Spirituality is about moving past your ego and connecting with a higher purpose in life – but what happens when the ego takes over?
In reality, the ego works to distract you from practicing spirituality purely – it creates a sense of superiority, a disconnect with others and it leads you away from connecting with your spirit.
If you feel like this could be you, (and it can affect everyone, regardless of their spiritual awareness), read on to find out the signs that you’ve fallen into the ego trap.
We’ll start by first understanding what the spiritual ego is and how it develops.
What is the spiritual ego?
Before we delve into the spiritual ego, we must begin by understanding how our “general” ego works.
Your ego is essentially your self-esteem. It’s the part of you that makes you feel worthy, important, and gives you a sense of “self”.
Everyone has an ego, but some are larger than others, and when the ego takes over we often think of that person as being full of themselves or arrogant.
Equally, the ego plays an important role in having perseverance, being strong-willed and confident – but only when it’s harnessed and controlled.
So where does spirituality come into the mix?
Isn’t being connected with your spirit meant to help you move past the negative parts of your ego?
Unfortunately, even spirituality can be used to feed the ego, and when it happens, your journey to spirituality is no longer in the hope of enlightenment or of becoming connected to life – it’s to boost your ego even further.
How does the spiritual ego form?
To understand how the spiritual ego develops, you first need to know about spiritual materialism.
The term was originally coined by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and it describes how some people begin to use spirituality to please their ego, rather than try to move past the ego.
Let me explain:
A friend of mine was once explaining how she felt so enlightened when she mediated. She went on and on about it, how profound it was and how pleased she was to have reached that level in her spirituality.
At the time, I didn’t think much of it.
But as I learned more about the spiritual ego and spiritual materialism, it started to dawn on me that my friend wasn’t telling me because she was genuinely feeling connected spiritually.
She was serving her ego.
And that’s what spiritual materialism is – practicing spirituality so that your ego feels bolstered, and as a result, you move further away in your connection.
And thus, the spiritual ego is born.
A product of spiritual materialism, your spiritual ego develops until you form your entire identity around being a “spiritual person”.
And within this, there are different stages:
The three stages of the spiritual ego
The spiritual ego isn’t a final destination situation, there are different levels and extremities within it, all depending on each person and where they are in their spiritual journey.
Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod, outlines the three stages of spiritual ego in his video about spiritual narcissism: the novice stage, the yogi stage, and the guru stage (watch it below).
Let’s get straight into it:
The novice stage
This is where you’re first introduced to spirituality, maybe through a guru or friend. Or, you might have come across a few articles online, read some books, or listened to a podcast.
Instead of continuing your exploration and learning more, you become cemented in your belief that you’ve found the right path and you’re on your way to connect with the Divine.
And instead of stopping there, you even go as far as to try and persuade other people to join you because you believe so firmly that you’re on the “right” path.
But in reality – that’s not how spirituality works.
What helps one person in their quest to connect with themselves and the universe might not work for another, and trying to convince people otherwise is counterproductive.
The yogi stage
The yogi stage applies to any method that you’ve found to practice your spirituality. It might be yoga, meditation, breathwork, and more.
Now, instead of continuing this line of practice quietly to yourself, you feel that other people should be following the same path, otherwise, they’re not on the same “spiritual level” as you.
Because your ego makes you think that your way is the right way, and you have an overwhelming desire to share this with other people.
The guru stage
Ah, the self-proclaimed guru.
Whether you’ve met one in person or just watched one of the many Netflix documentaries about them, these gurus have taken it upon themselves to be teachers to the masses.
They have learned what they think they need to know, mastered the yogi stage and now they’re ready to help others find enlightenment.
In contrast to real gurus, self-proclaimed gurus will use convincing tactics to make people believe that their methods of spirituality are the best, without taking into account what they might need individually.
Regardless of where you are in the three stages, the ego is the driving force.
It’s what compels you to keep heading down this track without giving thought to whether this is truly the best way to connect on a spiritual level.
So now we’ve covered the three stages, let’s get into the signs that your ego is taking over.
Signs you’ve fallen into the spiritual ego trap
1) Judging others who aren’t as spiritual as you are
One of the first and foremost signs that you’re in the ego trap is when you see yourself as better than others – especially those who aren’t as spiritually advanced as you.
