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By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.
Click here for Part 2 of Spiritual
When they think
they know the answers,
People are difficult to guide.
When they know that they dont.
People can find their own way.
-Tao Te Ching
in such symptoms as depression, shame, self-alienation, loneliness, resentment,
hopelessness, despair, self-sabotage, relationship dysfunctions, serial relationships,
addictions, eating disorders, compulsive behavior manifesting itself in sexing,
workaholism, gambling, shopping, and exercising is an underlying dis-ease process. I refer to this dis-ease process as spiritual bankruptcy (for a detailed exploration of
spiritual bankruptcy see Spiritual Bankruptcy: Part
2). This underlying dis-ease process is what erodes your emotional and
spiritual well-being. This dis-ease is caused
by your untreated, oftentimes unacknowledged, festering emotional and spiritual wounds.
These wounds poison the relationship you have
with your authentic Self, alienate you from the people in your life, and estrange you from your higher power.
your spiritual and emotional wounds arent the only cause of your dis-ease. The alienation and estrangement caused by
your original wounds create disconnects between you and your authentic Self, you and the people in your life, and you and
your spiritual center, Essence. These
disconnects create their own reservoir of shame, self-contempt, loneliness, and alienation
as well as intensify the emotional pain of your original wounds. The sum and substance of
your original wounds plus the disconnect with Self,
the people in your life, and your higher power are what paralyze your spirit and poison
your mind, body, and soul.
spiritual bankruptcy is a dis-ease of the mind,
body, and soul, the totality of your being is
affected. As a dis-ease of the mind, it distorts
your perceptions of the circumstances in your life. Viewing your life through a
kaleidoscope of hurt, despair, hopelessness, anger, mistrust, and rage, you see everything
about your life as being hopeless and unchangeable. You experience yourself as always
being in hostile territory, constantly under attack, forever alert to who, what, and how
somebody is coming at you. As your distorted viewpoint of your life gains a stronger
foothold in your world view, you cease to have faith that things can ever be different. As
you become a prisoner of the bias created by your distorted world views, you become less
and less able to mobilize yourself to rise above the stranglehold of your despair.
dis-ease of the mind, spiritual bankruptcy not
only distorts your viewpoint of the world but it warps the relationships you have with the
people in your life. By activating a specific perceptual bias through which you [re]create
experiences with the people in your life, you find yourself in relationships that are
oftentimes chaotic, abusive reenactments of your original wounds with the primary
caregivers in your life (for a detailed explanation see Stopping the Cycle of Sabotage in Your Relationships).
Your relationships become a battlefield in which you seek to undo the hurt and pain that
has been created by all the significant people in your life. Unfortunately, this only
serves to turn your here-and-now relationships into ongoing experiences of
as a dis-ease of the mind, spiritual
bankruptcy alienates you from your authentic
Self. As a result of the disconnect you create from your authentic Self, you invent false selves from which you interact with the
world. These false selves are carefully crafted
masks from which you live your life. These false
selves lack spontaneity, flexibility, and vitality. And so, although these false selves protect you by keeping your authentic Self out of harms way, the price you
pay for such protection is living a life thats carefully scripted, overcontrolled,
and enormously unrewarding.
dis-ease of the body, your physical and
emotional being becomes entrapped in two cycles. The first cycle is created by the means
by which you relieve your emotional, physical, and existential pain. As your being becomes encased in an emotional entanglement
of anger, shame, alienation, loneliness, emptiness, hopelessness, and meaninglessness, you
eventually adopt some means to bring relief from your overwrought emotional state. I refer
to the process of relieving your pain as self-medication.
are any number of devices by which you may self-medicate. Compulsive achievement, zoning
out in front of a television or computer screen, selflessness, chaotic relationships,
addiction, eating disorders, compulsively doing,
working, exercising, sexing, and gambling are but a few of the means available to you.
These acts of self-medicating enable you to numb your pain, control your feelings, and
create a state of being that is predictable and more comfortable.
problem is that far too often the means you use to self-medicate, eventually, takes
control of your life. As the saying goes, first you
take the drink and then the drink takes you. You see, any act of self-medication will
bring temporary relief from the emotional pain youre experiencing. However,
eventually, the means you choose to self-medicate with will begin to take control of you.
When that happens, you will then experience a secondary state of shame and self-alienation
from having lost the ability to control the use of your means of self-medicating. This
only serves to amplify, not lessen, the original pain you were attempting to alleviate by
self-medicating in the first place.
the means by which you self-medicate takes over your life, a second cycle gets activated.
