s I watch the world around me, I recognize that more and more people are beginning to experience the early stages of spiritual awakening. Last week, I re-published a post that I wrote six years ago about the phases of spiritual awakening
and if you’ve read it, I think you’ll agree that many many people in 2020 are experiencing the earliest stages. Those who are in this pre-enlightenment stage of spirituality are in a vulnerable place in their journey and being that there are so many of them, it puts us in a precarious and vulnerable situation as a collective.
Today I wanted to delve more in-depth into some of the pitfalls of those phases that I touched upon in that post in an effort to help those of you who are new to this journey navigate some of the murkier waters of spirituality that I’ve encountered over the last 10 years, specifically the most toxic people you’ll meet on this journey who can and will do you and the collective harm.
The Egoic Psychic
Many years ago, my psychic development teacher told our class, “Just because someone is psychic does not mean they are spiritual.” Indeed, there are many psychics, healers, and channelers out there who operate within fear-based, dualistic belief systems. Some use their metaphysical abilities to feed their own ego rather than engage in the shadow work necessary to make themselves a clear channel, and still others are simply scam artists passing themselves off as spiritual practitioners.
How to recognize them: These people are pretty easy to spot. They’ll come at you and attempt to position themselves as “more enlightened than thou” because they are psychic and can speak to the dead, channel the Galactic Federation of Light, or whomever they are claiming to be their connection to Truth in an attempt to hold power over you.
They make bold and wild claims like being the earthly incarnation of a famous historical figure or esoteric entity, or that they are in a special relationship with one. They may claim to be in contact with dead celebrities, or the “chosen channel” for some bygone demigod (Jesus or Mary Magdalene for example), or some other metaphysical status which feeds their ego and sets them apart from the regular humans. They are “special” and they want you to know it. The more fear-based ones may claim that you have negative entity attachments, curses, or are otherwise under psychic attack from some invisible force that only they can see, and therefore, only they can help you. You’re not allowed to question them, and they’re always going to demand something from you, whether it’s admiration and attention or money.
Many famous psychics have made famously wrong predictions, Sylvia Brown to name one. I’ve personally encountered or heard stories of psychics and mediums claiming to be in intimate relationships with dead celebrities, impregnated by Archangel Michael, telling people they are demonically possessed, and even making very wrong predictions about people’s family members dying. And of course there’s also tales of psychics offering to lift imaginary curses off of you for the low low price of $400 or more.
Why you’re vulnerable: Early on in your spiritual journey, as you begin to explore new concepts and ideas, you have a more open mind and are willing to consider ideas and information that you may have previously dismissed. When you’re in this questioning stage, you don’t yet have a strong connection to your own intuition or your own direct line to Truth, so you’re more willing to get that Truth from other, outside sources, and not all of these sources are credible. People think that just because these people have psychic abilities that their every prediction is accurate, or that how they are interpreting it is correct without taking into consideration that they have their own mental health issues and untreated spiritual dis-ease that may contribute to taking their readings off the rails. Maintaining a healthy amount of skepticism about the information people try to feed you is imperative as well as learning to recognize egotism when you see it.
Learn how to discern mental illness from spiritual experiences.
The Sexual (Predator) Healer
When we reach a stage of our spiritual journey where we’re beginning to examine our own shadow, we’re often faced with a multitude of personal crises that leave us emotionally raw and seeking healing. Kindness and compassion are something we gravitate toward as we look for trustworthy people to hold space for us as we heal, but there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing out there parading around as healers, particularly of a sexual nature. I’ve come across multiple male energy healers who attempt to capitalize on emotional vulnerability as an avenue for crossing sexual boundaries, and it’s also rampant in the astrology community.
How to recognize them: These people come in a variety of costumes. Some pose as tantric healers who “use sexual energy” to help you heal. Sexual energy can be healing when you’re with a partner whom you know well and have a deep sense of trust with, but NO SPIRITUAL PRACTITIONER IS EVER GOING TO ATTEMPT TO HAVE CASUAL SEX WITH YOU TO HEAL YOU. None. Ever. Fucking throw that concept out the god damn window.