In doing this, you’re taking away from your spiritual journey and forgetting that everyone is on their path.
So why can this happen?
Well, the ego is great at making us think that we are more important, better educated and in general “right”.
This can start to shadow the original intentions you had when you started your spiritual journey – now it’s all about feeding the ego.
2) Attempting to convert other people
And this superiority can lead you to think that other people need to be “spiritually enlightened”.
There’s nothing wrong with discussing spirituality – but when you try to convert people it transcends being genuine and becomes a form of spiritual egoism.
And often, people who are in the ego trap will see this as an act of helping others to find their true purpose in life.
But, in reality, it’s just a form of trying to impose your views onto others.
Instead of seeing spirituality as a chance to connect with everyone (spiritual and non-spiritual), the ego wants you to change the views of other people so that it validates your beliefs.
Funnily enough, if you lead by example there’s a better chance of other people becoming genuinely interested in spirituality rather than by being convinced or manipulated.
3) Having a messiah complex
Do you feel like it’s your job or role in life to save the world?
Maybe you feel that your level of spirituality will lead others into the light?
If you can resonate with those thoughts, you may have a messiah complex (stemming from your spiritual ego).
Put simply, you think you’re destined to save the world from all that goes against spirituality, and you’ll even feel responsible for making other people “find” their true calling.
This is your ego making you feel an extreme amount of self-importance.
4) Trying to be a guru to others
And alongside the messiah complex, trying to be a guru can also be a sign that you’re not in touch with reality.
Your ego is at a level where it feels that you are “a master”.
Now that’s not to say that gurus all suffer from the spiritual ego trap.
But unless you’ve dedicated your life to spirituality and spent many years practicing and studying it, you probably aren’t equipped to be a real guru.
5) Attempting to take on God-like qualities
As if having a messiah or guru complex isn’t bad enough, your ego might even push you to think that you have Divine or God-like abilities.
When you think about it, feeling like you have special abilities over others is the ultimate form of narcissism and it’s a sign of distorted reality.
And, not only does it create more distance between you and others, but it will also impact your spiritual journey because you’re in the belief that you’ve already “achieved” it.
6) Lacking in self-honesty
So, if you do feel like you’re a messiah, guru, or God, are you being fully honest with yourself?
When you feel superior to others, do you question why?
Are you checking in and reflecting on your thoughts, feelings, and actions?
Because without doing this regularly, you’re naturally moving away from true spirituality – and closer to being completely trapped by your ego.
7) Over-intellectualizing spirituality
We all love reading spiritual quotes or studying different spiritual concepts, but is this really how a spiritual journey should look like?
It’s never harmful to look at the intellectual side of things, but there’s more to spirituality than what can be read in books.
And, by over-intellectualizing spirituality, you lose out on all of the amazing experiences that you need to live, not listen or read.
But that’s how the ego works – it can distract you from the very path you’re meant to be walking on.
In his video, Justin explains how he fell into this trap early on in his spiritual journey:
“I always wanted to analyze everything, talk about it, find fellow spiritual seekers, get into really long and deep conversations about it. But then I learned about spirituality, that it’s so much more, an experience of life, of relationships with others, that I realized that over-intellectualizing it was taking me away from that fundamental experience.”
So if you feel like this is you, it could be time to re-evaluate how you practice spirituality and whether you’re benefiting from over-intellectualizing it.
8) Boasting about your level of spirituality
The truth is, there’s little room for boasting or showing off when it comes to spirituality.
If anything, it’s off-putting and unpleasant for other people, and it’s a clear sign of spiritual ego taking over.
Instead of supporting them in their journey, boasting about your spiritual progress will only make other people question their path and journey.
9) Using social media to show off
But the problem is, showing off is now easier to do than ever before.
If you feel that you’ve got to show every act of spirituality on your Facebook or Instagram, it’s probably time to turn off the wifi and reconnect with yourself.
Your ego will tell you that you’re sharing positivity and reminding others to journey inwards, but what happens, in reality, is far less useful or kind to others.
10) Masking vulnerability with spirituality
And if you do have a habit of showing off on social media, you should probably ask yourself, “Why?”.
You see, just as one person might act tough to cover their vulnerabilities, another might mask theirs with spirituality.
