3. What are the signs or symptoms of someone who has been spiritually traumatized?

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.