True story: I used to see profiles on dating apps of male “reiki” practitioners looking for casual sex claiming they had the ability to heal women through sex. Nothing has ever turned my stomach more.
Others will be far more subtle. They may offer you “free” energy work, but eventually begin to introduce sexual micro-aggressions. This is how a predator tests your boundaries for vulnerabilities to see if they can escalate the relationship into something more sexual. Exercise extreme caution when accepting free energy work from anyone that you don’t know well. A true healer will ALWAYS respect your boundaries and NEVER do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. If the thought that this person has crossed a line even remotely enters your awareness, or you feel even mildly uncomfortable with their behavior, THAT MEANS A BOUNDARY HAS BEEN CROSSED. Don’t ignore it. Always say something and cut off contact.
John of God is a famous Brazilian “healer” who amassed hundreds of thousands of followers all over the world. He reached a level of international new age fame, including being featured by Oprah. He was also jailed in 2019 for raping over 300 women, including his own daughter.
Why you’re vulnerable: If you have a prior history of sexual or emotional abuse, you are particularly vulnerable to this, because your nervous system does not easily recognize these kinds of boundary violations (because it’s used to being violated). If you have a history of abuse of any kind, I urge you to seek out trauma-informed practitioners rather than accepting free services from seemingly good samaritans–particularly if they are of the opposite sex. And look for any and all resources about how to recognize and set strong boundaries.
The Dilettante Coach/Influencer
In the excitement of the pre-enlightenment phases of awakening, many people who are early in their spiritual journey jump into the evangelism phase with gusto, becoming spiritual social media influencers and even offering coaching services or readings of some kind. The problem is that they’ve not yet engaged on their own shadow work and as such, are only able to guide people from the shallow depths of the work that they’ve done. In many cases, these people are not at all trauma-informed and still greatly unaware of their own issues, and when they set out to start helping others, they end up projecting their own issues onto their clients and doing more harm than good. It’s the blind leading the blind.
How to recognize them: These people tend to talk about having had a “sudden awakening” where they saw the Truth of the universe, and then almost immediately afterward, set out to become a spiritual coach or teacher (or psychic or medium). They’ve also often rapidly accumulated a social media following.
They are demonstrating what psychologists refer to as the Dunning-Kruger effect, where amateurs tend to be over-confident (and experts tend to be underconfident). But having an intellectual or conceptual understanding of spirituality is merely scratching the surface, and until one does the necessary shadow work required to fully embody and integrate that knowledge through experience, they will often engage in spiritual bypassing and share information that lacks a depth of understanding required to be a spiritual teacher. But that doesn’t matter to them, because this kind of behavior is more about financial success and internet fame/notoriety than it is about mission and responsibility.
They’ll often become defensive, block you for some “spiritual” reason, or try to use their spiritual terminology to gaslight you after you question them, or they’ll sick their army of social media followers and influencer friends on you if you for disagreeing with them. A lot of them charge an absurd amount of money to work with them and operate like a business, not a teacher.
True story: My attention was recently brought to an online “spiritual” women’s coach with a large audience on Facebook who made a post chastising women who experienced coerced rape as having porous boundaries and told them, “Regret isn’t rape.”
As a women’s coach and a healer in a country where one out of every five women has been sexually assaulted, she has a responsibility to her audience and her paying clients to educate herself about women’s issues, and to be responsible with what she says in that regard.
Anyone who is even remotely trauma-informed, has a background in psychology, or is simply educated about rape culture knows how much shame and guilt rape victims deal with. For one of them to then go online and see a person in a position of alleged authority effectively validate their worst fear–that what someone else did to them was their fault–is incredibly harmful, and extremely ignorant on behalf of this “coach” who has claimed that she is here to heal people. Her careless victim shaming can lead someone into a shame spiral that ends in suicide.
One might even go so far as to suspect that this coach has likely experienced coerced rape at some point in her life and internalized her own shame and guilt around it, has convinced herself that it was her fault for not having better boundaries (newsflash: the only people who take advantage of people with bad boundaries are people who have no respect for boundaries. I.e. abusers) and because she has not done the work to heal herself, she is now projecting her own shame onto other women by only holding the victim accountable and more or less absolving the abuser of any wrongdoing in the process.
