On Cancelling Cancel Culture

On Cancelling Cancel Culture

On Cancelling Cancel Culture

By now, I’m sure everyone has heard the phrase “cancel culture,” and I’m sure you’re aware that it’s yet another aspect of the perceived culture wars in America. There’s been a lot of national discussion and politicization around the concept, and I see support for the idea of cancelling cancel culture seep into the spiritual community in various forms, usually under the guise of “everyone is on their own journey” or “we have no right to judge another’s path” or something like that.

That said, I also notice that a lot of people talking about cancel culture don’t seem to actually understand what it is and they’re making a very dangerous conflation that, in the end, would rob a great number of people from an opportunity for spiritual growth, perpetuate division, and is antithetical to one of spirituality’s main goals: unity consciousness.

Let’s explore!

What is Cancel Culture?

Cancel culture (also termed “call-out culture”) has been generally defined as many things, including, but not limited to:

  • Online or public shaming
  • Deplatforming people with ideas that are deemed unpopular or harmful
  • A form of social ostracism where someone experiences real consequences for their thoughts and opinions, such as losing their job
  • Censorship

There’s a lot of sociological nuance involved around these subjects which I find to be severely lacking in public discourse, and that’s partly the reason why I wanted to touch on it myself.

A lot of people are not going to like what I have to say about this, particularly people who think that cancel culture inhibits free speech, discussion, and debate.

People in positions of power who knowingly espouse ideologies, beliefs, attitudes, and biases that are directly harmful other groups of people should absolutely be canceled. People in positions of power who unknowingly espouse ideologies, beliefs, attitudes, and biases that are directly harmful to other groups of people and who refuse to educate themselves about why those things are harmful should also be cancelled. And in fact, the US Constitution has already cancelled a lot of those people, which we’ll get to in a minute.

This is the paradox of tolerance: The one thing a tolerant society cannot tolerate is intolerance. If a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized and destroyed by the intolerant.

In other words, if we ever want to build a society that is tolerant, free, and healthy, we need to stamp out intolerance wherever we see it, because if we don’t, it perpetuates itself and continues to drive division.

But before we can do this successfully, our entire society needs to undergo a massive education about what intolerance actually is. The rest of this post is what that education looks like.

The Dangers of Cancelling

There’s a couple of really harmful side-effects of cancel culture that need to be recognized and taken into account. A common instance of canceling involves someone digging up and exposing a video or written piece by someone from several years ago expressing cultural beliefs and opinions that are not deemed acceptable by today’s standards.

This is harmful for a number of reasons. For one, society and culture are changing rapidly. It may not look like it in the moment, and certain themes are changing slower than others, but overall, the world is definitely not the same place it was 20 years ago. Need proof? Just watch any comedy movie from the 90s. A good chunk of the jokes and many of the social situations that were made light of in those movies would never see the light of day by today’s standards. And that’s a good thing, because many of them were socially harmful to vulnerable groups like women and LGBTQ+.

Pop culture’s vast evolution of the last 20 years is a reflection of the evolution of our society. We’ve all grow and changed, too, and for many of us, our core views have as well. When we judge someone by a video or something they wrote years ago without taking into account their views today, we risk ostracizing people who may have actually already grappled with their discriminatory beliefs and attitudes. We have to be willing to give people the opportunity for growth.

A second major danger with cancel culture is how public it is. Many times, cancel culture leads to doxing. If you’re unfamiliar with doxing, it’s the practice of finding private information about someone and publishing it for all to see. Doxing in and of itself may not necessarily always be bad, but it’s extraordinarily bad in cases of mistaken identity where the wrong person is identified, or the person is doxed for something that is completely unproven. This has led to completely innocent people receiving death threats and harassment.

We can’t operate under a mob mentality, even if and when we have good intentions.

Misconceptions About Cancel Culture

Now I want to talk about all the ways that cancel culture is being used as an umbrella to shield deserving targets from the consequences of their actions, and subsequently rob them of an opportunity for spiritual growth.

Since the summer of 2020, we saw people being fired, losing corporate sponsorships, and experiencing other consequences of violent and racist behavior. There have been many people labeling this as cancel culture, and it absolutely is not. Why?

Businesses in the US, both private and public, are given the discretion to hire and fire who they want, for whatever reason they want, so long as it doesn’t discriminate against those individuals on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, color, or national origin. By this same law, those businesses are legally bound to protect their employees from discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, color, and national origin.

Another driving factor in who a company hires (or fires) is company values. Company values are the foundational beliefs and qualities that a company holds which direct everything from company policy, to product development, to branding, to company culture. If an individual who works for a company exhibits behaviors that are out of line with a company’s values, the company has every right to let that person go (again, so long as it’s not discriminating against them based on one fo the things outlined above).

