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Childhood Trauma and Christian Spirituality in Adulthood

Childhood Trauma and Christian Spirituality in Adulthood

Early childhood trauma has far reaching tentacles with respect to later life relationships, including in the domain of spirituality. When trauma-affected Christian adults struggle in their relationship with God, at times well-meaning others respond to their relational challenges by encouraging these individuals to pray more diligently, attend church more frequently, and to be more intentional regarding their faith engagement. This spiritually oriented approach to relational difficulties often reinforces negative self-perceptions and can re-traumatise the already struggling individual. Spirituality and church which offered the promise of a new self, a new family and a safe home soon feels like the self, the family and home of old, the traumatised Christian left struggling on the fringes, never feeling as though they belong. The pain of this space can be intensified by the dissonance between theological knowledge of welcome, forgiveness and belonging and relational experience of isolation, self and other judgement and a sense of separateness.
Drawing from a qualitative case study, the presenter will explore links between chronic complex trauma (CCT) originating in childhood and relationally focused spiritual difficulties experienced in adulthood. Findings are addressed under three main headings: (a) early developmental context; (b) adult relationship with God; and (c) adult relationship with the Christian community. Unresolved CCT had long-term and adverse psycho-spiritual effects especially with respect to sense of personhood, value and self-worth, and capacity to relate meaningfully and safely with God and others. Further, a trauma-sensitive perspective provided a clearer interpretation for the individual’s spiritual difficulties than to any spiritual aetiology or explanation.