Understanding a Spiritual Crisis

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

The spiritual crisis is often mistaken for an emotional crisis due to the role our emotions play in experiencing the spiritual. It can be hard to intellectually describe your spiritual experiences; hence we use emotional language, as it best captures the essence of the spiritual experience. The same is true of the relationship between emotions and spirit during a spiritual crisis. Emotions play a role in bringing us to awakening, but they are only the vehicle toward understanding and are not the cause of the 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 stressors in the individual’s life, he or she is unable to hold in the feelings any longer. Two things can happen at this point. For some, the energy will be uncontrollably directed outwardly through cathartic release such as intense crying and/or anger. In other cases, the individual could go into a clinical depression, during which the emotions are buried even deeper.

There will also be physical effects, including 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.

Practitioners often treat an emotional crisis using counselling techniques and, if need be, medication to keep the individual functioning in his or her daily life. The big risk during an emotional crisis is the loss of mobility in daily life. The focus of counselling at this time will, for the most part, involve looking at the past. It will focus on childhood issues, family of origin, and abuse issues. These will be worked through and the way in which they affect the individual in his or her current life experiences will also be examined. Through releasing old pains and integrating new skills and awareness into their adult lives, individuals will be able to move on with their lives with a greater sense of self.


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 the loss of health (disease, accidents, addictions), job, a loved one, a relationship, or even a financial loss. The important thing to look for in differentiating between an emotional and a spiritual crisis is the presence of a loss.

At this early stage of the spiritual crisis we can confuse what is happening because we will be very emotional as a result of the loss. As such, we may simply equate these feelings with the grieving process. While there is little doubt that grief is present, it is how we choose to deal with this grief that matters. The spiritual crisis forces us to examine our value systems and beliefs – it involves an internal drive to seek a deeper meaning for our lives and experiences. We will question everything in our lives from our jobs and relationships, to our friends and activities. Importantly, we will question the loss itself, its meaning, and what we can learn from it. Again, the difference between an emotional and spiritual crisis is that 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 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 that no longer work for us and incorporated new activities and people that benefit us.

During a spiritual crisis, an individual will feel disconnected and cut off from the world. He or she may even feel like a zombie, going through the motions, but not emotionally experiencing anything. It is during this time that a person will say that they don’t know who they are anymore. 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 with medication. The awakening of the spiritual self to a more conscious awareness can be halted or slowed, and the individual will not begin to reawaken until the conditions are once again right in his or her life.

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

Gord Riddell and Kathy Ryndak are co-founders of the Transformational Arts College of Spiritual and Holistic Training. The College offers professional training programs in Spiritual Psychotherapy, Spiritual Director, Holistic Health, and Coaching. For more information or for a course calendar, call 416-484-0454 or 1-800-TAC-SELF, or visit www.transformationalarts.com. To receive their monthly e-newsletter, email marketing@transformationalarts.com

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