The Grand Illusion/Delusion



Having read @godlessindixie, Neil Carter’s, story on the clandestine dealings with a group with which he was involved, so much of it rang resonant with my own story, and those stories which have been shared with me, that I had to take a bit to process. It seems that my concept of spiritual trauma is growing in definition, partly because my definition of “spirit” is growing and changing.


Some may argue that it is “just semantics,” and while I agree, I also know that people hang a lot of emotion on given words and phrases. To refer to a “spiritual core” to an atheist or agnostic would be missing the point, and likely alienate him or her, and rightly so. Also, to deny a “spiritual core” to someone who highly identifies with that would be to miss the mark there as well, and alienate him or her, and again, rightly so.


Perhaps this concept of “spirit” could be better defined (and again, the problem of words being limiting in and of themselves) as the essence of who someone is, and around which ideologies can be selected and developed, beliefs can form, and perhaps a worldview can be constructed. The trauma, or injury, of this can happen when one person or group behaves in such a way that their ideologies, beliefs and worldview(s) should be exacted upon another, in order to coerce or manipulate the other into compliance to the former’s desires or wishes.


This is something which I fear: the notion that we are all either manipulating someone, somewhere, or being manipulated by someone, somewhere, to an end which whose good is questionable.


I am thinking that in order to be willing to heal, we may have to be willing to see that we can be as much perpetrator as victim, when we use the tactics of the “enemy.” When we engage in the style of rhetoric that is shaming, blaming, snarky, scapegoating and alienating, we don’t really get the right to say what they are doing is wrong, and we have only ourselves to blame when we are alone. We may be “right” and we are also very much alone. We also don’t have the right to say that what we did “in the name of righteousness” didn’t hurt someone else emotionally, psychologically or spiritually. While some may want to tell me that I am not hurt, that I am weak or that I need to “get over it,” it is these people that don’t get it, don’t seem to want to get it, and it would probably be best to just reduce my interactions with these people as much as possible. The bigger problem is when they may be psychotherapy providers. A big question remains is how can one give feedback to someone who does not seem to be receptive to it, or willing to change his or her behavior, so that the relationship can be healed and there can be mutual respect, even if they do not agree.


Yesterday, a friend of mine was talking about a commune in Europe called L’Abri. He said that it was a comingling of people from every possible ideology coming together to share and to learn from each other. I can imagine the discussions, which would take place, with deep passion, strong conviction and great civility. Yet I don’t think that it was for the sake of conversion, but for idea exchange and increased mental and ideological flexibility. I am thinking that we could all heal more rapidly in an environment such as that. Dr. Sue Johnson, as well as Drs. John and Julie Gottman, among others, have researched and stated that healing from trauma occurs more completely, and quickly in a healthy relationship. I am thinking that a connection whose purpose is growing each other, rather than draining the other or injecting poison into the other, is that healthy relationship. I am also wondering if this can simply exist among friends.


Do you have friends who just “get” you, and do you find that you have greater resilience and healing by just being with them?

Q&A 3: What are the signs or symptoms of someone who has been spiritually traumatized?


Some of us have a strong desire for certainty, and at the same time, a deep love of wonder.Because we are complex beings, regardless of whether we have experienced spiritual trauma, there is no decided cache of signs or symptoms. There are many signs/symptoms. Inasmuch as no one “does depression” the same way, as has been stated by Bill O’Hanlon, in his book Out of the Blue, those of us who have been spiritually traumatized manifest this experience differently.


The signs/symptoms may have some similarities to PTSD, depression, anxiety, among other diagnoses. I have heard and worked with these (and many others), as well as experiencing some of these myself.


