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Spirituality and Dissociation
Depersonalization & Spiritual Detachment © Martyn Carruthers

Dissolve Emotional & Relationship Blocks

Here I attempt to condense years of experience gained while helping people dissolve relationship issues and emotional blocks that delay spiritual development.

Spiritual Development, Religion & Identity

Spirituality is a warm and fluffy word for me, while religion seems cooler and more demanding. For me, spiritual development seems to imply personal evolution, while religious behavior seems to imply personal submission. Both imply that following certain rules or recipes has lasting benefits.

As the definitions can be so different, lets look at the goals. For me, a primary goal of religion is obedience - an ongoing sense of surrender and duty that builds stability and security. For me, a primary goal of spirituality is happiness - an ongoing sense of connectedness and fulfillment that builds relationships and vibrant community. Of course, many people participating in organized religions say that they are spiritual.

Relationship behavior seems to be a good measure of obedience and happiness. Whatever the truth within the myths and legends surrounding founders of religions and spiritual paths, both obedience and happiness strongly affect how people express love ( or caring or respect) in their relationships. I perceive a sense of duty and a pursuit of happiness as relationship qualities - not individual habits.

Both religious dogma or spiritual freedom can lead to a sense of connectedness and living with integrity. Both can define and perhaps constrain a sense of identity and how to behave in relationships.

Our personal identity seems to define which relationship qualities we develop. By identity, I refer to the essence of a person. For me this is not ego (I perceive ego as a split-off childish or teenage part) or personality (I perceive personality as a mixture of masks, habits and fixations).

For me, identity refers to a sense of Self - a sum of human qualities - a sense of integrity. And identity is something that we can lose.

Identity loss refers to emotional numbness or a lost sense of self.
The lights are on but nobody is home.

What is Spirituality?

Spirituality appears to be an integral part of all human cultures. Spiritual development may be regarded as connection to something external to the self, or as an internal experience, or both. At its most basic, spirituality might be called luck. A lone survivor of a disaster may be called special, holy or chosen.

Spirituality includes approaching external spiritual agencies through their symbolic manifestations - by showing submission, fear, respect, gratitude or reverence. Spirituality may also be assessed in terms of ability to negotiate with esoteric agencies, evidenced by good luck for an individual or a community.

During your coaching I was shocked to discover that everyday conversations
can feel like spiritual events. I communicate with people differently now.

In contrast, religious behavior is more often a reverence for sacred objects, learning chants and songs, repeating body movements and reciting dogma. If these cases, religious development might be measured in terms of ability to remember and repeat these lessons. Sacred images, chants, mythic language, incense and ritual can be used to support beliefs and maintain community bonds.

Spiritual Experiences

Expect your descriptions of spiritual experiences to be questioned and criticized. Any claim of a relationship with an esoteric agency may indicate sainthood one culture, delusions in another and demonism in a third. Similarly, experiences following the ingestion of psychotropic substances may indicate the presence of spirituality in one country - and the absence of spirituality in another.

Descriptions of spiritual experiences vary. Many skills that we take for granted were once evidence of magic or spirituality including remembering, writing, spelling, mental arithmetic and planning.

Having observed spiritual experiences in many cultures, I see a predictable hierarchy. Here is a simple table I created to assess spiritual development, based on Dr Gregory Bateson's hierarchy of abstraction (from Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1976):


Evidence of Spirituality

Places Some locations are considered sacred or spiritual - often locations with unusual geographic features - or places where one or more persons have died or been buried - or places where spiritual events were recorded.
Things Some items and objects are considered spiritual - often objects of unusual scarcity. Spiritual objects also include possessions or even parts of people who were recognized as "spiritually advanced".
Actions Some body movements or repetitive behaviors are considered sacred. This includes movements, chants, repeated words or thoughts that symbolize or request a "preferred" relationship with an esoteric or spiritual agency.
Beliefs Some beliefs are considered spiritual. Spiritual beliefs often lack factual basis, and often concern dead people or special locations.
Values Some values are considered spiritual. Spiritual values often lack practicality and can rarely be measured or assessed in ordinary reality.
Identity Some identities are considered spiritual. Some people recognized as spiritual communicated with abstract metaphors and died in interesting ways. Their lives typically include periods of suffering during which they found ways to limit their suffering, often by identification and dissociation.
Transpersonal Transcendence of identity is a goal of many spiritual paths, although expect bitter disputes about whether or not a person has actually transcended.