So when you have individuals on video exhibiting violent behavior or expressing “opinions” which are clearly rooted in subconscious bias or bigotry, one must assume that this person is bringing those same behaviors and opinions to work with them every day, and that those behaviors and opinions have already created a hostile work environment for other employees. The person expressing those opinions then becomes a liability to the company, because they are opening the company up to a potential discrimination lawsuit, and it’s in the company’s best interest (and the company culture’s best interest, and the other employees’ best interest) to eliminate that liability.

If they had expressed any of those “opinions” or behaviors within the walls of where they work, they’d be fired. And by displaying those opinions and behaviors publicly, on video (fully knowing they are being recorded), they are demonstrating that 1) they are unconcerned if anyone finds out and 2) they are knowingly bringing attention to themselves, their behaviors, and their opinions in such a way that it doesn’t matter if they are in a work environment or not. They’ve made their conduct public knowledge and damaged the company reputation by association.

These people aren’t being “cancelled.” They are experiencing the real-world consequences of their attitudes and actions. Actions have consequences. It is the epitome of entitlement and privilege to believe that one is somehow exempt from being held accountable for those actions.

The same goes for celebrities losing endorsements, for companies pulling funding, etc. etc. They have the right to dissociate themselves with anyone or anything that is not in alignment with their company/brand values, or anything that would create a hostile or discriminatory work environment or culture.

All of this applies to social media companies as well because they are businesses, too! A social media company crafts a set of terms and conditions for the usage of its platform that is in alignment with its company’s core values. So if a user of that platform violates the terms and conditions, they are also out of alignment with the company’s core values, and the company has the discretion to suspend or ban that user. As long as there are no government regulations place on that industry’s standards and practices, they are free to do whatever they want.

A lot of people (mistakenly) believe their First Amendment right to free speech somehow entitles them to free speech in the corporate realm. It doesn’t. You know why?

The United States Supreme Court has given corporations (most of) the same constitutional rights as people. That means that they are just as protected by the First Amendment as you are, but with the additional regulation that they cannot discriminate based on race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, color, and national origin.

All the first amendment means for you, as a person, is that the government can’t legally censor you. A business can censor you all day long as long as you’re standing on their property, be it physical, digital, or intellectual. So all of those people talking about how Orwellian it is for Twitter to be able to deplatform Donald Trump? They’re totally confused. 1984 was about government censorship, not corporate censorship, and Twitter has had the power to do this all along because America’s disdain for corporate regulation gave it to them.

This also applies to business-to-business companies and publishing houses. If a person or company is utilizing a service provided by another company, and it violates that company’s terms of service or core values, the company providing the service has every right to discontinue the contract. The Supreme Court set this precedent when it allowed a Colorado bakery to deny service to a gay couple on the basis of religious/moral values, and it also applies to businesses who refuse to serve anyone not wearing a mask, and business who chooses to end their contracts with politicians and celebrities who do and say anything that business doesn’t want to be associated with.

There’s really no other way to say it: if someone’s beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and actions are in any way based on conscious discrimination or subconscious bias, you’re not protected by the First Amendment at work because it doesn’t cover hate speech, the business itself has the exact same constitutional right that we all do, and it’s in direct conflict to the The Civil Rights Act, which protects vulnerable populations from discrimination at work.

The fact that a person isn’t aware of their subconscious bias or how it relates to their beliefs, attitudes, opinions, and actions doesn’t matter. That’s a personal problem because they refuse to educate themselves, not the law’s problem.

The law exists specifically to protect vulnerable populations from people like them, so by continuing to publicly espouse those ideas, they are in fact cancelling themselves, because the law has been the law since 1964, and their ignorance of it (and of their own bias) does not absolve them from their actions.

What is Bias?

Time for another sociology lesson! One of the biggest issues we have regarding sexism and racism is that no one understands what bias is…so I’m going to break it down for you.

Racism/Sexism, bigotry, and bias are three separate, but interrelated things.

The “isms”–racism and sexism–are the systemic power dynamics which one race or sex holds over another. We live in a world that was built specifically to oppress women and people of color, and while we have created some laws and enacted certain reforms in an attempt to rectify this, much of the structure is still at work. The people who benefit from maintaining this structure the most are white and male (and cisgender, heteronormativ).

Anyone who defends or upholds this structure, be they bigoted or biased, are considered racists and sexists. This is why we say that a person of color can never be racist: they do not have the societal power to systemically oppress white people–because it lies with white people. Likewise, women can’t be sexist. Reverse racism and reverse sexism are a structural impossibility, because a group of oppressed people simply do not have the collective systemic power to oppress their oppressors. When people talk about reverse-racism and reverse-sexism, what they are actually talking about is bigotry.

