PTSD from former occult beliefs

I’m hoping you can help me. I have PTSD both from trauma in my life and also from the occult practices that my family and friends were into when I was growing up. I was really indoctrinated into thinking there were “spirits” and “ghosts” that inhabited houses. I have since left that and become an atheist because rationally I know such things are not possible and have never been proven.

The trouble I have is how the PTSD has changed the way my brain processes information. Even though I know I’m safe and there is nothing around me, my mind thinks I “sense” the presence of spirits hovering above me. I know that’s completely irrational and there must be some logical explanation for why it feels like I’m “sensing” something.

I just had a really strong trigger today because I am visiting family and they still practice these occult beliefs. I guess there is a part of me who still thinks that even though I“m safe in my own home, that there are “spirits” and such in my family’s home since they think they “communicate” with such “beings.” One of my family members is a minister in their practice so the indoctrination is very strong.

I’ve only been an atheist for less than a year, so even though I don’t believe in these spirits anymore, it is a strong habit for my mind to get tricked into feeling unsafe and threatened by some spiritual attack when I am around people who do believe in this nonsense.

That’s why I get freaked out and go into a completely emotional and irrational state while I’m here, because it suddenly feels like all those things are real threats again. Just because my family members think they communicate with such “spirits” it makes me freaked that they draw them into the home, “manifest” them, whatever.

I really know in my rational thought process that this is all bunk, but I seem to have a hard time accessing my critical thinking side when I’m in this emotional state.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t encouraged to develop my critical thinking skills. I was told I asked too many questions. They acted like there was something wrong with me for not simply being able to just “have faith” like my other family members. So even though I have a natural aptitude for questioning and rational thinking, it is extremely underdeveloped and it’s been hard for me to emotionally trust my rational thought process and I really need to learn how to develop some critical thinking skills.

Posted: August 7th 2011

George Locke

I offer you my sympathies. You’re doing a great job of raising yourself up out of difficult origins. It’s not going to be easy for you, but if you trust yourself and commit to recovery, you can only succeed.

Asking for help requires real strength, and I commend you for it. This site is one resource among many. I’ve found talk therapy to be very useful in my own life, and I strongly recommend it to you if you can afford it. Find a counselor you can trust, and, with luck, he or she can speed your recovery and ease the pain. There’s a link at the top of this page to the Atheist Nexus Forum, where you can find others with backgrounds similar to yours, people who can help you make sense of what you’re going through.

You have nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has fears they can’t explain and feelings they know make no sense. It’s a fact, and dealing with it is a challenge. You can envision the change you want to see in yourself, an accomplishment in itself, but you can’t expect to “snap out of it”. You have to work for that change, and slowly, you will see it happening.

It seems to me that your critical thinking faculties are in great shape. You’ve learned that many of your former beliefs are insupportable, but you musn’t try and force your feelings to conform to your new knowledge. What I’m trying to say is that your feelings are just your feelings; you can’t control them, and you shouldn’t refute them as though they were rational arguments. Taking responsibility for your feelings means learning how to respond to them, not hating yourself for having them.

I’ve often tried to think my way out of an unwanted emotion, but it doesn’t work. Instead, when I’m feeling crushed by anxiety and self-reproach, I reach for my sketch pad, diary, running shoes, yoga mat, etc. Rather than trying to reject my feelings, I try and channel them into productive activity and self-expression. Find an outlet that works for you, something that you can be proud of.

I wish you the best in these trying times.

Posted: August 9th 2011

See all questions answered by George Locke

brian thomson www

If you really do have PTSD and have difficulty controlling your emotions, I don’t think this forum would be able to do enough for you, and you might be better off seeking professional help first. You’re alluding to psychological issues that I do not feel qualified to help with. PTSD is no joke and is not a job for an amateur psychologist like me.

My personal opinion is that your family is a toxic environment, and in your position I would simply avoid it entirely. I mean: they may be your family, but are they your friends? Do they have your best interests at heart – and do they trust you to decide what “best” is for yourself?

Speaking for myself: my atheism is rooted in rationality, in that I have the luxury of thinking about and discussing these issues dispassionately, and (hopefully) not allowing emotion to influence my judgment. I had to make decisions about my way of life, my philosophy, and so on, and part of that was deciding where I would go and who I would associate with. It was just as important to control the environment in which I did such thinking. If I’m stressed and can’t think straight, I can’t trust my judgment, and should not be making life-altering decisions, such as my attitudes towards religion and religious people.

If I was an atheist for irrational reasons, that would (in my opinion) be just as bad as being religious, and leave me susceptible to irrationality of all kinds – even religious irrationality. It’s crucial to have a solid rational foundation to support your opinions, whatever they are.

Posted: August 9th 2011

See all questions answered by brian thomson


Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum