How to Spot a Spiritually Immature Wellness Influencer
On the one hand, this is fantastic as more and more people are awakening to spirituality. On the other hand, it’s problematic because there are more and more inexperienced spiritual people out there who haven’t yet completed the appropriate shadow work to develop discernment or a fully integrated understanding of spiritual concepts. Furthermore, any of these individuals has the ability to appoint themselves as authority figures through branding and other marketing tactics.
How does this play into wellness and spirituality influencer culture?
I talked about the dangers of this, along with the Dunning-Kruger effect in my previous blog post, the 5 Toxic People to Avoid on Your Spiritual Journey.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is the tendency for novices to overestimate their mastery of a subject, because you don’t know what you don’t know, you know? If you’re learning a new subject, you don’t fully understand the depth and breadth of it until you experience it. So those who are only beginning to explore it or are perhaps one to three years in may not realize how much more they have to learn.
This in and of itself is not an issue. It becomes an issue when those people, falsely believing they have mastered the subject, go out into the world to present themselves as masters and attempt to teach/heal/coach/read others. We are seeing an explosion of influencers and self-help gurus who are using all the right words and phrases, but not embodying a full comprehension of the spirituality that they are attempting to pedal.
When this happens, that unintegrated knowledge and lack of experience can result in the emotional and energetic harm of their clients. They are often charging money, and in some cases, significant amounts of money–hundreds or thousands of dollars– and furthermore, their marketing messaging often intentionally triggers underlying self-esteem issues in order to drive a purchase. They are exploiting the unhealed trauma of potential clients for financial gain.
This is a huge ethics problem with real life consequences, and it is an underlying factor in today’s spread of conspiracy theories in the wellness community, a culture of spiritual materialism, and concepts and ideas that both spring from and also lead to spiritual bypassing.
That isn’t to say that someone can’t share their journey publicly if and when they are open about their lack of experience and not attempting to present themselves as an authority figure or expert. It’s even okay to charge a reasonable amount of money for your time if you are practicing doing readings, but there must be transparency with those clients about your experience level.
The Inner-Workings of the Inner-Work Influencer Crowd
A large number of these influencers, particularly those who have reached the top of the pyramid, are intentionally acquainted with each other. They want to surround themselves with other people who have large followings so that they can cross-pollinate their audiences, gain more followers, and make more money.
They join mastermind groups facilitated by other well-connected influencers in an attempt to make connections with celebrities to get big name guests on their podcasts and also make appearances on podcasts that have wide listening audiences. You pay a few thousand dollars to be in a mastermind group, and in return, you get access to to celebrity contacts as well as any connections other people in the group may have.
This in and of itself isn’t so terrible. Networking is smart business after all, but it becomes terrible when the primary motivation for joining the group is to make money and become famous, rather than service to the collective.
When ambition becomes more important than mission, your priorities are out of alignment with spirit and the consciousness that you purport to embody. And regardless of what kind of fluffy love and light kind of language these folks write on their instagram accounts, that’s exactly what’s driving them. Additionally, a pay-to-play model that charges a hefty $5,000 price tag on admittance automatically excludes anyone who can’t afford it, and means that only the privileged who who have already accumulated a certain amount of financial success and stability are allowed access to the next level.
True story time:
I attended a conference back in 2019 that was supposed to be all about personal development. It was being held in the city where my best friend lived during the week when I’d been planning to visit her. A mutual friend was going to the conference and gave us tickets. It sounded wonderful online, and I had high expectations.
When we arrived, we went an outdoor welcome ceremony where all 3,000 people who attended made intention bracelets, had access to free tarot readings, and participated in a group intention ceremony about what we wanted to accomplish during and after the conference. The first day of speakers opened with Lee Anne Rhymes leading us all in a spiritual group chant. Sounds great, right?
Except it wasn’t.
The general energetic undercurrent of the majority of the people in attendance felt like a gaping black hole of desperation for validation.
My first red flag was that the girl who made my intention bracelet didn’t even know how to spell Dharma. My second red flag was that every single person I talked to at the welcome event made some attempt to name-drop the speakers that they knew, slip into conversation that they knew the conference host, or went completely fan girl if someone they were talking to did.
During intermissions between speakers, people would go out into the aisles and start filming videos for instagram. One guy was doing pushups. Another girl was doing yoga poses. A couple started doing acro-yoga. In the fucking aisles.
