"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Religious Trauma: Steps to Recovery

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Religious Trauma: Steps to Recovery

The following is excerpted from the website Journey Free, founded Marlene Winell, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. She has been working in religious recovery for over 25 years and originated the term "religious trauma syndrome." Journey Free offers a Youtube series, no-cost phone consulting and low-cost retreats (the next one is in San Francisco, September 21-24, 2018).

Several extoots have recommended Marlene Winell over the years. Perhaps she'd be willing to lead a retreat in your area if contacted. Doesn't hurt to try!

1.   Get Real
  • This is when you start to get it that your religion is not really working for you.  It’s not making sense intellectually, it’s not paying off emotionally, or you see moral problems with it.
  • This early stage is hard because dogmatic systems do not let go easily and there is a cycle of abuse as you get blamed for the problems.
  • Your doubts and questions feel dangerous because you haven’t been allowed to think for yourself.  Yet you have to start getting honest.
  • Be honest with yourself about whether your religion is working for you. Let go of trying to force it to make sense.
  • Have a look at life and the world AS IT IS, and stop trying to live in a parallel universe. This world might not be perfect but facing reality will help you get your life on track.
  • If you feel guilty, realize that the religion teaches you to feel responsible when it isn’t working and tells you to go back and try harder, just like an abusive relationship.
2.   Get a Grip
  • Eventually, the problems get to be too much and you want to stop forcing everything to fit.  Don’t panic. It’s important to understand that the fear is just part of the phobia indoctrination.
  • Phobia indoctrination is a self-serving part of the religion that tells you that terrible things will happen to you if you leave.
  • If you calm down, you’ll be just fine. Many people have been through this. So read some deconversion stories and calm down. You will be fine.
  • When you look at the world as it really is, facing reality will help you get your life on track.
3.   Get Informed
  • Do everything you can to educate yourself. You are free to read, watch videos, and expose yourself to all the knowledge in the world – history, philosophy, other religions, mythology, science, psychology, biology, and more.
  • Read authors who have explained why they deconverted. In particular, learn about the origins of your religion and scripture, such as how the Bible was put together and early church history.
  • Having a look from an unbiased viewpoint can be pretty eye-opening. Enjoy letting your brain breathe.
4.   Get Support
  • Healing from toxic religion is not just intellectual. It goes deep into your emotional and psychological make-up, especially if you were taught as a child.
  • So don’t be surprised if you have a gap between what you know in your head and what you feel in your gut.
  • You can reject a belief in hell, for example, and still have nightmares. Get support in any way you can – from online forums, local groups, a therapist who understands, or go to a recovery retreat.
  • Do the work to heal the wounds of religious abuse. And be careful about what you may have been told about the evils of psychology or getting secular help.
5.   Get Well
  • It’s important to give yourself time to process your feelings and learn how to trust yourself.  You will probably need to deal with many emotions, such as anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, and grief.
  • You will also need to regain trust in your thinking abilities, practice expressing your own views, and develop critical thinking, creativity, and decision-making.
  • If you do the work to get healthy and mature, eventually your wounds will heal. You will feel stronger and able to love and take care of yourself.
6.   Get a Life
  • Letting go of a religious worldview means you have to rethink who you are and what life is about. You also have to rebuild most of your life structure such as social networks, work, and family relationships.
  • In general, you will have to take responsibility for your own choices instead of depending on the religion or God’s will for guiding your life.  This is exciting of course, because you are now in the world with many options, but it may be a little daunting as well.
  • But it is up to you to reclaim your life, construct your identity, and make commitments to new values. Rebuild your life around new values and engage fully with your choices. Develop your identity as you learn to love and trust yourself.
  • Take responsibility and create the life that works for you – in work, family, leisure, social – all the areas of commitment that make a life structure. If you still want a spiritual life, define it for yourself.
  • Venture into the “world” for new experiences and new friends. This will take time but you can do it.
7.  Get Clear
  • At some stage, you will need to let other people know about your change in views.  For many this feels like coming out of the closet and has serious implications. Family and friends who are still believers may react in negative ways, especially at first.
  • You may go through some challenging adjustments in your relationships. But for most people, this honesty is eventually necessary in order to have personal integrity.
  • It can be hard to let other people go through their own feelings and to deal with all the issues, but in the end, it’s worth it.
8.   Get With The Program
  • Welcome to the human race. Accept the idea that Earth is your home and humanity is your true family. If you aren’t part of a special group that is leaving, consider what that means for you.
  • You may want to participate in larger concerns to make the world a better place, such as caring for the environment or working for social justice.
  • Let go of expecting God to take care of all the problems and join others to make the world a better place here and now. You can see that we are all interconnected and you can enjoy relationships with other people.
9.   Get Your Groove On
  • As you relax about being part of this earth, you reclaim enjoyment of sensation and pleasure. You realize you don’t have to earn the right to exist. You are just like other animals.
  • Your sensory experiences are delightful, your body is great, and sex is good. You find all the ways to appreciate nature.
  • It’s ok to simply enjoy being alive. Learn to be present here and now. Enjoy and love other people instead of judging. Reclaim your creativity and express yourself any way you like, not just to “glorify God.”
  • Love your body and take care of it. Embrace this life instead of worrying about the next. Sing and dance and laugh for no reason except Being Alive.


