In 1993, Marlene Winell, a psychologist and former Christian fundamentalist, coined the term Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) to specifically refer to “the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.” The definition has been expanded and now includes spiritual trauma for those who may not have identified with a specific religion (e.g. cults). 

You may be thinking, my religious upbringing wasn’t that bad. And you may be right. But you may want to think about if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms of RTS:

  • Confusing thoughts and reduced ability to think critically
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Feelings of depression, anxiety, grief, anger, lethargy
  • A loss of a community (family, friends, romantic relationships)
  • Feeling isolated or a sense that you don’t belong
  • Feeling “behind the times” with cultural happenings
  • Experiencing significant shame, guilt and/or low self-esteem
  • Addictive or compulsive behaviors
  • Sexual difficulties
  • “Black and White” thinking (e.g. something is either good or bad; no room for “grey”)
  • Perfectionism
  • Inability to tolerate the distress of participating in any kind of organized religion and avoidance of religious environments, people, and reading material.
  • And many other symptoms of PTSD including nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, emotional difficulty, etc.

RTS might show up for you in your relationships with others and yourself. For example, you may struggle with being in a relationship with someone from a different religion. Or, you may beat yourself up after doing something that would have been considered “bad” or “evil” in your religion or your family of origin. You may feel uncomfortable being your authentic self in front of loved ones. If you are experiencing this, you are not alone.  

Most people don’t come into therapy to deal with their religious upbringing, but depression, anxiety, relational concerns, etc., may have been how your body has learned to deal with trauma. 

One of the benefits of recovering from religious trauma is that you get to choose whether you practice your faith. (In fact, the freedom to choose your own path in life may be the greatest benefit of all.) You may develop a different, healthy relationship with religion, or you may decide to leave religion behind. You may learn to create or join a community that serves your needs, rather than changing yourself to fit the community. You could develop ways of connecting with something greater than yourself without feeling guilt or pressure to behave a certain way. 

But it may be necessary to work through the trauma to tap into any spiritual growth. 

If you are struggling with religious trauma, you may want to consider speaking with your therapist about it. Research suggests that talk therapy can be one of the best ways to work through religious trauma.

How to Talk to Your Kids about Race and Racism

child at protest

There might be a misconception that children are too young to learn about race. However, it is usually adults who feel uncomfortable talking about racial differences with their child because it may “put ideas in their heads.” Or other adults may feel that children cannot see or understand race because they are so young, which is why conversations about race and racism go unexplored. 

  • Children learn most of their information through direct teachings and modeling from their parents, which is why it is important that parents have meaningful conversations with their children about these issues. 
  • There is an overwhelming amount of research showing that children are not only able to recognize race during infancy, but they also develop racial biases and prejudices between the ages of three and five. 
  • Children are not colorblind but rather are blank canvases. They cannot develop biases and prejudices about race until they are specifically taught to do so. 

So what can parents do to start open and honest conversations about race with their children? 

Parents, be aware of your own biases 

The first step parents can take is to understand their own implicit and explicit biases. Explore how these inclinations can mislead or misdirect your children’s perceptions of difference, race, and diversity. Instead of waiting for others to teach you, take it up on yourself to listen, learn, and ask questions about how your long-held beliefs may be creating barriers and influencing judgment. 
Some reflective questions to ask yourself: How do I navigate race ? How do I discuss race in front of my family ? How do I own up to my mistakes of racism ? 

Use books 

Books are a collaborative and educational resource for you and your child to have direct conversations about race. Stories connect the readers to the information being told, whether it may be about how we celebrate different holidays, honor people of color, or cherish moments in history. They can also be stepping stones to ask thought provoking questions like: What was the story was about ?  How were the subjects in the story treated ? Were there themes of discrimination, prejudice, or privilege present ? How does this story relate to my own understanding of race ? Do not underestimate children and their ability to understand and absorb these complex and important issues. 

Recommended Books: 

  • All the Colors We are (Age 3-6)
  • Don’t Touch my Hair (Age 4-7)
  • Mixed (Age 4-8)
  • Let’s Talk about Race (Age 4-8)
  • The Proudest Blue (Age 4-8)
  • New Kid (Age 8-12)
  • Young Water Protectors (Age 9-12) 

Teach your child to own up to their mistakes 

Inevitably, your child will say or do something explicitly or implicitly racist and in these moments you can teach your child a valuable lesson about responsibility. This can equip them with the tools to learn and understand the harm that was done and what they can do to repair it. There may be an inclination for your child to defend, excuse, or blame others for these mistakes; however, this is an opportunity to teach your child how they can repair ruptures using remorse and self-responsibility. 

Ask your child how they feel – directly 

Having direct heart to heart conversations about how your child perceives race and racism can create dialogues about what they are seeing, thinking, and believing. Over time, these conversations will evoke trust, acceptance, and understanding between you and your child. By no means is navigating race and racism easy. However, talking openly with your child and giving them a space they can be curious, will reinforce the belief that they can come to their parents to process and explore these difficult topics. 

Written by: Geetha Pokala, LPC-Associate, Supervised by Kirby Schroeder LPC-S, LMFT-S

Meet Geetha!

