What Is Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) And Do I Have It?

Updated: Jan 28

Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is a term that was coined by Dr. Marlene Winell. It is a condition experienced by many who leave an authoritarian indoctrination including the IFB.

According to Restoration Counseling:

Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is group of symptoms that arise in response to traumatic or stressful religious experiences. While Religious Trauma Syndrome is not an official diagnosis in the DSM-5, it is a common experience shared among many who have escaped cults, fundamentalist religious groups, abusive religious settings, or other painful experiences with religion. The symptoms of Religious Trauma Syndrome are comparable to the symptoms of complex PTSD.

Religious Trauma Syndrome is in the early stages of research and is gaining traction as a legitimate diagnosis. Below are some symptoms commonly experienced by people suffering from Religious Trauma Syndrome.

  • Confusing thoughts and reduced ability to think critically

  • Negative beliefs about self, others, and the world

  • Trouble making decisions

  • Feelings of depression, anxiety, grief, anger, lethargy

  • A sense of feeling lost, directionless, and alone

  • A lack of pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy

  • A loss of a community (family, friends, romantic relationships)

  • Feeling isolated or a sense that you don’t belong

  • Feeling “behind the times” with cultural happenings

  • And many other symptoms of PTSD including nightmares, flashbacks, dissociation, emotional difficulty, etc.

Sound like you?

Most if not all people who leave the IFB can pretty much tic the box on most of these symptoms. You might find yourself thinking that PTSD is only for soldiers and sexual assault victims, etc. However, IFB has created its own form of post-traumatic stress disorder in that it doesn't just involve your emotions and your body but also your religious beliefs and loss of family, community, and even your God.

So, what do you do?

Find a Therapist Who Specializes in Cult Therapy or Religious Trauma

Many regular therapists will treat you with the normal protocols for PTSD not understanding that Religious Trauma Syndrome (RTS) is a different animal entirely. Some will even encourage you to reach back into your church and attempt to heal relationships. They don’t understand that there is no bending when it comes to IFB. Much like Scientologists or the Amish, you are shunned and there is no working things out.

At IFB Overcomers, we are continually curating a list of therapists who specialize in this sort of trauma. Check it out here and come back often for more recommendations.

Please note: we are only listing them as a resource and do not endorse any therapist.

Educate Yourself

Not surprisingly there are several self-help books that can guide you through your trauma. We will have a list of them here. Some are written by fellow survivors who share their journeys and what helped them to overcome. Others are written by therapists, researchers, and theologians who offer information on what exactly to do to get you through this time.

Learn to Calm Your Mind

A good therapist will recommend exercises to help combat your RTS but if you don’t go to a therapist consider things like meditation, breathing techniques, and self-calming practices. Even things like crystals and aromatherapy can add an added boost. Go to yoga classes, drum circles, take painting classes…just whatever helps you learn to calm both your mind and your spirit.

What you’ve done in coming out of the IFB is something you should be proud of. Yes, they teach you that “pride comes before a fall” but now you can take pride in the fact that you survived and now you are actively seeking a way to overcome!


IFB Overcomers is an online resource for those who have left Independent Fundamentalism and are looking to heal and discover themselves. With a podcast, webinars, forum, blog and resources, we hope to help retrain your heart and mind from the mindset of the IFB and help you not only survive but overcome and then thrive!

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