When you start to learn about spirituality, you may hungrily seek spiritual teachers to support your unfoldment.
These days, there are multitudes of wonderful teachers, healers and guides who work from the heart. They do their work from a desire to serve, help and assist. Many have little or no desire for the spot-light.
At the same time, it is wise to take responsibility for your choices. You can do this by being selective about which spiritual groups you join and the kind of spiritual healers and guides you work with.
Though it is rare, spiritual abuse is when the person whose role is to support you, takes advantage of you or harms you.
Spiritual abuse can take place subtly or overtly, consciously or unconsciously.
It is very important to be know how to recognise the danger signs spiritual of spiritual abuse in it’s early stages.
If you spot the possible dangers of spiritual abuse in advance you can mitigate harm, to yourself and others.
Unfortunately, if you are a highly sensitive person who is empathic, you may have a tendency to give away your power. You may assume that everyone holds themselves to the same high standards and is motivated by the purest intentions.
With spiritual authority figures, you may trust too easily or overlook the warning signs of spiritual abuse because of convenience, a wish to avoid conflict or a fear of penalty.
Equally, your appetite for learning and an ambition to progress make make you rush forward, instead of waiting to find the right spiritual teacher for you.
This article gives you ten danger signs of spiritual abuse to watch out for.
It is my aim that, armed with the knowledge of what spiritual abuse is, you can avoid it.
If you have found a group where you feel safe and accepted, that’s a fantastic thing!
Unfortunately, some spiritual groups do not cultivate a safe environment to open up in. Even though they give the appearance of peace and love.
If you have had a bad experience with some form of spiritual abuse, then please know you can recover from it. You will grow from the experience to become stronger and wiser!
Download My Free Guide!
Have fun and keep yourself safe with this checklist – to help you find a trusted spiritual teacher, healer or guide.
Spiritual Abuse Checklist
Here’s a checklist of danger signs to look out for when you are considering joining a spiritual group, or working with a spiritual teacher or healer 1-2-1.
This checklist applies to healing, intuitive development, psychic or clairvoyant development, energy work, spiritual development and other spiritual or faith-based modalities.
Warning signs of spiritual abuse
- Self-aggrandisement + self-promotion – This is when it slowly becomes clear that your spiritual teacher, healer or guide is in it for wrong reasons. Most spiritual teachers teach are motivated by a pure heart. In fact, many gifted healers and healing teachers have a problem because they give too much, only think of others and therefore get burnt-out! However, spiritual abuse can take place when a teacher, healer or guide is coming from a place of ego. In this case, they may be primarily concerned about becoming known, being ‘the best’ or being professionally recognised to an unhealthy degree. This can lead them to climb over others in a bid for pole position, or to ignore the needs of their pupils / clients. How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Pay attention to the language they use to describe themselves and their services, the way they speak to people and the kind of energy they are putting out. Red flags: Boasting, name-dropping, scoffing, mocking, belittling, showmanship.
- Hierarchy – This is when you, as a pupil, peer or client, are given the clear and often repeated message: I’m more advanced / worthy than you. Hierarchies can be instigated by subgroups within a larger whole, as well as individuals. At the heart of this dynamic is a drive for more power and status. People who position themselves at the top of a spiritual hierarchy try to make themselves inaccessible and invulnerable. They are reluctant to nurture others or share their own spiritual wisdom. They find it hard to relate on an empathic level as they, like number 1, are coming from ego instead of a pure-hearted desire to serve. How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Pay attention to your own emotions. Do you feel a more pronounced sense of invisibility, inadequacy or not being good enough whilst you are in their company? Red flags: Obscure language and spiritual jargon to explain simple concepts. Unwillingness to enlighten or share with others. Remember: “The highest wisdom is simple and passes through the brain directly into the heart.” – Viktor Schauberger
- Competiveness (envy, jealousy) – Though it is rare that a spiritual teacher will feel envious, competitive with or jealous of a pupils success or ability, it can happen. More frequently, this kind of spiritual abuse occurs in groups, classes, courses or development circles where there is a culture of favouritism (below) or hierarchy. Human beings have an innate need to feel seen and heard. Competitiveness can happen when one person in a class or group gets a higher than usual amount of attention from the group leader, who takes on a parental role to rivalrous siblings. Alternatively, someone may perceived to have greater natural ability, be more popular, or any other unfair advantage. Unfortunately, when your unfolding evokes insecurity instead of comradery and support, you may need to look for another group. How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Heed messages from teachers that imply that they do not want students to surpass their own levels of success, including a with-holding of due praise or recognition for good work. Likewise, if you experience social exclusion by fellow students who see another’s abilities or popularity as a threat. I have known several instances where pupils and even a well-known teacher engaged in psychic attack of other healers whom they felt were stepping on their patch. In her autobiographical book, On The Wings of a Prayer (HayHouse, 2012), US healer Vianna Stibal describes ‘healer wars’ in Hawaii, where there was so much competition between healers on the island that her trainings erupted into out-and-out fights between participants! How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Any symptoms of psychic attack, including feeling very strange for no reason, very high anxiety levels or panic attacks, and chest or back pains. If you suspect you are under psychic attack, get your energy checked out by a good energy healer. List of healers I have worked with here: 10 best healers in the UK. Red flags: Being spoken over, feeling subtly held back, excluded or tripped up.
