How To Tell If You're Accidentally "Spiritually Gaslighting" Yourself (Or Others)
You might be familiar with the terms "gaslighting" and "toxic positivity," but if you've ever found yourself invalidating your own emotions in the name of spirituality, you may just be dealing with a lesser-discussed phenomenon: spiritual gaslighting.
Here's what this term is all about, how to spot it, and what to do if you're accidentally spiritually gaslighting yourself or others.
How to spot spiritual gaslighting.
Some common themes within spiritual practices include learning how to work through difficult emotions, honor different perspectives, and show compassion, even to those who've wronged us. But it's important to remember that working through difficult emotions doesn't mean overriding them.
As licensed psychotherapist Babita Spinelli, L.P., J.D., explains to mbg, "You can dismiss, rationalize, or deny reality or the truth of what needs to be faced by using spiritual guidance as the 'reason.'" She says it can be easy to rationalize a cause of a situation or circumstance by deferring to spirituality instead of working through it.
Examples of spiritual gaslighting.
This can show up in a few ways: You may use your spirituality as a means of shaming yourself, or minimizing your own feelings, wants, and needs, Spinelli notes. When a friend is going through something difficult, you may mark it as "trivial" or "egoic," despite the friend having real emotions surrounding an issue. And of course, a friend or family member can also do this to you.
"You may judge yourself more critically, instead of recognizing [that] spirituality and growth through trial and error go hand in hand," she adds. It can feel like your natural, human feelings are contradictory to your spirituality, and so you dismiss them, "instead of understanding that they are not in opposition to each other."
For example, if you find yourself upset about something, you may try to push the emotions down by telling yourself it's not "spiritual" to be angry or disappointed. But the problem then is you're not fully integrating the emotions, the lessons, and the growth that are essential to your own spiritual development.
What to do about it.
If you find yourself spiritually gaslighting your own emotions, Spinelli recommends tuning in to your inner voice and leaning into your truth—particularly the truth behind your emotions. Allow yourself to feel what you feel and honor the source of those feelings.
"Take time to reflect and ask, Is this thinking serving me?" she says, adding to remember that your feelings are valid. "Challenge your thinking when you notice you are gaslighting." And that goes for gaslighting yourself and others.
Whether directed toward yourself or others, gaslighting is emotionally abusive. "Catch those negative thoughts and replace them with ones of compassion and empathy," Spinelli suggests. And if and when it's done to you, don't be afraid to tell your friend or family member you don't appreciate them invalidating your emotions, no matter how spiritual the reason may seem.
If you're really struggling with denying your own emotions, she also advises working with a therapist to find healthy coping mechanisms rather than continuing with patterns of gaslighting to "survive" situations.
The bottom line.
We cannot grow if we're constantly suppressing our anger, grief, shame, or any other negative emotion that may arise. There may be people (yourself included) who try to tell you it's not spiritual to feel bothered by the actions of another, be upset that something didn't work out, or even be depressed or anxious. But the truth is, if we don't honor these emotions, we're denying our own truth and the opportunity to learn and grow.
Our strength lies in our ability to work through difficult situations, but that doesn't mean we try to convince ourselves we're "above" negative emotions, or that what we're experiencing doesn't matter. We're still human, and part of being human means honoring our emotions and experiences so we can learn from them.
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Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.