Spiritual Crises

About Spiritual Crises

By Marlyse Carroll
Author of Am I Going Mad? The Unsettling Phenomena of Spiritual Evolution www.amigoingmad.com.au

First of all, let’s acknowledge that many people grow spiritually without ever experiencing a crisis. Every time they learn something new about themselves or the Universe, they integrate their insights and become wiser without emotional upheavals.

For others, the spiritual journey can be more challenging.

A spiritual crisis – also known as spiritual emergency1 – is a turning point when personal growth becomes disruptive to our peace of mind.

It usually starts with a wonderful, numinous experience that is felt as very sacred. We’re talking here of mentally healthy individuals experiencing phenomena that can easily be mistaken for symptoms of mental illness, for instance voices, visions or other extra-sensory perceptions.

Other people face inner turmoil as a result of a sudden Kundalini awakening or other occurrences.

Out of control with rage

If body and mind react negatively, out of fear, an emotional roller coaster ride is likely to follow. In other words, spiritual emergency. Symptoms vary and can occur on a continuum from mild to extreme. We might feel unsafe, fearful and vulnerable. In more severe cases, we might experience distress, rage and/or tremendous anxiety.

At times, these negative emotions can alternate with ecstatic experiences, which leads to confusion and the fear of going mad.

Some people try and suppress their discomfort with alcohol, overeating or drugs. This doesn’t solve anything of course. It only adds to their misery and delays resolution.

And in extreme cases, a spiritual crisis can lead to a psychotic episode.

A psychosis is an altered state of consciousness during which ego-consciousness cannot handle the amount or quality of data that is bombarding it. As a result of information overload, the ego goes into a state of chaos during which time it cannot make sense of anything, because its model of reality is not adequate for the material received.

When the ego is so overwhelmed that it stops operating as it normally does, thoughts and behaviours become erratic as well. And such a level of emergency definitely requires professional help.

All crises, whether spiritual or not, have two things in common:

  • We find them unpleasant
  • They have the potential of making life better or worse, depending on how we handle them

Danger plus opportunity

The Chinese pictogram for ‘crisis’ beautifully illustrates this concept. It is composed of two signs, the first one meaning ‘danger’ and the second one ‘opportunity’. Obviously, the ancient Taoists understood the psychology of change and knew that a crisis holds a tremendous opportunity for positive change.

For instance, once resolved successfully, a spiritual crisis leads to a higher quality of life. You can expect an increased ability to love, deeper emotional intelligence, a greater self-awareness, a larger capacity to handle stress, more enjoyment of life, better health, increased creativity, and the list goes on.

Calm after the storm

But since your response to the crisis determines its outcome, you need to be selective.

So what can you do?

To start with, it’s important to have a medical check up to rule out any physiological causes, such as a brain tumour or medication side-effects. If there is no obvious physical cause to the crisis, the next step is to do your own research and/or receive psychological support from someone who understands spiritual emergencies.

According to Dr John Nelson, psychiatrist and author of the book ‘Healing the Split’, a mishandling of spiritual crisis through medication can have serious consequences. It can result in permanent damage to the personality because pharmaceutical drugs freeze the unfinished process.2

This approach can also foster long-term dependence on medication, not to mention the stigma attached to a ‘psychotic’ label.

If you’re interested in exploring other avenues, please check the following resources:

For more practical information on various aspects of spiritual crises, you can read the following Articles on Spiritual Evolution.

The book Am I Going Mad? The Unsettling Phenomena of Spiritual Evolution is also proving very helpful for many. See reviews.

And if you google ‘Spiritual Emergence Network’ or ‘Spiritual Crisis’ + your country, you’ll find various organisations that provide local referrals and global resources.

This information is also available here:


And if you have a specific question you would like me to address, please write to marlyse@amigoingmad.com.au and I’ll post both Q&A on my blog. Your details will of course remain confidential.

In the meantime,

I wish you love in your heart,
starlight in your soul
and miracles in your life!




  1. The terms ‘spiritual emergence’ and ‘spiritual emergency’ have been coined by Dr Stanislav Grof and his wife Christina (‘The Stormy Search for the Self’, 1992)
  2. Nelson, ‘Healing the Split, integrating spirit into our understanding of the mentally ill’, 1994, page 406


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For a more in-depth exploration of spiritual crises, click here


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Cheers, Marlyse
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