The ego is a tricky beast, it even knows how to camouflage itself even on the spiritual path.
The “spiritual ego” is not a distinct type of ego, but rather how the ego hijacks our spiritual awareness and inverts it. Instead of putting our awareness towards becoming better, more compassionate people within the world, using it to inflate our sense of self-importance.
The spiritual ego is tricky to spot because we might mistakenly believe that this is what being spiritual looks like. In our new awareness we become protective of our spiritual identity, and don’t want to confront anything that makes us feel less conscious, aware or enlightened.
What we refer to as the spiritual ego just like the ego in general is a protection mechanism. In this post I want to talk about seven key ways this spiritual ego can manifest on our spiritual paths, and how to start confronting it.
1) Performing spirituality
The first trap we might face on the spiritual path is performing spirituality rather than embodying it. This is where we accumulate knowledge endlessly, but do not put any of it into consistent practice.
It’s less about how you are moving through the world day to day, how you are interacting with people in your intimate life, or what type of energy you are putting out into the world, and more so about appearances.
We might dress, speak or act in a way that we consider spiritual but aren’t concerned with embodying the deeper values or lessons that comes from a spiritual practice. We might do this unconsciously because it’s much easier to put on an image than actually do the work.
2) Spiritual superiority complex
This is a common ego trap that you might be familiar with. This is where we learn a lot of spiritual information and begin to see ourselves as superior to others because of it. It’s less about practising spirituality diligently and more so about making a show of it publicly.
We might profess to have special access to spiritual insight, claim that we have special powers, or believe that we are impervious to human tendencies and ego; believing we can do no wrong.
If you haven’t fallen to this trap you will certainly have noticed it in self-proclaimed spiritual gurus or teachers.
The reason it’s so important to be aware of this ego trap isn’t necessarily so that we can call people out or even judge them but so that we can be more discerning towards the teachers we follow and are guided by.
3) A lack of empathy
When we think of spiritual people the first attribute that might come to mind is empathy, being more aware should make us more empathetic, so it might seem unusual to see this listed here.
What can happen on the spiritual path is that we become extremely apathetic towards other people. We become annoyed that they aren’t understanding of us, that they do not get these concepts which we consider important or appear to be asleep.
This is extremely common at the start of a spiritual awakening because we become hyper-aware of our own false beliefs and identities, and so we see those same falsities in others too. The key here is to realize just how hypocritical we all tend to be.
There isn’t a single person on Earth that isn’t a hypocrite in some way and often we have to fit ourselves into boxes to function day to day.
Judging those we consider to be less aware, less conscious or less spiritual might feel justified but this often just makes us blind to our own contradictions.
While some people certainly are more aware than others (and that can be painfully obvious at times) we can’t judge people based on appearances, and either way, just because someone doesn’t align with us on some levels doesn’t mean we cannot hold empathy for them.
4) A lack of responsibility
This leads on from a lack of empathy. When we see ourselves above others and consider ourselves more capable and aware, we aren’t going to take criticism well.
We will use spiritual concepts to side-step personal responsibility and accountability. We cannot be wrong if we believe our intuition is perfect, we cannot do wrong if we believe ourselves to be morally pure, we don’t have to be responsible to others because we are sovereign beings.
Every person who practices, teaches or learns spirituality can be wrong. When you combine the ego and spirituality, you can be extremely aware, perceptive and still blind to your own contradictions.
I’ve found that spiritual growth often involves admitting when you are wrong. Noticing when you have made a mistake, misspoke and knowing when to apologize – often these are the very things the ego resists!
5) Fear of ignorance
A large part of spiritual awareness is the ability to surrender to the unknown, and that requires that we first acknowledge there are unknowns!
At the beginning of a spiritual awakening we will likely search everywhere for answers. Watching every spiritual video we can find, ordering every spiritual book on Amazon, reading as many spiritual blogs as we can; trying to find that missing puzzle piece.
