5 Signs of Toxic Spirituality [Examples of Red Flags]

There is no denying that spiritual practice can be healing and transformative. For some, the initial feelings of awareness can quickly turn into a toxic and harmful obsession.

Toxic spirituality comes in many shapes and sizes, but generally manifests in fake woke culture,  toxic positivity, shaming others and a superiority complex. We explore the major red flags with our 5 signs of toxic spirituality. 

    What is Toxic Spirituality?

    Toxic spirituality is exactly what it sounds like; when spiritual practice is taken and turned into something that it’s not. Spirituality is defined as “the quality of being concerned with the human soul as opposed to material or physical things”. It is the practice of getting to know yourself on a deeper level. 

    While this can be a powerful practice and have many physical, mental and emotional health benefits, it can also take a turn for the worst. New age spirituality has become commodified and often pushes harmful messaging, toxic positivity, judgment, gaslighting and cultish behaviour.

    It’s easy to lose sight of the purpose of spirituality and fall victim to toxic spirituality, so if this is you, don't be too hard on yourself. Falling into the trap of toxic spirituality is not often done on purpose or with any ill intent but can nonetheless be harmful to yourself and others. 

    5 Signs of Toxic Spirituality

    1. Pushing Spirituality On Others 

    It’s all very exciting when you experience your first spiritual awakening. For most of us, we’re so exhilarated by the profound breakthroughs, the internal changes that we feel and the lessons we learn from practicing modalities like breathwork, meditation, shadow work and affirmations, that we want to share it with everyone. There is good intent here, but it is often misplaced.

    When someone dives too deeply into these practices they can often get lost and detach from reality. They identify so strongly with spirituality that they seek to push it on others. This in itself is quite toxic.

    You can’t force someone to be spiritual. Spiritual endeavours are generally born from natural curiosity, the quest for self-improvement or some life-altering event. Pushing spiritual practice on your loved ones can be quite harmful. It screams "superiority complex" and is often met with criticism and confusion.

    Though you may believe that you are detached from "Ego" the fact that you have something to prove to others says something completely different. Proving your point and trying convincing others to practice is a fool's errand. While speaking about your practice, sharing your story with others and opening up about it is completely fine; pushing it on others because you think they'd be better off is not.

    2. Toxic Positivity

    No, life isn’t all rainbows and sunshine and anyone that constantly preaches that it is, is exhibiting signs of toxic positivity.

    Though spiritual practice can make you feel generally more grateful, happy and appreciative of life it is not an invitation to preach about being positive to everyone. Yes, you may be feeling more positive since you started your practice but this gives you no right to tell others how to live their lives. 

    You might see creators on social media preaching about how “positivity” is the key to changing your life, but this doesn’t take into account trauma, past events or present circumstances. We are all in different phases of life and faced with different challenges everyday and being “positive” all of the time is simply unrealistic.

    There is no denying that positive energy is attractive and draws in more positive experiences; this is simply the law of attraction. But there’s a big difference between being positive and “acting” positive. 

    Anyone who seems to be preaching about positivity is in all likelihood still struggling with their own vices and demons. No one wants to hear “just be positive” or “don’t worry about it” when they’re going through a rough time in life. 

    3. Ignoring & Suppressing Negative Emotions

    Our emotions are our guideposts. Whether positive or negative they are a signal to us about our physical, mental and emotional needs. Often, during a spiritual awakening people think it's necessary to put a “positive spin” on everything and to suppress their emotions. 

    When we ignore our negative emotions we are essentially deepening our "shadow self" causing a build up of unprocessed trauma that can wreak havoc on the mind and body. Being positive is great, but ignoring your emotions can be truly detrimental to your mental health. 

    Life is constantly throwing challenges at us and sometimes you need a day, a week or however long is necessary to be sad, angry or frustrated about your circumstances. This doesn’t make you less spiritual, it makes you human.

    We are here for the human experience and aren’t meant to be in a constant state of bliss. Without the ebb and flow of struggle and success, happiness and unhappiness, love and loss; we would be robotic and feelingless. Suppressing your emotions to feign a sense of “positive energy” will only lead to detrimental health effects.

    Let it out, feel your emotion; cry, scream, wail. Leaving these emotions unchecked will ultimately lead to an emotional implosion. Instead of ignoring these emotions, try to understand what they are signalling to you; why do you feel this way? What is your mind and body trying to tell you about the situation? Exploring the root cause of this issue will ultimately allow you to heal. 

    4. Spiritual Gaslighting

    Using spirituality as an excuse for any outlandish behaviour is simply spiritual gaslighting. People often use spirituality as a means to avoid accepting personal responsibility for their actions and circumstances in life.

    This is also known as spiritual bypassing where we literally avoid dealing with the issues in our lives and leave it up to “the universe”.  Though letting go and easing your anxiety can be positive, it’s not an excuse to detach yourself from the real world. 

    Blaming others for your circumstances; like your parents, friend or partner is also a symptoms of spiritual gaslighting; “I wouldn’t be this way if you didn't do this to me”.

    A massive part of the spiritual journey is taking responsibility for our thoughts, actions and choices. It's about forgiving others and understanding that you are in control of your thoughts and the way that you respond to situations. Gaslighting your loved ones into believing they were the root of all of your problems and that you’re “healed” as a result of spirituality is just another sign of toxic spirituality. 

    5. Cult Culture

    Any community that worships a spiritual leader certainly gives off cultish vibes. Anyone that claims to be “better”, more “powerful” or “spiritually enlightened” than any other human being is simply a fraud.

    If you’ve read spiritual text you will understand that all of our power comes from within; that we are all equal. Unfortunately it is generally vulnerable people who fall victim to cult spirituality. It is a natural cultural phenomenon and nothing to be ashamed of. But be wary of anyone who claims to be “all-knowing”. 

    Though having a community or spiritual advisors is completely fine, it shifts into a toxic dynamic when you feel as though you can only find happiness through the advice of someone else.

    Spirituality is about seeking answers from within - you don’t need a guide for that. If this community is selling something, gaining popularity, sex or adoration from its followers, chances are something sinister is afoot.

    Though some of these organizations may have started out with good intentions, with great power comes great toxicity. Be wary of any place with a deified leader. 

    How Can I Become More Spiritual?

    Toxic spirituality is a symptoms born from Ego, vulnerability, obsession and compulsive behaviour. But is not a reason to avoid spirituality all together. Just like anything there are positives and negatives. Spirituality can be an extremely helpful self-help tool that can bring about transformation and healing to your life. If you'd like to explore your spiritual side in a positive way or are a beginner we recommend trying different modalities to see what resonates best with you:

    Final Thoughts

    Toxic spirituality has become a symptom of new world spirituality. It can be quite harmful to yourself and others and is quite off-putting to anyone that is curious about spiritual practice.

    Although there are some toxic traps that are easy to fall prey to, spirituality for the most part is an extremely positive practice that can be transformative and healing.

    While there is room for exploitation and manipulation, there is also a lot of good intention and amazing people in the community who have a greater grasp on what real spiritual practice looks like. We recommend finding what works best for you on your spiritual journey.

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    Author Bio

    I wanted to share the lessons I've learnt in a cool place and write in a way that appeals to all generations. I cover all things neuroscience, psychology and spirituality with a special interest in pop culture trends.