Thoughts on ego, narcissism and spirituality

Ego, and the role it plays in our lives, is one of the most misunderstood phenomena in modern spirituality. The explanation is often black-white-wrong-right, without understanding what it is and why it’s a necessary part of us. We easily accuse someone of ‘having ego’, when they do something we don’t like. But that’s usually our own ego talking, because we then don’t need to look at ourselves and our own behaviour. Btw, anyone who claims they’ve ‘left ego behind’ after their (rapid) awakening, is probably still full of it.

Another term people almost always misunderstand, yet frequently abuse, is narcissism. As with ego, accusing others of being narcissistic, apparently releases us from the obligation to work on our shadow-side. Especially on social media we see people (mostly women) calling-out others (mostly ex-partners) as narcissists. Usually it’s someone who didn’t get their way in a toxic relationship. But by definition, toxicity goes both ways, and selfish doesn’t equal narcissism. There’s almost always profound psychological chaos in the background.

Real narcissism is a serious mental illness, linked to early-childhood trauma. That doesn’t mean narcissists are innocent victims of the drama in their life. They often create that drama themselves. Also, having experienced trauma yourself is no excuse for traumatizing others. Especially in spirituality we find many unhealed people, including narcissists, even as teachers.

We might start to understand what happens by looking at some spiritual background of ego and narcissism. In another post, we’ll also look into the phenomenon of ‘service-to-Self’. For that, I use the teachings of Ra, which eventually led to ‘The Law of One’ (an excellent spiritual foundation). In this post I’ll explain some of my own experiences with narcissism in spirituality as well. Perhaps it helps you to recognize and understand narcissists, and improve your communication with them.

What is ego?

I could write a series of books to discuss this question, and still wouldn’t be able to answer it. If you’d search online, you’ll get countless results with just as many different explanations. But ego is not about self-esteem and arrogance, neither is it just (social) identity, nor the cumulation of experiences. Those are more the consequences of the existing ego rather than its fundamental existence in the first place. Just like our (non-)physical bodies are the consequential actualization of our consciousness simply existing in 3D. Ego is an inseparable part of who we are… it is an expression of the awareness of Self. It’s everything that comes after the statement “I am…”

We are essentially individuated, conscious manifestations of the infinite oneness of Love, also known as Source, God, or Universe. I prefer to use the term Source throughout my website. There’s much more behind that definition, of course, but let’s leave it at that for now. Ego is not only the awareness of the manifestation of Self, it also serves as protector, as well as saboteur. In a way it works as a double-edged sword. We need ego to live and survive in this world, but at the same time it keeps us away from our divine mission and purpose in life.

In order to manifest as an eternal being of Love into this dense reality, we need to vibrate at a much lower frequency than that of the essence of our Soul (a.k.a. True Self). Ego is basically the unavoidable energetic consequence of that lower vibration. When we’re in the process of ascension/awakening, we’re gradually raising our own frequencies. We thus move in the opposite direction of physical manifestation. Logically, ego tries to protect itself (survival) and attaches us to earth through emotions, beliefs, limitations, etc.

Why is ego?

Ego is also opposite to our connection with, and awareness of Source. We experience things individually, which is where “I” comes into play. This is also where we see a real dilemma. Experiencing life is an essential purpose of that life, and we do this through ego, through individual experiences. But rising from ego (ascending) and remembering who we truly are as an inseparable part of infinite oneness (a.k.a. Source-God-Universe), is also an essential purpose of life. We become aware of our connection and unity with everything… which seems the opposite of individual experiences. Maybe we should say, that life happens exactly on the knife’s edge between the individual and the ascended being.

The higher we ascend and, more importantly, the more consistently we do that, the less we’re bound by ego. However, ego is not the bottom of our ladder, it moves with us. For that matter, life is not about reaching the top of the ladder, but about the act of climbing it. To use my favourite travel metaphor: “It’s not about reaching the destination, it’s about the journey to it”. Everything in between is what we consider the quality of what we do, including the quality of our earthly experiences. The longer the ladder, the bigger the difference between top and bottom, the higher the potential quality of life.

If we were to live at higher planes only, we wouldn’t have the lower-vibrational experiences. Yet, this is the very reason we once chose to incarnate on this earth. If the goal is to ascend from ego, then we first need to live from ego. Some people say that we are here to learn lessons. So then… to learn, we need to make mistakes. Perfection is not the key… awareness is, as well as the willingness to change.

How is ego?

Ego manifests itself in everything individual, including our body, thoughts, personality, and emotions. Having sensations gives meaning to our experiences. If we don’t suffer any damage after physically hurting ourselves, we would become reckless. We’d just need to press restart, as if we’re killed in a computer game. Also, what is life without thought, or when everyone has the same personality? We’d become robots… without flaws but unable to make decisions for ourselves. And could you imagine experiencing the ups-and-downs of life without emotions? They give meaning and quality to our time on earth. Without emotions (good – bad – everything-in-between) it would become hollow and empty… and boring.

