The Guilt & Shame Heaped Upon Women In The Name Of God.

By Ange Fonce

I have known people mainly women through my professional practice who feel so much guilt and shame about themselves that they never allow themselves to feel good about themselves. 

They never take pride in things that they do and they generally talk down about themselves and if someone compliments them they have a hard time accepting the compliment because somewhere along the line someone has caused them to feel a deep sense of shame that has stuck with them for years and which they are having a hard time shaking off.

This shame turns their life into an emotional hell

Which is very much what the second part of this article deals with RTS and I will deal with that subject in a few more paragraphs.

Shame and guilt are so closely related that for me the easiest way to make the distinction between the two is in the sentences...

"I feel ashamed." 

 "I feel guilty."

However the two feelings are not the same for me in the processes I practice when working with men and women who have deep feeling of shame and guilt.

Shame and guilt are very similar in one important aspect though: they are both feelings that people will use against you if they have the opportunity... this is especially true of authority figures who are mainly men who are insecure themselves  and if they can get other people to feel badly about themselves then their own power or strength grows in their minds.

Unfortunately many of these people prey on others who are very vulnerable and they can cause someone to feel a great sense of shame about him or herself for a very long time. 

How many of us have not heard the words....

"You should be ashamed of yourself?"

And how many people have taken those words to heart and never let them go carrying their shame and guilt into adulthood... parenthood... their careers and every other facet of their lives?

Truly nobody in the world has the right to tell me how I am to feel.

If I do something that they do not like that is okay  and I have to learn about the mistakes I make myself and not hear about them from others who may or may not define feelings in the same ways that I do... if I internalize their words and start to feel a deep sense of shame about myself and who I am then I am simply sabotaging my future to come to terms with who I am and what I feel

I have to look at this from another perspective... do I attempt to make other people feel ashamed for their words or actions?

Because if I push too hard I may end up contributing to years of emotional pain and suffering for this person. 

Do I have the right to define what another person should be ashamed of and to feel guilt for?

Many religious leaders are quick to use shame as a tool to try to get people to follow God more closely. 

They do not see that getting people to follow anything because of a sense of shame rather than because of a strong desire to follow is ultimately more destructive than helpful.

Now that I have mentioned God this leads into the other subject I want to speak about in this article... RTS.


RTS... what is it?

Here is a comment from one of my past clients...

"I'm really struggling and am desperate never to go back to the religion I was raised in, but I no longer want to live in fear or depression. It seems that I am walking through the jungle alone with my machete; no one to share my crazy and sometimes scary thoughts with.’ ‘After years of depression, anxiety, anger, and finally a week in a psychiatric hospital a year ago, I am now trying to pick up the pieces and put them together into something that makes sense. I'm confused. My whole identity is a shredded, tangled mess. I am in utter turmoil."


These comments are not unusual for people suffering with Religious Trauma Syndrome.

Now if you are sitting here as you read this article and are thinking to your self...

"Religious trauma Ange you kidding me?"

You might well ask...

"Is not religion supposed to be helpful or at least benign Ange?"

So the thinking goes...

In the case of fundamentalist beliefs most people expect that choosing to leave a childhood faith is like giving up Santa Claus a little sad and basically a matter of growing up and religious indoctrination can be hugely damaging and making the break from an authoritarian kind of religion can definitely be traumatic as it involves a complete upheaval of a persons construction of reality including the self and other people... life... the future... everything.

People unfamiliar with it including therapists have trouble appreciating the sheer terror it can create and the recovery needed and my own awareness of this problem took some time to understand and it began with writing about my own recovery from a fundamentalist brutal Christian background and very quickly I found out I was not alone and many other people were eager to discuss this hidden suffering. 

Since then I have worked with clients in the area of recovery from religion for about twenty years and have wrote various articles on the subject of abuse and its many forms... in my view it is time for the mental health community and the public to recognise the real trauma that religion can cause and also by  those who practice religions themselves.

Just like clearly naming problems such as anorexia... PTSD... or bipolar disorder made it possible to stop self blame and move ahead with treatment we need to address RTS as the internet is starting to overflow with stories of RTS and cries for help.

One reader of an article I wrote on abuse where I mentioned RTS commented.....

