11 Traps That Sabotage Your Spiritual Growth

Embarking on a spiritual journey often prompts the question: What might be hindering your spiritual growth? Recognizing potential spiritual pitfalls is crucial on this path.

“No matter what practical exercises or teachings there are, the ego likes to lie in wait to acquire spirituality for its own survival and benefit.”
– Chögyam Trungpa 

Spiritual growth is a transformative process experienced after a spiritual awakening. This awakening ushers us into a profound realization of our true selves, fostering a connection with our authentic essence, higher self, or soul.

As we journey further, our spiritual essence flourishes, blooming vibrantly within the depths of our hearts.

The more we clear away the tangled undergrowth of outdated beliefs, narrow perspectives, and emotional burdens, the brighter our divine essence shines.

Tending to our inner garden, we begin to experience increasing levels of love, wisdom, peace, and wholeness. This growth reflects the gradual expansion of our true nature.

Yet, like any garden, our internal landscape is susceptible to weeds, pests, and pollutants that can disrupt the beauty we’ve painstakingly nurtured.

At times, we may unknowingly sabotage our growth, much like inadvertently tending to harmful elements in a garden.

Being mindful of these obstacles is essential for fostering a healthy, thriving spiritual self.


What is spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth is an enlightening journey toward understanding your true essence, purpose, and potential.

As you evolve spiritually, there's an expansion in your awareness and insight, leading you toward higher consciousness.

The ultimate aim of spiritual growth is to align and embody your soul, higher self, or atman. Achieving this union paves the way to enlightenment, an experience often described as “heaven,” oneness, or moksha.

Renowned spiritual teacher Adyashanti beautifully articulates this journey: “The problem with the spiritual journey is that it is often riddled with many pitfalls. These traps are not physical, but instead mental and are often referred to as anti-awakening forces.”

The pursuit of spirituality transcends the realm of thought. While our lives are predominantly processed through thinking, spirituality eludes the confines of intellectualization.

Once spirituality becomes ensnared in the web of thoughts, it transforms into rigid beliefs or dogma, losing its fluid, dynamic essence.

Consider the experience of witnessing a sunrise. The awe and wonder that engulf you at that moment are pure and unadulterated.

However, the instant you shift from experiencing to capturing it in a photo or describing it in a message, the connection is filtered through thoughts or lenses, detaching you from the authentic experience.

Similarly, spirituality demands a departure from overthinking to feeling. It's about being present with your soul rather than chasing it through a maze of thoughts.

Like trying to reach the sun on the horizon, the pursuit itself is an illusion. But when you pause to feel the sun's warmth, the chase ends, and the connection deepens.

Recognizing and observing our thoughts is challenging, given our conditioning to identify with them from a young age.

However, awareness of these mental patterns is key to spiritual growth. Below, we'll explore eleven common spiritual traps.

These are pitfalls I've personally navigated, often leading to pain and difficulties.

Let's see which of these resonates with your journey:



1. The trap of spiritual bypassing

1. The trap of spiritual bypassing

Spiritual bypassing is a subtle yet significant pitfall where spirituality becomes a means to avoid, suppress, or escape from certain emotions or life situations.

This practice manifests in various ways, such as:

  • Using spirituality to numb one’s feelings, essentially repressing and avoiding emotions under a “spiritual” guise.
  • Developing an unhealthy fixation on positivity, embracing an excessively optimistic outlook, or hiding behind a passive-aggressive veneer of niceness.
  • Harboring paralyzing self-judgments about one’s darker aspects, or “shadow self,” leads to an irrational fear of anger.
  • Eroding personal boundaries in pursuit of being overly selfless.
  • They are practicing a kind of blind compassion that ultimately harms both oneself and others.
  • Forcefully trying to eradicate the ego, often vilifying it as something evil or undesirable.
  • Becoming excessively detached from reality and personal connections.
  • Getting entrenched in theoretical spirituality, holding rigid beliefs about the “truth,”
  • Shifting self-responsibility to higher spiritual entities, such as leaders or angels, thereby avoiding personal accountability.
  • Fostering delusions of having achieved a superior spiritual state.
  • Using practical exercises like meditation not as tools for transformation but as an escape from confronting uncomfortable feelings.