- Mental health issues – Due to the financial pressure on some spiritual groups and schools, at enrolment time there can be a rush to ‘get bums on seats’ rather than to assess the suitability of pupils for a particular group or class. Other then assessing ability levels, many spiritual groups fail to screen for mental health issues. Spiritual abuse can happen when you are encouraged to open up spiritually, energetically or emotionally in a group that is not safe due to members’ ongoing serious mental health issues. This may include: trauma, personality disorders or untreated addiction. All of these conditions present a certain set of problems in the learning environment, yet many spiritual teachers and healers are unequipped to identify or deal with such issues even when they present themselves. This can mean the unsuspecting pupil or client has to deal with the energetic consequences and may be left feeing confused or vulnerable. How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Look out for drama, conflict, acting out or inappropriate behaviour that makes you feel very uncomfortable, such as passive or overt aggression. Red flags: Repeated exposure to irrational and unpredictable outbursts, inconsistent behaviour or an excessive need for care and attention that exceeds the remit of the group.
- Boundaries – Most spiritual teachers with a therapy background have a good understanding of boundaries. Boundaries are where the responsibility of the pupil stops, and the teacher’s begins. They form part of a ‘duty of care’ that the spiritual teacher, healer or guide has as part of their role. Boundaries are needed to keep clients and pupils safe from spiritual abuse. Unfortunately, some teachers, healers and guides put their pupils and clients at risk because they fail to understand basic boundaries. They inadvertently break the principle to do no harm. This is usually more due to a lack of education than wilful neglect. Nevertheless, spiritual abuse can happen when physical, energetic, legal, financial, contractual or emotional boundaries are ignored. How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Pay attention if the goal posts of your working agreement or rules of engagement frequently change, i.e. the needs of teacher, healer or guide are put first. Red flags: Frequently changing appointment / class times or days, short notice cancellations, over-sharing (where you suddenly go from client to friend, without discussion, for example) or where you are feeling pressure to behave in an unexpected way.
- Projection – You may have heard of the theory of the wounded healer. It’s a archetype that many healers feel connected to. In fact, many healers have higher empathy levels and the ability to heal due to their own early trauma. Spiritual abuse can occur when the healer, therapist or teacher is wounded, yet is still unaware of their own unconscious issues. They haven’t done enough healing work on themselves to truly be able to serve without their wounding getting in the way. A lack of self-reflection and personal development can mean that the spiritual teacher or healer has blind spots. When a healer or teacher hasn’t fully healed their own past, looked at their patterns or worked through unresolved issues it can be hard to serve others without their old, unconscious wounds being triggered. In this instance, spiritual abuse may include acting out, re-enactment, projective identification, transference + counter-transference. How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Notice if you have the feeling of never being able to ‘get through’ to them without conflict, everything you say is taken the wrong way, or reactive behaviour / language that quickly escalates or becomes overly emotional. Red flags: Over-reaction, when everything is taken personally instead of part of your own healing process, or when your spiritual development is regressing or stuck in an unhealthy pattern of relating that echoes something you’ve had in the past.
