Sacred Wounds: A Path to Healing from Spiritual Trauma
by Teresa B. Pasquale
St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2015
Reviewed by Tessa Bielecki
Spiritual abuse, “church-hurt,” and religious injury are “the cracks … where the light gets in” (1), says Teresa B. Pasquale, clinical director of a trauma and addiction outpatient treatment program, yoga instructor, and retreat facilitator.
Pasquale includes stories from others who have suffered spiritual trauma and recommends concrete healing practices such as three-part breathing, grounding in the present moment, visualizations for thought release and creating an internal safe space, faith of origin storytelling, and life rescripting. Insisting that we define trauma for ourselves, she outlines the nature of trauma and PTSD, describes traumatic survival responses and trauma triggers ranging from intrusive thoughts and nightmares to acute flashbacks.
I appreciate the summary of trauma symptoms (hypervigilance and exaggerated startle responses, anxiety and panic attacks, anger, emotional numbing and dissociation) and the many faces of trauma: developmental, complex, and intergenerational. Spiritual directors may need to look more carefully at secondary trauma or compassion fatigue, the “spiritual exhaustion of someone who sits with people through their pain” (63).
Chapter Five gives us ten signs of the false guru and thirteen ways to identify the true wisdom teacher. Pasquale urges us to trust our “icks,” the “inner instincts trying to protect [us] from possible harm” (94). She assures us that “even the healthiest people can’t always know which kind of person they are encountering until they are hurt by that person” (92). The “sting of religious injury [may be] strong, [but] it doesn’t inherently mean all faith is injurious–the same way an abusive family experience doesn’t mean all families are abusive” (91).
The author outlines a “sacred wounds healing process” which realistically includes a “wildcard step” and beautifully describes the goal in Step Ten where we “move toward a nondual consciousness or the middle way–away from absolutes” and “hold the tension between what we know, what we think we know, and what is ‘unknown’” (130). In a burst of humor, she calls Step Eleven “Enlightenment. Game Over. You Win!” and then soberly adds: “If you get anywhere close to step ten in a lifetime, be happy. ...it is the way we walk the path and not how far we get or how much we achieve that matters” (130).
Pasquale shares a “trauma-conscious, spiritual wounds approach” to the 12 steps as another tool, reminds us that healing takes time, and wisely urges us “to reconcile the hurts of the past. This does not mean to forget it or ignore the wrong, or avoid seeking justice, but to internally find a way to heal from the hurts others have imposed on our lives…. [Until we] let go of hatred and rage, we will carry that heavy part of our wound with us” (144). Our best selves are not only “opposition to what [we] loathe” but “the promotion of what we love” (44).
Tessa Bielecki lives in Crestone, Colorado, USA, and is co-director of the Desert Foundation, the author of Holy Daring: The Earthy Mysticism of St. Teresa, The Wild Woman of Avila.