Even people who seem like they should have a better grasp on how their actions as a wellness influencer affect their followers such as the Holistic Psychologist and Mastin Kipp have recently been outed as having little to no self-awareness about issues involving anti-racism with their dealings with the Black community. And hey, in 2020, literally no one is perfect, but as a spiritual practitioner, if you can’t self-reflect deeply enough to see your own bias even when people are pointing it out for you or at least commit to making an attempt, then what are you doing trying to lead others in self-reflection?
Why you’re vulnerable: Humans are primed to look for social proof that someone is an expert. Using the right terminology and having a massive number of followers gives the appearance of depth. These people have pretty, professional photos and great brand messaging. They look credible, and other apparently credible people are talking about them, so why shouldn’t they be credible? But in this day and age, social media followers can be bought, being connected to the right people–even if you don’t really know what you’re talking about–can expand fan bases, and paying boatloads of money for professional graphics, photos, and meaningless online course certifications can give anyone the facade of being a professional without actually having the life experience and spiritual depth to back it up.
Learn how to spot a spiritually immature influencer.
The Cult Leader
There’s been a lot of new age cults in the news lately, including NXIVM sex-cult leader Ken Raniere. Upon first glance, it’s difficult to understand how seemingly good people are recruited into such wildly abusive lifestyles, but when you understand that cults prey on vulnerable people, it becomes apparent that those who fall into these traps are often seeking acceptance from a community and have a history of abuse which renders them nearly incapable of recognizing proper boundaries.
How to recognize them: These people, like many of the others on the list, are simply narcissistic personalities masquerading in spiritual garb. They target vulnerable people who are seeking to be loved and start out by love-bombing them with validation and telling them why they’re special in order to get them hooked and if they’re charismatic enough, it will work. Then, once they have them, they slowly begin to chip away at their already fragile self esteem through manipulation, gaslighting, condescension, and other subtle yet gradually escalating abuses until one day, the abuse reaches staggering proportions (in the case of NXIVM, it was BDSM and fire-branded initials) and the victim is so mind-fucked they don’t know what’s real and what isn’t.
Many cult leaders isolate their flock and erode their trust in outside information, positioning themselves as the only source of “Truth.” They’ll gaslight their members to the point that they can’t recognize up from down and staggering self-doubt is enough to keep them hanging around.
True story: I once had a guy online try to convince me that I was one of only 18 Pleiadian hybrid “messiahs” incarnated on earth at this time to save the planet and he had developed a system to identify and prove who was one (i.e. you’re special… only I can show you how special you are, here, let me show you…). All of the other alleged messiahs also happened to be attractive, young brunettes. He, of course, was the incarnation of the Pleiadian King (See, I’m special, too. Even more special), and we were all to be his wives (ah, there’s the catch…) and he was building a city–the new Zion–that would survive the catastrophic end of the world (fear-based belief system), which was coming soon, naturally (time-sensitive urgency). He was also creepy and old and CLEARLY INSANE.
Each piece of the story is carefully crafted to play to vulnerabilities and fears, ultimately luring the victim in through a series of pulls (compliments and validation) and pushes (fear, panic, and scare-tactics). The end goal was isolation (the new Zion), and he’d already positioned himself in power by claiming he was a “king.”
Fortunately, this guy was not nearly charismatic enough to build a cult, but if he were, it would have been a dangerous combination.
Why you’re vulnerable: This is a combination of the history of abuse vulnerability I mentioned with the Sexual (Predator) Healer and the open-minded naivety discussed with the Egoic Psychic, which means that this personality can hit you on multiple fronts. Some of them, like Ken Reniere, have even amassed an outward appearance of success and charisma, or latched onto a network of people with famous and fortune (such is the case of Scientology), much like the Dilettante Coach/Influencer. The Cult Leader is a triple threat and a master of manipulation, which is what makes them the most dangerous person you’ll meet on your spiritual path. Sometimes these people hit a trifecta of fame, influence, cult-like followings, marketability, and sexual trauma, such as in the case of the OneTaste, an overpriced new age sex cult that claimed to help people heal from sexual trauma.
