Trauma-Informed Spirituality

Trauma-Informed Spirituality

Trauma-Informed Spirituality

Not all forms of modern spirituality are equal. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I have talked a lot about toxic spirituality, especially lately, and have always held up fear-based beliefs or otherwise questionable spiritual ideas for scrutiny and examination.

The main issue with toxic spirituality is that it lacks the kind of nuance which is required for it to be applicable to the lived experiences of all individuals on the planet, which is somewhat ironic considering the entire purpose of existence, according to New Agers, is to live and experience.

According to the Buddha, and many other mainstream religions, as well as Friedrich Nietzsche, to live is to suffer.

At least we call agree there: life on earth as we know it is inherently traumatic.

And yet, modern forms of religion and New Age spirituality, particularly in the West, have a tendency to gloss over this trauma and encourage people to ignore it, think positive, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Trauma-Informed Spirituality

Trauma-informed spirituality acknowledges the impacts of trauma in individual life experiences. Rather than dismissing trauma through overly-simplistic spiritual concepts, trauma-informed spirituality accounts for nuance and trauma’s impact on the nervous system and aims to create a safe container for individuals with trauma to reconnect with and feel safe in their own skin. In order for them to do that, the practitioners and communities themselves must be well-versed in the ways that trauma affects the nervous system and the impact this has on mental health, as well as tactics for creating safe environments. Its goal is to utilize spiritual philosophies and practices to aid in the healing process.

Trauma-informed spirituality understands the connection between trauma and society, as well as ancestral trauma and the ways this trauma is passed down from generation to generation through familial relationships and cultural climates. It takes into account the kinds of trauma that people may face depending on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any combination of those things.

Trauma-Informed Spiritual Practitioners

Trauma-informed spiritual practitioners not only understand how trauma impacts one’s thoughts, they also understand its ongoing influence on the nervous system and know how to recognize the signs of a trauma response in progress.

Trauma-informed spiritual practitioners look at their practices through this lens, whether it be a physical or emotional healing practice, or forms of divination.

For example:

  • a trauma-informed astrologer or tarot reader has a thorough understanding of nuance when it comes to victim-shaming and creates a safe container for their clients.
  • a trauma-informed reiki practitioner or somatic healer understands the nuances of touch as they pertain to victims of physical trauma.
  • trauma informed spiritual practitioners understand how certain triggers may affect a client and are careful with any material that may feel threatening to a client’s nervous system.
  • trauma-informed spiritual practitioners are aware of the power dynamics at play in the practitioner/client relationship and understand their role in wielding that power responsibly.

Trauma-informed spiritual practitioners have a thorough understanding of boundaries and personal safety, and can guide their clients back to a sense safety during a trauma response to avoid retraumatization and aid their clients in safely processing that trauma.

Most importantly, a trauma-informed practitioner has identified and worked on their own trauma so that it does not complicate their ability to work with others.

When you consider that everyone has some form of trauma, and that trauma is at the root of almost all of our societal issues, the importance of becoming trauma-informed, especially when working with others in a spiritual guidance or healing capacity, becomes abundantly clear.

Tips for Creating a Trauma-Informed Spiritual Practice

  1. Thoroughly understand the nuances of healthy boundaries
  2. Learn to identify signs of trauma responses: fight, freeze, flight, or fawn
  3. Consult with clients about their triggers and trauma history before a session
  4. Learn about the mental and emotional struggles that trauma victims face, including societal backlash
  5. Work through your own trauma first
  6. Understand that you may not be qualified to work with every kind of trauma

 

Xo,

Ash

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Victim Consciousness isn’t What You Think it is

Victim Consciousness isn’t What You Think it is

Victim Consciousness isn’t What You Think it is

A concept I’ve seen a lot over the ten years I’ve been involved in spirituality is this notion of “victim consciousness.” It’s the term that New Agers like to use to describe anyone who seemingly isn’t taking 100% full responsibility for their experiences.

Some ways I’ve seen this used include (these are direct quotes):

“Blaming another is forfeiting your personal power.”

 

“Dear Black People…Why do I say ‘All Lives Matter? instead of ‘Black Lives Matter‘?…Because the slogan ‘Black Lives Matter’ DISEMPOWERS YOU. It is keeping you chained up in victimhood.

