Four Steps Toward Healing LGBTQ+ Spiritual Otherness Trauma
If you are a part of my LGBTQ+ family and grew up in a fundamentalist religious tradition, I don’t have to explain why spiritual Otherness is so deeply traumatic or how it permeates every part of your being. Even years later, you may still have a haunting sense that condemnation is the final word on your soul.
This doesn’t have to be your story, my story, or anyone else’s in our Queer family. We can heal from these messages and begin leading a life that is whole, self-loving, and responsive to a re-centered relationship with the Divine.
To begin, let’s assess the damage of spiritual Otherness. Maybe you tried to erase your sexual or gender identity by starving it, locking it away in a cold, dank cellar that you thought you could ignore. You pretended that you felt at ease and comfortable in the rigid gender role that was assigned to you at birth. You laughed and lied your way through questions about who you were dating and plans for the future. Worse yet, maybe you were actively shamed, humiliated, or subjected to the unethical practice of conversion therapy. Or your abuse was even more vile.
Our stories differ, as do the religious traditions that originated our spiritual Otherness; yet we share in the collective wound to the queer psyche that we’ve spent lifetimes attempting to reconcile. I don’t offer an easy fix to your story; but can offer some healing steps from my experience as a therapist, a transgender sister in struggle, and one who’s worked to find her own spiritual path.
Before you begin this work, recognize that reviewing spiritual trauma can be very activating. If you’ve never explored this, it’s perhaps best that you do so when you have a safe person available to hear your story. Consulting an LGBTQ+-friendly therapist who works with religious and spiritual trauma is recommended.
Begin by taking a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Center your focus on the experience of breathing. Allow the distractions of the moment to float away like bubbles at a child’s backyard party. Simply focus on your breath for a few minutes to allow yourself to experience a state of mental calmness.
After you a few moments, it’s time to focus your attention on the pain point in your spiritual history that most represents spiritual Otherness trauma. If it’s a physical pain in your body, try to locate where you’ve carried it. If instead a specific instance comes into your visual awarness, notice this as if it was a show you’d paused on while channel surfing.
As you observe this pain point, allow your vision of it, or the sense you have of the experience, to zoom out. See the people involved in the spiritual Otherness trauma and ask yourself these questions:
“What did they have to gain from my spiritual trauma and the fear that it instilled?”
“While they were using religion as their tool to harm me, what was I losing in the process?”
Finally, as you see the wide picture and all of the people involved, consider this, “What would be different for me if I’d received a message of love in response to my experience?”
Breathe your responses in, and spend some time with this process. When you’re ready, it’s time for you to experience the compassion that you so desperately needed but did not receive.
Having seen your experience in a way that I hope brings about a new understanding, look at this person you were then. Consider this younger you who was trying to understand Queerness in whatever form it was taking, and all of the natural curiosity, uncertainty, and awkwardness that was a normal part of your adolescent development.
As you see this younger you who experienced so much pain at the time, imagine an experience of great love and compassion washing over them. Maybe the compassionate love comes directly from your older self, the one here now, as you envision this younger you. Maybe this compassionate love comes from another source, one that seems more infinite, wiser, very clear on the dignity that younger self deserved but did not receive. Maybe you experience the infinite source of compassionate love washing ove present-day you, and beaming over the memory of your younger self who was in such desperate need of healing light.
And just spend some time in this experience. As you do so, it’s an opportunity to create your spiritual path forward.
Having both seen the parts of you that were wounded and allowed compassionate love to wash over these memories, it’s time to contemplate the path forward. Obviously, you’ve been haunted by spiritual trauma over these years or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Your experiences on that pain point day were probably some of the many, and you have a great deal of compassionate love that is needed for a deeper review of your spiritual journey.
As you contemplate and heal, what path does your spiritual journey now need to take? This may be a question that deserves time, and returning to the simple breathing exercise I introduced in the Clarity section can help you. The most important aspect of creation here is in determining what your life needs in order for you to both strengthen the profundity of compassion and love and simultaneously weaken the damaging, demoralizing effects of spiritual Otherness trauma in your life.
It may seem odd to throw sass into a piece about spirituality, but I’m that kind of Queer. And sass is what you need when old religious shame sources show up in your beliefs about yourself. You know your patterns by now, and you know the things that trigger you. An important skill for dealing with spiritual trauma triggers is to be able talk back to them.
Plan now for those moments when your spiritual trauma attempts to reassert itself. What will remind you of your spirit’s right to be loved, to have dignity? Maybe a small jewelry item? Maybe an art piece or flower arrangement in your home? Maybe just a thought-stopping word, like “Love,” that you can remember to tell yourself when the spiral starts?
And when cued, sass back to this voice with all of the loving compassion that is in your heart. Tell the spiritual trauma you now have a new understanding of yourself, a new faith or spiritual practice, a new relationship with the Divine, or whatever else may be real for you. Back it up with as much loving kindness as you can deliver.
And move away from the path of shame that is the legacy of spiritual Otherness trauma. Choose the journey that allows you to feel most loving and loved, most whole, and in closest communion to what you consider your understanding of Truth.
Stacee Reicherzer, PhD, is a Chicago, Illinois-based transgender counselor, educator, and public speaker for the stories of the bullied, forgotten, and oppressed. The San Antonio, TX, native serves as clinical faculty of counseling at Southern New Hampshire University, where she received the distinguished faculty award in 2018. She travels the globe to teach and engage audiences around diverse topics of otherness, self-sabotage, and imposter phenomenon. She is the author of The Healing Otherness Handbook (New Harbinger, April 2021).