What Toxic Spirituality Sounds Like
By ‘manifesting’ your dreams, are you completely ignoring privilege?
Before I left my corporate career to study psychotherapy, I was a self-help devotee. I devoured every book, took every course, and attended every conference I could find on how to “manifest my dreams.” And each time, I walked away with a new rush of optimism, confident that I was now closer than ever to attaining the life I wanted.
Eventually, though, it became harder for me to ignore my own discomfort with a corner of this world, one that was becoming more and more prevalent: the conflation of self-improvement with a toxic brand of spirituality.
We seem to be in a new age of spirituality, with an explosion of influencers, celebrity life coaches, authors, athletes, and even psychologists offering up neatly packaged tools from their own “awakenings.” This Instagram-friendly version of spirituality frames it as something to tap into with an assortment of affirmations, meditation, yoga, and introspection. It’s always positioned as a solo endeavor — with the implication, never explicitly stated but baked right into the premise — that anyone who fails just isn’t trying hard enough.
I’m calling bullshit.
This type of thinking isn’t just unhelpful — it’s toxic. Here’s what it sounds like.
You are 100% responsible for your own circumstances
I can see why it feels empowering to believe that we are in full control of our own destiny. I’d love to believe that putting the right thoughts out into the universe, à la The Secret, can improve anyone’s life.
But we don’t live in a vacuum. We live in a society that grants different people different levels of power and privilege. Believing that all humans are equal — and equally able to change their lives — does not create a world in which that’s true. Instead, it ignores very real systems of oppression and denies the victims of those systems any validation and empathy. Spiritual and self-development leaders who focus only on individual responsibility do so because it is easy. Acknowledging our history and circumstances is a longer, messier process.