 

Sex you regret is not the same thing as Rape. Accepting yourself for making a decision you regret is key…not venturing into a Victim identity. Women don’t realize that Victim Culture has robbed them of all sovereignty.”

 

“Yes we need to learn but if traumas don’t require a lesson then how do you come out of victim consciousness?” (In response to the statement “Not all traumas were caused by mistakes that require a lesson to avoid repeating them. In fact, most serious traumas weren’t mistakes on the part of the victim. They weren’t events summoned by their unconscious or their karma to teach them something they need to learn. They were victimizations. They were attacks.”)

Learn more about why we don’t manifest abuse.

These people think that acknowledging when another person or group of people have violated your personal boundaries and your OWN SOVEREIGNTY is “victim consciousness.” In other words…they think that telling someone that what they did to you was not okay is being “a victim.” That’s not victim consciousness, that’s victim shaming, and it enables abusive behavior to continue unchecked, and it empowers abusers because it protects them from consequences. It places the full burden of responsibility for abusive behavior on the person who is being harmed.

When you’re at home minding your own business and someone bursts in through your front door and shoots you, that’s murder and nobody says, “Don’t blame that guy who burst in through your front door, or you’re forfeiting your personal power.” Well, unless you’re Black, the person who murdered you is a police officer and your name is Breonna Taylor.

So why does anyone apply this shit to rape and racism? Because that’s what narcissistic abusers do. They gaslight their victims into believing the abuse is their fault, thereby absolving themselves of any responsibility or accountability.

People who believe they must make themselves accountable for all of the times they’ve been victimized are usually victims of narcissistic abuse and suffering from codependency. People who tell others that they are accountable for all the times they have victimized said other are narcissistic abusers, and when this is being done utilizing spirituality as an excuse, it’s called spiritual bypassing.

Learn more about narcissistic abuse.

Who does have a victim mentality?

There actually are people out there who have victim mentalities, or victim consciousness–whatever you want to call it. And the irony is that those people are often the abusers, themselves.

Victim mentality is a key indicator of narcissism. If the narcissist can make their victims responsible for their actions and emotions, then they aren’t responsible for doing anything wrong.

How do people develop this kind of victim mentality? By having the same thing done to them by other narcissists.

When a person is constantly gaslit to believe they are responsible for other people’s attacks, they may do one of two things: accept that responsibility and become codependent, or deny that responsibility and see every attempt to hold them accountable as an attack, thus assuming an actual victim mentality. And once that line is crossed, they move from being an abuse victim to an active abuser, because they begin using the same gaslighting tactics on others to protect themselves that were used on them to begin with.

Learn more about codependency and narcissism.

How can you avoid true victim consciousness?

Know your boundaries and understand what healthy boundaries look like for others. Abuse occurs when boundaries are crossed, and knowing those edges inside and out will help you understand when abuse is happening, and when it isn’t, and that nuance is the difference between actual abuse and a victim mentality.

Learn more about the nuance of boundaries and bypassing.

Xo,

Ash

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Narcissistic Empaths and the Narcissist / Empath Relationship

Narcissistic Empaths and the Narcissist / Empath Relationship

Narcissistic Empaths and the Narcissist / Empath Relationship

You’ll find a lot of wildly popular information on the internet talking about the relationship between narcissists and empaths, and how these two polar opposites ends up attracting each other.

However, you may recall in a previous post where I wrote about the Law of Attraction, I pointed out that the perception of opposite energies attracting is an illusion. According to the Law of Attraction, like energy attracts like energy. So how can two seeming opposites such as a narcissist and an empath be alike?

Like Attracts Like or Opposites Attract?

First, we need to review what like energy attracts like energy actually means in terms of Law of Attraction:

If we want to truly understand the law of attraction, we have to understand it in energetic terms: heavy energy attracts heavy energy. Lighter energy attracts lighter energy. The vibrational frequencies of the energies are a match.

 

Duality comes from the illusion that there exists a lack of love. We call that illusion fear (not to be confused with danger). Fear-based energy is heavy and dense. Thus, fear-based energy manifests as spectrum of polarity (duality).

