The spiritual ego is the most dangerous type of ego of all.
If you aren’t mindful, it can wreak total destruction in your life – but not in a violent or aggressive way. Instead, the spiritual ego is disguised under the mask of “good intentions,” “higher vibration,” “awakened perspective,” and humble pomposity.
Beware of the spiritual ego. Watch out for spiritual narcissism.
Spiritual egotism is a trap that many of us spiritual seekers can and will fall into at some point (whether internally or externally through the hands of others).
On a personal level, the longer we remain in the stagnant standstill of spiritual egotism, the more likely we are to turn into a spiritual narcissist.
Indeed, spiritual narcissism is perhaps the most tragic malady to befall humanity of all and the worst pitfall we can experience on our spiritual awakening journeys.
We’ll explore why a little later in this article. But first, let’s explore what the spiritual ego is exactly and how it evolves into spiritual narcissism.
Table of contents
What is the Spiritual Ego?
Firstly, let’s touch on the basics. What is the ego? The ego is our separate sense of self or the illusory “I” story that we carry around in the world as an evolutionary survival mechanism.
Yet, while the separate sense of self (“me, myself, I”) helps us to distinguish ourselves from others and therefore survive, it is also the source of all our suffering when we take this separate self seriously.
Why is the ego the source of our suffering? When we feel like small and separate little islands, we feel innately cut off from our true home and True Nature which is boundless, whole, and not subject to birth or death (i.e., it is infinite). Ancient spiritual traditions have called this Divine essence Spirit, God/dess, Higher Self, Life, Oneness, Christ Consciousness, Nondual Awareness, and so on.
So what is the spiritual ego? The spiritual ego builds on top of this fundamental ego that we carry around – it is the ego on crack, the ego on steroids, and the ego inflated beyond its usual garden-variety size.
Yet the unfortunate and rather tragic thing is that many people often don’t realize that they’ve developed a spiritual ego until shit hits the proverbial fan.
How Does the Spiritual Ego Develop?
The spiritual ego is a product of spiritual materialism – that is, using spirituality to serve the ego, instead of approaching the spiritual path with the intent of trying to move beyond the ego.
When spiritual paths, practices, and concepts become a slave of the ego, the spiritual ego is born. In other words, when a person’s central idea about themselves is ruled by the belief that they’re a “spiritual person,” this is the spiritual ego.
When being a “spiritual person” eclipses all else that a person is, this is the spiritual ego in action. Yes, there are positive benefits to building your identity around spirituality. But there are also some pretty scary consequences that we shouldn’t ignore.
(By the way, here’s a really old video I made with Mateo about this topic:)
The Development of Spiritual Narcissism
Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality; we can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.– Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Spiritual narcissism is the very culmination of spiritual egotism: it is the ego that has become so solid, so fixed, so unyielding in the idea of its own spiritual greatness that it is pathological. It is narcissistic.
As we know already, narcissism is a mental disorder where a person has an inflated sense of their own importance (amongst several other spiky issues). The exact same problem applies to spiritual narcissists: they have such an unwavering belief in their own awakened perspective, their own “special” spiritual achievements and knowledge, that they cannot connect with (or tolerate) their humanity.
Spiritual narcissists cannot tolerate other people either – even though they may fine-tune the external image of being compassionate or wise – others ultimately pose a threat to their delusional grandiosity.
Spiritual narcissism begins with spiritual materialism. Within spiritual materialism (the trap of using spirituality to serve the ego), there is always a seed of spiritual narcissism. And if that seed keeps being fed without going unchecked, without being uprooted or challenged, it grows and grows.
Eventually, we can become so sidetracked, so deluded by the ego that has used spirituality to make itself indestructible, that we are worse off on the spiritual path than when we began.
Examples of the Spiritual Ego
So what does the spiritual ego look like in action, and how does it corrupt our spiritual awakening paths?