  1. Greetings to all. Thank you Free for posting these nine steps that succinctly summarize the mental and emotional stages of leaving. Years back it began to strike me as absurd when Laestadians would try to equate their present lives as a parallel to the first century Christians of the Bible. There is of course a spiritual parallel but trying to equate the modern-day Apostolic Lutheran lifestyle consisting primarily of construction trades for the men & being a homemaker for the women with all of its modern day amenities seemed far fetched to me. It was the equivalent of putting the proverbial square peg in a round hole. The reality is that our lives, lifestyles and the sheer volume of modern scientific knowledge that affects our daily lives puts us in a very different realm from even the people who lived 150 years ago in Laestadius' time. I came to see that modern day Laestadians consciously chose to retreat from a world that did not meet their preconceived notions of life versus adapting to the realities around them. It seemed like that approach worked for the 95% of round pegs sitting in the church pews but not for the 5% of square pegs who saw the bigger picture of life and themselves as being part of humanity. As President Kennedy said, "...asking his blessing and his help-but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own." Old AP

  2. Some time back I realized the power of fear within Laestadianism. I observed that for many children every decision and choice they made was done under duress or coercion and that individuality and personal choices were squashed from an early age. I came to see that this coercion extended into spiritual, doctrinal and life choices as children were being forced to choose between one of two equally bad outcomes. For example, either accept a punishing, guilt ridden doctrine or choose to go into a burning hell pit. Occupationally guys had to choose between construction or another blue collar profession. Gals had to choose between marriage and babies or the humiliation of being called a vanha peka. In psychology there is a disorder called, 'Borderline Personality Disorder' where a person sees everything in stark black or white terms, right or wrong, good or bad etc... People with this disorder do not see the many shades of gray in between and that people are not all good nor all bad. They do not see that other people have intrinsic 'borders' that define them as a people and as sovereign individuals. I realized that most Laestadians that I knew seemed to exhibit 'Borderline' type behaviors with no sense of other people's personal space, feelings or beliefs. So I surmise that at its roots the dysfunctional Laestadianism which I witnessed stems from church members being forced under duress to make decisions between equally noxious choices from an early age with no alternatives to choose from. The anxiety and inner turmoil that stems from this coercive decision making process is then carried forward into adulthood and ultimately preached from the pulpit creating a self-reinforcing cycle. Old AP

    1. Interesting analysis, Old AP, and spot on as usual. Times seem to have changed a bit, as I see a few more OALC young people being allowed to pursue higher education. However,sadly, I still see some of the young women getting some higher education but then succumbing to the "must get married and have children as fast as humanly and biologically possible" thinking, quitting work, and abandoning their career for that. It's kind of hard to have a career and keep track of nine kids. The young men still seem to get a trade education if any -- but then they have the advantage of being able to work in that field as the "provider." There have always been a few families that encouraged education, but they were the minority.

    2. CVOW, The whole construction trade & marriage shtick is not necessarily the worst pathway in life but my feeling was that why not pursue a higher education first & then get into the construction field as a Civil Engineer or at some other level which pay a substantially higher salary with much better working conditions. For woman it is the same story, they could pursue a higher education within a profession and then later have a family but be in a much better state emotionally as well as economically. I would dare say that the present old style dogma of the church would evolve into a much more evangelical message if the congregants themselves were educated as they would no longer be so gullible and fall for the 'old wives fables' of hardline Laestadianism. The problem is that it might take the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church & some of the other groups another 25 years before they see the light given their reluctance to accept any change. From what I recall one literally had to wait for some of the old geezers to die before anyone was willing to change anything, even if it was for the better. Interestingly enough, more and more of the younger Laestadians are collectively seeing that there are relatively few differences between the various Laestadian groups. Most remaining differences are due to old dogmatic bullheads who look on the church as a herd to be prodded along versus a flock to be nurtured, loved and cared for. So there is a ray of hope that there will be some type of broad re-unification in another 25 years or so where the Laestadian groups will merge and become an evangelical force. But probably not in my lifetime. Old AP

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  3. I would really please like to find someone from the FALC church to help me get through what I am going through right now. I have questioned for years but recently I was put in an extremely traumatizing situation. I am much happier with my life in general but I still often live with fear because of what I was taught as a child. I know what happened to me to me growing up is not right but I still have lots of fear of going to hell and I feel like I dont have a choice in going to the church. I want to leave but my family and friends will distance themself and it would be so hard on me. If someone could please have a conversation with me I would appreciate it.

    1. Hello anonymous (who posted on 11/2) I myself am from the FALC but left a few years ago, and would be willing to listen and chat. Find me on Fb and we can connect.
      Nora Anderson of Calumet

  4. It can be a lot to go through. If you need someone to chat to, I can listen. You can face book me to get dialogue going. Depending on where you live, I can perhaps fined someone to talk to.
    You might feel alone, but there are a lot who can understand.
    Joshua Torola.