Learn how to spot signs of spiritual authoritarianism and spiritual abuse.
The Spiritual Karen
Of all of these people you might meet on your spiritual journey, the Spiritual Karen is probably the least dangerous on an individual level, but the most dangerous because there’s power in numbers, and make no mistake: they are legion.
Often found lurking in suburban households, the organic-only aisle of your local Whole Foods, the front row of your hot yoga class, or posting inspirational quotes in your aunt Linda’s essential oils downline Facebook group, these Karens are onto spirituality like the next MLM fad.
Spiritual Karens are inconspicuous and consider themselves well-meaning. Most of them are in the Evangelism phase of their own spiritual journey and they’re happy to spread the love and light. The problem is, they haven’t quite done their spiritual homework, much less their shadow work, and are woefully lacking in self-awareness, so they have absolutely no clue that half of the time when they are dispensing spiritual “advice,” (which is usually just parroting back their limited understanding of a spiritual quote they saw posted by a Dilettante Coach/Influencer on Instagram) they’re actually being dismissive, derogatory, occasionally racist, and engaging in spiritual bypassing.
Spiritual Karens are the soldiers in The Dilettante Coach/Influencer’s army of social media followers. The Beyhive to the Dilettante’s Beyonce. They also suffer from the same Dunning-Kruger effect as the Dilettante, but in true MLM fashion, only have a local audience. If they weren’t so driven by unrepentant self-righteousness, you’d almost feel sorry for them. They really just don’t know any better, and due to that severe lack of self-awareness, may never learn.
How to recognize them: Spiritual Karens are big believers in toxic positivity and the law of attraction, and say and do things like:
- You can’t think negative thoughts because you’ll manifest them.
- Good vibes only.
- Fake it until you make it.
- When somebody violates your boundaries or otherwise harms you with their words and actions, you should just “let it go” (as though you could…).
- Will shame you for being “judgmental” of others, not realizing they are being judgmental of others by shaming you.
- Often engages in hypocritical behavior because they believe their excuse is valid when no one else’s is.
- Lives to invalidate your emotions.
- The way to solve society’s problems is to pretend they don’t exist.
- The way to solve their own problems is to pretend they don’t exist.
- The way to solve your problems is to pretend they don’t exist.
- People of color are manifesting their own experiences with racism because they have a victim mentality, and likewise, women who experience sexual assault are also manifesting their experiences because of their own thoughts.
- “I can’t get the coronavirus because I don’t exist on the same vibrational frequency.“
- “I refuse to live in fear.”
- High probability of being into Pastel QAnon.
- May be found trashing a mask display at your local Target.
Why you’re vulnerable: Spiritual Karens can do damage by the sheer volume of their ignorance. But you’re not so much vulnerable to be victimized by a Spiritual Karen–unless you’re a marginalized group in society fighting for social justice, an immunocompromised or elderly member of society attempting to avoid COVID, a good samaritan attempting not to infect one of those people, a minimum-wage retail worker, the manager, or a dissenter making a comment on a Dilettante’s instagram post–as you are to become a Spiritual Karen.
Humility, integrity, self-awareness, and deep empathy are the kryptonite for a Spiritual Karen–and they are the very things that every person on this list lacks. If you, yourself, often practice these things, you don’t have to worry about becoming a Spiritual Karen, or any of the above.
In the same way that my psychic development teacher said that just because someone is psychic, it doesn’t meant they are spiritual–just because someone is “spiritual” or doing spiritual work with the public, it doesn’t mean they:
You can only teach others, lead others, and heal others from the same depth at which you’ve learned, led, and healed yourself.
Learn how to identify spiritual bypassing and spiritual gaslighting.
If you need help discerning who is and isn’t the real deal when it comes to spiritual teachers, coaches, and influencers, check out my post on how to know if a spiritual teacher is credible.