- Power-plays – This is linked to 1 and 2. Spiritual abuse can occur when people in a group or 1-2-1 setting feel continually silenced. There may be a culture of fear or shaming of different perspectives – or simply being different. Spiritual abuse can occur when diverging opinions are discouraged or questions are ignored or not full answered. Signs of spiritual abuse include when you are always expected to be deferential and respectful even though the leader or healer has not earned your trust and respect. Remember, a true leader serves his / her people by helping them. How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Look out for self-absorption, insincerity, stand-offs or an unwillingness to have open dialogue about anyone’s concerns, doubts, questions. Red flags: This is one form of spiritual abuse you can feel more on an energetic level. Notice how this person makes you feel. Pay attention to any feelings of being silenced, closed down or dismissed. Unless you are being triggered by your own stuff, then you may be witnessing a covert form of spiritual abuse.
- Favouritism – This is when the people who shout the loudest or have the most dominating personalities in a group are given preferential treatment by the person in charge. Sometimes this is due to their flattery of the group leader. Meanwhile, the quieter or less confident members are ignored or given less attention. Though this form of spiritual abuse is less harmful than the others listed, seeing the continued preferential treatment of others while your own needs (to be seen, heard and nurtured) are ignored can be distressing. It is especially damaging for adult children of dysfunctional families because it regresses them to a painful earlier wounding. For this reason, I have included favouritism in this list of spiritual abuse as I feel it is important for spiritual teachers and other authority figures to be mindful of group dynamics, and promote equality and inclusion. How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Look out for signs of special relationships or preferential treatment of a chosen few. Red flags: Feeling consistently overlooked. However, you may need to check your own familial baggage to see what is being triggered and take responsibility for that, i.e. acknowledge and seek healing for your own unresolved emotional issues.
- Lack of ethics: This may be the cause of any of the previous 9 forms of spiritual abuse. Basically, this type of spiritual abuse can be summarised by the question: does your teacher, healer or guide have adequate theoretical awareness of how to keep their clients / pupils safe (energetically, spiritually, mentally, physically). Does their training equip them to avoid any kind of exploitation or manipulation? Whether this kind of spiritual abuse happens or not depends on each healer’s background, education + understanding. How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Look out for sloppy or unprofessional communication or behaviour, an overly casual approach to serious matters, a lack of concern for your wellbeing, or an absence of care about whether or not you are the right fit for their class, group or treatment. Red flags: Any of the above! Download my free guide below if you want to know more about how to find a good spiritual teacher, healer or guide.
- Any kind of dogma: This kind of spiritual abuse is when an idea or set of principles is laid down by a spiritual authority as being incontrovertibly true. Anyone who doesn’t agree with and follow the rules of the group is made to feel somehow bad or evil. This kind of spiritual abuse can be extremely damaging to adult children from dysfunctional families who are looking for a safe place to take shelter from the world. Such adults may look for alternate authority figures for the protection and love they never received as children. Their unmet emotional needs can lead them to join dogmatic groups who promise salvation, safety and a roadmap for life. Unfortunately, spiritual abuse of this kind usually starts subtly and becomes more overt over time, when great damage can be inflicted on unsuspecting pupils, devotees or clients. This form of spiritual abuse is linked to number 7. How to spot the signs of spiritual abuse: Be aware of excessive rules, rituals or a blackballing / excommunication of people who do not submit to absolute conformity and group norms. Red flags: People who dissent seem to ‘disappear’ and are never spoke of again. You have a feeling of having to prove yourself or earn God’s approval. You may feel shame, guilt, that you are not good enough or other negative feeling about you own natural self.
If you have noticed any of these warning signs of spiritual abuse, then pay attention.
How to avoid spiritual abuse
Here’s four things you can do:
- Be your own guru: Never give away your power, decision-making ability or agency.
- Listen to any body reactions you may be having. Your body is a great source of information about whether or nothing something or someone is potentially good for you or harmful. Your intuition often makes itself known through a gut feeling as it is processing information your brain cannot comprehend. It’s your early warning system! If you ignore your feelings or body reactions, you may regret it!
- Be thorough: You should do your research and not rush into things. You should expect the same degree of thoroughness in return. That is to say, the therapist, healer or teacher should be keen to find out whether you are the right fit for them too. If there is some kind of interview or application process? Great! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and interview your potential spiritual therapist, healer or teacher before getting involved. If you have any doubts, concerns or confusions then voice them so they can be addressed.
- You should always feel safe and respected.
Have you ever experienced spiritual abuse?
How did you handle it?
Do you have any danger or warning signs to add to this list?
Download My Free Guide!
Have fun and keep yourself safe with this checklist – to help you find a trusted spiritual teacher, healer or guide.