There were breaks for questions after each speaker. Most people used those as opportunities to promote themselves. One speaker asked the host point blank for a job. Another woman managed to get a hold of the microphone at least three times over three days and promote herself and a book that she’d just written. Another woman randomly started singing into the microphone.
Even the speakers themselves were displaying and promoting blatantly obvious toxic ideas (at least obvious to me) that were rooted in codependent behavior and toxic masculinity. And everyone in the audience ATE. IT. UP.
Why? Because these people were millionaires, and the people in the audience weren’t really there to learn how to be better people, they were there to learn how to become somebody. To achieve power and influence. And they worshipped the people on stage. Many of them, during their five minutes on the microphone, mentioned how they were going to be on that stage one day.
I left that conference with a stark realization of exactly how thin the veneer of fame and success is, how unconscious the general population is, and just how broken influencer, wellness, and self-help culture was–and happy that because my ticket was a gift, I wasn’t out the $800 admittance fee.
I’m a big believer that just as your vibe attracts your tribe, your tribe is a reflection of your vibe.
When someone’s tribe is made up of a bunch of people who have a desperate need to be famous and successful, that’s ego that’s driving them, not soul. And it speaks volumes about the person at the top.
I’ve come to realize that all of the influencers I have interacted with end up having some kind of connection to each other, and various other problematic influencers. I’ve also noticed a pattern where the people that surround them always seem to have the exact same sort of energy that they do, for better or worse. People who are on that same frequency gravitate to them because they espouse the same values and elevate people who also espouse those values.
Pay attention to the community that surrounds your favorite influencers. Are they naive people pleasers? Your guru may be a narcissist. Are they concerned with money, wealth, and status? Your guru may be all about the Benjamins. Are they emotionally immature, constantly arguing with one another, or exhibiting mental illness? Your guru might be unwell themselves.
How can we spot a wellness influencer or self-help guru’s values?
You can check out one of my previous posts about how to tell if a spiritual teacher is credible to learn about the kinds of qualities a spiritual teacher ought to embody.
Some tell tale red flags that an influencer may not be as enlightened as they claim (some of these are general indicators of emotional immaturity, others are real life observations):
- Inability to accept constructive feedback or criticism. Will argue with or block dissenters.
- Uses spiritual concepts to deflect criticism or mask behavior, also known as spiritual bypassing. Example: “I’m setting a boundary by blocking these comments,” or “You’re just projecting your own issues onto me.”
- Engages in overt or covert online feuds with other influencers, repeatedly calling out other influencers directly or posting passive-aggressive content directed at another influencer, or otherwise exhibits a lot of professional life drama.
- Has amassed an army of haters who constantly troll their content. One or two trolls on occasion is a normal occurrence, but when ten of them show up on nearly every post, that’s a red flag.
- Has an ex (or four…) that is publicly trashing them on social media (or in the case of another influencer, published a heavily optimized web page trashing him so it would show up in search engine results anytime someone googled him…) or otherwise consistently has a lot of personal life drama.
- Promotes or demonstrates overly-simplified or toxic understandings of spiritual concepts, and doesn’t demonstrate a comprehension of nuance or context surrounding the appropriate usage of those spiritual concepts.
- Believes in or spreads conspiracy theories, particularly with regard to public health issues.
- Does not understand that by having a public platform and a position of authority, that it also comes with a responsibility to people other than themselves.
- Spreads ideas and concepts that are actually harmful to others’ mental health, such as “regret isn’t rape.“
- Doesn’t credit the sources of their knowledge when sharing that knowledge, for example, their own mentors or books they read.
A lot of these are simply behaviors related to emotional immaturity, spiritual bypassing, narcissism, and a lack of self-awareness and critical thinking skills. Naturally, if someone’s schtick is that they’re going to teach you emotional maturity, spiritual or personal development, or self-awareness or use those as tools for their coaching, they ought to be able to exhibit them in their own behavior. If they cannot, then they have no business being in this business.
My unofficial 2021 resolution is to have integrity with who I follow on social media. I will never promote the work of someone that I feel is out of integrity with true spiritual values. And this is that discernment aspect I mentioned a the beginning of this post.
I hope this gets you thinking about the people you may or may not put on a pedestal, and gets you to use your intuition more to evaluate those folks, rather than the shiny exteriors they present. If something looks or feels off, it probably is.
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