 

For example: total control and total submission exist on the same power spectrum and they are both symptoms of a heavier, “negative,” fear-based energy, one being a hunger for power, and the other being a state of feeling powerless. Thus, these two energies attract because they are the same fundamental energy expressing itself on a spectrum, and give the illusion of opposites attracting.

 

Learn more about the Law of Attraction

Next, we have to establish what an empath is.

When most people on the internet are talking about empaths, they are actually talking about codependency. I think there’s a great deal of nuance involved in this, and people often lump several categories together. I tend to see these broken down like so:

  • There’s psychic empaths, which are people who physically experience other people’s emotions and energy in the environment around them (also known as Sensory-Processing Sensitivity or a highly sensitive person (HSP)) ;
  • There’s people with empathy, who have the emotional intelligence to understand how another person may be feeling;
  • And then there’s people who are codependent, who may, but don’t necessarily, have either of the aforementioned abilities.

What’s the difference between all of these things?

Psychic empaths/HSP appears to be biological in nature–you’re born that way (and it exists in non-humans as well). Emotional intelligence/empathy is cultivated and nurtured through our environment. Codependency is a learned coping mechanism/survival strategy when healthy emotional intelligence is not cultivated or nurtured–it mimics real empathy but in an unhealthy way.

A person can be codependent, have empathy, and be a psychic empath, or a person can be codependent, have little emotional intelligence, and be a psychic empath, or they might be a perfectly healthy, empowered psychic empath with a high emotional IQ.

Me, personally… I’ve always been HSP, but I have not always been emotionally intelligent. Not even close. I had to learn how to cultivate emotional intelligence on my own. I taught myself how to feel and how to empathize with other people. In some ways, shutting off one’s ability to empathize might be a reaction to being HSP in an abusive world. The pain of living in this world is too much for a developing, sensitive nervous system to process, so it becomes numb in order to function normally.

Learn about these three types of empaths.

The kind of empath that is most often drawn into relationships with narcissists are typically codependents, who may not actually be empaths at all, but rather… covert narcissists.

Narcissists and this kind of “empath” exist on opposite end of the same spectrum. Indeed, some research suggests that the only people who can stand being friends with narcissists are other narcissists.

Everybody’s A Little Bit Narcissistic

The next thing that is important to establish is that narcissism and codependency are a scale. Literally everyone has some narcissistic traits, and we all probably have some codependent tendencies. Some people are more narcissistic than others, and some people are more codependent than others. The extreme ends of those scales are where you’ll find the hardcore narcissist and the narcissistic empath.

Defining Traits of Narcissists and Narcissistic Empaths

The defining characteristics of both narcissists and (narcissistic) empaths/codependents, etc. are:

  • Lack of boundaries
  • Lack of a true defined self/identity
  • Dependent on others for validation / overly concerned with what other think
  • Lack of true self-awareness or awareness of one’s motivations

In this way, these two types of personalities are two sides of the same coin–and of course all of this exists on a scale/spectrum, so it’s to varying degrees of intensity.

A codependent or narcissistic empath gives all of their boundaries away (thus, no boundaries), and a narcissist disrespects all boundaries (thus, no boundaries), which is why they tend to “attract” one another, and why overt narcissist parents create covert narcissist or codependent children.

Both are overly concerned with the appearance of perfection, people pleasing, and deriving validation from another, it just manifests in slightly different nuances. Both constantly conform to others’ expectations, but it seems codependents focus on the individual in front of them, and narcissists focus on the collective’s.

On the extreme end, both lack a deep level of self-awareness, have a desperate need for attention, both engage in emotional manipulation, but one is more overt, and the other more covert. Both have a tendency to victimize themselves as well, which is why the whole “narcissists attract empaths” trope works so well–it allows the narcissistic empath to play that victim/martyr role and wear the label of “empath” like a badge of honor.

And finally, narcissistic empaths don’t actually have real empathy–they imitate empathy as a means of manipulating others into giving them validation. Their primary concern is still themselves, just like any other narcissist.

Learn more about narcissistic traits and abuse.

Out in the wild, these covert narcissists would be considered energy vampires to the tune of Evie Russell, from What We Do in the Shadows.