Bigotry is an overt prejudice, or an openly hateful attitude toward someone of a group other than yours. Women who hate men are bigoted toward men and get their own special label as well: misandrists. Black people who hate white people are bigoted toward white people. And likewise, white people who hate Black people are bigots, and men who hate women get their own special label: misogynists. People often use the term racist when talking about bigots, and indeed, racist does encompass bigotry. White supremacists are both racists and bigots. Not all racists, however, are bigots.

This leads us to our third category: bias. Bias is a covert or subconscious prejudice against other groups to which you do not belong. Everyone is biased. Literally everyone, regardless of your sex or skin color. You have subconscious programming (i.e. beliefs and attitudes) about everything. Those racists who are not bigots, but still defend and uphold the white power structure? They’re biased. The sexists who are not misogynists who defend and uphold the male power structure? They’re also biased.

These are the white people out there who think they have to be burning crosses to be racist and have absolutely no idea that their behavior is, in fact, biased (and racist). These are the men out there who think that they love women and also think that women should take cat-calling as a compliment, and the white people who keep insisting they aren’t racist and yelling “all lives matter.”

These actions are what we call microaggressions and they create a climate of hostility within our society. This is where the most confusion, and the most insidious abuse in society lies, and it’s the kind of thing that the concept of anti-racism is meant to tackle.
Bias is baked into our society, because our cultures themselves are built upon socially accepted stigmas and stereotypes that subconsciously program us with beliefs and attitudes about certain groups of people. Those stigmas and stereotypes are fed to us every day through our own media and culture.

As noted earlier on, as a society, we are becoming more conscious of these stereotypes and how they are portrayed and slowly beginning to make change, but it’s going to take a long time to dismantle them and subsequently deprogram our society.

Racism and misogyny can also be internalized by those who are victims of it.

Because of these pervasive, subliminal messages we receive from society, many people who are actually oppressed by these concepts end up internalizing them and viewing them as “correct.” Women who say things like “I hate feminists” have internalized misogyny. Black people who are against Black Lives Matter have internalized racism (and are often trotted out as the token examples of “This Black person who agrees with [insert covert racist concept here]”).

Why do these things become internalized? As noted earlier, a lot of it is completely normalized within our culture itself. Professional dress codes at work, for example, are inherently more rigorous for women than men, because women are expected to wear makeup, jewelry, heels, and dress up, whereas men only have to put on a pair of slacks and a collared shirt. If a woman were to walk into a job interview with no makeup, no jewelry, wearing a pair of slacks and a casual dress shirt, she wold automatically be judged more harshly than other women who wore makeup, because that’s what our entire society as a whole expects. And that’s a double standard.

It’s all of these double standards and subconscious biases that have the most insidious effects on the individuals subjected to them. It’s why women disproportionately struggle with body image and eating disorders. It’s why Black people are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and incarcerated.

What’s it all got to do with spirituality? I’ll tell you: spirituality is the examination and subsequent integration of the subconscious aspects of ourselves. The very nature of spiritual self-inquiry requires us to examine our subconscious bias.

Spirituality devoid of anti-racism work is not spirituality. Spirituality devoid of anti-misogyny work is not spirituality. It’s spiritual bypassing. The same goes for every other bias you may hold, whether it’s bias toward LGBTQ+, ableism, ageism, xenophobia, or any other kind of ism. As a spiritual person, it is also your duty to help liberate the people who are oppressed by these systems.

Calling Out vs. Calling In

Now that we’ve established what is and isn’t cancelling, and what the grounds for it are, let’s talk about the appropriate way to go about it. Cancel culture is also known as “call out culture,” and lately there’s been some counter movement toward something called “calling in” instead of calling out.

Calling Out: the practice of issuing a direct challenge or criticism of someone’s words, attitudes, or behavior.

Calling In: the practice of engaging in thoughtful discussion about someone’s behavior, asking questions, and attempting to understand their perspective and gently call their bias into question.

Calling out and calling in are both necessary and useful tools for social change. You just have to know when is the right moment to use each one.

Calling out is necessary when someone is in a position of power or authority and they are abusing that power, or they are exhibiting overt bigotry, and even in some cases of covert bias. If we don’t, they continue to abuse that power and authority and harm others, even their own followers in the case of social media influencers. We enable them when we say nothing.

Calling in is useful when it’s obvious that the person is simply ignorant of their own bias (which is literally all of them) and that person is not in a position of power or authority where their behavior can be directly and immediately harmful. It’s easier to call in people who are on the same level as you, with regard to power balances. It’s harder to call in people who are above you. It is absolutely your responsibility to call in people who you are in a direct position of authority over.