What is Identity Loss?

Identity loss refers to emotional numbness, dissociation and depersonalization. However, if the symptoms of identity loss do not cause significant emotional distress or interfere with normal functioning, they are unlikely to be recognized or resolved.

Some people describe feeling separate from their minds or bodies. Such dissociated self-perceptions are often called detachment or depersonalization.

A survey by the U.S. National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) indicated that about half of American adults have experienced brief episodes of depersonalization, usually resulting from trauma. I would suggest that spiritual abuse and mentor damage are also primary causes of chronic dissociation.

The symptoms of identity loss may be worsened by immature beliefs and habits. People who did not learn how to behave as mature adults may be unable to enjoy lasting happy relationships although they may seek a perfect  relationship (often with an imagined perfect mother or father) as evidence of spiritual growth.

Many people start showing signs of identity loss during the challenges of adolescence and leaving home. Some warning signals are social isolation, loneliness and addictions. Empty people try to fill their emptiness - but junk food or narcotics are poor substitutes for happiness.

We help people from many racial or ethic backgrounds dissolve blocks to spiritual progress. We find that more women than men ask for help with symptoms of identity loss. Many men won't ask for help when lost in a strange city - let alone when lost in life.


We meet many people with symptoms of identity loss who not want to improve. They often believe themselves to be special and/or enlightened and may claim to have destroyed their ego or got rid of their emotions or that they now live in samadhi, satori or enlightenment. And perhaps they do.

We observe people's relationship skills ... or lack thereof ... and enquire about their relationship history. Dissociated people often have few relationships and avoid responsibilities of healthy relationships. They may prefer shallow affairs to commitment. Often described as reserved or withdrawn, such people may prefer seclusion and celibacy to the ongoing challenges of committed partnership and parenthood.

Every Peter Pan needs a caretaker - a Wendy. It is interesting to notice how dissociated and detached people cope with the practical details of their everyday lives. How do they find people to look after them?

My colleagues and I help motivated adults to manage complex relationships and difficult emotions. This includes helping people find lost parts (resources or qualities) of themselves and helping people define and plan appropriate goals that can utilize and integrate those once-lost parts.

Spiritual Ecology and Sense of Life

It is interesting to observe the evidence of spiritual development used on spiritual paths, and we study the beliefs, values, relationship skills and spiritual goals of happy people whose lives make sense. We are fascinated by how those people recognize and dissolve their blocks to happiness, often by helping other people enjoy these same rewards.

Spirituality for Couples . Spirituality for Families . Is Soulwork "New Age"?

Happiness, fulfillment and spirituality are relationship qualities.
We help people clarify goals, manage emotions and enjoy relationships.

Online Coaching, Relationship Counseling & Systemic Therapy

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 2010-2018
All rights reserved

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Have You Suffered Enough?

 Where are you now? Understand your emotions, fixations and enmeshments
What do you hope for? Know your goals and stop sabotaging yourself
Do you feel resourceful? Learn to develop your inner resources
Do emotions block you? Relationship problems and mentor damage
Do your beliefs limit you? Change limiting beliefs and end dependence
Do you feel connected? Resolve identity issues to recover lost resources
Is your partner happy? Build healthy partnership (or separate peacefully)
Are your children healthy? Happy parents better manage family problems
Do you want team success? Team leaders and their teams develop together
Do you have complex goals? Specialty coaching, counseling & therapy

Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers 1996-2018  All rights reserved. Soulwork Systemic Coaching was primarily developed by Martyn Carruthers to help people solve emotional problems and relationship conflicts to achieve their goals. These concepts and strategies are for general knowledge only. Consult a physician about medical conditions and before changing medical treatment. Don't steal intellectual property ... get permission to post, publish or teach Martyn's work - email