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  • Writer's pictureMarc-Henri Sandoz

Toxic spirituality, an ever-present and underestimated reality

spiritualité toxique
La spiritualité toxique: empoisonnée malgré l'aspect séduisant

Toxic spirituality: may be good looking but is in fact poisonous

Do you feel that spirituality is important, but that your access to it is somehow obstructed by your religious upbringing and by all the wounds and traumas it has caused to you?

Have you been raised into a narrow minded religious environment: for example your family was part of Jehovah's Witnesses, a strict Evangelical or Pentecostal denomination, a cult, a fundamentalist or radical group of any religion?

Do you sometimes feel a kind of guilt or nostalgia when you think of the time you were part of this group, because of the sense of belonging, the feeling of security, the brother/sisterhood that was shared among its members?

Have you had conflicts and rejection from members of your family and friends when you distanced yourself from some beliefs of this religious group, or from the group itself?

Have you been submitted to teachings implying that there should be a clear separation between you/your family/your religious group and the rest of society, because of your faith or beliefs?

Have your spent your childhood and teenage years feeling different from others because of clothing, alimentary restrictions, prohibitions of any kinds (for example television, music, medication and healthcare, games, sports, contact with persons of the other sex...)?

Have you suffered spiritual abuse: for example a spiritual leader or group using his authority to ask you for money, to convince you of your need for an exorcism, to pray for your healing and then accuse you of lacking faith when this healing didn't happen, to inflict upon you fear and guilt?

Then you have been exposed, like me, to a form of toxic spirituality and probably to spiritual abuses. The harm it can cause in one’s life are too often underestimated.

Here are some of the main characteristics of a toxic spirituality:

  • It demands the repression of our feelings and the denial of some of the intelligence we need to face reality.

  • It encourages in some ways the self-sacrifice and a passive submission to suffering.

  • It over emphasizes the power and control of God over everything, and encourages the believer to depend on miracles and divine interventions.

  • As a consequence, it makes humans small and disempowered, defiant of their innate ressources.

  • It asks for exaggerated and sometimes blind submission to spiritual leaders or group beliefs.

  • It promotes misogyny and women’s oppression.

  • It has a tendency to cover and minimize abuses of several types, sexual, psychological, spiritual.

  • It may support extremism, violence and fanaticism.

  • It despises human experience and represses pleasure and sexuality.

  • It teaches, in a way or in another, to detach from the body and the material world, supposedly in order to reach better the spiritual realm.

In any group promoting a toxic spirituality, whatever the religion or belief system, some or all of these trends are present with more or less intensity. Unfortunately, for those of us who have been raised exposed to such toxicity, it leaves deep wounds and scars in one’s psyche, and it can continue to influence us even long after we have left it behind us. Among other problems, it can deprive us of a true access to a free and life promoting spirituality.

According to my experience, one needs to engage into a deep inner work if he wants to get rid of its poisonous residues.

To finish this article, I want to propose three main characteristics of a healthy spirituality:

  • It is in service of your growth as a responsible and mature human being. It helps you to evolve and face life challenges, to become more lucid and enjoy life. It challenges you to become more open minded and able to listen to others, whatever their tribes, religions or traditions.

  • Its tenets value your daily life, down to the simplest practical realities and relationships, moments of joys and pleasures, work, even pain and frustrations. It makes all of this « mundane stuff » the occasion par excellence for meeting the Divine or the Mystery, without any attempt to run away from them or devalue them. It values working for the benefit of others, for minorities, for the planet, for social justice.

  • It is rooted in the work of expanding your consciousness, dedicated to the healing of your traumas and inner wounds, instead of trying to justify or to hide them. It is walking hand in hand with a deep therapeutic work, encouraging and sustaining it when necessary. It helps you to integrate with kindness and clarity every part of you, without rejecting any.

To go deeper into this subject, watch these two ressources:

- My book about toxic spirituality: ‘Toxic Jesus, my journey from holy shit to spiritual healing'

- My online course: ‘Heal Your Spiritual Life'

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