  • may have certain responses bodily (shakes, sweats, breathing shallowly, narrowed/blurred vision, gastrointestinal issues, etc)
  • may ruminate for hours on end
  • may feel repeated guilt and shame for relatively minor offenses
  • may have a heightened sensitivity to perceived slights
  • may not be able to go to certain places due to fear/anxiety
  • may have fear being associated with certain groups
  • may have fear/guilt/anger when listening to certain types of music*
  • may have a lot of anger, and perhaps even rage
  • may develop addictions
  • may have problems in social situations (and sometimes for good reason)
  • may have problems with sleep
  • may have a strong desire for certainty, and at the same time, a deep love of wonder
  • may avoid certain topics
  • may “have problems” with boundaries*



For a long time, I had this weird mutual dissonance with music. I liked my “secular” music, and felt guilt and shame for liking it, and then anger for feeling guilt and shame, and then guilt over the anger, and then, well, you can imagine where that all went. Or didn’t go. I hated “spiritual” music because I placed it collectively with the whole experience that I’d had, and yet, some of it I liked, and hated that I still liked it, and that whole mess.


I say “have problems” because I am finding, as some researchers have, that the term “boundaries” is used as an excuse to not help, not care, and not demonstrate empathy. In that vein, I can’t reduce people to a set of symptoms to treat, because in my experience, that places a “band-aid” on the issue, as well as objectifies and marginalizes people. I want to work on their sense of self-trust, if the fellow survivor is willing.

Q&A 1: How do you define “spiritual trauma?”


I had a number of questions like this that came in after the webinar was over, so I didn’t address it there. On the front page of my website, I have a tab that says “About Spiritual Trauma Recovery.” In looking over it again, I can see how there can be some confusion as to what I mean.


Initially, I was researching the concept of mudslinging and bullying in the church, as it had been my experience, and the experience of a pastor friend of mine (and his family) who was harassed online by leadership in the church. I started reading about others’ experiences, and noted that there was so much more than just that. It wasn’t just congregants, or lay people in the church. Leadership was being beaten up as well. It was a free-for-all in terms of manipulation, gossip, slander, victim-shaming, shunning, name-smearing, scrambling for spiritual dominance, humility contests, calling people out VERY publicly to repent, among other things. When we started talking about our collective experiences, there was so much “me too!” going on, that I knew that I had to address this, using my own personal experience of it, and my training in psychotherapy and trauma.


I stumbled upon a couple of articles by Edward Kruk, PhD. He is a social work professor at University of British Columbia. There are links to his work at the end of this post, if you would like to read them. Basically, he defines spiritual trauma as “essentially an experience of violation of the spiritual or ‘sacred’ core in human beings, harm at the innermost level, by an external ‘social’ source.” He further notes that “social problems often induce spiritual trauma.”


Within this definition, one would need to define “spiritual” or “sacred” core. He states that “most agree that the child-like yet profound expectation that good and not harm will come to us is located at the core of human existence.” He goes on to quote Simone Weil (1952a), “There is a reality outside the world, outside space and time, outside man’s mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties.”


His further explanation of this kind of trauma also has within it the idea that once this core has been violated (hence “spiritual trauma”), there is really no recompense for it. No lawsuit, settlement or any manner of “rights enforcement” has a satisfactory effect. A person who has been raped cannot be “un-raped.” A person who has had his or her reputation smeared (especially online) because of a wrongdoing cannot get the reputation back, as people’s minds are usually made up on a given matter, and when this is re-hashed over and over online, it can solidify people’s ideas. Furthermore, in certain religious traditions, to seek litigation regarding anything like this is violating its own code. This sets up the situation for bullying, not unlike the kid who is held down and beaten up and then is shamed for not fighting back, and then is shamed for trying to get some kind of resolution.


Spiritual trauma within the confines of a religious tradition is often seen in “my spiritual life/practice is better than yours” and a call to point that out, often publicly, to the whole of the group. Usually, this is done in reverse, meaning that “your spiritual life/practice is inferior.” Some traditions refer to this as “Matthew Eighteening,” a reference to Matthew 18, wherein Jesus is said to have stated that one is supposed to call out others’ sin in order to have them repent publicly.


Here are the articles of Edward Kruk, PhD:


as well as a whole list of his peer-reviewed publications here:


I am wondering if this addresses this concept more fully. Please leave comment below, and let me know your thoughts on this.