Below I’ll share a few examples that are commonly seen in the spiritual community – and while some of them are borderline spiritually narcissistic, others are flat-out expressions of spiritual narcissism. Let’s look at some examples of the spiritual ego:
- Claiming to have “special access” to a spirit guide/angel/spirit/ascended master for the purposes of self-aggrandizement
- Believing oneself to be the reincarnation of a superior being, famous spiritual historical figure, etc., and broadcasting that to everyone
- Taking frequent pictures of one’s spiritual practice and posting them online in order to boost one’s self-image, status, and gain attention or validation
- Declaring that others can’t possibly understand you because you have attained a certain state of ‘high vibrational awareness,’ awakening, liberation, etc. – and showing contempt for those who aren’t at the same ‘level’ (instead of being compassionate)
- Using Dharma-talk to avoid being psychologically vulnerable, showing empathy, and facing human emotions (e.g., “Just let go and let be,” “You attracted that experience,” “Who is there to experience this?”)
- Looking down on “low vibe,” “unevolved,” “unawakened,” and “asleep” people
- Boasting about and flaunting spiritual achievements or gifts (e.g., amazing mystical experiences, clairvoyant abilities, yoga certifications, etc.)
- Imitating what a “spiritual person” looks and sounds like
You get the picture.
I’m sure you can think of a few more examples, and you’re welcome to share them in the comments below.
15 Signs of the Spiritual Narcissist
The spiritual ego is so dangerous because it is nearly impenetrable, and that makes the spiritual narcissist a special flavor of dangerous.
People can spend their entire lives (or lifetimes) stuck in the trap of unknowingly misusing spiritual words, ideas, practices, and paths to inflate their egos.
Sadly, the spiritual ego can result in instances of abuse and even murder, such as the Jonestown tragedy, the abuse committed by Bikram Choudhury (founder of Bikram yoga), Swami Rama (Indian yogi), Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (spiritual teacher), Sogyal Rinpoche, Andrew Cohen, and even Chogyam Trungpa (who coined spiritual materialism), and so on. The cases of spiritual ego are so wide and varied that they are impossible to include here.
The reality is that as spiritual beings having a human experience, we are imperfect. Hell, I’ve fallen into the spiritual ego numerous times – and it’s not pretty. But the crucial thing is to practice humility, openness, and the willingness to be honest with ourselves (all hallmarks of authentic shadow work) – these qualities are the best defense against spiritual egotism and narcissism.
So, without further ado, here are signs of the spiritual ego that has evolved into a spiritual narcissist that you need to look out for (both within yourself and others):
- Overly publicizing (aka., boasting about) special spiritual accomplishments
- Claiming a stance of superiority (directly or indirectly) due to one’s spiritual gifts or talents
- Attempting to transcend the physical/earthly and take on godlike qualities
- Believing that one’s connection with the Divine is somehow deeper or more special than other people’s connection
- Focusing on how “more spiritually evolved” one is to others and …
- Judging others for being “less awakened,” “asleep,” “unconscious”
- Attempting to look like, dress, and sound like a “spiritual” person
- Using spiritual words and concepts to avoid being wrong, mistaken, or facing vulnerable emotions
- Flaunting how spiritual one is on social media (with photos that demonstrate spiritual postures, setups, locations, tools, etc.)
- Becoming overly identified with spiritual knowledge (and how much “you” know)
- Trying to convert people to one’s perception (preaching to them or debating)
- Resistance to being “called out” and resenting those who try to do this
- Claiming access to special and exclusive spiritual knowledge that others can’t access, and only they can access (e.g., such as through having a kundalini awakening, being a psychic healer, being a channeller of some higher being, etc.)
- Lack of curiosity and receptivity to life
- Wearing a mask of niceness, positivity, or wisdom
Essentially, those trapped in the hell realms of spiritual egotism frequently try to reaffirm their spiritual specialness to the world through covert and overt methods.