"Thank you so much.This is exciting because I know many people suffer from this… More people are coming out to talk about this issue - millions who are quietly suffering and being treated for other issues when the fundamental issue is religious abuse."

Barriers To Treating RTS

At present raising questions about toxic beliefs and abusive practices in religion seems to be violating a taboo. 

Well my attitude is bugger that taboo.

Why should any religion be exempt from abusive practices and be above the law?

In society we treasure our freedom of speech... freedom of assembly and freedom of religion and our laws and morals reflect the general principle that if we are not harming others we can do as we like and forcing children to go to church hardly seems like a crime. 

Real damage is assumed to be done by extreme fringe groups we call cults and religious extremists and it goes deeper than that and it is time to recognise it as religious institutions have a vested interest in promoting an UNCRITICAL view of their practices. and mind control and emotional abuse is actually the norm for many large... authoritarian mainline religious groups. 

The sanitisation of religion makes it all the more insidious when the communities are so large and the practices normalised and victims are silenced.

As a Human Being I have no real appropriate diagnosis in my manual...even in the commonly used list of psycho social stressors amidst all the change and loss and disruption there is no mention of losing ones religion... yet it can be the biggest crisis ever faced by an individual.

This is important for us to understand because people are leaving the ranks of traditional religious groups in record numbers and they are reporting real suffering and assessment as therapist and mental health care professionals and the general public we seem to have a blind spot when it comes to religion and its abuse. 

Psychotherapists do not traditionally ask a new client much about religious background and good professionals will delve into family... medical... educational... occupational and other areas of personal history including alcoholism and mental illness in the extended family. 

Yet if a person had to attend a mind controlling church several times a week... go to a religious school perhaps be home schooled and conform to strict codes of belief and behavior for years on end this is hugely important.

Another obstacle in treatment is that most people with RTS have been taught to fear psychology and science as something worldly and therefore evil and it is very likely that only a fraction of sufferers are even seeking help as within many dogmatic self contained religions such mental health problems such as depression or anxiety are considered sins... they are seen as evidence of not being right with God.

A religious counsellor or pastor advises more confession and greater obedience as curative and warns that a secular interpretation from a mental health professional would be dangerous as God is called the great physician and a person should not need any help from anyone else and doubt is considered wrong and not honest inquiry and therapy is a selfish indulgence. 

Focusing on ones own needs is always sinful in this religious view, and so RTS victims are often not even clear how to do it and the clients I have worked with have had to overcome ignorance... guilt and fear to make initial contact as a former client mentioned... 

"I suffer with guilt and depression and struggle to let go of religion. I am also battling with an existential crisis of epic proportions and intense heartache. I feel like I am the only person in the world that this has happened to. Some days are okay, but others are terrible. I do not know if I will make it through this."

RTS is the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination they may be going through the shattering of a personally meaningful faith or breaking away from a controlling community and lifestyle. 

The symptoms compare most easily with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which results from experiencing or being confronted with death or serious injury and causing feelings of terror... helplessness or horror and this can be a single event or chronic abuse of some kind.

With RTS, there is chronic abuse especially of children plus the major trauma of leaving the fold and like PTSD the impact is long lasting with intrusive thoughts... negative emotional states... impaired social functioning and other problems.

The Trauma Is Two Fold


The actual teachings and practices of a restrictive religion can be toxic and create lifelong mental damage and in many cases the emotional and mental abuse is compounded by physical and sexual abuse due to the patriarchal repressive nature of the environment.


Departing a religious fold adds enormous stress as an individual struggles with leaving what amounts to one world for another and this usually involves significant and sudden loss of social support while facing the task of reconstructing ones life.

People leaving are often ill prepared to deal with this... both because they have been sheltered and taught to fear the secular world and because their personal skills for self reliance and independent thinking are underdeveloped.

Key Dysfunctions In RTS

Cognitive... Confusion and difficulty with decision making and critical thinking... dissociation and identity confusion

Affective... Anxiety and panic attacks... depression... suicidal idealation... anger... grief... guilt... loneliness and lack of meaning.

Functional... Sleep and eating disorders... nightmares... sexual dysfunction... substance abuse... somatization. 

Somatization disorder is a long term chronic condition in which a person has physical symptoms that involve more than one part of the body and no physical cause can be found... the pain and other symptoms people with this disorder feel are real and are not created or faked on purpose.