As we established at the beginning of this post, some people, especially in the spiritual community, think that calling out is akin to public shaming, and therefore, invalid. Let’s clarify that shame is about who you are and guilt is about what you did. You can call out a person’s actions without shaming them as a bad person. Shame and guilt are naturally occurring human emotions and as such, serve a purpose to motivate us to do better when it isn’t being used by an abuser as a tool to manipulate.

Using spiritual concepts to avoid feelings of guilt or sitting with shame is spiritual bypassing, and not confronting harmful (bigoted or biased) messaging, attitudes, and behaviors when you see them is what allows these structures to continue.

It’s just as important to be aware of your own motivations for calling someone out. Are you doing it to shame, or are you doing it to protect the vulnerable by raising awareness?

 

Xo,

Ash

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Spirituality’s Relationship With Mental Illness

Spirituality’s Relationship With Mental Illness

Spirituality’s Relationship With Mental Illness

Spirituality and mental illness have a complex relationship. My goal today is to talk about mental illness within the spiritual community in a way that can help those of you reading this recognize just how pervasive it is in the spiritual community and help you identify spiritual people–psychics, channels, influencers, whomever–suffering from mental illness, all the while without stigmatizing it.

I’m going to rely a lot on personal experiences to try to demonstrate this, both my own as well as those of a friend with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder).

Mental illness encompasses a very wide variety of experiences that affect emotions, mood, thinking, or behavior, including common afflictions like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders to more severe ones that affect a person’s ability to accurately perceive and interpret reality to varying degrees, such as body dysmorphia or schizophrenia. Even drug addiction is considered a mental illness.

Mental illness is a lot more common than you might think, it’s just that a lot of people don’t talk about it because of the stigmas associated with it. There’s been a concerted effort in the last few years to destigmatize mental illness and create a more pervasive conversation around how common of an experience it is. It is estimated that 19% of adults in the US experience some type of mental illness in any given year. I have personally experienced disordered eating, body dysmorphia, PTSD/C-PTSD, anxiety, panic, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Mental illness doesn’t have to be something permanent. All of us experience emotional ills in the form of depression and anxiety from time to time, just like we might catch a cold every couple of years. Other mental health issues which are more long standing in nature, or which appear to be so deeply ingrained that they are almost a part of someone’s personality may be classified as some kind of disorder.

Spirituality and Mental Illness

There’s some merit to the idea that at least some aspect of mental illness is more so a spiritual disease disease than a physical one. The idea that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance is a myth that was popularized by pharmaceutical companies to sell prescription antidepressants. In reality, psychiatry in general recognizes that disorders are not strictly chemical in nature, but are the result of a complex combination of physical, psychological, and social factors.

If you define spirituality the way that I do, as the intersection between science, psychology, and philosophy (which includes sociology), that means that mental illness does overlap with spirituality. The fact that social and psychological factors (i.e. trauma) are involved means that spirituality is part of a holistic approach to viewing mental illness. It also means that prescription drugs can be an effective and helpful aspect of treatment, when they are administered responsibly as part of a balanced approach.

The problem is that we don’t necessarily have a balanced, holistic approach to mental health at the moment.

There’s a tendency toward over-medication on the clinical side that is a result of a culture that wants an easy way out in the form of a pill that will fix everything rather than addressing the personal, social, and cultural factors that largely contribute to trauma at the root of much mental illness.

On the other side of the spectrum, there’s a lot of anti-science people in the spiritual community who view the pharmaceutical industry as evil, and by proxy, the doctors who prescribe them, and they completely dismiss the decades of scientific research behind drug discovery. In other words, they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Their real problem is with business practices in the pharmaceutical industry, not the science. Their problem is with unregulated capitalism, not science. Science’s only agenda is discovery.

That lack of distinction in the spiritual community not only leads to a lot of very harmful misinformation and propaganda during times of global health crises, but it also leads people who are experiencing mental health issues to believe that their experiences are actually (only) spiritual in nature, and thus, they don’t even recognize the need to seek professional help.

Narcissism and Spirituality

As I mentioned earlier, there are some forms of mental illness which affect a person’s ability to accurately perceive and interpret reality to varying degrees, and some of these mental illnesses cripple that individual’s ability to even recognize their own mental illness. Narcissism is one of those mental illnesses, and, along with sociopathy/psychopathy, is a mental illness that lends itself to a desire to hold power over others. Because of this, people with these kinds of mental illnesses are disproportionately attracted to positions of power.

For example, between .5% and 1% of the total population is estimated to have a narcissistic personality (of which 50% to 75% are male), however, various studies suggest that anywhere between 4% and 20% of people in leadership roles are narcissistic personalities, and that proportion may be on the higher end in areas where that leadership is self-appointed, such as with social media influencers.

Learn how to spot spiritual leaders with these kinds of personalities.