Lacking transparency, hiding your fears, blocking out pain – all of these acts are counterproductive to your spiritual journey.
So why might your ego make you do this?
Well, your ego over-emphasizes everything. It can make you feel like you have no weaknesses. It wants you to portray yourself as “strong”.
But within that lies the problem, because vulnerability isn’t a weakness.
We all have them and part of being spiritual is about accepting, healing, and overcoming those vulnerabilities
11) Seeing spirituality in “black and white” terms
As with anything, having dogmatic beliefs or fundamentalist thinking is restrictive and can massively limit how much you grow spiritually.
And what’s worse is if you feel that you have the fundamental truth, and nothing can challenge that.
The moment you see everything so rigidly, you stop yourself from finding other methods of spiritual growth, from listening and learning to others, and from progressing in your journey.
12) Believing you know it all
But seeing your faith in black and white terms isn’t the only problem – feeling that you’ve learned everything there is can be just as destructive.
And, this will also stop you from having productive conversations with others where you both try to learn from each other.
Suddenly, those conversations turn into debates, and in debates, there’s usually the notion that someone needs to win and someone needs to lose.
As explained by Justin in his video on spiritual narcissism:
“It’s all very well to have spiritual dialogues where two people are mutually on the search for the truth together where they’re supporting each other in that quest but a debate usually involves one person being right and the other person is wrong and spiritual ego is often present.”
Growing, learning, and connecting with yourself and with others is essential in spirituality.
Because spiritually we’re always evolving. And that doesn’t appease the ego. The ego wants to feel like it’s in control, and it rejects anything that questions that.
13) Withdrawing from society in search of spirituality
Another way that your spiritual ego can take over is when you stop interacting with society and spend most of your time in search of a spiritual connection.
Whether it’s traveling to different meditation retreats or taking yoga courses, if you’re spending every waking hour like this it’s not healthy.
Now, I can imagine some of you are thinking, “But what’s wrong with going to retreats to help find spiritual enlightenment?”
It isn’t the act itself that’s wrong – in fact, retreats can be a great way to meet other people, focus on yourself, and grow closer to your spirituality.
But, the problem arises when you spend more time there than you do in the real world.
14) Lacking in curiosity about the world around you
Just as your ego might encourage you to avoid the interactions with the rest of the world, it can also make you stop having that thirst for life that you once had.
You’re so focused on yourself, that you stop seeing the beauty in the world around you.
Other people seem insignificant if they aren’t on the same perceived spiritual level as you, yet there’s so much you can learn and experience from people who are different from you.
And the real kicker?
Your spiritual journey will always benefit massively from connecting with others and with nature.
By lacking in interest, you’re stunting your growth – another considerable sign that the ego has become stronger than your spirit.
15) And lacking compassion for others
Losing touch with the rest of the world isn’t the only thing that your spiritual ego might cause, you might also find yourself losing compassion for others.
I encountered many cases of this when traveling around South-East Asia.
Of all the many yogis and spiritual seekers I met, I was often surprised at how little thought they gave to others.
They knew all the right things to say, but their actions rarely matched up.
Once this selfish attitude comes along, you can be sure that your ego is influencing how you perceive yourself over others – and it’s not in line with what your spirit feels.
16) Using spirituality just to prove your point
Another way the ego can take over is by twisting your original beliefs and intentions.
You started this journey to connect with yourself on a higher level, right?
But instead, you find yourself debating others, using your spirituality just to prove you’re “right” during disagreements.
This isn’t what the spirit or soul wants, it’s the work of the ego that wants to push you to always believe you’re correct in your practice or thoughts.
17) Being overly positive all the time
Do you find that everything you experience is “the best”, or “amazing” and “epic”?
When you stop being honest about your life and you begin coating everything in pretty colors, you’re no longer in touch with your spirit.
Your ego, on the other hand, is having a field day.
It’s trying to paint a picture that looks like perfection, so everyone around you will think you’re living a great life and you’ve fully connected with your spirituality.
Justin also had to overcome this hurdle when he realized how much it was holding him back from experiencing other emotions:
“I got really stuck in this when I used to embrace the law of attraction and I thought that it was really important that spiritual people were always on a high vibration. The problem was I was ignoring a lot of the fundamental negative emotions like fear, frustration, and insecurity, and I didn’t realize you can get a lot of personal power from those emotions.”