2. The trap of superiority

2. The trap of superiority

This trap arises when one starts to view themselves as more “spiritually advanced” or “awakened” than others.

It often begins subtly, with a sense of being “better” than those who are not on a similar spiritual path. In its extreme form, it can lead to disparaging those perceived as “unawakened,” “blind,” or “sheeplike.”

This behavior is especially prevalent among those who have recently begun their spiritual journey and have experienced limited growth.

It’s vital to remember that everyone progresses at their own pace in spiritual awakening.

Patience and understanding are key, as everyone will reach their moment of awakening in due time.




3. The trap of trying to force others to wake up

3. The trap of trying to force others to wake up

Upon awakening from the metaphorical “Matrix,” there's often an urge to rouse others around us to this new reality.

Witnessing the pain and deception in others' lives ignites a strong desire within us to reveal the truth to them.

However, attempts to forcefully awaken others typically backfire. Despite noble intentions, our efforts to “save” them frequently provoke resistance and frustration, inflaming both parties.

The more our forceful approaches are met with resistance, the greater our frustration and sense of alienation become.

Forcing enlightenment upon others not only damages our relationships but also hampers our spiritual growth.

This approach breeds anger and misunderstanding, leading to further ego entrapment. It’s important to respect others' journeys, allowing them to awaken in their own time and space.



4. The trap of wanting to help others

4. The trap of wanting to help others

This trap is an extension of the previous one, with a focus on dispensing advice. While the desire to help others is commendable, honoring their boundaries is crucial.

Sometimes, our expanded spiritual awareness can inflate the ego, making us feel more “enlightened” than others, who are perceived as still caught in illusion.

Offering unsolicited advice can result in negative reactions like anger, annoyance, or offense. Moreover, the urge to help others can sometimes be a diversion from addressing our own needs.

Under the pretense of being “spiritual” and compassionate, helping others can paradoxically become a form of spiritual bypassing, where we neglect our journey in favor of meddling in others’.

It’s essential to balance the desire to assist others with the need to foster our spiritual growth and well-being.




5. The trap of the desire to revolutionize the world

5. The trap of the desire to revolutionize the world

Recognizing the fallacies and corruptions within our societal structures, many of us develop a fervent desire to enact societal change.

This aspiration can lead us into a trap where we believe that altering external systems will foster freedom, honesty, and justice.

Such thinking often plunges us into divisive mindsets of “us versus them,” a clear reflection of the ego’s narrow perspective.

In this pursuit, we inadvertently support a flawed system thriving on discord and turmoil.

The essential realization often missed is that genuine, lasting change stems from an internal revolution.

We become so fixated on changing the world externally that we overlook the power and permanence of internal transformation.




6. The trap of insignificance

6. The trap of insignificance

Experiencing divine, transcendent states where we feel at one with everything can, paradoxically, lead to a sense of spiritual nihilism once the experience fades.

This perspective, viewing our actions as ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe, can lead to a depressive mindset.

We might start believing that “everything is an illusion,” filtering life exclusively through cognitive processes.

Adhering too tightly to these cosmic truths can turn them into beliefs that the ego exploits to feel paradoxically detached from existence.

This detachment is a mental construct, using profound insights as an excuse to disconnect rather than integrating them into a holistic understanding of our place in the universe.

Recognizing and navigating this trap involves balancing our transcendental experiences with a grounded, meaningful engagement in our daily lives.




7. The trap of avoiding everyday daily responsibilities

7. The trap of avoiding everyday daily responsibilities

There are individuals who, enchanted by their spiritual journey, begin to neglect their everyday responsibilities.

This escapism can manifest in various ways, from neglecting financial obligations like bills and taxes to contemplating a life entirely “off the grid.”

Such behavior, if perceived as a mark of spiritual superiority or enlightenment, can be a subtle form of egoism.

Dismissing day-to-day duties as “less spiritual” may be the ego’s tactic to hinder true spiritual growth.

Obsession with outwardly living a “spiritual” life can distance you from genuine soul work.

As the old Zen saying goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” It’s important to embrace humility and recognize that everyday life offers abundant opportunities for spiritual growth and maturation.



8. The trap of self-victimization

8. The trap of self-victimization

In the wake of a spiritual awakening, it's common to feel disillusioned with the world.