I call this cycle control and release. As the
means you use to obtain relief from the underlying emotional, physical, and existential
pain begins to take control of you, youll attempt to regain control of your means of
self-medication by abstaining, in part or in whole, from its use. This ongoing battle in
futility to control what has taken control of you creates a new layer of shame and
self-alienation. Your only solution to loosen the grip that your means of self-medicating
has on you is to promise yourself that youll
never do it again. And so you resolve to go
without, to endure, to hold your breath, to get through somehow, anyhow, without relying
on ole faithful to distract yourself from
what youre feeling and experiencing.
it works, for awhile, anyhow. Youre able to maintain your promise to go without,
that is until youre about to burst at the seams. Now you have to cope not only with
the underlying woundedness plus the added shame and self-alienation from being controlled
by your means of self-medication, but throw into the mix the tension created by abstaining
from your means of self-medication. So what do you do to relieve the tension and lessen
You return to self-medicating to gain relief not only from the original pain, but also
from the pain involved in unsuccessfully controlling the self-medicating behavior(s) you
promised yourself you would no longer do. Returning to self-medicating does what it always
does, numbs the pain, creates a more manageable mood, and offers a release from having to overcontrol yourself in order to achieve
abstinence. In so doing, youve created a new release from the pent up hurt and
tension, but you start the cycle all over again. You feel wounded, you feel shame about
the means of self-medicating that is controlling you, so you swear to yourself, Ill never do that again. Im stronger than
so it goes. Your emotional and spiritual wounds leak its toxic waste onto your
physical and emotional being. Because the original wounds never get addressed and the
means of self-medication never gets transformed, your emotional and physical being becomes
imprisoned, as you spiral deeper and deeper into the twin cycles of pain and
self-medication, control and release.
as a dis-ease of the soul, spiritual
bankruptcy leaves you disconnected from your spiritual center, Essence
With Essence: Giving Birth to a Life of Joy, Love, and Prosperity for a more
detailed explanation). Because of your
disconnect from Essence, the energy of pride, which is created by Ego, dominates your life. As a result of this
disconnect from Essence, the energy of reverence, which is created by Essence, is
unavailable to you (see Mirror Mirror on the
Wall, Parts 1&2 for a more detailed explanation of Ego and Essence).
As a consequence of being disconnected from your spiritual center, youve become
estranged from your relationship with your higher power. As a result of being estranged from your higher
power, self-will and self-control rather than faith and surrender dominate how you make
yourself safe, how you attempt to get your emotional needs met, how you regulate your
emotional well-being, and how you empower yourself to overcome the challenges in your
self-will dominates your strategies for creating well-being in your life, your energy
becomes consumed more and more by the demands of Ego.
As this happens, your life becomes more focused on securing your attachment to
objects, substances, people, and desired outcomes and less on cultivating a relationship
with your higher power as well as love and compassion for yourself and the people in your
life. You attempt to make your world secure by forsaking an empowering relationship with
your higher power for the mythical, self-delusional powers of self-will and control.
Consequently, you invoke your self-will rather than surrender to your higher power. Rather
than gaining mastery over yourself and the circumstances of your life by connecting with
your spiritual center, Essence, you rely upon
control and self-will to accumulate power and control over yourself, the people in your
life, and the circumstances of your life.
problem is that this unfolding drama of power and control creates a profound paradox. For
the more you invoke your self-will to achieve power and control over every aspect of your
life, the more those aspects of your life control you. The more you forsake surrendering
to your higher power as the legitimate means to regain control over the habits,
substances, and acting out behaviors that have gained control over you, the less control
you actually have over those substances and habits. The more you attempt to control the
people in your life, the more power and control those people eventually have over you.
see relying on the strength and fury of your self-will is a losing battle. Its much
like the ancient Chinese bamboo tube that you insert your index finger in. Once your
finger is inserted in the bamboo tube it becomes impossible to remove your finger from the
tube. For the harder you try to pull your finger out of the tube, the tighter the grip the
tube exerts on your finger.
it is that you forsake a path of well-being paved by self-love, loving and being loved by
the people in your life, and surrendering to your higher power. You remain a casualty of a
war that was fought twenty to thirty years ago. Nursing your wounds with your
self-defeating, self-medicating means rather than healing yourself through the love and
compassion of yourself, the people in your life, and your higher power keeps you mired in
the feelings that continue to tear you down.
what are these primal emotional and spiritual wounds? What are these aspects of who you
are that leak the toxins which are the fundamental elements of spiritual bankruptcy?
