Is Your Spiritual Ego Holding You Back?

Lauren Williams

Awakening

A spirit whispers to a man meditating in the forest.

Have you ever been in a conversation about spirituality where the other person seemed more interested in proving their spiritual superiority than in having a genuine exchange?

Or maybe you’ve noticed this tendency in yourself at times. A subtle inclination to present yourself as spiritually advanced, to show off your knowledge or experiences.

The spiritual ego – that part of us that hijacks our spirituality to feel special or superior – is a common stumbling block on the path of awakening.

But what exactly is it? How can we spot it in ourselves and others?

Most importantly, how can we work with it skillfully to deepen our authentic spiritual growth?

If you are new to the spiritual path or a seasoned traveler, join us as we shine a light on the spiritual ego.

Ready to get started?

What is the spiritual ego?

A green brain in control of the senses representing the ego mind.

You’ve probably heard the term “ego” thrown around in spiritual circles. But what does it really mean? And more importantly, what is the spiritual ego?

The spiritual ego is the part of us that feels superior or special because of our spiritual beliefs or practices. It’s the voice in our head that says, “I’m more enlightened than them” or “I’m doing it the right way, and they’re not.”

This ego can manifest as judgmental attitudes towards others, a sense of being “more evolved,” or a constant need for validation of our spiritual progress. It’s sneaky and can disguise itself as wisdom or discernment.

But here’s the thing: the spiritual ego is still just an ego. It’s the same old ego mind, just wearing spiritual clothing.

The ego mind and the shadow self

A man in 3 stages. Dark and haunting, trying and climbing and ascended and shining.

Let’s take a closer look at this ego mind. It’s the part of our psyche that craves control, validation, and security. It wants to feel special, important, and better than others.

The ego mind often operates unconsciously, like a shadow following us everywhere we go. It’s the driving force behind many of our thoughts, reactions, and behaviors.

In the spiritual journey, we often talk about “shadow work” – the process of acknowledging and integrating the darker aspects of ourselves that we tend to deny or repress. These are the parts that don’t fit the image of who we think we’re supposed to be.

Imagine a man climbing a mountain. As he climbs higher and higher, he feels a sense of accomplishment and pride. But little does he know, his shadow climbs with him.

The higher he climbs, the more his shadow grows, threatening to overtake him. This is the spiritual ego. The more we progress on our spiritual path, the more vigilant we must be of the ego’s shadow.

It can be tempting to believe that we’ve transcended the ego just because we’re engaging in spiritual practices.

But the truth is, the ego is a master of disguise.

It can co-opt anything, even spirituality, in its attempt to feel superior.

How can you spot the spiritual ego in yourself?

So how do you know if the spiritual ego is running the show in your life? Here are a few common signs to look out for:

  • Do you feel defensive when your beliefs are challenged? If someone questions your spiritual practices or ideas, do you feel a knee-jerk reaction to defend yourself? This is a classic sign of the ego feeling threatened.
  • Do you secretly (or openly) judge others as less evolved? Do you find yourself looking down on those who don’t share your spiritual beliefs or aren’t as far along on the path as you? This is the spiritual ego in action, creating separation and superiority.
  • Do you crave recognition for your spiritual knowledge or experiences? Do you feel a need to share your mystical experiences or spiritual insights with others, hoping for their validation or admiration? The ego loves attention and specialness.

These are just a few examples, but you get the idea. The spiritual ego is sneaky and can manifest in many ways. The key is to start becoming more aware of your own thoughts, reactions, and motivations.

Why is the spiritual ego a problem?

So why is the spiritual ego such a big deal? Can’t we just let it be and focus on the positive aspects of spirituality?

Well, here’s the thing: the spiritual ego creates separation instead of unity. It reinforces the illusion that we are separate from each other and from the Divine. It keeps us stuck in a mentality of “us vs. them” and “I’m better than you.”

This separation is the root of so much suffering in the world. It leads to conflict, prejudice, and even violence. And it’s the opposite of what true spirituality is all about.

The spiritual ego also hinders our own genuine growth and self-awareness. When we’re caught up in the need to be seen as “spiritual” or “enlightened,” we’re not really being honest with ourselves. We’re not acknowledging our own shadows and limitations.

