By Christine Hubbard, CSW
In many cases, religion is a central part of a person’s identity. Thus, when one starts to question, or leave the religion they have spent a large part of their life being a part of, their identity can fracture. This can lead to anxiety, depression and can trigger trauma responses. When people are brought up in a highly religious environment-especially when most everyone they ever interact with is part of the same religion, every part of a person’s development is informed by their religion. All rites of passage are connected to that religion. Social development, how you look at and interact with the world; especially parts of society that differ from one’s religious values; and in some cases, how one dresses or decides what food to eat are all determined and influenced by religion. So, when someone starts to question the beliefs they were raised with, they are faced with the possibility that every part of their life is going to change.
Identity crises are overwhelming for anyone but for the most part, an exploration of self is completed while by a person’s support system remains intact. When a faith crisis is the cause for changes though, most of one’s support system is connected to the religion they are questioning. This can quickly create a divide and can leave a person feeling extremely lonely. And if one does leave their religion figuring out how to build a new support system can seem impossible.
Religious beliefs and practices often inform how a person views and copes with hardship. Many religions teach that hardships are directly correlated to faith and whether or not a person is living in accordance with the teachings of the religion. This creates an environment that fosters secrecy and shame. When a person no longer believes in the tenets of a religion, they are often left without coping skills because the ones they have been taught are tied to religion beliefs and practices. This, coupled with the loss of community and shame creates a perfect storm for substance abuse and suicidality.
These are just a few of the issues that can come from faith crises and faith transitions. Connecting with a therapist that has a solid understanding of everything that can be a part of faith deconstruction, and is trained to see signs of trauma and unhealthy coping skills can literally save a person’s life. Having someone to help normalize the confusion and the sense of grief and loss associated with these crises is vital to successfully navigate them.