This doesn’t just apply to New Age spirituality, it also applies to religion. Prime example:

My dad exhibits signs of undiagnosed Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

In 2015 or so, he started saying really odd things. He first told me that he invented a generator that produced free energy. Then he told me how he was experimenting with growing plants by putting essential oils on them. Then he started texting me and telling me to take all of my money out of the bank and buy enough food to last for six months because Jesus was coming back in October and the stock market was going to crash and there was going to be martial law… (which is not unlike the doomsday fears of QAnon adherents after Biden’s inauguration).

 

Eventually he started his own church where he spoke in tongues and believed he had the power to cast demons out of people. Most of the congregation was made up of drug addicts and people who’ve been in and out of jail. In other words, vulnerable people looking for acceptance.

 

“God” told him that he was going to start a revival that would unite all church denominations and go on until the rapture came. He believes he has divine revelations that other people do not have access to.

 

Anybody who didn’t obey him, particularly if it was a woman, was “rebellious” and had a demon because “to follow the man is to follow god” and he would systematically begin to discredit them and attempt to turn others against them.

 

He believed that he had the ability to heal people, and told me how he healed a pastor from cancer.

 

Then he ambushed me in a public parking lot and attempted to cast a demon out of me… because I was getting a divorce. He was having an out-loud, two-way conversation with the “demon” that he believed had hold over me.

 

At the height of the pandemic in the spring, he started texting me (again) telling me how this was the end times and martial law was going to be declared. “Watch. I will be right.”

I’ve recounted in a couple of posts an encounter I had with a guy who exhibited similar behavior which you can read here. That actually occurred before everything went down with my dad, so I had a sense of what it was as it was happening.

Both of them are preying on people who are in vulnerable states by abusing their self-appointed spiritual authority, and this happens within the spiritual community frequently.

Learn how to spot spiritual abuse.

Aside from the two stories above, I’ve witnessed countless other examples of this kind of mental illness and spiritual abuse.

When I first began my spiritual path, I found a sense of community with a Facebook group built around another blogger who was writing and posting about channeling. Eventually, that blogger themselves demonstrated signs of mental illness and many many many people in the group (which was a few thousand people) did as well.

There were people in this group who believed they were being physically attacked at night by spirits. There were people who believed they were being sexually molested by spirits. There were people in the group who believed they were the reincarnation of religious and historical figures. There were people who believed that dead celebrities were their twin flames. There were several (I forget where the count ended, but I think it was somewhere around six at the time I left) women who believed that the spirit being channeled was their twin flame. Some of them posted regularly in the group about perceived sexual experiences they were having with said channeled entity, some of them went on to become alleged channelers themselves and pass along messages to other people in the group from this channeled entity, some of which included telling those people they were demonically possessed.

It was a very common occurrence for someone to come into the group completely green to psychic development and spirituality, and within a matter of weeks or just a couple of months, be giving people psychic readings and spiritual advice, without having any prolonged experience, integration, or any depth of shadow work. Many of them used their self-appointed positions of power to shame or dismiss people who disagreed with them. It’s my understanding that one of those people eventually went on to develop a large following and claimed she was impregnated by archangel Michael and gave birth to a spirit baby.

Learn what you must do before pursuing psychic development.

There were a number of people in the group who were there because they’d lost someone and were looking for answers about the afterlife, and their grief and desperation made many of them prime targets for manipulation by narcissistic personalities.

*** Trigger warning: the following discusses themes around depression and suicide.***

As a member of that group, I personally talked to at least five people who were contemplating suicide. More than a couple of members of that group eventually succeeded. One of them was a young kid, around 20 years old, who told me he’d been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He thought the government was tracking his movements and was suspicious of taking his medication.

He went on and on about things he’d read online, how he’d met his twin flame two weeks prior, and he knew it was his twin flame because he took an online quiz that said so, and it was crystal clear that he had absolutely no sense of discernment–he believed everything he read related to spirituality, word for word, and didn’t question any of it. I tried to convince him that it was okay to take his medication and that he should listen to his parents and doctor. The last time I talked to him, he told me “I’m getting off of this planet before it blows,” and deactivated his Facebook account. To this day, I don’t know if his parents had him committed or if he killed himself.

The problem with this group was that there were very few people in it who had any length of experience with spirituality or mental health. There was no one to ground the group or present alternative points of view–and many times, if an alternate point of view was presented, the group attacked that person–so the non-mentally ill people had no handle bars, either, and were left up to their own devices to try to discern whether or not these people were the real deal. This left them incredibly vulnerable to misinformation, manipulation, and abuse.

Learn how discernment is is key for a grounded form of spirituality.

