Overcoming Spiritual Abuse Through Healthy Spiritual Development and Education

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-6-07-49-pmby Sofia University PsyD student, Michelle Pate, MA, MBA

There are people in the world, including myself, who have been manipulated by toxic church principles of shame, fear, and contempt disguised as love. These principles create a form of mental bondage and a painful existence to those who have been programmed by their church. Getting help to identify these problems can be difficult as therapists in general tend to be secular in their belief system. Many who did not grow up in a toxic church do not understand the deep pain and shame that gets embedded in a person’s psyche. Words like forgiveness, love, grace, soul, God, and salvation get twisted into a psychological bondage to their church rather than freedom from pain as they preach.

Being traumatized in the name of God gives a person a deep sense of unease and confusion about their lives, especially if they leave their church. Suddenly they are out in the world without knowing how things work. They often are victimized again without being able to pinpoint exactly what happened. The concept here is spiritual abuse. Therapists would do well to learn about the damage a toxic church environment can do to a person’s psyche and how to help their clients heal. Books such as “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” and “Toxic Faith” can help a client heal, but so many have been so traumatized, the very word God can trigger a host of unpleasant memories.


God needs to be re-defined in a healthy context. Christian researchers, such as James Fowler, Catherine Stonehouse, and Rebecca Nye, assure us that there are Christians in the world who believe in the same healthy developmental phases of the more secular researchers: Erikson, Piaget, and Kohlberg. People need to know there is a healthy way for a human being to develop spiritually so they can decipher what was unhealthy in their own upbringing. Christian children can grow up in a maladaptive family and church environment and suffer greatly in their dealings out in society. They don’t understand what is spiritually healthy because their environment told them what they were experiencing was what God is. A therapist adept in spiritual competencies can help a client tease apart their past; the abuse they may have suffered, and what healthy spirituality looks like.
Click here to read more about the trauma some Christians have gone through and some resources that may help them recover.



Cultivating Compassion and Altruism

From I to We: The Role of Consciousness Transformation in Compassion and Altruism by Cassandra Vieten, Tina Amorok, and Sofia University’s chair of the PhD programs, Marilyn Schlitz

Religious and spiritual leaders, sociologists, psychologists, educators, and neuroscientists are all interested in how compassion, altruism, and other prosocial emotions and behaviors can be cultivated.Indeed, learning more about how other-regarding virtues can be fostered is a goal with personal,societal, and perhaps global implications. What factors are involved in the cultivation of compassion and altruism? What experiences and practices support the development of compassion and altruism that extends beyond one’s immediate kinship circle? What contexts support experiences of compassion and empathy and facilitate the translation of those emotions into altruistic behavior? How can dispositional tendencies toward compassion and altruistic behavior be fostered? Religious, spiritual, and transformative practice traditions have developed specific methods that are directed toward cultivation of these virtues, and we may have something to learn from their approaches about how compassion and altruism are developed.


screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-43-24-pmMost religious and spiritual traditions include prescriptions for living that involve the cultivation of compassion and altruism. In Sikh and Hindu-derived traditions, the Sanskrit seva refers to being of selfless service to the needs of others. In Christian and other Western spiritual traditions, the Greek word agape (or in Latin, caritas) refers to human beings manifesting God’s pure love, or an intentional and unconditional love for others, including enemies. In Buddhist traditions metta in Pali or maitri in Sanskrit is used to refer to both a quality and a practice of unconditional and unattached loving kindness, or the strong intention for the happiness of all beings. The Tibetan Buddhist practice of
tonglen refers to the practice of taking in suffering and giving out love or blessings.
Stephen G. Post points out that while “one finds rough equivalents of the ideal of divine Unlimited Love across the major spiritual and religious traditions…the consensus among religions about the various ways human beings can connect with this source of love needs to be better understood” (2003, 140).


Over the past several years, our group has been engaged in a study of the factors that initiate, mediate, and sustain positive transformations in consciousness. To learn more about how consciousness is transformed, we sought to identify common elements of the transformative process in religions, spiritual traditions, and modern transformative movements. We have employed a qualitative research method with the goals of generating hypotheses and informing definition, selection, and operationalization of relevant predictor, mediator, and outcome variables. Through this process, we are developing a theoretical model of the transformative process that is not specific to any one tradition but is informed by common elements of the transformational process across traditions, without excluding unique contributions from specific traditions. Our thematic analysis suggests that increased compassion and altruism is a common goal of trans-formative traditions and that there are experiences and practices across traditions that foster increased compassion and altruism through a number of potential pathways.

