Spirituality is associated with Childhood Trauma
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“traumatic childhood experiences must be solved by making new good experiences with relationships, with closeness.” – Gopal Klein
“Child maltreatment is the abuse and neglect that occurs to children under 18 years of age. It includes all types of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence and commercial or other exploitation, which results in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. Exposure to intimate partner violence is also sometimes included as a form of child maltreatment” (World Health Organization, 2016)
This maltreatment is traumatic and can leave in its wake symptoms which can haunt the victims for the rest of their lives. These include persistent recurrent re-experiencing of the traumatic event, including flashbacks and nightmares, loss of interest in life, detachment from other people, increased anxiety and emotional arousal, including outbursts of anger, difficulty concentration, and jumpiness, startling easily. Unfortunately, childhood maltreatment can continue to affect mental and physical health throughout the individual’s life. How individuals cope with childhood maltreatment helps determine the effects of the maltreatment on their mental health. It has been found that experiencing the feelings and thoughts completely allows for better coping. This can be provided by mindfulness. Indeed, mindfulness has been found to be effective for relieving trauma symptoms.
Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred. There have been a number of studies of the influence of spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health. So, it would make sense to investigate the relationship of spirituality to childhood trauma.
In today’s Research News article “Childhood Trauma Is Associated with the Spirituality of Non-Religious Respondents.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7068247/), Kosarkova and colleagues sampled the Czech population over 15 years of age and had them complete measures of childhood trauma, including emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect and physical neglect subscales, religiosity, spirituality, and religious conversion experiences.
They found that the higher the levels of spirituality in the non-religious but not the religious participants in the sample the greater the amounts of childhood trauma including emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect and physical neglect. Hence, for the non-religious people childhood trauma of all varieties are associated with spirituality.
The present results are correlational and as such causation cannot be determined. It is equally likely that childhood trauma increases spirituality, spirituality increases childhood trauma, or some third factor was responsible for both. It can be speculated, though, that the individual experiencing trauma looks for a means to explain the reason for the trauma. Individuals who are religious may interpret it in a religious context and conclude that god has abandoned them and so become even less spiritual. On the other hand, non-religious individuals would not fault god for the trauma and thus could take refuge in spirituality as a coping mechanism. It remains for future research to investigate these possibilities.
“childhood violence survivors often mention the importance of spirituality in their survival and recovery as being a resource for healing, meaning making, and truth.” -Thelma Bryant-Davis
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Kosarkova, A., Malinakova, K., Koncalova, Z., Tavel, P., & van Dijk, J. P. (2020). Childhood Trauma Is Associated with the Spirituality of Non-Religious Respondents. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(4), 1268. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17041268
Childhood trauma experience (CT) is negatively associated with many aspects of adult life. Religiosity/spirituality (R/S) are often studied as positive coping strategies and could help in the therapeutic process. Evidence on this is lacking for a non-religious environment. The aim of this study was to assess the associations of different types of CT with R/S in the secular conditions of the Czech Republic. A nationally representative sample (n = 1800, mean age = 46.4, SD = 17.4; 48.7% male) of adults participated in the survey. We measured childhood trauma, spirituality, religiosity and conversion experience. We found that four kinds of CT were associated with increased levels of spirituality, with odds ratios (OR) ranging from 1.17 (95% confidence interval 1.03–1.34) to 1.31 (1.18–1.46). Non-religious respondents were more likely to report associations of CT with spirituality. After measuring for different combinations of R/S, each CT was associated with increased chances of being “spiritual but non-religious”, with OR from 1.55 (1.17–2.06) to 2.10 (1.63–2.70). Moreover, converts were more likely to report emotional abuse OR = 1.46 (1.17–1.82) or emotional neglect with OR = 1.42 (1.11–1.82). Our findings show CT is associated with higher levels of spirituality in non-religious respondents. Addressing spiritual needs may contribute to the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic treatment of the victims.