The Dangers Of Inflating “Spiritual” People & Looking Down On Those Who Aren’t “Spiritual”

Lissa Rankin, MD
7 min readMar 13, 2023

I used to have a very grandiose, inflating, “othering” idea of what a “spiritual” person was or wasn’t. Having already rejected the fundamentalist Christianity of my mother’s persuasion, I considered “spiritual” people “better than” religious people, who I judged as racist, homophobic, patriarchal, and oppressive.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought of “spiritual” people as the witches and wizards of Hogwarts, looking down with some derision upon those “lesser than” Muggles, who trudged along without having seen to the other side of the veil. I was not alone. Others around me insisted they would only date or hire “spiritual” people, bragging about being part of that club themselves and not wanting to be bothered with the more “ordinary” sorts.

Thinking back to that time, it hadn’t even occurred to me that the whole Hogwarts/ Muggle dynamic was very Nazi Germany, inflating the witches and wizards while casting the Muggles as “less than.” It’s no surprise so many “spiritual” people identified as having “gone down the rabbit hole” or taken the “red pill” during the Q-tainted pandemic. Just like the Aryans looked down on everyone who was not like them in Nazi Germany, people who made the same mistake I had made, who inflated ourselves and thought we were from Hogwarts while looking down on the lowly Muggles really did have an attitude problem that became more and more apparent during the pandemic.

I felt ashamed to realize I had quietly been part of a way of thinking that contributed to the problem Harvard professor Paul Farmer referred to when he said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

This way of thinking shattered around me in 2016 after Trump was elected. Suddenly, the whole inflated way of thinking got mirrored back to me in the most caricature kind of President we could possibly have, but I couldn’t help looking at myself and these “spiritual” people I had allied with. That was when my mother died, and I entered the best therapy of my life, and I had to take a stark look at my own shadow, which had been hidden from me because of my spiritual bypassing tendencies.

Looking back at how I thought about “spiritual” people, I wonder what we even meant. What was a “spiritual” person anyway? When I said that, I was referring to people who knew there was more than just dead matter in a dead universe, people who had experienced some sort of mysterious or otherworldly experience that made them think “What else is possible?” I was referring to people who “did their work,” took responsibility for their lives, and cared about making the world a better place and fulfilling their life’s purpose, as guided by a benevolent force that knew what was best for us more than our limited human minds possibly could.

While all of those qualities are still things I care about, I was largely unaware at the time of how we “spiritual people” inflated each other with thinking this way, largely unaware of how narcissistic it is to put yourself “one up” and put others “one down” (usually so you can feel better about yourself because you have yet to heal parts in your that feel less than, worthless, not good enough, not chosen, not special. Ouch.)

That shame-inducing awareness was before my spiritual bypassing recovery process began with a painful crash from an ecstatic high back in 2015, just before all hell broke loose in my country in 2016.

Now, my definition of a “spiritual person” has changed dramatically. I resonate with the Dalai Lama when he says “My religion is kindness.” Many people who hang out in spiritual communities seem to prioritize truth over kindness. As much as I love truth-seeking, I’ve come to care more about kindness than truth- though both are important. Truth without kindness can be cruel, and kindness without truth can be naive, gullible, idealistic, and hampering of your ability to spot ruthless people and hold them to account when they’re abusive.

I think a lot of truth-seekers like myself sometimes forget the importance of prioritizing kindness as at least equal to truth. It’s one thing to prioritize truth with yourself, on yourself, by yourself. It’s another to violate the boundaries of others in the name of “truth.”

My very smart and kind therapist helped me realize this. I can’t tell you how many times she said to me, “Lissa, you’re right, but it’s not kind.” Damn, I love being right. But it feels better to be kind, with a side of truth. Kindness, of course, can be relative. Sometimes kindness to one may feel unkind to someone else, so it’s not always black and white. For example, you may feel like some truths — the kind that need whistle blowers to call people out- can feel unkind to those who just want everyone to get along and don’t want to “polarize” or point fingers at anyone, even if that person is stomping all over someone else’s boundaries.

Some of the “spiritual” people I knew didn’t like it if anyone ever called out someone for being abusive, racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, ableist, or otherwise boundary-violating. And you sure as hell couldn’t call out people like the Disinformation Dozen who were responsible for 65% of the Covid propaganda during the pandemic, even though our Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD issued an advisory warning against these twelve people. To call someone out for lying about Covid or to call someone out for victim blaming or white supremacist messaging made one decidedly unspiritual, in the eyes of a lot of the people I used to hang out with, especially the ones who considered themselves “non-dual.”

To call someone out was considered “polarizing” and lacking in “unity” and “blaming and shaming others.” And you definitely couldn’t call out someone for promoting spiritual bypassing- because that would shine light on the elephant in the room everyone was trying to avoid- their own untreated trauma.

This all came to a head during the pandemic, when call out culture got labelled “cancel culture” by a lot of these so-called spiritual people who refused to take a stand against any kind of injustice- because they believed it was not “spiritual” to do so.

Some of those people turned on me when I decided to take a firm stand against Covid disinformation, much of which was being promoted by “spiritual” people. I tried to be a voice of reason and share publicly the private health updates I was getting from colleagues on the inside of the public health world and those actively treating Covid on the front lines of hospitals. That’s when I realized how vicious these so called spiritual people could be if you cross them, even when millions of our fellow humans were actively dying off in a massive pandemic.

The way I see it now, if your spirituality is not opening your heart and causing you to be more kind, empathic, and compassionate when you are faced with suffering- in yourself or in others- then it needs to get tossed on the trash heap. I’m not talking about the sort of kindness or compassion that always bears a beatific smile. Sometimes the kindest response is the fierceness of a Mama Bear protecting yourself or others who are being treated badly.

Now, if I’m suffering and someone else tries to “silver lining” my suffering or diminish it or push it away with some insensitive spiritual aphorism, I put my hand out with a firm “No.” No, you may not treat me that way. No, if you can’t be nice to me right now, you need to get the hell out. No, the way you are treating me is not “spiritual;” it’s mean.

The lovely side effect is that people are treating me better- maybe because I’m treating myself better. But that required distancing myself from a lot of so-called “spiritual people” so I could prioritize the ones who actually demonstrate real spiritual values- like empathy, kindness, respectful boundaries, a desire to ease the suffering of others, care for those who are marginalized and vulnerable, and social justice activism- the qualities Jesus demonstrated through his actions and his teachings.

I have a lot fewer friends now- and my social media community changed a lot. But the ones I have now, the ones I value as part of my spiritual bypassing recovery, are precious to me.

If you’ve had similar experiences, I give you FULL PERMISSION to practice setting boundaries, dial down the intimacy dial with people who mistreat you when you’re suffering and gift yourself enough love and care to prioritize being with people who can stay present with your suffering, which means they have to be practiced at being present with their own, something that may require healing trauma.

In our upcoming Spiritual Bypassing Recovery 2.0 online program, which includes my new unpublished manuscript about this topic, we’ll be talking about what it means to embody a healthier, less narcissistic, more trauma-informed and social justice conscious spirituality, the kind that allows you to stand in your integrity to take a firm stand against injustice.

Join us for Spiritual Bypassing Recovery 2.0

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Lissa Rankin, MD

Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine, The Fear Cure, and The Anatomy of a Calling.