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When Religion Hurts You: Healing from Religious Trauma and the Impact of High-Control Religions

By Laura E. Anderson

Psychotherapist Dr. Laura Anderson lights a path for those traumatized from church, religions, or religious institutions as her warning phrase flashes: “high-demand, high-control religious systems.”

Before defining high-control religions, she builds foundational definitions. Anderson first contrasts abuse and trauma. Abuse is “what happens to us while trauma is our nervous system’s response to what happens to us.”

She defines religious abuse as follows: “Religious abuse is the improper use of religious beliefs, teachings, doctrines, and relationships against another person.” Then in Chapter 3, Anderson widens the circle of what religious abuse might include to coercion and threats, emotional abuse (shaming), isolation, minimizing concerns, patriarchal privilege, and economic abuse.

She carefully contrasts abusive behavior—which we’re all capable of—and abusive systems. The latter erases equity and, instead, creates a system of unequal power. High-control religions belong to the latter. She explains, “HCRs require that more and more of your life be submitted to religious authorities. HCRs set rules for every area of life.”

Especially interesting to me was Anderson’s notions of “love-bombing” and “tension-building phase” as stages in abuse. Love-bombing occurs when “the perpetrator shows intense displays of affection”—from gifts to words. The victim, Anderson writes, feels a deep sense of belonging. Then the tension-building phase begins where the victim is pressured to conform. Disputes might be smothered with dismissive statements like, “Because God says so.”

Later chapters explore the healing journey from such trauma.

Anderson’s book sits on the tripod of her personal journey, dissertation and practice. I would have relished reading more specific examples that would show me HCRs in real life. (Brazos Press)

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