So, ego is not an inherent negative thing, and we can’t live without it. But when we value ego-experiences over raising our consciousness, we choose fear over truth and peace-of-mind over healing… all to avoid the pain that comes with growth. Sometimes we need to take that break, but it should never become some alternative reality we’d prefer to live in. Modern spirituality sees lots of ‘spiritual bypassing’. That is the phenomenon when people become overly spiritual, frantically avoiding what they believe is ego… all to prevent (potentially) unpleasant experiences. Ironically, we call the result of that: ‘spiritual ego’. They use spirituality to not face personal reality, which often includes trauma and unfinished tasks in (emotional) development.

This actually makes sense when we consider that from the perspective of ego as protector. The bypass is rooted in the fear that comes from working on ourselves. Most people don’t dare to see their shadow-side, and never take responsibility to change. Spiritual practices thus become hollow dogmas and ritualistic routines. When they actually believe their own delusions, people become stuck in vicious cycles (False Light), unable to ascend. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of this.

About narcissism

There’s a clear link between spiritual bypass and narcissism, but also differences. Narcissism is a serious mental health condition and ‘Personality Disorder’. There’s a whole range across which this condition gets expressed. Many think of narcissists as men with inflated egos, arrogant, pompous, selfish, dominant, etc. This is the malignant end of the range. Contrary to popular beliefs, NPD is almost as prevalent in women as in men. Women are often more covert narcissists, though, the other end of the range.

Interestingly, both characteristics fulfil the expectations (false beliefs) that society – collective consciousness – holds of the behaviour of men and women. This can make it difficult to recognize narcissism, especially covert narcissism. Dominant men are attractive as ‘alpha-males’ for certain women, just as hyper-sensual women attract specific men. These are not only accepted but even revered stereotypes of behaviour.

Underneath their exterior confidence, though, there’s often a childish thought-process, chaos, shame, and deep insecurity. Narcissists have an unreasonably high sense of self-importance. They need (and seek) constant attention and admiration, and they don’t care how they get it. They’ll put up a show for the outside world, while their inner world is completely different. They express over-confident arrogance (malignant) or sensitive modesty (covert), but they’re actually extremely insecure. Criticism triggers either a foolish attack, or they’ll retreat into horribly dark places inside themselves.

Needless to say, this two-faced life leads to constant issues. Narcissists often create conflicts and drama, to feed of the energy those conflicts stir-up. When they no longer get away with that, they’ll find other ‘supply’. They lack true empathy and therefore seldom care about the consequences of their behaviour for others. In relationships they’ll lie, manipulate, gaslight, and often cheat on their partner. They’ll then use DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim-Offender) to dodge responsibility and accountability.

Understanding narcissism

In False Light and Spiritual Paths I discussed the phenomena of crystallization and calcification. They’ll help understand where narcissism comes from and how it is expressed. But it’s an explanation from one spiritual perspective. There are other perspectives and I’m no professional therapist… I don’t claim to know the answers. With my academic background in behavioural neuroscience, I’ve educated myself properly, though. I also have personal experience from my (romantic) relationship with a covert narcissist, and I’ve dealt with several ‘toxic teachers’. They were wakeup-calls to deal with my shadow-side and go through another deep healing process.

We know that ‘everything is energy’ – even memories and personality are expressions of energy. They’re stored through a process called crystallization – literally crystals forming over time. Without any distortions of energy, these crystals are clean, clear and uniform. However, when there’s pollution of energy because of trauma, dissonant frequencies, impatience… that process gets interrupted. Crystals now become murky and inconsistent, a process we call calcification. This results in fragmented crystals, and thus fragmented expressions.

Narcissism is not innate, but the result of experiencing trauma, usually in early childhood. Humans go through different phases in their life. Each phase needs growth in awareness and the answering of key questions for that age. When a previous phase is not properly resolved, there’s underdevelopment, and thus distortion of energy. Psychotherapy recognizes these negative outcomes as emotional immaturity. Spirituality sees them as the inner-child that needs healing.

Narcissism is a perfect example. We see part of their personality stagnate in development (calcify), resulting in fragmentation of energy and thus personality. This seems like narcissists have multiple personalities (personas). You never know who’s behind the steering wheel today… a child or an adult. Stress and situations that trigger possible shame, can see quick changes for that driving seat.

Narcissists and spirituality

You may think there’s no place for narcissism in spirituality, but the opposite is true. The spiritual world is actually the perfect place to hide in plain sight. Narcissists can throw-up smoke screens of vague terms, without really saying anything. And who are we to see fault in someone who’s apparently more evolved…? They create a completely false image of themselves, based on different spiritual theories, techniques and achievements. Real narcissists spend much of their time protecting this image, that eventually becomes their identity.

Whether they’ve actually ‘achieved’ what they claim, even did anything at all, doesn’t matter. Most people fall for that picture-perfect-image. When people do see through their fa├žade, though, they quickly change narrative into something different. They seem to change personality overnight and then claim to have had some deep insight/download. You have to remember that none of it was ever real, anyway. I know from own experiences, that’s one of the hardest things to accept.

The average prevalence of NPD is ~2% in western societies (studies range from 0,5% – 5,0%). In the spiritual world this percentage is much higher. Many people with unhealed trauma live and hide in the grey areas of spirituality. They can come across as childish and emotionally immature, because their personality is underdeveloped or grew out-of-balance. The spiritual world accepts them easily and often gives little pushback. It’s also the perfect place to pretend to be healed without ever doing any real shadow work.