A number of those people had also experienced serious trauma, including sexual abuse. A lot of the spiritual concepts being talked about were over-simplified and positioned victims as being responsible for their abuse. I don’t need to tell any survivor just how damaging that is, but for those of you reading who do not understand trauma: survivors of abuse often already feel responsible for their abuse. They don’t need spiritual people telling them how they manifested it.

You’ll see a lot of information online that truly vilifies narcissists and sociopaths. In terms of those who’ve been abused by them, the feelings are certainly warranted and a part of the healing process. I would never, ever tell a victim of abuse that they have to forgive their abuser, that they shouldn’t judge their abuser, or that they need to have compassion for their abuser. That said, it is possible others who are not in that position to look at narcissism through a compassionate lens.

Not everyone with mental illness falls into this kind of delusion, but it’s tricky.

I don’t doubt that many of these people are having some spiritual experiences, because all of us do. The problem is not with their experience in and of itself, but rather, their ability to accurately interpret those experiences and discern between what is spiritual in nature and what is a result of the mental illness. The line between those things is not always clear cut.

I’m very happy to be able to give you some perspective on this nuance by including a Q&A from a friend of mine–who for the purposes of anonymity, were going to call Ocey–who is both a member of the spiritual community and someone who has been living with symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder.

What’s your spiritual practice and how you identify within that?

I’m a follower of Hekate. I see her as the manifestation of Source, of the divine consciousness that permeates all things. I’m also a traditional witch with my practice almost exclusively focusing on shadow and spirit work, as opposed to spell work.

My specific practices are always changing and evolving but I try to regularly spend time in study, in meditation, and creating some kind of art. Recently my practice has been focused on studying comparative mythology and sociology in a way to try to better understand the universe and my role in it.

What is it like living with DID?

I’m so nervous to even talk on the subject of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) because the community isn’t a forgiving one. There’s much debate about what qualifies as official DID and the legitimacy of a self-diagnosis, so I want to say up front I have not been officially diagnosed as DID, although that’s partly by choice, as my therapist has recognized it and is treating me for it. And technically I would be diagnosed as OSDD, Otherwise Specified Dissociative Disorder, which is a catch-all category of diagnosing for cases who don’t meet the exact criteria for DID.

Dissociative Identity Disorder use to be called ‘multiple personality disorder’ but the name was changed in 1994 to better describe the disorder. It’s not a personality disorder but a dissociative one caused by childhood trauma.

My DID is pretty subtle compared to other cases I’ve read and heard about. I basically experience my consciousness as being multiple. While there are “Others” inside my brain, they mostly feel like me, just “other me’s”. I’ve done a lot of work the past year to try to understand it all better and it’s felt like shadow work boot camp. But we [meaning all identities] are working on understanding triggers and what they mean to us as a single individual. I’m constantly working on ways to express all parts of myself and giving every side a voice, because it seems to be soothing of the symptoms which can range from black outs/missing time to complete breakdowns where I’ll experience paranoia and psychosis. It’s hard but I’m lucky to have a safe place at home and in therapy to try to work through it all. And I count myself lucky because like I said, DID is a spectrum and there are some who suffer from daily amnesia and depersonalization.

Back when you didn’t know you had DID, how did you interpret it through your spiritual lens?

My Others were always very real to me and because of the nature of it and because I was raised in a strict Christian household, I struggled with faith and spirituality my entire life.

Along with having these Others existing inside me, I’ve also experienced interactions with the spirit world my whole life. So before I was aware of the mental aspects of some of what was happening to me, I categorized it all as the same nature.. which was scary. I wasn’t able to separate or distinguish between hallucinations and apparitions, or paranoia and intuition. It was hard to decide what it was I actually believed because my experiences didn’t all make sense together.

When I first kind of put it together that DID is what I’ve been experiencing it was a huge shock. I had a little breakdown. But soon after a lot of things I’ve always struggled with started making sense. Before I had a name for what was happening, I knew there was something. I’ve spent almost the entirety of my adult life trying to understand myself.

It wasn’t until I was married for a few years and had settled down in life when things started becoming apparently amiss. I was realizing there would be huge gaps in the information I knew about myself and my life and gaps in memories, and mostly, my life felt as if I had just been dropped off there yesterday and often felt alien to me.

I was extremely paranoid and had psychosis symptoms, but refused to acknowledge them as anything but spiritual. But, I wasn’t always “myself” so spirituality wasn’t always a consistent part of my life. The fact that I couldn’t explain to myself why I’d go months, years, without having a spiritual care in the world and then suddenly feeling as if that’s all my life is about, really held me back spiritually. I thought I must just be wishy washy and not really care or believe. But the constant contact with spirits and the constant feeling of missing my life or feeling like I’m going through parts of it asleep, left me in a dark place.

I found witchcraft sometime around 2007 and paganism around 2012 and they both set me on a course of self discovery. My entire spiritual practice for the past almost 15 years has basically been just shadow work. And it has led me to where I am now.