Social and cultural... Rupture of family and social network... employment issues... financial stress... problems acculturating into society... interpersonal dysfunction.

The following are personal comments from clients and what they have gone through may be the best way to convey the intensity of RTS:

"There is a lot of guilt and I react to most religion with panic attacks and distress, even photos, statues or TV... I guess although I was willing it was like brainwashing. It’s very hard to shake... It's been a nightmare.’ ‘My form of religion was very strongly entrenched and anchored deeply in my heart. It is hard to describe how fully my religion informed, infused, and influenced my entire worldview. My first steps out of fundamentalism were profoundly frightening and I had frequent thoughts of suicide. Now I’m way past that but I still haven't quite found “my place in the universe”.

"It took years of overcoming terrific fear as well as self-loathing to emancipate myself from my cult like upbringing years ago. Still, the aftermath of growing up like that has continued to affect me negatively as a professional (nightmares, paranoia, etc)."

"The world was a strange and frightening place to me. I feared that all the bad, nasty things that I had been brought up to believe would happen to anyone who left the cult would in fact happen to me!’ ‘Even now I still lack the ability to trust very easily and becoming very close to people is something I still find it very alien and hard to achieve."

"After 21 years of marriage my husband feels he cannot accept me since I have left the “church” and is divorcing me.‘ ‘My parents have stopped calling me. My dad told me I'm going to hell (he's done this my whole life!).‘ ‘I lost all my friends. I lost my close ties to family. Now I’m losing my country. I’ve lost so much because of this malignant religion and I am angry and sad to my very core…I have tried hard to make new friends, but I have failed miserably… I am very lonely."

The severity of RTS ranges and depends on a number of factors and persons most at risk of RTS are those who were...

Sheltered from the rest of the world

Very sincerely and personally involved and from a very controlling form of religion.

The important thing for us to realise is that RTS is real and while it may be easier to understand the damage done by sexual abuse or natural disaster... religious practices can be just as harmful and people are needing help and the taboos about criticising religion need to be questioned.

There is a REAL sense of SHAME and GUILT associated with RTS that causes a great deal of STRESS and DEPRESSION in peoples lives that suffer from RTS effects plus there is the added pressure put on RTS sufferers by those who want them to return back to their religion and in extreme cases the threat of death and eternal damnation. 

And unfortunately mainly for women this threat is very REAL and many women have been killed in such things called Honour Killings.

Is there a POSITIVE side to Shame and Guilt?

Shame can be a great tool for us if we use it for what it is worth. 

If I am ashamed about the way that I talked to someone then I need to use that sense of shame as a sign that I need to apologize... then I need to put the shame behind me... after all I have no intention of doing the same thing again and if I do slip up and repeat the act then I can apologize again and be glad that the lesson has been learned more deeply.

Do you know someone who feels a deep sense of shame and guilt who does not give him or herself a chance to feel good in life?

Unfortunately, I and you and society in general cannot fix such people and at least we can contribute to their recovery by continuing to give them positive input in their lives.

Do you feel shame and guilt yourself? 

Suffer from RTS?

Do you want to deal with it face to face and then put it behind you?

If you will deal with your shame and guilt face to face and put it behind you then chances are good that you will see a great improvement in your quality of life.

I do provide an on line service through SKYPE where I have helped many people who have been suffering feelings of mental and emotional anguish of shame... guilt and RTS.

You truly do do not need to suffer alone.

Have you any thoughts or comments you would like to share with me on what I have written?

I would love to hear from you.

Thank you and may you enjoy a Loving... Prosperous and Dynamic day!

Yours Sincerely

Dynamic Lifer... The Tribe of Dynamic Lifers

1... A person with a penchant for Science... creativity... books... writing... communication... fitness... women... sexing... sexuality... human relationships... psychology... physiology and any other area involving heavy use of the Intellect.

2... A bright person and glamorously Intelligent!

3... Ange is an Author... Speaker and Dynamic Peak Performance Personal Development Consultant... and Coaching Psychologist... Sexologist and Multipreneur... who works with those men and women who desire to personally develop themselves and their relationships to become Dynamic Lifers... creators of their own life... relationships and wealth! 

4... If you are Happy and you Know it... you are becoming a Dynamic Lifer!

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