This kind of self-deception prevents us from truly evolving and transforming. We stay stuck in a superficial spirituality that’s more about image than substance.

And finally, the spiritual ego can lead to some pretty ugly behaviors. Self-righteousness, closed-mindedness, and even spiritual abuse can all stem from an unchecked spiritual ego.

We’ve all encountered that person who thinks they have all the answers, who dismisses other viewpoints, and who uses their spiritual authority to control or manipulate others. That’s the spiritual ego in its most toxic form.

So while the spiritual ego might seem harmless at first, it can actually be a major roadblock on the spiritual path.

The concept of ego death

A man stands by a lake with multiple forms of his ego.

Ego death. It sounds a bit intense, doesn’t it? But what does it actually mean?

Ego death refers to the experience of transcending the ego mind. It’s a profound shift in consciousness where our usual sense of self – the “I” we identify with – temporarily dissolves.

In those moments, we experience a deep sense of unity and interconnectedness. The barriers between self and other, between “me” and “the Divine,” seem to melt away. It can be a deeply transformative and liberating experience.

Many spiritual traditions have their own terms for this experience. In Buddhism, it’s sometimes called “anatta” or “no-self.” In Hinduism, it might be described as “moksha” or liberation.

The concept of ego death is central to many mystical and contemplative practices. Practices like meditation, prayer, chanting, and even psychedelics can all induce experiences of ego transcendence.

But here’s the thing: ego death isn’t a one-time event. It’s not like you experience it once and then you’re forever free from the ego. The ego has a way of reasserting itself, often in more subtle ways.

That’s why many spiritual teachings emphasize the ongoing process of “dying before you die.” It’s a continuous letting go of the ego’s attachments and identifications.

And that brings us back to the spiritual ego. Even after experiences of ego death, the spiritual ego can still sneak in. We might start to identify with the experience of transcendence itself, feeling superior to those who haven’t had such experiences.

That’s why genuine spirituality is as much about what happens after those peak experiences. It’s about integrating those insights into daily life, about embodying the qualities of compassion, humility, and service.

So while the concept of ego death is certainly intriguing and potentially transformative, it’s not a quick fix. It’s a doorway into a lifelong journey of growth and self-discovery.

7 signs you have an overactive spiritual ego

  1. You feel superior to others who are “less awakened.” Do you catch yourself judging others as less evolved or conscious? A superiority complex is a classic ego trap.
  2. You’re obsessed with being “right” about spiritual matters. Needing to constantly prove the correctness of your views or argue your beliefs is a red flag. True wisdom holds knowledge lightly.
  3. You’re more interested in appearing wise than being authentic. Are you more concerned with maintaining a “spiritual persona” than with genuine self-inquiry and growth? The ego loves to project an image.
  4. You’re defensive about your spiritual beliefs or practices. If you feel threatened or angered by differing perspectives, the ego is likely running the show. Secure spirituality welcomes diversity.
  5. You use spiritual concepts to avoid responsibility. Misusing ideas like “everything happens for a reason” or “it’s all an illusion” to bypass accountability is spiritual bypassing – an ego tactic.
  6. You’re always seeking the next “high” of spiritual experience. Constantly chasing peak experiences while avoiding the real work of integration and embodiment is a sign of spiritual materialism – the ego co-opting spirituality.
  7. You believe you’re enlightened or have “arrived.” Claiming to be fully awakened or to have transcended the ego is, ironically, a sure sign the ego is still active. True sages speak of the endless journey of growth with humility.

The key is to observe these tendencies with compassion, not judgment. We all have egos – the path is learning to relate to them skillfully. By honestly acknowledging the ego’s patterns, we loosen their hold and make space for genuine transformation.

How can we work with the spiritual ego?

So how do we actually work with the spiritual ego? How do we keep it in check and prevent it from sabotaging our spiritual growth?

The first step is simply becoming aware of it. Start to notice when the spiritual ego is active in your life. When do you feel that sense of spiritual superiority or need for validation? Awareness is key.