The “S” Word


Growing up, the word “sex” seemed taboo; my friends and I (should we ever talk about sex in any way) would just refer to it as either “the s-word” OR spell it out; somehow or another, that made it even scarier. I’m not entirely sure when I actually realized what sex was and what it entailed, but I certainly know I had an idea about it in my head that was entirely untrue. I vaguely remember talking about private things with my mom, but rather than actually talking about sex, I think it was more of a conversation about periods and tampons…and I was mortified. When I started my period, rather than telling her about it to her face, I wrote her a letter. It wast something that we talked about…ever…so why would I suddenly talk about it with her now? Even as an adult, several years ago, she made a comment that chocolate she was eating was better than sex. WHAT?! We’re going to talk about this? Nope. On the other end of things, I work with someone who said when she was young, her father showed her photos of different sexually transmitted infections and (in so many words) made her believe that if she had sex with anyone, she was bound to get an infection that would rot her insides. I’m exaggerating, but she’s in her mid-twenties now and still remembers that talk (and those photos) and it has definitely left her anxious about all things sex-related.

But why?  Why is sex SO taboo?  Why don’t we talk about it?  ESPECIALLY to our teens?  I’m not advocating for broadcasting the intimate details of what anyone does behind closed doors or to have sex with anyone & everyone–rather, I’m advocating for making it okay and normal to talk about sex and ask questions–no matter how old you are.  

Sex and various forms of intimacy surround us constantly.  Not that anyone needs proof of that, but here are some lyrics of songs that I either listened to or knew of when I was growing up:

  • “Let’s make love, all night long.  Until all our strength is gone” I actually called a radio station and requested this song.  I was a HUGE Tim McGraw fan and was mortified when the radio DJ asked how old I was to be requesting a song like that–I felt like I had done something wrong, but didn’t quite know why.  

  • “If you wanna be with me, baby there’s a price to pay.  I’m a genie in a bottle, you gotta rub me the right way”  This was Christina Aguilera’s first big hit, and I definitely remember singing along to this with multiple friends any (and every) time it came on.   

  • “If you’re horny, let’s do it.  Ride it, my pony.  My saddle’s waiting, come and jump on it”  I admit I was in my 20s when I realized exactly what the words to that song actually said, but I’ll be the first to admit that I used to listen to this on the radio!

That’s just the first couple of songs that come to mind…and that’s what I grew up with–let alone the songs (that seem to be getting more & more explicit) that are played on the radio now.  I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it at that.  Sex is also always in our faces in other capacities: advertising, social media, movies, TV shows…everywhere.  Knowing that sex exists, it’s a thing, and based on what we learn about it from things like: music, movies, and TV, it seems pretty cool…but teenagers don’t really know what it means or what it entails; which, quite frankly, leads me to the reason for writing about this in the first place .   

I had someone, a teenager, casually tell me she was raped.  The details of how the conversation and the event that happened that lead her to believe that was the case do not matter.  What does matter, though, is that (fortunately) this person was not raped.  Rather–a complete lack of knowledge about sex (after a sexual encounter with someone) left her confused and believing she was raped.  So what can be done to make sure situations like this are fewer & farther between?  We can talk about it.  

What Does Talking About Sex Look Like?  

Anything that’s age appropriate!  Regardless of the age that someone is, though, they need to know that consent is always mandatory…no if’s, and’s, or but’s.  If there is not consent, then whatever is happening should not happen.  People should feel empowered to know they can say “no” and that they should never have to do anything they don’t want to.  People have control over their own bodies and what they do or do not want to do to them.

Sex Is Not Going Anywhere.  

With sex being thrown in our faces all the time, people (especially teenagers) may get the idea that that they need to (or should) have sex.  In a young person’s eyes, sex may be synonymous with love–or even worse, people may believe that they need to have sex in order to stay in a relationship.  If you’re reading that and thinking “Oh, that’s ridiculous…why would someone believe that?”…keep in mind that sometimes young people (especially teenagers) get their information from: marketing, the media, and peers at school.  So if we aren’t telling them otherwise…how else are they going to know these things?  There is not a race to have sex–although some movies may tell us otherwise.  It’s important that people know they will have the ability to have sex when they’re in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and so on.  And with that being the case–why rush into things now?  And more importantly–nobody should feel pressured to have sex with someone out of love or to get someone to stay with them.  

Don’t Shame Your Children or Teens For Asking Questions.   

Someone I knew recently described children as “little scientists” who are curious and want to learn and know about things.  So if they ask questions–answer them.  Same with your teenagers!  As questions are asked–don’t go on an abstinence-only rant or pretend the conversation never happened.  Think of any time you were told specifically not to do something or act a certain way–while I can’t speak for everyone–anytime those words were told to me, it made me want to do it JUST to see why I couldn’t.  Keep that in mind when you’re thinking of having conversations about sex with your children.  Be open and honest and be appreciative that the conversation is happening–whether it was initiated by you or your child and help empower them to make appropriate decisions for themselves and their body.  

By: Julie Burke, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT

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