Understanding a Spiritual Crisis

by Gord Riddell and Kathy Ryndak

hanging on
hanging on

The process of spiritual awakening is most often an uncomfortable and painful event. While many people may have an interest in the spiritual realms and in the history of world religions and spirituality true spiritual awakening is usually precipitated by an event in an individual’s life. This spiritual crisis involves many levels of our selves including the physical; mental and emotional. As such it can be confusing for many people, including health care providers, as to what is really happening for the individual.

The spiritual crisis is often mistaken for an emotional crisis due to the role our emotions play in experiencing the spiritual. As many of you know, it is very hard at times to intellectually describe your spiritual experiences; hence we use emotional language, as it best captures the essence of the spiritual experience. The same then is true of the relationship between the emotions and the spirit during a spiritual crisis. The emotions do play a big role in bringing us to awakening but in this instance they are the vehicle towards understanding and are not of themselves the cause of a problem.

Emotional Crisis

An emotional crisis is most often experienced when the emotional energy of an individual has been repressed over a number of years. As a result of increasing pressures and stressors in the individual’s life they are unable to hold in the feelings any longer. Now two things can happen here, one is the energy will be uncontrollably directed outwardly through cathartic release such as intense crying and/or anger, or the individual could go into a clinical depression whereby not only are the emotions getting locked in further but the physical is affected including such things as sleep problems, weight loss, loss of appetite, irritability, lethargy and low interest in daily life, to name but a few. Again the precipitating factors will be increasing internal and external factors, inadequate coping skills, an inability to access and express emotions in a constructive manner and the inability to ask for help.

An emotional crisis is often handled by practitioners using counselling techniques and, if need be, medication to keep the individual functioning in their daily lives. the big risk during an emotional crisis can be the loss of mobility in their daily lives. The focus of an individual in counselling at this time will, for the most part, be looking at the past. It will focus on childhood issues, family of origin and abuse issues. These will be worked with and tied into how these issues are affecting the individual in their current life experiences. Through release of old pains and the integration of new skills and awareness into their adult life, the individual will be able to move on with their life with a greater sense of self.

Spiritual Crisis

The spiritual crisis while it may look very similar to an emotional crisis differs in a number of ways. Firstly the crisis is almost always sparked by a loss in the individual’s life. This may be loss of health, job, a loved one, a relationship, or even financial. To clarify loss of health this includes not only disease or accidents but also addictions. The important thing to look for here in differentiating between an emotional versus a spiritual crisis is the presence of a loss.

It is at this early stage of a spiritual crisis that we can confuse what is happening because the individual will be experiencing a lot of emotions about the loss. As such we may simply equate all these feelings with the grieving process. While there is little doubt grief is present, it is where the individual chooses to go with this in their process. The spiritual crisis forces us to examine our value systems and beliefs. It is an internal drive to seek a deeper meaning for our life and experiences. We will question everything in our life from our job, to our relationships, to our friends and activities. Importantly we will question the loss itself and the meaning of it and what we can learn from it. Again the difference between emotional and spiritual crisis is, the emotional is not questioned in the same way. We may ask out loud why certain things happened to us as children but we don’t search for meaning in the same way we do in a spiritual crisis. As a result of this deeper examination, we have the opportunity to move forward in creating a new lifestyle that is more in line with our evolving sense of values. We will have eliminated those aspects which no longer worked for us and incorporate new activities and people which benefit us.

During a spiritual crisis an individual will feel disconnected and cut off from the world. They may even feel zombie-like going through the motions but not emotionally experiencing anything. It is during this time someone will describe themselves as not knowing who they are anymore. The danger of confusing a spiritual crisis for an emotional crisis is if medication is introduced to relieve some of the emotional experience during the crisis, the spiritual crisis is turned into an emotional one. The self examination of beliefs and values can be all but eliminated by medication. The awakening of the spiritual self to a more conscious awareness can be halted or at least very slowed down and will not begin to reawaken until the conditions are once again right in the individual’s life.

Another way to remember the difference is an emotional crisis is regressive while a spiritual crisis is progressive. In other words one takes us back to the old, the other takes us forward through self-examination. If you suspect an individual or yourself to be experiencing a spiritual crisis/awakening, find help in the form of an individual who understands the difference between an emotional versus spiritual experience and allow that person to give you some feedback and direction during this time. It is important to note we need other knowledgeable people to give us insight and direction during this experience; you do not have to do it alone. The use of spiritual techniques like meditation, prayer, chanting, sound, or movement including yoga, dance, connecting with nature are all important tools at this time. The less an individual does for themselves during this time the longer this crisis phase will last. Lastly, you have been given a gift to re-examine your life, don’t stop there, implement the changes you are being urged to do from the inside and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Too many people get the awareness but don’t carry through to make the changes to reap the rewards.