Kruk describes “spiritual affliction” as a diminishment of faith in others, hope for a better future, and a capacity to give love to others. While I believe that all of these are a part of spiritual affliction, they are mostly connected to emotion about others. These could be defined as emotional trauma because faith in others, hope for others, and love for others are still focused on something external–outside of self.
Spiritual injury, however, cuts much, much deeper. Spiritual trauma cuts to the very core of an individual’s sense of identity and psyche. This is why individuals with spiritual trauma tend to struggle not so much with guilt (“I feel bad”) as with shame (“I am bad”). Someone with spiritual trauma would lose faith in his own abilities, feel hope-less, and unlovable, particularly as it relates to a Higher Power. When one feels that he is not even lovable by God, that is another matter entirely.
“That spiritual wounding is often the precursor of many social ills–addiction, mental health problems, and child abuse and neglect—must be acknowledged, and a spiritual component to addressing the root causes of spiritual trauma is needed.”
Spiritual trauma is not isolated. It is often the result of emotional, physical, psychological, religious, or sexual abuse or neglect. Weil (1942) wrote that spiritual affliction is caused by three primary conditions: physical trauma, psychological and emotional torment, and social marginalization. It has its roots in attachment injury–a deep perception or feeling of being cut-off, rejected, disowned, or abandoned by others (or Higher Power).
I find it interesting that ancient Greeks used to say, “A man loses half his soul the day he becomes a slave.” While they were speaking of literal slaves, I believe it is also true in the figurative sense. When one experiences abuse or neglect, his will becomes a slave to the will of another person. Deep maladaptive beliefs about self often develop: I am worthless, I am not loveable, I will always be alone, The world would be better without me. These internal negative biases are a sign of injury to the psyche, or spirit.
“[Spiritual trauma] causes all good to be absent for a time, during which a kind of horror submerges the soul, characterized by an absence of light. During this absence there is nothing to love. If in the darkness the soul ceases to love, the darkness becomes permanent” Weil (1942)
The quote above seems a bit dramatic and macabre but there is a measure of truth to it. One of the darkest points in my life was during a complicated divorce. I not only lost my marriage but also my church community, many friends, social support, home, and full-time custody of my children. I struggled to hold onto any truth about myself that I had previously believed. I felt rejected by others and questioned my position with my God. I had experienced religious and emotional trauma but it cut deeper to my self-truths. I felt like an unlovable and unworthy sinner. I desperately needed the compassion and support of others to combat these maladaptive beliefs.
At that time, I had friends that supported me and spoke truth to me. They reminded me of my beautiful traits and characteristics. They showed me the kindness and love of my God. Through their support, I was able to internalize my Truth and heal spiritually.
So, let’s talk about Personal Truths for a moment. When I work with clients, I ask them about their Truth and what they believe (or want to believe) about themselves. I make the distinction about current or desired beliefs because the hope for a positive belief about self is still a powerful motivator. I have never had a client that could not come up with a Truth that he believed or would like to believe about himself. Every client has been able to identify a positive Personal Truth even while he may not feel it in the present moment.
Let’s look at a few examples of Personal Truths:
- I am lovable
- I am strong and resilient
- I am a survivor
- I am worthy (of ___ )
- I am valuable
- My life matters and has purpose
- I am special to (myself, person, Universe, animal, Higher Power, etc.)
- I respect and honor myself
- I have knowledge and wisdom within me
Looking at this list, how does this resonate with you? Do you recognize some spiritual trauma that has kept you in a well of shame and self-resentment? Could you take some time to think through your Personal Truths that you currently believe or want to believe? Just because you don’t currently hold them strongly does not mean that you will never hold them at all. Spend some time writing them out. Repeat them to yourself. Ask others what Truths they see in you. If you have a Higher Power, what beautiful things would it/she/he say about you?
Kruk, E., (2006). Spiritual Wounding and Affliction: Facilitating Spiritual Transformation in Social Justice Work.
Weil, S., (1942). The Love of God and Affliction.