Even non-narcissists easily run into the phenomenon of ‘spiritual narcissism’. This is the (un)conscious use of spiritual practices, experiences, and insights to increase rather than decrease self-importance. Some believe to be specially chosen, call themselves teachers/masters, over-emphasize spiritual levels, overdo the do-gooding… and what about taking selfies in sexy yoga poses for social-media. Anyway, something for another blog-post.

Personal experiences

Covert narcissists are very good at faking empathy, and can even become (spiritual) teachers. I’ve spend years in different spiritual communities, and I’m afraid this happens often. In the tantra world, I’ve seen many unhealed people (especially women) hide behind spiritual superiority, fake divinity (femininity-sensuality), and selective morals. These people were often childlike in emotions and behaviour. Sex becomes an easy way in tantra to cover-up immaturity and underdeveloped, toxic attachment-styles. They’ll play on the ego of others, while diverting attention from their own. They justify toxic behaviour with vague spiritual mumbo-jumbo, and often contradict themselves. These are clear red flags! A child with an adult mask is still a child, even about sex.

I saw from up-close how someone pretended to be a spiritual teacher, especially on social-media. In reality, though, she just copy-pasted things from others, often without understanding the original teachings. Another self-proclaimed teacher was doing behind the scenes everything that she was telling her students not to do. I’ve personally witnessed and experienced lies, deceit, scamming, even physical and sexual violence. Because I was sometimes deeply (romantically) involved, I was first their accomplice and later their target.

When confronted with their own words and actions, narcissists immediately divert attention away from them and deny everything, before playing the victim-card. They’ll blame the accuser of not-being-high-enough-on-the-spiritual-ladder. I literally heard I wasn’t ‘evolved enough’ to understand. And what about: “if you’re a real tantra-practitioner, you have to accept everything from me”. That’s typical narcissistic manipulation. Accepting someone’s personality is profoundly different from accepting intolerable behaviour, especially when it crosses pre-agreed boundaries within a monogamous relationship. ‘Exploring divine sensual femininity’ doesn’t justify cheating and orgies. Narcissists lean on what they got away with in the past, and they’ll go more extreme each time to create drama and get attention.

Work in practice?

For vulnerable people in an awakening or transition, this can be deeply confusing to experience. They could draw the wrong conclusions and cross their own physical, mental, sexual and/or emotional boundaries. This happens in workshops or sessions from teachers who are unhealed themselves. They’re not up-to-the-task to deal with things that could come up for some participants. What if someone panics or gets lost during guided meditation. What about (un)known medical or mental issues, that need professional guidance. Does the teacher recognize this? The wrong reaction – or the lack of reaction – could do great damage.

We’ve all set personal boundaries for good reasons. Sometimes they’re based on ego (fear and limiting beliefs), but they could also be character-traits or personal values. Even when we want to shift our boundaries because we believe it’ll make us grow spiritually, we can never cross boundaries by force or under pressure. A like-minded group in some workshop may appear safe, but peer-pressure can become enormous. That temporary collective connection often forces people over their boundaries. Many people regret afterwards what they did, and feel ashamed about that.

Now, let’s look at ego as saboteur of our healing process. Our subconsciousness knows we won’t have to do much work on ourselves when we follow false teachers. That’s why there are so many around. As long as people don’t really want to change, false teachers have their audience, especially on social-media. Too many people do hardly more than pretend, so they can blame others when things don’t go their way. New practitioners are hungry and they’ll swallow anything they get served. They have no frame of reference yet to assess the quality of teachings. Since “empty barrels make more noise”, hollow words get shared around more than true teachings. We’ve all been there on our path.

Finally

Unfortunately, people can easily fall prey at that moment to teachings that connect them to spiritual paths of False Light. It goes without saying, that we find many narcissists on that path, because it’ll give them constant energetic sustenance. This is also very sad, because some of them really want to do good. But they also need drama to survive, like an addiction. For narcissists it’s extremely difficult to go through real awakening. They’d have to look at themselves, acknowledge their behaviour, and face their deepest fears. They’d also have to break down their safe but false reality and face a world that hurts them. It’s therefore not impossible, but highly unlikely for narcissists to change.

With every experience being another brick in the wall of ego, trauma is probably the heaviest brick to build with. We shouldn’t let ego limit our life, but we can never be free from ego either. It’s all about finding that delicate balance. Most narcissists had no balance for most of their lives. They are part adult – part child – part something in-between. They are stuck… and more importantly, the way they’re stuck makes that they’ll probably never get out of the prison they’ve built for themselves. Unfortunately, we live in a time where fakeness is literally put on a pedestal, so they’ll have endless supply.

There will surely be more posts about these subjects. I believe that the understanding of ego is vital in our own processes of ascension. Because of my own experiences (for which I am eternally grateful), also narcissism will probably return on the menu. In a later post I’ll link narcissism and modern spirituality to ‘service to Self’. This will be a different perspective for many people. If you want to talk or share about your experiences, please contact me.

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