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religious trauma syndrome – dr marlene winell

November 8, 2011

This week, a Facebook acquaintance (thanks, John!) pointed me at a great video series by psychologist Dr Marlene Winell, author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. In Part 1, a young man who recently deconverted from the Christianity in which he was raised tells his story. In Part 2, Dr Winell talks about her childhood growing up with Christian missionary parents, and her own process of leaving her faith as an adult. She describes her feeling of emotional involvement Christ – as though he were her first lover.

In Part 3 (embedded below), Dr Winell describes difficulties facing former believers, many of whom are still suffering trauma symptoms decades after deconversion. She explains that this is because religious experience, particularly when it is learned when we are very young, is located in the primitive, emotional part of the brain. She describes the devastating emotional impact on the mind of a small child caused by their accepting the doctrines of hell, sin, and Jesus’ horrific suffering on our account. She goes further than to describe the practice of indoctrinating children in Christianity as abuse – she bluntly states that it is, by definition, a form of terrorism.

This video might be of particular interest for those who entered Christianity as teens (as I did) or as adults and who are struggling to understand the distinct differences between our religious experiences and comings out, and those of our children born and raised in the faith.

Dr Winell expands on these themes in Part 4 as she discusses the harmful Christian ideals of death to self, the external locus of control, and Christianity’s unhealthy obsession with Jesus’ death. She shares some statements from recovering ex-believers: their loss of identity and sense of reality, their ongoing fear, their sense of being utterly alone. Dr Winell also outlines the clinical definition of RTS , what makes it distinct, more serious, and more complex than many other psychological disorders. It’s definitely worth watching.

More information can be found at Dr Winell’s website. I’ve just ordered an e-version of Dr Winnell’s book Leaving the Fold. Watch this space for a future review.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2011 8:58 am

    Wow – thanks for sharing.

  2. David P. Jeter permalink
    December 31, 2011 10:45 am

    I am an Ex-Christian and I can say that RTS is very real. I didn’t have any help to overcome my issues, but through Neural Linguistic Programming, Meditation/Mantra chanting, it has been seven years and now Christianity looks as strange to me as Islam. If I ever become a Psychologist as part of me would love to, I would join her in this struggle to help people with RTS.

  3. Francois Morin permalink
    April 2, 2013 1:05 pm

    I have no words to express how I can totally relate to Dr Winell’s viewpoint about the Religious Trauma Syndrom. As an ex-mormon who is currently in Court against The So Called mormon Church, I agree that harmful religions is a form of terrorism especially towards children. I dream of a world where such things will be condemned by our social institutions on the name of Human Dignity. You can read about my story at :

    François Morin
    Montréal, Canada

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