And I’m still everyday carefully combing through my thoughts and experiences trying to make sure I categorize them appropriately, because while I believe mental health and spirituality are very closely linked there’s still a distinction and I try hard to make sure I’m making one consciously.

How did you reframe that perspective after you figured this was a mental health issue and how do you navigate your spiritual experiences now?

The hardest part of all of this has been trying to make a distinction between what’s spiritual and what’s mental. A lot of it is inseparable. The biggest way I’d say I’ve reframed my approach to both is I strive for perspective and verification. I realize now that I may have multiple perspectives on something and instead of making a decision or forming a belief based off only a part of how I feel, I make sure to take into account all sides of me. Even when it comes to how I practice my witchcraft and experiences that seem spiritual in nature, I have a process I go through to verify to myself how I should personally categorize it and if it deserves more attention, and the nature of attention I give to it. And I also have a couple trusted people that I share my experiences with and try to get outside perspective on their nature.

The biggest difference to how I go about my spirituality and life in general is now I have an understanding of how things in a person’s past can manifest themselves later in life.

I believe a person’s trauma can manifest in a damaging way if left untreated. I choose to view my situation through a spiritual lens to give me a framework of how to go about healing myself. I spend a lot of time fighting my own personal demons and am slowly working on recognizing, accepting, and healing old wounds.

A big change I’ve made to my spiritual practice after taking my mental health into account is how I apply it to the world and if/how to share that with others. I’ve come to learn that some things I experience are unique to me and cannot necessarily be applied to the collective reality. So I try to make sure I have more discernment with the things I share and how I share them, and am constantly questioning the decisions and opinions I make to make sure I understand where they’re coming from.

How has spirituality helped you understand your experiences from a mental health perspective?

When I first realized I had DID I lost all faith. I was devastated because I thought this meant that all of my experiences were nothing more than a fantasy created by a mental disorder. It shook me. I spent half a year just navigating that. Eventually I came to the conclusion, with the help of a very special part of me named Joan, that it was up to me how I decide to view this. I could choose to see only the medical/psychological side of it, renounce all my beliefs–or I could choose to also see the spiritual side. If anything, that short time when I lost faith in everything showed me how fulfilling and comforting a spiritual practice can be.

What’s some advice you’d give someone who might be struggling with something like this unknowingly?

My main advice to everyone is to recognize that mental health is just as important as spiritual and physical health. We live in a world now that offers us a lot of different approaches to life and our problems and I think the best way to go about it is to try to maintain a balance between science and spirituality. I think my spiritual practice is crucial in my healing but I also see the benefit and necessity of taking my meds and seeing my therapist regularly.

DID is tricky to notice even within yourself. The entire purpose of the disorder is to hide things from yourself as a survival mechanism. But it is typically known to start showing noticeable signs when you’ve reached a point in life where you’re “settled” and your psyche starts to feel like it’s a safe time to start unpacking all its baggage. My advice is if you have any doubts or questions about your experiences or sense of being, then reach out. Find a therapist who is open to your personal spiritual beliefs and find a support group of people who are having or had had similar experiences. Also shadow work is everything. I feel everyone, even those who may not be suffering from mental health issues can greatly benefit from it.

Scientific American: A new paper argues that DID may help us explain the nature of reality. 

I just have to say that I’m in such awe of how strong this woman is, and how she’s gone about handling this. I honestly started crying when I read her responses to my questions, because even though she’s having to work harder than the average human to navigate the world within her, she’s doing it with so much integrity.

We talked about how there is an opportunity here for her to share her experiences and help others who are struggling with these kinds of things and she said, “I hope to eventually be in a place where I can help others with stuff like this from what I’ve learned. But I want to make sure I’ve learned enough before I start really trying to help others.”

And that, my friends, is the balance that all of us need to strike.

Xo,

Ash

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New to Spirituality?

Look up the meanings behind commonly used spiritual terminology and concepts in the Spirituality Encyclopedia.

Have You Been the Victim of Spiritual Abuse?

Have You Been the Victim of Spiritual Abuse?

Have You Been the Victim of Spiritual Abuse?

The term spiritual abuse refers to any attempt to control or hold power over another person using religion, faith, beliefs, or spirituality.

Often employed by cult leaders, spiritual abuse comes wrapped in spiritual words, phrases, and rationales, and can use any tactic employed by any kind of abuser, whether it’s shaming, shunning, physical abuse, gaslighting, harassment, humiliation, or other forms of psychological abuse. The end goal is to instill fear in the victim as a means to condition them for manipulation and control.

