Tas (they/we) is a neurodivergent writer & published author. They are autistic, disabled, a medically diagnosed DID system, a person of color, nonbinary, queer, and proud. They have a passion for equal access and human rights. They advocate for inclusion, equal access, and acceptance of neurodiversity & disability. Primarily their advocacy is focused on higher education and workplace accommodations/navigation. Last week they shared an article he wrote on Autism and Religious Trauma. This week they shared some of their own experiences with religion.
Why is understanding Autistic religious trauma important for families and communities?
Religion and spiritual beliefs are not the issue when it comes to religious trauma. The problem occurs when faith is used as a means to abuse or control a person. It becomes an excuse for wrong behavior. Religion has a code of behavior that autistic people may not fit into. This creates a terrible dynamic of forcing neurotypical behaviors on the autistic person. The goal to “act normal” is further emphasized by theology. It is a cycle that needs to be broken by speaking about it. It is not an attack on religion or spirituality, it’s about making religion accessible and accepting of neurodivergent people.
If you’re comfortable sharing, what kinds of religious trauma have you experienced or witnessed?
We were raised in a Christian Fundamentalist cult. As you may notice, when speaking there is the use of “we” instead of “I” or “me.” This is because we are medically diagnosed with Dissociative identity disorder which is caused by severe childhood trauma. Our trauma was the result of growing up in this religious environment. At the age of four, we were raped by three female members of the congregation. All things with sexual abuse are handled internally, so these people never faced any consequence. We were told that it was our fault, we needed to get stronger with God, that God was testing us. This was all pounded into the mind of the four-year-old victim. Abuse is hidden often in organized religion.
We were always the odd one out. Bullied by the kids out of age and told that we needed to act normal. We weren’t neurotypical, we were autistic, but of course that doesn’t matter when certain levels of conformity are expected.
Our experience with religious trauma is extreme, but a reality for a lot of people that don’t speak about their trauma.
We were taught that because of our religious beliefs, we would be persecuted. This included Elders in the congregation explaining the process of being raped and tortured. We had to recite your social security number over and over no matter how much they beat you. Even in our home, our mother would run drills each month of what to do if someone broke into the house and wanted information about the organization. We remember being around the age of eight when this started. We were taught to hide in our bedroom while our mother acted out being tortured, screaming for help. We were not allowed to come out of our room until the drill ended.
The shame that we felt being in a female body was critiqued by members of the congregation. For example, being told that because you have a large breast, you can’t wear a shirt because it will tempt the men in the congregation. Shame was a big part of our life.
We are queer, but gay was not okay in the world we were raised. We were taught to talk a certain way, walk this way–every aspect of our life was controlled by the Bible and the things they preached.
Now, we are able to process certain things in our lives. Being autistic with a cognitive processing delay impacted our ability to understand how bad our life was. We grew up “poor for God.” We never knew if we would eat that day, getting socks as a present was so exciting! That was the life we had because of the misuse of religious beliefs.
Why do you think religious trauma isn’t often discussed?
The stigma. No one wants to talk about the dark side of religion because it is perceived as a personal attack. It’s not – religious trauma is a part of society that is swept under the rug too much. The only way to prevent and protect people from it is to talk about it.
What are some signs of religious trauma that families/community members should be aware of?
If you notice someone being nervous around certain people in your Church. Do they do as much as they can to avoid them? Do they seem afraid? The environment tells more than you know about if someone is in danger.
The biggest thing is to not ignore the presence of mental health decline. Trauma at home or by someone in the organization can be seen if people just open their eyes. If someone approaches you for help, do not dismiss it. Do not throw the biblical text at them or victim blame. Get them help and sometimes this needs to be someone outside of the organization you are a part of. An objective view is very important to stopping abuses.
What pathways have you found most helpful (either for yourself or others) in coping/navigating out of religious trauma?
Therapy. Self reflection. Introspection. Self Acceptance.
What plans/goals/wishes do you have for the new year?
Aside from graduating from college with our BA in English Literature/Creative…We are publishing our poetry collection called A Study In Darkness on February 16th, which is our birthday. It is a collection of poems from our life in trauma. It seemed appropriate to release it on the day our life started.
Also, Neurodiversity Times Magazine is being released in April which is a collection of visual and written works by autistic, disabled and other neurodivergent creatives.
Rogues & Lords – a fantasy trilogy that we are writing, book 1 will be released in October! We are having a busy year!