Is your spiritual path helping or hindering your psychological growth?

emotional life self-learning spirituality Mar 07, 2022
three crystals standing on the sand to symbolize the spiritual path


After a series of experiences where I was led to really solidify my own psycho-spiritual truths, I find myself feeling called to write about the importance of choosing a spiritual path that helps rather than hinders your psychological growth. To me, this is a spiritual path that is grounded in psychology, and not one that ignores it. We are souls having a human experience and in order to lead a happy and fulfilling life, we cannot ignore our spiritual or soul essence nor can we ignore our human essence. 

This article is a call for an approach that bridges and blends psychological and spiritual approaches to encourage a healthy state of self-awareness and way of life. I’ll share with you my present-day psycho-spiritual truths and tell you a bit about how I landed on them. I invite you to read with an open mind and heart, take what aligns with you, leave all the rest, and let me know what’s true for you!

Here we go…


1. Negative emotions are a blessing, not a curse.


Many spiritual teachings, including many modern age teachings, teach that anger, frustration, etc. are low vibrational emotions and that you should avoid them like the plague. Hmm… well what are you to do if you are a human being and you have these emotions? (which is all of us, by the way) By stating that some emotions are good and others are bad, these types of spiritual teachings invalidate you and shame you for being who you are.

As one of my favorite authors, Toko-pa Turner, says “We live under a kind of hegemony of positivity which emphasizes happiness over sadness, pleasure over pain, gain over loss, and the creative over the destructive. And I don’t know about you, but to me, this feels like a really fractured way to live; it feels like a practice that further separates us from our true Self or soul rather than brings us closer to it (the intention of genuine spirituality).

We can’t banish parts of who we are and expect to feel complete. We’ve got to find a way to include everything.





2. It’s good to have a mind that judges sometimes.


Related to the above, your judging mind is not out to get you. It’s here to help you.

In my latest experience that prompted me to write this article, I joined a program on a spiritual topic with a pretty well-known spiritual teacher and quickly saw that I would not be able to engage in the teachings with a sense of curiosity and ask questions about how the spiritual philosophy being taught aligns – or doesn’t align— with other truths that I hold close. Upon asking questions from a place of curiosity and a desire for greater understanding, I was reprimanded for judging and removed from the community. (I’ve chosen not to share the name of the spiritual teacher and community publicly, but if you are considering joining a spiritual program and would like to make sure it isn’t this one, feel free to reach out to us here to confirm. We would be happy to!)

My current truth is that yes, of course our goal is not to walk through life judging rather than being kind and compassionate to everybody but there is a big gray area between judgment and blind compassion or blind allegiance. And that gray area is where our discernment lives. (Thank you to my dear friend and colleague, Tieg Alexander, for the conversation that brought forth and confirmed this understanding). And this is the area where judging is not only okay, but vital! Without using our mind to discern whether people’s behavior is or is not in alignment with our personal values, we would entirely ignore the signals that our mind and emotions send us and leave ourselves vulnerable to all sorts of dangers, including the dangers of following spiritual principles and teachers that do not welcome discernment and critical questioning of the principles they’re teaching.

Anyone who has been in a relationship with a narcissistic person or who has been in a (cult-like) spiritual community led by a narcissistic yet self-acclaimed spiritually-evolved individual, among many others, has likely learned the necessity of listening to your emotions as a guidance system rather than ignoring them altogether. They have also learned that nuances are important. Compassion is a state to aspire to, but not always. Judgment is something to shy away from, but not always. And so on.


3. You can’t escape your fears. You need to integrate and heal your fears.


In the spiritual community I referenced above, the relatively well-known spiritual teacher teaches students to “challenge frightened parts of their personality” because it is by challenging these frightened parts that they will be able to act from loving parts of themselves instead. While I love the intention of acting from loving parts of our personality (which, in essence, is the effect of a lot of the healing work I offer), that intention isn’t met by challenging parts of us who hold fear, telling them they are wrong, and willfully choosing loving parts with which to act from instead.

True healing is a process of changing how you relate to your pain. Specifically it’s a process of learning to relate to your pain and hurt in a more loving, nurturing, and safe way right when it happens and in every moment and day that follows. It’s a process of, little by little, learning to have true compassion for the parts of you that hold fear, thereby helping them to move through you. 





4. You can’t will yourself out of unresolved emotional hurt and trauma.


While cognitive strategies are used in the field of psychology, you can't heal simply by changing your mind. I believe true change and healing begin in the nervous system, not in the mind. Hurt and trauma, after all, are experienced through our nervous system, and not just our mind. There is an undeniable mind-body connection. Spiritual teachings, when not combined with psychological truths, are often over-simplified notions of change because they don’t take into account how trauma impacts the nervous system.

Because of this, spiritual (especially new age) teachings at times appear to be another bandage approach to true joy, where instead of healing the pain and trauma that causes us to act out on limiting beliefs and narratives, we focus our attention on not retelling those narratives using immense will and self-control which, because our pain and trauma remain unhealed just keep popping up over and over again. Saying for example, as the aforementioned community might, "You might think that your sorrow comes from the death of a friend, but it does not. It comes from the energy leaving your system in fear and doubt” doesn’t seem to support the soul that’s having a human experience and it does little for your psychological development because you can’t will yourself out of unresolved emotional hurt and trauma.

