March 2, 2023

Spiritual Trauma Part 1: Defining Spirituality

By Article

In this series, we will examine the many different elements of spirituality, faith, and religion that contribute to our mental health. We will also examine how these things can be distorted in traumatic ways that can negatively impact many aspects of our lives.

Defining Spirituality

Spirituality is more than answering which religion we do or do not follow on social media. We get asked these questions often because faith is critical to our identity and worldview development. Even if we are raised without religion, the way we find purpose and meaning in life is often based in spirituality and answers to why we exist.

Spirituality can lead to a sense of connection with others. When we encounter people with the same worldview as ourselves, it becomes easy to relate to them because we our fundamental understanding of the world is similar. This means that we feel a deeper sense of belonging as we feel seen and understood, without having to argue about the deeper existential questions of our existence. Our places of worship can become the places that we form our most intimate relations. Even people who would not consider themselves to be religious often find ways to connect with people on similar belief systems.

Spiritual practices also benefit our mental health. Practices like mindfulness, prayer, meditation, gratitude and giving can all contribute to our greater mental health. This happens because these practices improve our sense of self, create calm within ourselves and teach us how to relate to the world around us in a more holistic way.

The Challenges of Spirituality

When we are young, we typically follow the same belief system that is modeled for us by our parents and spiritual mentors. It is not until we grow developmentally into our late teenage/early twenty years that we begin to question the belief systems we were raised in. Once we begin this process of exploring spirituality for ourselves, we start to adapt the worldview that makes the most sense for ourselves. This decision making process is often influenced by our education, experiences, friendships and romantic relationships.

The challenge in this process comes when we choose to follow different systems than the people closest to us. It can become a challenge to connect with family and significant others when our beliefs and values change. Sometimes, we may find that these decisions lead to alienation from the people closest to us. This alienation can become a traumatic experience that we must reconcile within ourselves if we want to continue practicing our faith or feel whole.

Another challenge is that many people can struggle to set healthy boundaries in our faith community. It can be challenging to live in any community, but many faith communities include disagreeing personalities, conflicting values, high expectations for behavior, and difficult faith questions. When these things occur, it can be difficult to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries or say, “no,” when we feel overwhelmed or offended. It can also be challenging not to internalize shame when we disagree with our faith communities. In future posts, we will discuss how to set these boundaries and examine shame for ourselves.

If this post has brought up questions about your spirituality that you have not previously considered, a therapist can help you with this journey. As a therapist, I can help you examine your existential values and questions in a way that helps you feel whole and purpose driven. Call today!

Written by therapist Elise Champanhet

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