Three Warning Signs of Unhealthy Spirituality

March 2, 2015 Becky Oberg

Spirituality can be vital to recovery from mental illness. But, like many things, spirituality and mental illness is a double-edged sword. While belief in a Higher Power can aid mental illness recovery, unhealthy spiritual beliefs can make our mental illness symptoms worse. But what are some warning signs of unhealthy spirituality? How do we know if we have what one writer called "toxic faith?"

Learn the Warning Signs of Unhealthy Spirituality

1. The Group Has All the Answers

Spirituality is the search for the answers to life's big questions. Who am I? Why am I here? Why do bad things happen to good people? What is the meaning behind this suffering? Answering these questions is a lifelong process. Beware any spiritual group that promises easy answers.

Various saints of various faiths throughout history have wrestled with these questions, often without answers. Jesus asked a silent Father "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Any group that claims to have all the answers is claiming that it knows more than God.

Suffering, by its very nature, has no answers, but we can transcend it. We can find meaning in our suffering without finding the meaning of our suffering. This is healthy and vital to life. But pat answers to suffering, such as "Jesus suffered more than you so you should be grateful," only make things worse. Beware any spirituality that has all the answers.

Remember, Job's three friends gave easy answers for his suffering and were reprimanded by God himself.

2. The Group Teaches Fear of Outsiders

Spirituality can be critical to mental illness recovery but not all spiritualities are healthy. Read about 3 warning signs of unhealthy spirituality.I first sought treatment in college. My church friends pressured me to seek "Biblical counseling," by which they meant seeing someone at the church. The university's counseling center was "worldly," and the church's theophostic counseling would "deliver" me. God would speak truth to my posttraumatic stress disorder and set me free from demonic attack (undiagnosed schizophrenia) by rewriting my memories.

After two sessions, the director (whose training consisted of reading a book and attending a seminar) told me she couldn't help me until I was ready to let go of my anger. My friends told me I had to forgive my abusers or God would not forgive me. Shortly thereafter, I landed in the psych ward, where my church friends reprimanded me for my lack of faith (and were escorted out by staff).

Beware any spirituality that teaches fear of outsiders, especially groups that teach fear of people in the helping professions. A secular counselor is required to be neutral toward your faith while helping you identify unhealthy beliefs. It is not a sin to seek help from a professional, but it is a sin to add burdens such as fear of one's salvation being in jeopardy to one already overwhelmed by the symptoms of mental illness.

3. The Group Believes Things that Can Be Disproved

The Bible was written in language people 2,000 years ago could understand, so it doesn't take in to account the latest scientific information or human progress. For example, when the Bible was written, women were either virgins, wives, or prostitutes. Therefore, a rape survivor could only be married to her rapist. We wouldn't dream of doing that today because our society has progressed. So why do we assume that the Bible is the latest word on medical science?

When the Bible was written, all sickness had a spiritual cause--in fact, the word for "sorcerers" is "pharmakeia." We've advanced since then; we now know that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. We can prove this with a post-mortem brain biopsy. Mental illness is no more a sin than epilepsy (which the Bible also identifies as demonic). So it's wrong to assume that mental illness is caused by demons because we've advanced to the point where we understand biology. Beware any spirituality that believes things that can be disproved.

Other Warning Signs of Unhealthy Spirituality

There are many other warning signs of unhealthy spirituality, but these are the big three. A group that has all the answers, teaches fear of outsiders, and believes things that can be disproved can be toxic to your mental illness recovery. Instead, seek a group that encourages questions, supports reaching out for help when needed, and doesn't, as one writer said, check their brains at the door. You deserve a healthy spirituality.

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APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2015, March 2). Three Warning Signs of Unhealthy Spirituality, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 12 from

Author: Becky Oberg

September, 22 2021 at 11:57 am


Sharon Locke
March, 5 2015 at 7:43 pm

Very very helpful, thankyou

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