Both positivity and negativity have an important role in our journeys, one without the other would be pointless and it’s just another way for your ego to mask your vulnerability.
18) Resisting being held accountable
Finally, if you can’t accept when you’re wrong or take responsibility when you’ve crossed the line, your ego is completely in control.
The truth is:
Just as spirituality and dogmatic beliefs don’t go hand in hand, a resistance to being held accountable for your actions is also an unnatural path to take spiritually.
You see, your spirit wants you to grow and evolve.
It doesn’t want you to be limited in your beliefs and unwilling to accept your shortcomings.
And avoiding being held accountable for your actions is another typical sign of narcissism – something that can develop when the spiritual ego runs wild.
So the next time you’re in discussion with someone and your first reaction is to be defensive, ask yourself:
“Is this my spirit speaking or my ego?”
If you’ve resonated with any of the points above, this is a great exercise to do to help you become more aware of your spiritual ego.
Because without intervention, you’re at risk of becoming even further from your spirituality.
Read on to find out how an ego left unchecked can impact your life.
The dangerous progression of the spiritual ego to spiritual narcissism
Leaving your spiritual ego to run unchecked can end in one of the hardest conditions to break free from – spiritual narcissism.
Narcissism is classed as a mental disorder and involves having little empathy for others coupled with a strong sense of superiority.
And spiritual narcissism is what happens when the ego fully takes over, its strength overpowering that of the spirit.
Your ego is so powerful by this point that you begin to feel the need to show off your spirituality, disconnect from reality, and treat others as inferior.
The complete opposite of what spirituality is.
Instead of helping others to reach enlightenment, or focussing on their journey, spiritual narcissists will use their knowledge to belittle others, all whilst stroking their ego.
And when they do help others, it’ll merely be an act to show off and draw attention to their good deeds.
But, if you have identified some areas of spiritual egoism or narcissism within you, don’t worry.
It’s never too late to take back control and that’s what we’re going to explore next.
How to keep your spiritual ego in check
So before you panic at the thought of turning into a narcissist, remember that the first step to combatting your ego is to be aware of it.
Check out these questions that you can memorize or write down to keep your ego in a healthy place:
- Are my thoughts, words, and actions all consistent?
- Don’t I want to learn and heal my inconsistencies rather than mask or defend them?
- Am I being completely honest with that statement or am I saying it to appear “perfect”?
- Why do I feel superior in these areas of spirituality? Is it from truly being connected or from not wanting to appear less spiritual than others?
- Am I confusing pride with superiority?
Every time you feel that your spiritual ego is taking over, stop, and ask yourself these questions.
Eventually, you’ll learn to quieten down your ego and only take the benefits from it, not the limitations.
Other ways you can keep your ego in check is to:
- Journal – keep a track of how introspective you are and what helps with it
- Spend time in nature – don’t forget how much healing power there is in the world
- And spent time with other people – regardless of their spiritual awareness
- Practice self-compassion and compassion towards others
- Stop searching for the meaning of spirituality in books and start looking inwards
All of these tips are useful for anyone, at any point in their spiritual journey, but by focussing on them you’ll leave less room for your ego to pipe up.
But what if you’re not the one suffering from a spiritual ego?
For all of you reading who have someone in your life who’s taken it too far with their spiritual ego, here are a few measures you can take:
How to deal with people whose spiritual ego is too much
As Justin explains in his video, your first reaction might be to cut off friends or family who are consumed by their spiritual ego.
But this isn’t the best idea.
You see, by keeping the dialogue open, exposing people to reality, and keeping the bridges of learning open, we can help people come out of their spiritual ego.
By rejecting them and ignoring them, they live in their bubble, constantly pleasing their ego and never being challenged on their thoughts.
It won’t be an easy task to deal with people whose egos are so dominant, but it may eventually be the catalyst for change in a very positive, spiritual way – through connection, communication, and patience.
So now you know what the spiritual ego is, and what can happen if it’s left unchecked – it’s a pretty big trap to fall into and one that should be avoided at all costs.
You see, we all have an ego, and we all need our ego to survive, but letting it control you can have serious consequences, so don’t delay working through your ego issues.
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