Once you start to see the spiritual ego in action, you can begin to work with it. Here are a few suggestions:

Cultivate humility and openness. Remind yourself that you don’t have all the answers. Be open to learning from others, even those who may not share your beliefs.

Embrace the beginner’s mind. In Zen, they talk about “shoshin” or beginner’s mind – approaching life with a sense of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions. Even if you’ve been on the spiritual path for decades, can you still approach it with fresh eyes?

Focus on embodying spiritual principles rather than just talking about them. It’s easy to get caught up in spiritual discussions and debates. But at the end of the day, spirituality is about how we live. Are we embodying qualities like compassion, patience, and selflessness in our daily interactions?

These practices aren’t always easy. The spiritual ego can be stubborn and persistent. But with continued effort and self-awareness, we can gradually learn to loosen its grip.

What are some practices to help transcend the spiritual ego?

So what can we actually do to help transcend the spiritual ego and deepen our spiritual growth? Here are a few practices that can be helpful:

  • Meditation and self-inquiry. Regular meditation practice can help us become more aware of our thoughts and ego patterns. Self-inquiry, or asking “Who am I?” can help us see beyond our usual self-identifications.
  • Loving-kindness and compassion practices. Cultivating compassion for ourselves and others can help soften the ego’s tendency towards judgment and separation. Loving-kindness meditation, where we wish for the happiness and well-being of all beings, can be a powerful practice. As we connect with the energy of love and compassion in our heart space, we transcend the ego’s divisions and reconnect with our innate capacity for understanding.
  • Serving others without need for recognition. When we serve others selflessly, without need for thanks or validation, we’re practicing humility and letting go of the ego’s need for attention.

The journey of awakening and ascension

In many spiritual circles, there’s a lot of talk about “ascension” or the journey towards higher states of consciousness. Some traditions even speak of the shift from 3D to 5D consciousness, or from duality to unity.

The idea is that as we evolve spiritually, we begin to experience reality in a more unified, interconnected way. The rigid boundaries between self and other start to dissolve, and we feel a profound sense of oneness with all of life.

This shift towards unity consciousness is often seen as the goal of the spiritual journey. It’s a state of being where the ego has fully dissolved, and we’re living in complete alignment with the Divine.

But here’s the thing: the journey of ascension isn’t a linear path. It’s not like we reach a certain level and then we’re done. It’s an ongoing process of growth, healing, and awakening.

And just like with ego death, the experience of unity consciousness isn’t a permanent state. We might have glimpses or tastes of it, but the ego mind has a way of reasserting itself.

That’s why it’s important to approach the journey of ascension with patience, humility, and an openness to lifelong learning. It’s not about reaching a certain destination, but about embracing the process itself.

And part of that process is working with the spiritual ego as it arises. Even as we have profound experiences of unity and transcendence, the ego can still sneak in and try to claim those experiences for itself.

So the journey of ascension and the work with the spiritual ego go hand in hand. As we evolve towards higher states of consciousness, we’re simultaneously called to keep the ego in check and approach the path with humility and selflessness.

Embracing the journey

The spiritual path is a lifelong journey of growth, healing, and awakening. There’s no finish line, no point at which we can say “I’ve made it.”

The ego, spiritual or otherwise, will likely be with us in some form throughout the journey. Our work is to keep bringing awareness to it, to keep loosening its grip, and to keep orienting ourselves towards love, unity, and service.

Letting go of the spiritual ego allows for a deeper kind of transformation. When we’re no longer caught up in the need to be seen as “spiritual” or “enlightened,” we can relax into a more authentic way of being.

We can show up in the world with an open heart, ready to learn and grow.

So if you find yourself caught up in the traps of the spiritual ego, remember to be gentle with yourself.

Bring a sense of humor and lightness to the journey. And keep orienting yourself towards the heart of the practice – living with an open, loving presence.

The journey of growth and awakening isn’t always easy, but it’s infinitely rewarding.

And each step along the way, each moment of letting go of the ego’s grip, is an act of love and service to the world.

Lauren sitting and smiling at the camera.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauren believes spirituality shouldn't be intimidating. She blends ancient practices with modern tools to help you unlock insight, improve your focus, and find deeper meaning within your everyday life.

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