Spoiler alert: in true overt/covert narcissist fashion, Collin and Evie start dating.

Narcissists Are Not Attracted to Empaths

Narcissists are not attracted to empaths. Narcissists are attracted to people with weak boundaries and people-pleasing tendencies, which, as we’ve already established, is not an empath, it’s a codependent.

Narcissistic empaths are attracted to other covert narcissists, and by the way–a narcissist can display both overt and covert narcissistic tendencies, they don’t have to be one or the other.

As I said earlier, everyone has some narcissistic traits, and we all probably exhibit some codependent tendencies. Some folks might rank higher on the scale than others, and that’s where you find seemingly good people being attracted to seemingly bad people… except that’s really just our own lack of self-awareness around our own narcissistic tendencies being mirrored back to us by the person we’ve identified as “the narc.”

Narcissistic education coaches on Instagram are often people who have experienced narcissistic abuse, and when they haven’t fully healed from that abuse, they are usually still writing from a place of wounding and blame and have a tendency to dehumanize the abuser, which then creates an entire culture that writes off wounded people as irredeemably toxic, which naturally creates even more wounding.

They also tend to give really bad advice to the people they’re allegedly trying to heal, because they, themselves, haven’t yet worked out how to heal, such as telling their clients, “You don’t love them. It was just a trauma-bond.” This is actually a form of gaslighting. Coaches don’t know you and they don’t know whether or not you really loved your abuser or not, and they have no business telling you that you didn’t. What they should be telling you is that you perhaps have an unhealthy attachment to said person, and teach you how to compassionately detach without abusing yourself or vilifying anyone.

I’ll never tell an abuse victim that they deserved what they got or that it was their fault, because none of us ever asks to be abused. Healing is a process as well, and we don’t need to make excuses for our abuser’s behavior, nor do we even have to forgive them. But that doesn’t mean we get a free pass to abuse them in return.

Learn why you don’t manifest abuse.

Narcissistic abuse victims often gaslight themselves and bury their feelings as a coping mechanism to detach from their abuser. The unfortunate side effect of this is that they shut off their own empathy toward that person, and the one thing that defines a narcissist is a lack of empathy. So the irony is, you end up becoming just like them, which is why abuse is a cycle.

At some point, in order to truly heal, we have to recognize that abusers were, themselves, abused. And while we don’t have to excuse their behavior, or even forgive them for what they did, we do have to try to understand how they became who they are, if for no other reason than to ensure that we, ourselves, do not become the thing we despise. When we bring ourselves back to a state of empathy and compassion, it opens a path for our own healing as well as one for the abuser, should they choose to accept it.

Xo,

Ash

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The Fine Line Between Boundaries and Bypassing

The Fine Line Between Boundaries and Bypassing

The Fine Line Between Boundaries and Bypassing

A while back I posted a story to my instagram saying that I wanted to start a game called “Boundaries or Bypassing?” where I’d have people submit screen caps of influencers blocking followers and saying it was “setting boundaries,” and we’d examine whether or not this was actually the case. That’s where the idea for this post originally came from.

The fact is, a lot of people are really terrible with boundaries, and a lot of people use boundaries as an excuse to avoid being held accountable, so we’re going to dig into that today.

What are boundaries?

Boundaries are defined as:

A psychological or physical demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity.

In other words, boundaries are a set of internal guidelines you create (consciously or subconsciously) to promote a sense of internal safety and protect yourself from harmful people, behavior, and situations. The more conscious one becomes of what their boundaries are, the more likely they are to enforce them, and the more likely they are to maintain a healthy emotional state. To some degree, you can think of boundaries as your personal emotional and physical comfort zone.

Boundaries are also reflected in society through expectations of how one should behave in social situations as well as through laws and various other safety nets and measures.

How we define our personal boundaries is entirely dependent on societal expectations and how we were raised, but generally speaking, most humans have at least the same basic boundary requirements.

Boundaries and Abuse

Childhood abuse and societal trauma greatly impact our sense of personal boundaries as well as our ability to consciously enforce them. Those who have had their personal boundaries violated at a very young age, whether emotionally or physically, may overcompensate with extremely rigid boundaries, or, exhibit no real sense of when their comfort zones are being intruded upon by another person or situation. A person may also exhibit both types of boundaries in different situations, for example, upholding extremely rigid emotional boundaries for themselves, but not respecting the boundaries of another person in an equal manner.

