How Too Much Spirituality Can Hurt You

Recently I worked with a client (we’ll call her Brenda) whose mother was diagnosed with a rare illness. The illness caused limited mobility, episodes of forgetting, and an inability to work at the non-profit, a job she loved. Now Brenda had to do everything from making her meals, driving her to doctor’s appointments and handling all the paperwork.

Brenda acknowledged that she was in deep grief over her mom’s changing personality. But within seconds, I detected the problem as I listened to how she spoke about her mom — and her own response to the situation.

I know she’s a soul in a human body.

The body is an illusion.

This experience is for my highest good.

I’m here to serve her because that’s the soul contract we made.

All of the above is probably true. In addition to these beliefs she was protecting herself with, Brenda was also meditating every day, cleansing her chakras to dissolve negative energies, chanting affirmations, and constantly looking for every silver lining she could find in this dark, dark cloud. In short, her spiritual kit was well-stocked with every conceivable tool.

Brenda was engaging in what is called Spiritual Bypassing.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it was coined in the early 80’s by psychologist John Welwood and refers to “the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs.”

Robert Augustus Masters writes in his groundbreaking book Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Matters:

“Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.”

Here’s the thing. Because we’re all souls living in human bodies, we must tend to the needs of both.

Your body feels pain.

Your body experiences sensations and emotions.

Your body works with your mind.

We can’t tend to our soul, and ignore our body. We cannot heal what we refuse to feel.

It’s okay to be pissed off.

It’s okay to struggle to forgive someone–even if you know it’s the right thing to do.

It’s okay to have a pity-party day.

It’s okay to be human.

If we don’t allow ourselves to embrace both aspects of who we are — spirit and human — our earthly journey becomes very challenging.

Brenda also shared with me that she found it very hard to be vulnerable and ask for help. “No one has the time and no one is interested in my sob story,” she said.

So I gave Brenda an assignment.

She was to turn to someone she could trust, open up her heart, pour out her troubles, cry (if she needed to), vent and be totally human.

It is the darkest, scariest places within us that we must visit in order to heal.

On our next session, Brenda gave me an update. She’d plucked up the courage, called a dear friend, and let the floodgates open.

“It felt so freeing,” she told me. “I felt so much lighter. And…my friend was so kind and understanding. She told me I can call her anytime. I didn’t know real, human connection could feel so good.”

It’s true. Real, human connection is the real deal. As a favorite singer of mine, Jana Stanfield’s lyrics remind me: “You cry just like me, I hurt just like you.”

We’re all more alike than different. If we took off our masks and related to each other in real ways, we would find a wellspring of kindness and compassion in our hearts.

What is the most valuable thing you learned from this post? Share a comment.

6 Comments

  1. Wendy Walsh on May 17, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    remembering to heal my body as well as my spirit. I have been in a dark place due to grief and I have physical symptoms that I know are due to this grief. This post has helped me to listen to my body and be kind to myself. thank you

    • Uma Girish on May 20, 2018 at 9:54 pm

      I am sorry you’re struggling, Wendy. It’s true that the body never lies. We distract ourselves when our mind tries to remind us of what we don’t want to feel. But then the body forces us to listen. I’m glad this post was useful to you.

  2. Bobbi Williams on May 22, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    Uma,
    This is a message long overdue for the mind body spirit community. You stated what has been troubling me for a while. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Uma Girish on May 23, 2018 at 2:20 am

      I’m glad it resonates, Bobbi. It is especially relevant in the times we live in when folks are overdosing on spirituality as another way to feel numb.

  3. Teri Boyd on November 19, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    Wonderful post. As a naturally positive person, who has had a really horrible year, I can identify with Brenda. Thank you for the reminder to vent. I’ve also decided to stay away from a few overly needy friends right now as I don’t have the capacity to help me and help them.

    • Uma Girish on November 20, 2018 at 4:39 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Teri. In the age of positive positivity we live in, it’s all too easy to forget to attend to our sorrows. You’re making a wise decision to put your needs first. We are no use if we’re giving from an empty cup.

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