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When Personal Transformation Becomes A Crisis – 5 Signs You’re Going Through A Spiritual Emergency And What Might Help

Written by: Martha Sneyd, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Martha Sneyd

Spiritual transformation isn’t all love and light. It can be intensely challenging and can result in what Stanislav Grof coined ‘spiritual emergency’.

Photo of a tree.

Nowadays with the rise in new age, secular spirituality the benefits of spiritual practice such as meditation, ecstatic dance, fasting or even taking psychedelics are well known and well-advertised. Spiritual practice is seen as a vital facet of personal development; a healthy habit to integrate into our daily lives. The risk of personal transformation becoming a crisis, known as spiritual emergency, is less spoken about in the mainstream and it’s my mission to start normalising these conversations. 

A Spiritual emergency can be triggered by the practices mentioned above, past trauma, or can occur spontaneously with no prior spiritual experiences. It is usually defined by a ‘big’ spiritual experience that results in a disconnect from previously held core beliefs and ways of making sense of oneself and the world. It often occurs when personal transformation happens too quickly, and the body/mind become destabilised. 

Spiritual emergency can be really isolating as it highlights the inconvenient risk of practices that have become quite trendy in recent decades. This is why people need to know that specialised support and community is out there. You just have to know where to look. 

Spiritual emergency, when held with the right support, is still a deeply transformative process. Even the darkest, messiest of crises have the potential to ignite long-term positive change in a person. 

Here are 5 signs you could be going through a spiritual emergency

1. You have had a ‘peak’ spiritual experience that has left you struggling to function in daily life

We assume that spiritual practice and experiences will help us live our life with more ease, peace, and efficacy. This is not the case with a spiritual emergency, at least in the beginning. If you’ve had a peak spiritual experience and you now feel unable to engage in basic tasks like cooking, cleaning, showering, and running errands because they feel irrelevant or unreachable then you may be going through a spiritual emergency. 

2. Your previous job now feels unbearable because of your increased sensitivity

It’s common during a spiritual crisis to feel unable to work. You may find yourself incredibly sensitive to light, sound, and people’s energy. Learning to master this newfound sensitivity is part of the process, but it can be difficult to return to a previous work environment feeling like a completely different person and unable to explain to colleagues. 

3. Loss of identity OR believing you are someone you aren’t Usually a spiritual figure from the past

A spiritual emergency can involve a disillusion of the psyche’s structures that hold our sense of meaning, self and reality together. This can result in a loss of identity where you feel like you are starting again from scratch in the world, with no idea who you are or who you are supposed to become. This may feel like a depression which is one manifestation of a spiritual emergency that I’ll touch more on later. 

During this disillusion of a person’s sense of self, another manifestation of spiritual crisis can occur there can be an influx of unconscious material and universal energy which can lead to a desire to identify as something larger and more encompassing than ‘the little me’ that no longer feels real or relevant. This is why many people go through a phase of identifying with big guns like Jesus, Mary, or Buddha it’s simply a way of making sense of an incredibly powerful, incredibly confusing experience. 

4. Impaired thinking

The overwhelming nature of spiritual emergency and its life-changing impact on your sense of self and worldview can make processing thoughts more difficult for a while. If you are struggling with logical tasks that used to feel easy and are finding it difficult to make the hundreds of micro-decisions that we have to make daily, this could be an indicator of a spiritual emergency. 

5. Becoming uninhibited OR becoming more withdrawn

Another sign that you might be experiencing a spiritual emergency is a change in your behaviour. If the energy is flowing up and out, resulting in more energy, more elation, more synchronicities, and a sense of connectedness, you might also become less inhibited in your behaviour. This is very common and is a coping mechanism for the influx of new, powerful energy running through the body. 

However, if the energy of your spiritual emergency is flowing downwards and inwards, your behaviour may become more withdrawn as your attention is taken into the depths of the unconscious and your soul. For a while, you may feel called to interact very little with your external environment, including other people. This can look and feel a lot like a depression but has a deep spiritual purpose of internal transformation. 

Final thoughts 

There is an ongoing debate within the field of transpersonal psychology and spirituality around how to distinguish a spiritual crisis from plain old madness. I don’t find this dichotomy helpful and prefer to see all psychological disturbance as the psyche’s effort to move towards healing and wholeness. 

A distinction I do find helpful is to define what kind of spiritual emergency you might be going through. If it is elevated in mood and energy, involving a loss of inhibition, and seeing positive signs and synchronicities this is probably a ‘spiritual psychosis’ – the sort of crisis that Carl Jung, St. Teresa of Avila, Vincent Van Gogh and Nietzsche likely experienced. On the other hand, if you are experiencing what feels like depression, withdrawal, and a feeling of isolation, then this is called a ‘dark night of the soul,’ experienced by St. John of the Cross, Eckhart Tolle, and Mother Teresa.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is going through a spiritual emergency, finding specialised, trauma-informed support can help. A practitioner who is qualified in transpersonal psychology and has experience working with transformative crises is essential. Check out my article on how astrology can be a useful tool in navigating spiritual crises, or book a free discovery call with me to explore working together. 

For connecting to a community who understand both the incredible potential and significant challenges of transformative crisis and spiritual emergency I highly recommend: click here.

Follow me on Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Martha Sneyd Brainz Magazine

Martha Sneyd, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Martha Sneyd is a certified mindfulness and compassion coach, practicing astrologer and transpersonal psychologist. She works at the intersection of mental health and spirituality, providing support for people emerging from spiritual crisis and psychedelic induced breakdown. Her background as a mental health practitioner, combined with her academic knowledge and lived experience of breakdown to breakthrough, give her a highly nuanced understanding of spiritual crisis and how it relates to the collective crises playing out on the world stage. Her mission: Provide psychologically safe and spiritually aware support that recognises the transformative potential of crisis.



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