When we turn this understanding into a psycho-spiritual one, we can understand that what’s happening when we feel physical sensations in the body (like tightness in our chest, a rigidity in our throat, or a piercing feeling in the head) is that we are recognizing a trauma response in action… we are experiencing hurt, loss, anger, frustration, or grief (as in the example above). And this trauma response deserves our undivided and loving attention. Our spirituality deserves to include the fullness of our human experience, not just bits of it.


5. A safe container is vital for psychological and spiritual growth.


Becoming a more loving person out there in the world begins with becoming a more loving person in here in your inner world. You can’t expect to challenge parts of your personality and insinuate that they’re problematic and then get out in the world and have compassion for other people and their problematic parts. That’s just not how it works. Because when things change “in here” they can change “out there” too, we start first and foremost by learning to have compassion for the parts of us that hold fears and that have coped with life by protecting us using a variety of protective and defense mechanisms.

Sometimes I reflect on that spiritual community’s action of removing me from their community without consulting with me first. Would I ever do that to someone who has joined my sacred healing community? Absolutely not. The environment is guaranteed to be a compassionate and caring one, and one that encourages you to use your voice rather than reprimands you for having one. Yet, in this community’s practice of spirituality, the practice of removing someone from the community without dialogue or attempts at understanding was deemed as appropriate behavior.

When I get to know a psycho-spiritual community, I look for compassion and caring. I look for spaces that encourage you to use your voice rather than reprimand you for having one. I look for a community with facilitators who walk the talk. This is one of the benefits of truth #3 when someone creates a safe container "in here" by replacing self-shame and blame with self-compassion (especially for the parts of themselves that have experienced some trauma and that show up with fears in present day), that person can create a safe container "out there" for others. This, to me, is true spirituality.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be surrounded by people who are authentic and genuinely kind and who inspire me to be authentic too, rather than be surrounded by people who are always positive and loving, whether that positivity and love is authentic or not.


6. We grow spiritually not by ascending reality, but by learning to live in it.


Most (not all) spiritual teachings I’ve encountered have directly or indirectlyencouraged people to maintain a certain type of vibration to ascend physical reality. Well, to me, that sounds like a whole lot of spiritual bypassing right there. The term spiritual bypassing, if you haven’t heard it before, refers to using spirituality to bypass one’s emotional hurts, pains, and trauma. If we’re feeling pressured to or pressuring ourselves to maintain a certain type of “vibration” or positive mindset, then guess what? We’re bypassing our physical reality which, in case you haven’t noticed, is filled with all sorts of moments and emotions, everything from elation, satisfaction, and joy to deep sadness, sorrow, and grief. If we’re forcing ourselves to only feel positive, we are engaging in emotional avoidance.





I mentioned earlier that we are souls having a human experience. That’s the whole point of this thing called life. We’re not souls accidentally having a human experience who need to desperately learn to get out of it. As such, we need to learn to live in the natural fluctuations of life, and that’s what gentle, loving healing work, that I’ve described in various ways above, is all about.


Want to know more about this gentle, loving, and might I add— effective— healing work? Head on over here!


7. Sometimes it helps to separate the teachings from the teachers (and students).


There are spiritual communities whose teachings, from my heart’s perspective, could easily help create more love within us and around us in the world. But in practice, you may find that it is far from being the case. In practice, these spiritual teachings might actually lead to less love internally and externally… not because the teachings are bad or lacking in some way, but because human and fallible teachers and students likely misunderstood and/or misused them. So, sometimes it’s necessary to take the teachings and leave the rest. And that’s something that we can expect to do throughout our lives because as humans, we are likely to misinterpret and misuse information we come across from time to time.

In a similar vein, I think it’s really important to remember to take parts of teachings that resonate with you and leave parts that don’t. I hope that you will tune in to your own heart and intuition and do the same with these truths.



A few final words… There are many different paths that align with different people at different times for different reasons. Whatever path you choose, I hope it’s one that encourages rather than stifles your authenticity, that loves you in your fear rather than shames, blames, and talks you out of it, that gives rather than denies your negative feelings a voice, that welcomes nuances instead of black and white thinking, and that helps you be more present to this always beautiful and sometimes messy thing called life.

This is a trauma-informed spirituality (thank you to my conversation with my dear friend and colleague, Kristen Chazaud, for this awareness) and it’s one that will see and carry you through all of life’s ups, downs, and all the way arounds. And if you’re looking for a practical, psycho-spiritual, welcoming, loving experience that puts you in the driver’s seat of your soul, consider grabbing my new book, The Soul Journal. I created it for the very reasons described in this article… so that we can have a welcoming guide to aligning with our true essence that encourages our inner truth and knowing and that doesn’t bypass, shame, or invalidate us in any way.



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