Click here to read more of this article.

A Look at the Next Generation of Transpersonal Researchers and Scholars

The field of transpersonal psychology has changed radically since 1992, when the late William Braud and I joined the Core Faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP), now Sofia University. Not only has transpersonal psychology expanded and diversified as a field but we are no longer the only academic field interested in spiritual and related phenomena. Investigation of topics, such as compassion, forgiveness, altruism, and mindfulness, are now commonplace in mainstream psychology and the health sciences worldwide.
The subject matter of human spiritual experience is no longer radical and no longer defines transpersonal psychology as a unique field of study. Therefore, especially in hindsight, what William Braud and I learned about the essential nature of transpersonal research and scholarship in response to our doctoral students’ needs in the 1990s and 2000s becomes more relevant now than we could have ever foreseen at the time. When we founded the field of transpersonal research methods with the publication of our first book,
Transpersonal Research Methods for the Social Sciences: Honoring Human Experience
(Braud & Anderson, 1998), we could not have imagined that the epistemological perspectives and transpersonal research methods we generated together in those early years would be a crucial element distinguishing transpersonal psychologists from mainstream scholars now investigating spiritual phenomena.
My British transpersonal colleague, Les Lancaster, has already expressed similar views in his recent address at the Alubrat Transpersonal Research Colloquium in Brazil in September 2015 (Lancaser, 2015). In this short essay, I first tell the history of how William Braud and I came to conclusion that the essential dynamic for transpersonal research and scholarship is the inquirers’ willingness to engage the Sacred in a journey of transformation— a journey that implicates both their understanding of the topic and themselves as human beings.
Second, I reflect on some of unique characteristics of transpersonal researchers and scholars. Third, I discuss some of the risks involved in transpersonal research and scholarship especially projection and narcissism. In conclusion, I discuss the role of independent scholarship among the next generation of transpersonal researchers and scholars, their needs for training and networking, and progress made to meet some of these needs worldwide.
Click here to read more of this article.

Can Social Consciousness Develop Through Transformations In Worldview?

From Worldview Transformation and the Development of Social Consciousness by Sofia University’s Doctorate Program Chair, Marilyn Schlitz, as well as Cassandra Vieten & Elizabeth M. Miller.
Each person has his or her own personal story about the nature of reality. Genetic tendencies, religion, culture, and geographic region,together with all the experiences people have both internally and in relationship to their environments, give rise to their 
worldview, or their general way of viewing themselves and the world around them.
Worldview is one aspect of consciousness. Psychological, social and neurophysiological theories of development indicate that as we grow and interact with the world we learn to categorize, discriminate,and generalize about what we see and feel (Flavell, Miller and Miller,2002; Siegler and Alabali, 2005). A worldview combines beliefs,assumptions, attitudes, values, and ideas to form a comprehensive model of reality. Worldviews also encompass formulations and inter- pretations of past, present, and future.
In our worldviews, we construct complex conceptual frameworks to organize our beliefs about who we are and about the world we live in. Worldviews function in similar ways to the internal working models proposed by Bowlby (1969) and elaborated by Bretherton and Munholland (1999). These models arise from interactions with primary attachment figures, and ‘provide a framework for understanding new experiences and guiding social interaction’ (Shaver, Collins and Clark, 1996, p. 39). Worldview is a broader construct that is influenced by more than interactions with attachment figures, but similarly provides the holder a belief structure within which to organize perceptions and new experiences within the context of their social and physical environment.
Human perceptions are filtered by the ways people view the world. People’s worldviews therefore influence every aspect of how they understand and interact with the world around them. Worldviews profoundly impact individual and shared goals and desires, shaping perceptions, motivations and values both consciously and unconsciously. Worldviews inform human behaviour in relationships and choreograph individual and social reactions and actions every moment of the day.
In 1997, a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) initiated a series of studies focused on the process of worldview transformation. The goal has been to under-stand the process by which people experience fundamental shifts in perception that alter how they view and interact with themselves and the world around them. In particular, our team investigated factors that facilitate the kind of worldview transformations that result in increased social consciousness and prosocial behavior.
To read more of this research article, click here.