People with no respect for another person’s personal boundaries and a pattern of violating those boundaries are considered abusers. Abusers often become abusers because they, themselves, had their boundaries violated as children and have never developed a healthy sense of where another person’s boundaries lie. Enmeshment is also common among those who did not learn healthy boundaries, and they may often engage in unhealthy, emotionally clingy, controlling, or manipulative codependent behavior.

A healthy sense of boundaries respects the line between “you” and “I,” and recognizes where “you” end and “I” begin. Healthy boundaries are also incredibly sensitive to power dynamics to ensure that the person or people in positions of power uphold and respect the boundaries inherent with those positions.

Learn what spiritual abuse looks like.

When a person has a history of abuse and has developed extremely rigid boundaries, they may be triggered by seemingly small, innocent things. In these instances, the person may not have yet established a clear boundary between themselves and others in regard to emotional responsibility, and as such, may project undue blame for their emotional state onto others.

Likewise, a person with a history of abuse that has developed extremely weak emotional boundaries may take on responsibility for the feelings of others and and attempt to manage those feelings by altering their own behavior. We call this people pleasing or fawning behavior. This is a coping mechanism often developed in childhood to protect themselves from someone with an explosive temper or an overly authoritative figure, such as the individual with rigid boundaries described above.

Abusing Boundaries

Now that we know what boundaries are and what abuse of boundaries looks like, we can dig into the ways some people may abuse the concept of setting a boundary as a form of emotional or spiritual bypassing.

Emotional bypassing is when someone attempts to avoid unpleasant emotions. When a person uses spiritual concepts to avoid those emotions, it becomes spiritual bypassing.

Here’s where things get tricky: people with rigid boundaries are often more reactive to unpleasant emotions than someone with a healthy sense of boundaries, or even someone who is used to taking on the responsibility for the emotions of others. As such, people with rigid emotional boundaries are more likely to engage in emotional bypassing, because the unpleasant emotions (typically feelings of guilt and shame) trigger a trauma response and bring forward unhealed emotional energy from their childhood.

This is the person on social media who shut down or block anyone who disagrees with them, challenges their ideology, or otherwise reflects back to them any of those buried feelings of shame.

When these folks are in the spiritual community, they’ll often say that they’re “just setting a boundary,” or even accuse the other party of “projection” but the reality is that their boundaries are an overcompensation that is preventing them from healing and personal growth.
This is especially problematic when the person in question is in a position of power or authority within the community, because their (unhealthy) behavior is setting an example to their followers.

I watched an example of this unfold last summer on Instagram with The Holistic Psychologist, Nicole LePere. Nicole has 3.3 million followers who look to her as an authority on spiritual psychology. During the racial justice protests, many influential figures on social media made statements in support of racial reckoning and of commitment toward examining their own racial bias. Nicole remained noticeably silent.

 

A client of Nicole’s, a Black woman, contacted her expressing her disappointment on the subject. Instead of demonstrating that she was paying attention to the conversation happening around her, or allowing the interaction to alert her to the possibility that she might need to pay attention to that conversation, Nicole remained tone-deaf and treated the client in question like she would any unhappy customer, further demonstrating a total lack of understanding about bias in general, as well her own, and a general unwillingness to examine said bias. Nevertheless, the client gave Nicole the benefit of the doubt, assuming she would now put in the effort to educate herself and her audience about the importance of the matter.

 

Instead, Nicole made a single post acknowledging the racial justice movement, made no indication of a commitment to understanding bias, no effort to educate her audience, and continued with business as usual.

 

The unhappy client then made a public comment on one of Nicole’s posts, and made a public instagram story about her experience. Other women, both Black and White, began confronting Nicole in the comments sections of her posts on the matter, many in perfectly reasonable tones and language. Nicole began blocking them all, including the original client, claiming she was “setting boundaries.”

