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: http://www.edwardkruk.com/writing__articles.html


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