Lets take a look at but a few of them.
start with abandonment. Theres no one
who hasnt experienced the terrible, soul wrenching pain of being abandoned in one
form or another. Feeling the sting of somebodys rejection, being left by somebody
who youve had deep feelings for, primary caregivers not being there for you
emotionally or physically in the moment or for large chunks of your life, a persons
emotional withdrawal from you because of something you felt, said, or did--all of that
cuts deeply. These cuts leave an indelible mark. The impact of these wounding experiences
is that you question your value as a person to yourself and the people in your life. As
well, you stop trusting that people are safe to depend on. As a result, you disconnect,
withdraw, and maintain a safe distance, never allowing yourself to experience the sting of
somebodys momentary or permanent abandonment.
wounds of abandonment create an underlying fear associated with becoming emotionally
intimate with another person. The pain from your collective experiences with being
abandoned resonate beneath the surface as you attempt to open yourself up to yet another
person. Bells and whistles are activated. Alarms ring out their shrill warning. Putting
yourself in a position of depending on not only the kindness of another person but
trusting that they will be there for you can become an overwhelming proposition at best.
wound, as it remains untreated, inevitably sets into motion an inevitable chain of events,
the result of which is that you wind up being left or you leave before youre left.
The wounds of abandonment, as they remain untreated, are the impetus for the disconnect
you experience with the people in your life. Without healing the wounds, its
difficult to silence the pain, manage the fear, and empower yourself to feel safe, without
pulling back, disconnecting, and ultimately, withdrawing from the people in your life.
eventual outcome, of course, is that you wind up lonely, if not all alone. Feeling alone
compounds the pain of your original woundedness and perpetuates your disconnect from the
world around you. This disconnect is one of the signs and symptoms of the underlying dis-ease process of spiritual bankruptcy.
second emotional wound that accounts for the underlying dis-ease of spiritual bankruptcy is the vulnerable,
helpless feeling of powerlessness. This wounding
occurs when your emotional, physical, and/or sexual autonomy is compromised by somebody
squelching your internal sense of power and control. Here are but a few of the ways that
can happen. Somebody more powerful than you chronically imposes their will on you.
Somebody wins your confidence and then manipulates your trust. Somebody takes advantage of
the power differential between you and them. In so doing, that person, who should be
looking out for your best interests, exploits the power differential in order to have
their own needs met at the expense of your own well-being.
the core of your wounds as it relates to powerlessness is experiencing how easily your
will can be thwarted, your autonomy stripped bare, your sense of control and mastery over
your environment taken from you in the bat of an eye. You begin to experience the world
and the people in it as unsafe. Your sense of vulnerability permeates how you see yourself
in this world and how you see yourself in relationship to the people in your life.
your response to this deep underlying sense of vulnerability is to create a way of making
the world safe that leaves you in charge of the show. You do this by trusting less and
controlling more. Therefore, you devise interpersonal strategies that make you powerful
but dont necessarily empower you. Being distant in a relationship, withholding your
affections, acting passively, behaving in a domineering fashion, acting in a punitive
manner, creating one-up, one-down relationships--these are only a few of the interpersonal
strategies you may enact in order to silence the deep, underlying tensions that arise from
the more you work at controlling your environment, the less you empower yourself to manage
your life from the strength of your own internal resources. The message you give yourself
is that you dont have what it takes on the inside to run your life. This internal
message fans the flames of the already existing fire that youre inadequate, that
youre less than, that youre lacking the fundamental qualities to maintain
control of your life.
strategies that you rely upon to deaden the feelings of powerlessness and helplessness
creates an internal disconnect. This happens because you forsake your internal resources
for external means of gaining control of yourself and your environment. This disconnect
creates a sense of self-alienation. It perpetuates feelings of shame and self-loathing.
All of which sows the seeds for the underlying dis-ease
process of spiritual bankruptcy.
Another source of your emotional and spiritual wounds are your unmet emotional needs. Try as you may to deny it,
you have emotional needs. Belonging, safety, approval, validation, love, and esteem are
but a few of them. Unfortunately, all too often, throughout your life, youve
received insufficient nurturance and love from the significant people in your life.
Because of this, youve carried around a thirst for love and affection that never has
unmet emotional needs have created some of the oldest, deepest cutting emotional wounds
that youve experienced. The source of your original wounds are inadequate,
neglectful, or abusive parenting. If these emotional wounds have gone untreated, its
likely that youre still carrying around the hurt, the pain, and the longing
created by your emotional needs going unfulfilled. You bring those unfulfilled longings
into your adult relationships. In so doing, your ability to love maturely as an adult is
end result of your inability to love maturely as an adult is that you perpetuate a cycle
of oftentimes chaotic, empty, unfulfilling relationship(s) (for a detailed explanation see
Stopping the Cycle of Sabotage in Your Relationships).
