Imagine if you are in a room filled with worldly people and hear a yoga guru convince them that HIV isn’t real.
Next, imagine he went on to tell the group that HIV was not a sexually transmitted disease but a dysfunction of the immune system caused by poor lifestyle choices; therefore, condoms were an unnecessary hindrance to spiritual development.
Hopefully, you’d be seated next to a doctor, and together be able to see past the powerful “group think.” Hopefully, you’d decide that using condoms was a good idea.
You might be thinking that this theoretical guru’s claims seem absurd to learn about in this context, but if it were real life, at that moment, I’d bet some people could be genuinely convinced.
I chose this in-your-face example because it highlights how dangerous and convincing spiritual gaslighting can be.
Gaslighting is a type of manipulation wherein a person places seeds of doubt in the mind of another person or a group of people, causing them to question their own memory, experiences, or knowledge. Spiritual gaslighting, which occurs in spiritual communities, yoga schools, and even intimate relationships, happens when spiritual principles are utilized in the manipulation process.
This type of gaslighting is particularly dangerous and insidious because people come to spiritual communities looking for help, support, and a new understanding of the world. People are vulnerable and continually asked to open themselves more to the relationship, community, guru, or teachings provided to them. Those who don’t are often labeled as being “unfaithful” or “resistant.”
Incidents of this type of shadow in spiritual communities are all too prevalent. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to avoid all types of engagement in order to protect yourself. You can instead learn how to identify this type of experience before the damage is done.
Below are four tips to help you avoid gaslighting in spiritual relationships:
1. Trust your gut and your instincts
The first and most important way to avoid spiritual gaslighting is to trust your instincts. If something feels off to you, don’t do it. You have a right to maintain safety and boundaries for yourself no matter what other people may be telling you. It’s okay to say, “No, not today,” or, “I don’t feel comfortable with this.”
2. Maintain friendships outside of your spiritual community
Friends outside of your spiritual communities are powerful allies when you need a reality check. I often witness people get really involved in a spiritual community and lose contact with their old friends because they don’t feel they can relate to their newfound personal growth. Although it can be hard to keep them updated, old friends are a good ear when you are worried you might be being manipulated. Plus, they’ve known you for a long time, so they can help you stay connected to yourself.
3. Remember, there isn’t one way
There is no one path to spiritual growth and development. If you are in a situation where you feel forced to believe in or participate in something just because someone is telling you it is the best or only way to become enlightened, rethink it. There are as many paths to spiritual growth as there are people in the world.
4. Who benefits from this
Ask yourself, “Who benefits from me doing or believing in this practice?” If the answer is “me” or “humanity,” it’s probably a good thing. If the answer is anything else, take a moment to think about it before you engage. This is especially important when large sums of money are being exchanged for spiritual growth.
Exploring spiritual paths, communities, and relationships can provide a powerful catalyst for growth and development. But, that doesn’t mean that all spiritual communities are safe or that all teachers (or gurus) have your best interest at heart.
Keeping aware of the potential pitfalls and dangers of spiritual gaslighting can help you grow without being further wounded. Get out there and explore yourself—within safe boundaries.
And don’t forget, use a condom (wink).