Does childhood trauma affect our relationship with God?
From a research study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
A research study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in November 2020 assessed the associations of childhood trauma reported by an adult sample (average age 51 years) and how those adults viewed God, taking into account their self-reported religiosity. A national representative sample of 1800 Czech adults participated in the survey. The Czech Republic is according to some sources, one of the most secular countries in the world with the highest percentage (76.4%) of religiously unaffiliated people.
The study found that both the religious and nonreligious respondents who experienced any kind of childhood trauma were less likely to describe God as loving, always present and forgiving.
Similarly, those who reported anxiety or avoidance in a close relationship were less likely to describe God as forgiving or just.
Furthermore, the nonreligious respondents who experienced a childhood trauma were less likely to report God as absolute or fatherly and more likely to describe God as critical.
They found that the participants who reported some kind of childhood trauma were less likely to report positive images of God. They hesitated to describe God as loving, always present, forgiving, fatherly or just and rather used terms such as critical or angry.
In line with the findings of other authors, it may be assumed that survivors of a childhood trauma experience a negative self-perception, feelings of shame and being unworthy and that they transmit their negative feelings to a spiritual dimension. The victims’ sense of being loved and accepted by God can be disrupted, and they can have difficulty in believing in God’s love. Furthermore, they may question God’s power and justice and underreport God as absolute or just.
It could be argued that, in some cases, an experienced trauma might have led to increased spirituality, as some studies suggest. Post-traumatic spiritual growth and acquiring a positive God image helps survivors during their process of recovery and their ability to cope with the history of the trauma. Moreover, the positive image of God may operate in a compensatory manner and fulfil the victims’ search for security and a safe haven.
The results showed significant associations between interpersonal avoidance and less loving, fatherly, forgiving and always present God images. The results are in line with other studies that showed that an insecure human relationship strengthens negative perceptions of God and found negative correlations between a loving God image and avoidance and a positive association with a controlling image. Moreover, as God can be seen as an attachment figure, we may argue that an insecure adult attachment corresponds with an insecure attachment to God.
They further found that participants who described God as critical, serious or angry were more likely to experience anxiety in close relationships. It could be supposed that a person with relationship anxiety feels unworthy and in need of self-approval from their partner. Thus, they can transmit these feelings towards God and experiencing insufficiency and uncertainty can lead to viewing God rather negatively.
The religious respondents did not report less positive and more negative images of God as much as the nonreligious did.
Their findings suggest that attachment avoidance and anxiety as well as a childhood trauma experience may negatively affect an adult’s image of God. Understanding these associations might therefore be important for professional counselling interventions in the area of spirituality or care.
At the same time, the results also show that using a negative and/or lower usage of positive God’s images can serve as a sign of attachment insecurity and distress and, therefore, may be informative for professionals.
Read the full study here.
ACEs and childhood trauma have a complete and total impact on every aspect of our life; physical, mental and spiritual. You may not have a correct idea the struggles your friend, co-worker, or fellow congregant is dealing with. They maybe never find happiness in personal relationships because they feel unworthy, unloved, or undervalued. They may not work well with others in a business or social environment. They may find release of pain through abuse of substances.
You can show them a God who does care for them, who loves them, and who wants a relationship with them. In fact, you may be the person whom God has sent to them in their time of need.
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