The reasons for this are many. But basically, you use your adult relationships to right
the wrongs that you experienced in your childhood. Unfortunately, thats a burden
that no relationship can easily shoulder. The consequence of such a burden is that
youre adult relationships experience much turmoil. As a result of the turmoil and
chaos, your relationships become emotionally barren and unfulfilling. The most predominant
emotions that you experience are resentment and hostility. You find yourself feeling
forever dissatisfied by what your partner feels, says, and does toward you.
so you find yourself stuck, trying to heal the wounds of your past, searching for that
magic someone who will give you what it is you so desperately want, that you so tragically
have been lacking, only to create newer, deeper wounds in your present. Not only do you
feel more deprived than ever before, but you feel more and more lonely. Deprived of the
warmth and comfort of another persons love, an ever deepening sense of isolation and
worthlessness engulfs your spirit. Despondency and hopelessness gives birth to apathy
towards yourself and the people in your life. And as this cycle spirals out of control,
you feel more and more disconnected from the human race. And this disconnect from the
people in your life added to the woundedness created by a lifetime of going without the
emotional nutrition you so desperately need leaves you feeling spiritually bankrupt.
combination of your emotional and spiritual wounds and the disconnects that these
wounds have fostered envelops your spirit in a ceaseless spiral of shame, self-loathing,
and alienation. In so doing, spiritual bankruptcy constricts your life to the point that
theres nothing left in your world but you and the means you use to avoid being
involved in your life and the life of others. Cast as an outsider, living life on the
fringes, hopelessness and meaninglessness breed apathy and despair. Apathy and despair
become the slippery slope on which you can never quite get your footing long enough to
climb out of the quagmire in which your life has become stuck.
more you attempt to extract yourself from the morass of bold but never kept promises of
renewal, the deeper you sink into a bottomless pit of darkness and fear. As fear entwines
itself around your spirit, paralysis sets in. The more paralyzed you become, the more you
promise that things will change. But alas, youre doomed by all the slipping and
sliding, to be pulled back down into the pit, only to sink deeper and deeper into the
darkness of your dis-ease.
it doesnt have to remain this way forever. There is a path to follow other
than the one that leads you down the road of spiritual bankruptcy. Theres nothing
simple about this path but everything about it is rewarding. However, you should not
travel down this path without the knowledge that to do so will turn your whole life inside
this path is the path of transformation, not inflated expectations built on empty promises
which create, at best, a cycle of superficial change followed by relapse. This is not
something you can work at a little bit, its something that you have to commit your whole
being to. There are no silver bullets, no magical pills. Just hard work. Let me outline
for you my comprehensive approach to address the totality of the underlying issues that
Ive outlined for you in parts one and two .
order to free yourself from the shackles of spiritual bankruptcy, you must be in a process
whose sole aim is to empower you to uncover and take ownership of the Truth of your inner and outer existence. Even
though the Truth of your being is present and
revealed within you at all times, you do not usually experience this Truth, know this Truth, or speak this Truth. You have to first work to get at it, and
then you have to work to live in it. Thus, the work of this path is to uncover,
experience, speak, and live the Truth of your
The means by which youll uncover the Truth of
your existence is a psychological and spiritual investigation. The aim of this
experiential psychological and spiritual investigation is to facilitate a psychological
transformation and a spiritual awakening.
The aim of the psychological investigation is to explore the classic matters of
Psychodynamics: the intrapersonal aspect of Self that accounts for motivation of behavior.
Belief system: operational viewpoints of Self and world that you hold and how they impact
both positively and negatively on your emotional and spiritual well-being.
Integration of emotional, cognitive, and physiological aspects of Self.
Patterns of behavior: identify patterns of behavior; develop understanding of these
patterns of behavior by examining the origins and purposes of your behavioral choices;
correcting/and/or reinforcing by rehearsing new choices or continuing to rely on old
e.) Emotional wound care: identifying the emotional wounds from which toxic energies are
infecting your emotional well-being. Provide sufficient care and nurturance to these
wounds so as that
they stop infecting your life.
aim of the spiritual investigation is to:
Connect with your spiritual center, Essence.
[Re]establish your relationship with your higher power.
c.) Expand the boundaries
of Self so as to integrate into awareness more
and more of who you are.
Transform the pride of Ego into the reverence
Experience a more loving relatedness with Self, others,
and higher power.
