How Spirituality Can Be Misused to Shame Our Darker Emotions

Updated on May 30, 2018
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Holley Hyler is a freelance writer and has been published in Adelaide, Buck Off Magazine, Rebelle Society, and The Urban Howl.

Spirituality and Hell on Earth

There is a saying on spirituality by Vine Deloria Jr. that has always resonated with me, and it goes like this:

Religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.

Many people have turned to spirituality to make sense of life, death, and everything in between. With spirituality, there is no need to fit neatly into a box with a specific label. There are many spiritual teachings geared toward helping people see the higher purpose for the pain in their lives and prevent their negative emotions from ruling them. The danger I have seen with it is that it can also make people resist their negative emotions, to an unhealthy degree. I was reading Jeff Foster's Facebook page one morning and saw a story in which he had talked about being at a conference where a teacher was addressing a woman whose son had died. She said her heart was broken from losing her son, and the teacher said, "Your heartbreak is the activity of the separate self, and therefore illusory, based in ignorance. When the separate self dissolves, there will be no more suffering. In awareness, there is no death. Awareness has no son."

Perhaps what this teacher said was true at a very high, soul level, but to a grieving human down here on Earth, this comes off as insensitive and cold. It could perhaps even make one feel "less spiritual" or "unenlightened" for having a broken heart.

With particularly intense pain, what we need is to know that our emotions are valid and acceptable. We need to be given practical advice for dealing with emotions, here and now. It is beautiful to think that some day, we will be purely soul and can see our problems differently, but we also have to be present with our human experience.

Through my work as an energy therapist, I know that one of the first steps to healing something difficult in life is accepting that it is there. And one cannot do that if shame is present.


How We Unwittingly Give Unpleasant Emotions More Power

Fearing or feeling ashamed of grief, depression, jealousy, anger, etc. can actually give these emotions more power over us. Pushed away or repressed, rather than acknowledged and healed, they fade into the shadows of our subconscious, and we are not aware when we act on them. This can cost us valuable friendships, partners, jobs, and our own self-awareness and understanding.

Some were taught from a young age not to be angry or that expressing anger was unacceptable. For instance, maybe a parent said, "Don't you get that attitude with me!" when the attitude of the child was justified. When an emotion is not tolerated or we are made to feel wrong for having that feeling, it can become buried and more difficult to detect. That means that self-awareness, when it comes to that emotion, is not present, leading the person who feels that emotion to act in unexpected and explosive ways.

Sometimes feelings do not make much sense, but they must still be allowed. I have a male friend who started to date recently, and while I have no romantic feelings toward him, I began to feel jealous. I had to accept that I was feeling jealous, even if it did not make much sense to me as to why. Accepting the fact made it easier to spot when I was speaking from jealousy, and thus it became easier to keep it in check. Had I continued to deny that I was jealous or think that it was not possible, I may have continued to act out as I mistook my "stuff" for his, even at the cost of that friendship.

Misinterpreting the Law of Attraction and How It Can Lead to Self-Blame

For those who have not yet heard about the law of attraction, it is a universal law about manifestation - more specifically and in a nutshell, it states that we get what we think about. If we gear our thoughts toward positivity, we get more of that. In the same vein, if we focus on negativity, that is what we get.

But what happens when someone does his best to focus on the positive, and does have many blessings, but is suddenly gobsmacked by being laid off from a job he really loves? Is it his fault, because he attracted being laid off? Did he not love his job enough? Did he not spread enough positivity at his place of employment? Did he not think enough good thoughts?

This sort of thinking and questioning is the trap many of us fall into, at some point, if we follow the law of attraction. We can easily go into self-blame. Unfortunate events will still happen in life, and everyone has bad days. If your partner cheats on you, it does not mean you deserved it. It can mean that perhaps you need some healing on your heart chakra or love in general, but your partner's actions are not somehow your "fault."


When Spiritual Teachings Are Misapplied - One Size Does Not Fit All

In the spiritual community, I have also seen schools of thought that say if we get emotional, it is because we are believing thoughts that are actually illusions. In some sense on a human level, it is true - in cases of people with extreme anxiety, they have intense fears, most of which do not come to pass. The anxious person is believing in their fearful thoughts about public speaking or flying in an airplane, thus the intensity of their actual experience of these things is higher than it is for others without anxiety.

But what about grief? Look back on the example of the woman whose son had died. If someone's physical body dies, even if we believe the soul goes on, it is difficult to grow accustomed to that loss. We feel sad when we think of the ways we used to see and connect with that person whose physical body died. Is that an illusion?

What about people who grow estranged, while still living? These things are not illusions on the human level. They are very real. While many teachings are true at a higher soul level, to apply them to certain human experiences is insensitive and not helpful to the person suffering.

Embracing Your Humanity

Some of the most beautiful works of art have been created by people who struggled with depression, bad days, unrequited love, health issues, and everything we may deem as "not spiritual" or "unenlightened." We would not be here in human form if we were not meant to experience the entire spectrum of human emotion. We pressure ourselves to be happy all the time or to manifest the perfect life, and this takes us away from true presence.

To be present with pain - that is deeply spiritual.

To know things aren't perfect, but you're loved anyway - that is deeply spiritual.

Some teachings meant to speak to us at a soul level can be very comforting, but they should be taught and used with discernment.

When someone is sad, we can tell them, "Only love is real." Or we can hug them and let them cry, proving this truth to them at a human level.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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    © 2018 Holley Hyler


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