Toxic spirituality is the distortion of spiritual beliefs such that, rather than empower, they disempower.Under the guise of spiritual awakening, personal development and growth, it can be used to trap seekers in cycles of dependency, magical thinking and may even be abusive. Fake gurus, rather than having the best interests of their followers at heart, exploit our natural human longing for meaning and connection into a commodity. Rather than transform they entrap, seeking profit and power over compassion and connection.
These fake gurus create the illusion of enlightenment, often borrowing selectively from various spiritual traditions to weave together a narrative that promises quick fixes and easy answers. With the rise of social media and the internet, the reach of these fake gurus has expanded, making it easier for them to build a following and exert influence. They use charisma, strategic communication, and psychological tactics to persuade and maintain their audience.
Understanding how to identify toxic spirituality and fake gurus is crucial in navigating the modern spiritual landscape. It involves discerning between genuine spiritual practice that advocates self-awareness and critical thinking, and those offering oversimplified solutions. Characteristics such as a lack of accountability, requests for excessive loyalty or money, a rejection of critical thinking, and the creation of dependency are huge red flags.
The Signs of Fake Gurus
Spiritual Bypassing & Obsessive Positive Thinking
Do they use spirituality to avoid facing and dealing with unconscious emotional pain, showing up as denial and obsessive positivity? Are they comfortable with painful emotions? Are they compassionate or do they condemn and judge them? Do they insist they are perfect, or can accept and own their limitations and humanity?
Authoritative Power and Exclusivity
Do they insist on unquestioning allegiance and claim they, and only they, have all the answers? Claim outlandish and magical powers that are impossible or difficult to prove or disprove? Do they dismiss all other paths as wrong, evil or inferior?
Do they demand exorbitant financial contributions or that their followers make a vow of poverty, whilst they live in luxury?
The belief “you create your reality” was never intended to be used to blame and shame. No! The rape victim didn’t secretly want it. No! The baby did not deserve to get cancer.
Are they obsessed with using spiritual powers and “manifesting” to gain wealth, positions or even relationships? This is a red flag that they are disconnected from authentic spiritual teachings.
Do they guilt, shame and bully their devotees into following them? Use fear tactics and misinformation? Do they say that there is something bad out to get you, but that if you follow the guru, you’ll be safe and protected? This includes many conspiracy theories.
Do they isolate their followers insisting they break contact with their friends and family who aren’t in the cult? Do they insist on control of your sexuality and relationships and tell you who you can and cannot have sex with?
Do they have a mentor, teacher or guide themselves? Do they insist they don’t need any coaching or support because they’re the “chosen one”? Ask about their lineage and training – a true teacher will be proud of their lineage.
Do they allow and encourage critical thinking? or do they perpetuate outlandish conspiracy theories?
One of the challenges is that even true teachers can show some of these traits, they will charge a fee, might give you strict instructions, and they might be a little distant at times because the work of a spiritual teacher can be demanding and difficult.
This kind of behaviour isn’t conclusive proof that they’re a fake guru but it certainly warrants a little further investigation and asking some questions. If they’re a true spiritual teacher they will be happy to answer, and comfortable with you letting them know that it’s not for you. How they respond to questions is one of the most telling signs.
You can find many organisations in our Therapy section if you need help. If you are in danger or feel someone you know is, please call 999.
Dr Lisa Turner
Lisa is the founder of CETFreedom, a spiritual and consciousness awakening organisation, specialising in training professional coaches and practitioners in her signature process Conscious Emotional Transformation, (CET).
Lisa developed CET, a psycho-spiritual methodology for releasing trauma, and rebuilding neurology for success after being trafficked and kept as a house prisoner for 5 years in her teens by a Paedophile.
CET can heal in a matter of hours what can take other therapies years to achieve. Lisa has used CET with the military to treat PTSD, MP’s, business leaders, and entrepreneurs to assist them to achieve greater success with ease.
With a PhD in mathematical modelling Lisa applies the same scientific rigor to understanding the emotions, and how we can evolve through raising consciousness.
Lisa is a published author of five books, one of which is currently being developed for film.