Goodbye to All That: Toxic Spirituality & Mental Health

Apr14-SweetBliss

Spirituality is an important part of my life. I like to know that this isn’t everything there is, that there’s more than what meets the eye in this world… It brings me peace. My spirituality is something I turn to even more anytime I am going through something difficult.

As cheesy as it sounds, and especially because I was not brought up Christian, I can always count on stories of individuals choosing good over evil, overcoming through humility and God’s grace and forgiveness that characterize much of the Bible to lift me up and rejuvenate my spirit. I don’t think the Bible or religion are the only sources of spiritual health, and I know there are other options for spiritual fulfillment.

However, I do want to share my negative experience with a type of spirituality that is basically a scam. And more so, it can very easily turn toxic to our mental health. It’s a spirituality of complete autonomy, based on the idea that we are not only responsible for what we do but also responsible for everything that happens to us. There is no empirical evidence for this, of course. But then again, there isn’t any for a benevolent God wanting the best for us either.

If you’re going through this, you’re not alone. What is referred to as Law of Attraction, which informs this type of thinking, has taken over so much of our culture, and it’s based on a couple of compelling but false claims.

The Myth of Autonomy

The problem with the spirituality of Abraham Hicks and Rhonda Byrnes and Byron Katie and many more gurus is that it’s very toxic. Imagine being told that you wanted to be abused, that you are responsible for believing the convincing lie of a Ponzi schemer, or that the flood that destroyed your house, or the disease inside of your body, were created by you.

These gurus’ spirituality makes a two-part claim:

a) You attract every experience through your specific vibration (something we each have)
b) You can have full control over that vibration, and thus full autonomy over your life, independent of the people or circumstances around you

I think initially, the idea that one might have full control over the totality of their experience, not just their personal responses to it, is very compelling. It’s natural to be curious about how this hefty promise could potentially be true, to want to learn about it, and even consciously embrace a little delusion to find out if, in the end, the payoff is true.

But it’s not! There is no payoff. When I had adopted this faith system (that’s what it is!) it actually kept me from responding to my situations properly. For example, if I couldn’t get a job in Toronto, well, it was because I needed to fix my vibration, to behave as though at any moment I would, etc., rather than taking stock of myself as a candidate and making a serious effort to find employment in other areas of the country.

So the myth of autonomy can easily have real negative consequences, but I think it can also more indirectly affect every area of a person’s life by affecting the integrity of their mental health.

Mental Health and Good Vibes Only Everywhere All the Time

With a belief in the Law of Attraction, there is a pressure to feel good all the time and to almost fear negative thoughts, moods, and feelings. This is very unhealthy. Which is why in the end, in the interest of “practicing” the Law of Attraction, there is also a danger of ignoring one’s potentially descending mental health, caused by avoidance of problematic situations.

Implicit in the premises of this spirituality is the notion that negative thoughts and the low “vibrations” of low moods will create bad things and attract unfavorable circumstances out of the blue. So of course, nobody wants to think a single negative thought! It becomes easy to blame yourself, in a tacit way if not outright, for your moods and emotions, about your stress levels, and it becomes tempting to shove them under a carpet of false good vibes rather than engaging with them, accepting them, and finding solutions.

After all, one of the core lessons of the Law of Attraction gurus—in a few variations—is that we should turn away from that which we do not want, towards what we do want. And yes, focusing on the good is good advice, but sometimes engaging with the bad head-on is also just necessary. Sometimes having other people to help with an “impossible” situation (maybe chronic stress due to unchanging situational factors) is the only sane and kind thing to do.

In fact, having highs and lows is healthy, as is accepting that sometimes, it takes time to identify what is causing a low and how to fix it, or that we need to perhaps mourn something we can’t fix. All of these things take time and time engaging with negative or low-feeling emotions. To me, it now appears as the difference between coping with life and avoiding it.

Proven Ways to an Improved Life and Better Feeling

Medical support, therapy, or even CBT journaling, prayer, and meditation have all been shown to help people become stronger and move forward with their lives. SMART goal-setting, a clear and realistic vision, and habit-building are also proven ways to exploit opportunities and create better outcomes and situations.

No magical thinking is necessary.

And hey, what I am advocating does not mean not practicing some feel-good rituals like realistic and appropriate affirmations, visualizations, or the creation of vision boards, etc. All of these practices are rooted in psychological mind-tricks that can produce real results. What they are not rooted in is bastardized ideas of quantum physics and a “vibrational reality.”

But creating a better life, to me, is not what spirituality is about in the end. Spirituality is about finding that otherworldly support, whether in the form of peace and strength, or that of guidance, inside of ourselves and then the capacity to use that to navigate life and play our part to the best of our capabilities.

Which is why I have decided to say goodbye to all that, in every form! Goodbye to toxic positivity and goodbye to noticing unfair mistreatment and then asking myself “hmm, what part of me attracted that?”

I had a lot of writer’s block with this blog post, and trouble organizing my thoughts. Partly, I feel ashamed I fell for this type of thinking and that I spent so many hours (and dollars) devouring book after book about this subject. Years ago, my ex-therapist (who has a PhD) told me our mind is like a radio broadcast into the world… I mean to show you that these ill-conceived ideas are absolutely everywhere.

I worked through those feelings because I think this topic deserves a discussion for what it is: a mental health hazard, especially for those already vulnerable. (And it’s a waste of time for everyone else, especially so many of the young people that might be swept up in this.)

What are your thoughts on this? Have you had any experiences with toxic spirituality?

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