While spotting a spiritual narcissist “in the wild” is fairly easy, seeing these tendencies within ourselves is much harder. Why? The answer is that when we’re so close to and identified with a pattern of behavior that brings us some sense of satisfaction, we find ways of justifying and perpetuating its existence.
Why Are Spiritual Narcissists So Dangerous?
Quite simply, spiritual narcissists are so dangerous because they’re dressed in robes of light. They appear to be awakened, illuminated, wise, and all-loving on the surface – but beneath the facade is power-hungry delusion and darkness.
None of us are beyond the possibility of becoming spiritual narcissists if we aren’t mindful.
What makes the spiritual ego so dangerous is that it makes us feel all-powerful, even untouchable. And as such, to challenge the spiritual ego challenges the very foundations of our own self-worth and self-image – and that can be positively terrifying (which makes the spiritual ego so tricky and, therefore, dangerously unyielding).
In fact, we can even feel like we’re committing a profane and sacrilegious act by calling out the spiritual ego because it’s so inflated and has such a good opinion of itself (a delusion which that we have entirely bought into).
Not only that, but the spiritual ego is also dangerous because it limits all growth: it is the death of any transformation because to evolve means to go through the cycles of death and rebirth. And if the spiritual ego has “already arrived,” there is a stasis, there simply cannot be any more growth.
In fact, the deadliest virus on our paths is to believe that “we’ve arrived,” have become “enlightened,” or somehow spiritually superior to others. The ego has not only become narcissistic, but it has developed a full-blown God Complex or the state of believing that one is, in actual fact, God. But this is not in an egoless, non-dual way (non-duality also being subject to the same dire issues): this is pure ego-centrism, the very definition of darkness or the absence of light.
The more ego-based we are, the further we are from the Light of Consciousness, which goes beyond the self. Furthermore, if residing in the ego equals a disconnection from the Divine, living from a place of ego-centric God Complex goes one step further: it is like living in total darkness – the very definition of hell.
When a person is living in hell, they will harm others – this is basic knowledge that even a child can understand. When there is a total absence of light, there is only darkness – and how can a person see, feel, think, or behave clearly in such a state? The result is suffering, both for the one experiencing the God Complex and for those unfortunate souls happening to be in the proximity of the spiritual narcissist.
How to Stop the Spiritual Ego
As I mentioned previously, we need to approach the spiritual path with humility, openness, and the willingness to be honest with ourselves.
We all have a shadow side (i.e., the face of the ego that isn’t presented to the public), and we need to become aware of it in order to prevent issues such as spiritual egotism and narcissism from arising.
If you would like to learn more about shadow work, see our free shadow work guide.
To guard against spiritual egotism and narcissism, you can start by asking yourself questions such as:
- “If I saw someone else behave the way I do, what would I think of them?”
- “Am I willing to face my inner contradictions and hypocrisies? If there is resistance, what doesn’t the spiritual ego want me to see?”
- “In what areas do I feel spiritually superior to others?”
- “How consistent am I in what I feel, think, and do?”
You can also ask trusted friends, loved ones, or spiritual mentors to help point out areas where you might be falling into spiritual delusion. Regular introspective journaling (see our shadow work journal), is also another way of calling out the spiritual ego and guarding against becoming a spiritual narcissist.
Guarding against the spiritual ego and learning how to identify spiritual narcissists on our spiritual journeys is of profound importance at every stage of our path.
Of all the spiritual traps and pitfalls we can fall into, spiritual narcissism is the worst because it not only endangers ourselves, keeping us stuck in a stagnating cesspool of darkness, but it also harms others by alienating, belittling, using, and dehumanizing them.
Along with sharpening our spiritual discernment and mindfulness (aka., having a clear mind), developing an open, humble, and honest heart is the key to preventing ourselves from either falling into the claws of spiritual narcissists – or becoming one ourselves.
May our minds be clear, and may our hearts be open always.
Tell me, what are your thoughts about spiritual narcissism and the spiritual ego? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below. Also, feel free to suggest any methods that can help people guard against this spiritual trap.