  • Shaming instills fear of being a bad person and low self-worth, which makes the victim more reliant for validation from the authority figure
  • Shunning instills fear of abandonment
  • Physical abuse instills fear of physical repercussions
  • Gaslighting instills fear and doubt of one’s own thoughts and emotions

Examples of New Age spiritual abuse include:

Cultivate or exploit their victim’s naivety in regard to spirituality.

 

Use spiritual concepts about unity to justify silencing victims.

 

May use spirituality to imply or explicitly state that if dissenters understand spirituality differently, the difference of opinion is actually a product of fear, being less enlightened (when it’s actually the abuser whose understanding is based in fear and lack of spiritual understanding), or not having the same level of divine connections that they do, or that other, contradictory sources of information have been “hijacked by dark forces.”

 

Flex their alleged knowledge of spirituality to position themselves as more enlightened than other teachers who contradict them.

 

Exploit spirituality to make the victim feel like they are responsible for their own circumstances because the victim is spiritually immature. They may accuse, berate, critique, attack, belittle, condemn or guilt trip the victim.

 

The abuser often paints themselves as a martyr while simultaneously positioning the victim as the wrongdoer in an attempt to undermine the victim’s credibility while emphasizing their own.

 

Exploit spirituality to minimize or shift the blame for their behavior, such as claiming that the victim is simply projecting, or justify silencing the victim as “setting boundaries.”

 

Exploit spiritual concepts and practices for financial gain.

 

Use tantric practices or sexual healing as a cover to attempt sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault.

 

Over inflate or lie to the victim about their abilities or how they are regarded by the New Age and wellness community, isolating them from possible sources of support and reinforcing their own superiority.

 

Exploit spirituality to gaslight, dismiss, or invalidate a victim into ignoring the abuse with platitudes such as “what you focus on, you create,” accuse them of having a victim mentality, label them as not being “awakened” or calling them a sheep.

 

Attribute accusations against them to the work of evil spirits, negative entities, Satanists, or the deep state.

 

Use fearful predictions or prophecies that are always just around the corner to instill fear and obedience in followers. When predictions or prophecies don’t come true, there’s always an excuse and another prediction/prophecy to once again keep followers hooked and afraid to leave.

 

Use fear-shaming as a means of gaslighting and manipulation. In other words, the abuser shames the victim’s common sense beliefs and actions claiming that they are acting from a place of fear in instances where fear is not an actual motivator.

 

Use the community to protect the abuser, and isolate the victim. The abuser may have a large group of loyal followers who will attack, dismiss, and ostracize the victim for pointing out the abuse or questioning the abuser.

 

Socially isolate their victims by eroding their trust in other people, and their own discernment, and limiting their access to or eroding their trust in outside information, or support, or both.

 

Use evil spirits or negative entity attachments as explanations for the victim’s accusations or behavior when the victim’s understanding contradicts fear-based information, such as telling them that their own intuitive information is actually coming from a negative entity or dark energy.

What constitutes a cult?

Cult behavior can occur within a well-defined group of people, or loosely across disparate groups of people. It can appear in internet communities or within groups of people who gather regularly face-to-face.

One of the main indicators of a cult, beyond all of the spiritual abuse tactics listed above, is that it either actively or passively recruits individuals through the use of what is known as love bombing– appealing to a person’s sense of brokenness or loneliness by, at least initially, providing praise, a sense of community, and otherwise manipulating the person’s desire to feel special and understood. Once the individual has been successfully integrated into and the community, the abuse and dependence conditioning begins.

The second defining trait of a cult is that there is often a pyramid structure with a singular figure of authority at the top. This authority figure, the cult leader, will often claim to be special in some way themselves, and present themselves as the sole person who has access to some kind of truth, a way of living, or a divine being, and that truth/way can never be questioned. They may present themselves as a channel, a psychic, a spiritual teacher, a prophet, a social media influencer, a self-help guru, a business, or government figure–any sort of position of power that can be wielded over a group of people.

There may be intermediate authority figures in the cult hierarchy who disseminate the cult leader’s philosophies and teachings, and also serve as evangelists and recruiters. These intermediate authority figures gain power by serving as mini-cult leaders to their own groups.

As you may have noticed, many organizations operate under the cult pyramid structure, including businesses and religious organizations, and not all of them engage in [all of] the abusive tactics mentioned above. The defining trait of a cult lies in its underlying motivation: to recruit, manipulate, extort, exploit, and control.

 

Spiritual abuse is rampant within the spiritual community and is a key indicator of cult classification. Spiritual abuse is being used by adherents of Qanon and other cults to keep people in the fold “trusting the plan.” Please consider sharing this information, especially with anyone who is new to spirituality, in an effort to raise awareness about spiritual abuse.

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Xo,

Ash

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New to Spirituality?

Look up the meanings behind commonly used spiritual terminology and concepts in the Spirituality Encyclopedia.