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I've been away from NetGalley for a few years now, but was lured back in by the chance to read When Religion Hurts You: Healing from Religious Trauma and the Impact of High-Control Religion, by Laura E. Anderson. 

When I was younger, I thought of the word "trauma" as a purely physical term. It's what can happen after a bad car accident, or a reason someone might go to the ER. Then I started seeing it used a lot more in an emotional/psychological sense. And lately, it's come with other modifiers attached, such as, in this case, "religious trauma." It seemed like a very dramatic term, and I wasn't sure how exactly it was applied and how someone determined whether they were suffering from it.

In that sense, this book was helpful. Anderson is a therapist and a survivor of what she refers to as a "High-Control Religion" or HCR, and while she references specific flavors of Christianity in her own story and others', she primarily speaks of HCRs in a general sense -- it seems fairly subjective as to whether a particular church or group could be considered an HCR, because personal experience is the key. And she explains this is also the case for trauma -- two people can experience similar things and one can be traumatized by it and the other won't be. So trauma is really about what the experience is for the person who's dealing with it. 

With that in mind, she provides a general discussion of how the nervous system works and why our bodies can "remember" trauma even if we've tried to eradicate it from our thoughts and environments. She also discusses examples of religious trauma and its effects, such as purity culture, hierarchical relationships, anxieties about hell/punishment, etc., and gives some advice for taking baby steps to heal. I like how she emphasizes a big-picture view of healing -- that it's not about arriving at some pre-determined point, but about making progress and using the tools you've developed to help manage things like triggers and flare-ups.

She doesn't offer a one-size-fits-all prescription for how to get to a point of being healed (which is good, and in line with how she also warns that it can be easy to jump from one form of fundamentalism to another), and also is not out to try and demonize religion, recognizing that faith is important for many people and can still be a part of the healing process (though this is not written from a Christian perspective). But there are some helpful tips and observations here that are worth thinking about. Emotions, relationships, sexuality, and embodiment are areas that may be affected by life in an HCR, and while some people of faith may not agree with everything here, the topics can bring up good questions to ask ourselves. I especially appreciate the emphasis on curiosity, particularly when trying to get out of fundamentalist, black-and-white thinking.

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