This realization can sometimes lead to a sense of self-victimization, where the world is viewed as a “prison” and others as “prisoners” or “captors.” This initial shock of awakening might spiral into fear and paranoia.

Feeling like a victim can lead to blaming others or higher powers for our discontent.

This mindset of self-victimization is often amplified in the echo chambers of social media, turning platforms into havens for spiritual lament.

The key to overcoming this trap lies in understanding that our suffering is often rooted in our thoughts, not the people or situations around us.

By taking responsibility for our perspectives and beliefs, we reclaim our power and start to heal.




9. The Trap of the Redeemer complex

9. The Trap of the Redeemer complex

The Redeemer complex is a nuanced version of the trap of wanting to help others.

Those who believe they are superior to others and are more “spiritually advanced” tend to adopt it. Such individuals often believe they are destined to “fix the world.”

This complex is prevalent in “lightworker” or “healer” communities, where there's a tendency to elevate oneself, viewing their role as cosmic saviours of the planet.

This mindset implies a belief that reality is fundamentally flawed and that others are “broken” and in need of fixing.

This viewpoint not only bolsters the ego's sense of uniqueness but also its tendency to take itself too seriously.

The savior complex can evolve into a martyr complex, where individuals believe they must “bear the burdens” of others.

This unhealthy lifestyle, often rooted in religious conditioning, leads to avoiding personal happiness and responsibility and perpetuating others' dependency.

Understanding the martyr complex is crucial for maintaining a balanced approach to spirituality and self-care.




10. The trap of binding

10. The trap of binding

After experiencing profound mystical states, it's common to become attached to these transcendent moments.

The transition back to ordinary reality can be jarring, leading to an attachment to our spiritual “stories” and beliefs.

Our thoughts, trying to make sense of these experiences, often cling to various ideas in an attempt to control them.

However, the more we attach to our beliefs, narratives, dreams, and mental interpretations, the more we suffer. We forget that all experiences, including transcendental ones, are transient.

Enlightenment is not a static achievement but an ongoing surrender and a shift in our approach to life.

Attachment is a pervasive trap that can both facilitate and hinder spiritual growth. Initially, these ideas catalyze growth, but clinging to them eventually stifles our progress.

When our ideas become more like protective blankets than growth catalysts, we face a significant issue.

True freedom is not found in thoughts but in liberating ourselves from being bound to them. It's in this liberation that we truly experience freedom.




11. The trap of relying on external answers

11. The trap of relying on external answers

As we navigate our spiritual path, it's natural and beneficial to seek external guidance.

Engaging in activities like reading enlightening books, participating in workshops and seminars, attending retreats, practicing holistic techniques, and consulting spiritual mentors can significantly aid our spiritual development.

However, there’s a risk of becoming overly dependent on these external sources for our spiritual liberation and happiness.

This dependency becomes apparent when spiritual seekers excessively idolize their gurus, inadvertently projecting their divinity onto others.

When we habitually look outward for answers, we risk losing touch with our inner wisdom. We may forget that the most profound guidance and insight come from within, mistakenly believing that external sources alone will lead us to enlightenment.

It's crucial to periodically pause and reflect on our spiritual journey, asking ourselves if we're seeking direct, personal experiences or relying too heavily on the perspectives and teachings of others.

True freedom and connection with our soul come from within, not from external validations or guidance.



Last Words

To navigate and free ourselves from these traps, radical honesty with ourselves is essential.

We must acknowledge when we've strayed off course and allowed our ego to take the reins. Delving into our shadow selves and examining our false beliefs can be incredibly enlightening.

If you find yourself caught in one of these traps, remember, it’s a common part of the human experience.

Recognizing the subtle ways in which the ego can “spiritualize” beliefs and ideas is challenging.

The more open, humble, and honest you are with yourself, the easier it becomes to see through these deceptions and liberate yourself.

Embrace the unknown and the possibility of being wrong. Every experience, no matter how difficult, offers a lesson. Ultimately, everything you seek and yearn for is within your soul.


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Is a digital marketer, yoga teacher, and writer. She's fascinated with the power of words and ideas to change the world. Kathleen loves exploring new philosophical insights from various spiritual traditions as well as popular psychology and holistic wellness practices.

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