In this search for knowledge we tend to accumulate a lot of beliefs quickly without stopping to check how valid they are. Ideologies and communities that offer us all of the answers are very enticing at this phase of our spiritual journey.
Thinking we have all of the answers on the spiritual path is one of the quickest ways to stop growing. If we are already enlightened, if our spiritual beliefs are already complete then there is nothing left to learn.
When we sit with our uncertainty and confusion we have a great opportunity to grow and clarify things for ourselves. No one can give us all of the answers, and often those who profess to have them all are looking for control rather than community.
6) Dismissing the negative
The belief that spiritual equal positive is both pervasive and unhelpful. Spiritual practice can certainly open us up to deeper joy, connection and ease, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to experience negativity – or that those experiences aren’t helpful.
We might hear mantras such as:
- “Positive/high/good vibes only”
- “What you focus on becomes your reality”
- “Always look on the bright side”
All of these pieces of advice are useful at times, however they don’t reflect the entirety of things.
There are also periods in our lives where we cannot look at a situation positively yet or where we need a day to feel our negative emotions.
In these moments we might need to focus on the negative, to feel what we are feeling and to come to a place of neutrality before we can begin to see things optimistically in order to truly learn & embody a lesson.
7) Ignoring the physical
When we ignore the physical we are ignoring an important aspect of ourselves, just as important as the non-physical. This is a form of abandonment rather than wholeness.
We might believe we are above physical hardships, physical limitations and physical relationships; that we are an island. While spiritual awareness can allow us to see that we exist beyond just the physical (which is limiting) the physical itself doesn’t have to be limiting.
At the beginning of our spiritual journeys it’s common to want to focus solely on the higher chakras – the heart, third eye and crown. These are important parts of our overall chakra system, but also require the support of our lower chakras.
Coming fully to the physical and being aware of the body can be exceptionally difficult, because that is often what we try to escape. Sitting with ourselves on a physical level means addressing the physical problems we have without running away.
- Practice grounding
- Create physical rituals
- Journal consistently
Our physical and non-physical sides are interconnected, which means that when we have a spiritual blockage this will manifest in a physical way and vice versa. Both sides needs some attention.
How to confront the spiritual ego
- How do I utilize spiritual concepts in my daily life?
- What is my spiritual ‘identity’?
- How can I have more empathy for others?
We all have an ego and will all have to confront it at some point. When we are on the spiritual path the increase in awareness can highlight the gap between who we actually are and who we think we are – we begin to notice things about ourselves that we previously ignored.
It’s our responsibility to address this gap, to not look the other way, but to dig deep and see where we need to make practical changes in our lives. Oftentimes this means getting uncomfortable, confronting the negative and having difficult conversations.
I’ve had to confront the ego in its many forms time and time again on the spiritual path, and continue to do so. What I’ve learned is that the ego has to be approached in the right way.
It might seem as if we have to be constantly wrestling with the ego, but instead we are creating a safe space for it to be brought to the light.
The ego loves to hide and the best way to approach something that likes to hide is to understand where that urge comes from. We begin to view those defence mechanisms in a loving rather than judgemental light.
Exercize: First, make a list of all the ways you have created a ‘spiritual identity’. What are your spiritual beliefs, labels and how do you alter your behavior or thinking in order to act or think in a spiritual way (what you believe is spiritual)?
These aren’t bad things, we all have an identity and as humans will tend to look for labels and groups to fit into. What’s important here is to become aware of these tendencies.
Now, observe how you respond when these faucets of your identity are threatened. What do you do when someone questions your spiritual beliefs, doubts your connection to spirit or the strength of your intuition?
Notice the parts of yourself that feel defensive? Look at these parts of yourself with compassion and practice communicating with them in a loving way. Ask questions to clarify why you are feeling defensive.
Understanding this ‘spiritual ego’ is explored in the shadow work guide, which you can read below.
This is not easy work, addressing the ego never is, but it’s worth digging a little deeper and seeing what is actually going on underneath the surface.