I’m 100% certain that in Nicole’s mind, she was simply setting boundaries, which demonstrates a lack of self-awareness and total ignorance to the importance of examining bias. As a spiritual psychologist, this is incredibly problematic. You cannot teach something effectively if you haven’t attained any level of mastery. It also demonstrates a very real disregard for the things happening in the world around her, as well as a disregard for the lived experiences of her potential clients. You can’t expect to create a safe environment for your clients of color if you are not willing to examine and dismantle your own bias, and you can’t expect to be trusted if you’re not also willing to put in the work to make society a safer place for them. And finally, it sets an incredibly poor example for the 3.3 million people who are looking to you as an authority.

Learn about bias vs. bigotry vs. racism.

It would be one thing if she were to accept accountability and listen to the chorus of voices who were (and still are) trying to wake her up to herself, but instead, she continues to shut down the conversation and avoid it using boundaries as her shield. This is a clear example of spiritual bypassing.

What happens when you resist a lesson the universe is attempting to teach you? The problem persists. And it grows. The longer Nicole continues down this path, the more people are talking about it, and the more awareness is spreading. Other influencers have picked up on and joined the conversation in calling her out, some of them with their own audiences of nearly a hundred thousand.

This dynamic isn’t new and I’ve seen it all before. This is why I say that one sign of a spiritually immature wellness influencer is if they have an army of haters trolling their social media posts, or if they’re engaging in an online feud with another influencer. It’s typically indicative that there’s some kind of shadow energy being manifested that they are refusing to look at, and if that influencer’s entire platform is built around being an authority on doing shadow work, that’s a big problem!

Nuance Is Important

Naturally in some cases, there’s other reasons a person may be setting a boundary in that moment.

When it comes to social justice, I often see people take an all or nothing approach. “You must join us or else you’re with them.” Yes, in general, silence is complicity, but as with everything, there’s always exceptions. I saw some unnecessary and downright dangerous shaming happening last summer as well. Another mental health influencer I followed told her 60K Instagram followers that their mental health wasn’t an excuse and if they had PTSD, they needed to suck it up. And she brands herself as Trauma-Informed.

A few years ago I had someone convey a similar message to me when I was in the midst of an emotional breakdown/dissociative state where I could barely form a coherent sentence and spent most of the day laying in bed staring at the ceiling. I couldn’t have formulated a complete thought on anything of significance if I wanted to. I was physiologically incapable and every ounce of mental energy was spent on holding myself together. I have memory loss from that time period and also experienced a severely traumatic event which was not public knowledge.

Unlike Nicole, I also wasn’t carrying on with business as usual on my platform. It was public knowledge that I was going through some shit and my writing topics–however infrequently posted–shifted to an internal focus, and changed to self-reflection and processing my experiences. My blog became more of a personal journal at that point. I cocooned from literally everyone and everything–including the news–for nearly three years. I also stopped writing completely for almost a year.

I tried to explain to this person, as best I could with my limited capacity to think at the time, that I could not do what she was asking me to do. And that led me to have to set a boundary.

Also unlike Nicole, I wasn’t engaging with other influencers on Instagram promoting questionable ideologies that alluded to violence, anti-semitism, white supremacy, and QAnon.

How To Avoid Spiritual Bypassing

You can ask yourself a few questions and take a few actions when setting boundaries that can help you determine your motivation:

  • Pause and examine your emotional state. Ask yourself what emotions you are feeling. Name them. Is there shame underneath?
  • Which person is in a position of power in this dynamic? Is it you, or is it the other person?
  • Is the person triggering this feeling attacking your character (shame)? Or are they holding you accountable for your actions (guilt)?
  • Are you attempting to bypass accountability by setting a boundary? Or are you setting a healthy boundary because someone is actually shaming you?
  • Does this situation remind you of any past instances where you were abused? Does it evoke emotions from a painful memory?
  • Does setting a boundary result in the harm of the other person? (Healthy boundaries never harm someone else, even though an abuser will perceive it as such.)
  • Does NOT setting a boundary result in your own harm?

Answering these questions really requires us to dig into the nuances between shame, guilt, accountability, and what belongs to us and what doesn’t. They’ll give you a really clear idea, though, of what appropriate boundaries look like.

Xo,

Ash

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New to Spirituality?

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