Although, Im able to condense the goals of this psychological and spiritual
investigation into a half-page, believe me when I tell you, to accomplish the goals that
Ive outlined for you requires an exhaustive, comprehensive approach. Let me outline
for you the approach that I recommend for you in order to achieve your goals.
Individual psychotherapy is an effective way to
move toward increased awareness of yourself. Through the process of self-examination with
the eyes and ears of a trained professional, you will begin to expand your awareness of
who you are. In so doing, youll gradually take ownership of your life. As you take
ownership of your life, youll start taking responsibility for what you say, feel,
and do. By taking responsibility for your words and actions, youll develop the
skills necessary to enrich your life.
Experiential group psychotherapy is another
important component of a comprehensive approach to psychological healing and spiritual
awakening. Let me emphasize the word experiential.
Although there are any number of formats that are identified as group psychotherapy,
its critical that you become involved in group psychotherapy that emphasizes experiential.
order for group psychotherapy to be 100% effective, it must focus solely on the
experiences created between each individual group member. Without this focus, youll
severely dilute the potency of group psychotherapy. You see, there are two important
elements of experiential group psychotherapy--creating
a shared experience with other group members and examining
that shared experience. Any group that does not explore the shared, created experiences in
the group, will reduce itself unnecessarily to a sterile think tank. Such a group
cant begin to explore the depth of material necessary to create the personal
transformation outlined above.
Experiential group psychotherapy is critical to your healing and evolution for the
following reasons. True healing can only take place in a community of people. Shame,
self-loathing, and alienation are best healed through your relationships with other
people. Participating in experiential group psychotherapy will afford you the opportunity
to learn the skills necessary to build the types of relationships that honor you rather
than tear you down in a safe environment. Once you master the skills of relationship
building, group psychotherapy will provide a safe forum for you to explore yourself within
the context of relationships. This type of self-examination is necessary in order to heal
the wounds first perpetuated in your relationships with others. And as you know by now,
those wounds suffered at the hands of others has created much of the dis-ease youre currently experiencing.
third component of this comprehensive treatment approach is a disciplined spiritual practice. [Re]connecting with
your higher power is not just an intellectual exercise. Its critical that you
actively work at not only grasping the concepts involved with a spiritual transformation,
but actively practice it in your day-to-day life. Without some structured experience that
focuses solely on you as a spiritual being, you can only, at best, think your way through
spirituality rather than live it. Common types of spiritual practices my clients, beyond
the work they do with me, are involved in are:
Twelve-Step Programs. These programs are ideal because they emphasize a focus on specific
self-destructive behaviors, alternatives for those self-destructive behaviors, support
from other people grappling with similar issues, mentors who will guide you through the
transformation process, and most important of all, a focus on healing and [re]claiming
your relationship with your higher power.
Meditation programs. This type of spiritual practice focuses on self-examination,
expansion of your sense of Self, reducing your
attachment to Ego sponsored thoughts and values,
and [re]discovering your higher power within yourself.
Exercise programs. Exercise programs that emphasize the integration of mind, body, and
soul are ideal vehicles for personal transformation work. Examples of such exercise
programs, but not limited to these examples, would be martial arts, yoga, dancing, breath
training, body work, running, cycling, swimming, and weight training.
Formal religious practice.
is a difficult subject matter for you to address because it can provoke so much emotional
discomfort. To honestly look at yourself through the lens I have created may only serve to
discourage you. But there is more reason for hope than there is for discouragement. Your
life is what it is today for good reason. Not because youre any worse off than most
people, not because youre less intelligent, not because youre more flawed or
broken than others. Your life is what it is today because youre estranged from your
purpose in life, youre disconnected from your authentic Self--in short because youre living a life
that you were not meant to live.
only one reason to explain how you have drifted so far--because of the dis-ease that has infected your spirit and held
your destiny hostage. All the ways that you have attempted to free yourself from the
influence of this dis-ease havent worked
for good reason--you havent addressed the problems of your life at the source--spiritual bankruptcy. Until now, youve merely
been addressing the symptoms, only to watch them reappear in your life in one form or
is the time to stop treating the symptoms and begin addressing the cause. You dont
have to keep doing to yourself what youve been doing until this point in
time--although the familiarity of perpetuating your old styles of coping may be more
comforting than walking into the darkness of something new. Just remember what Andre Gide
once said, One doesnt discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of
the shore for a very long time.
Click here for Part 2 of Spiritual
chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your
children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs
free. Learn how
to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. Recovery book series.