Psychology vs. Spirituality – How Do they Affect Your Self-Image?


Psychology vs. spirituality - how do they affect your self-image

Is psychology more practical than spirituality? Nothing is more practical than spirituality. What can the poor psychologist do? He can only relieve the pressure. I’m a psychologist myself, and I practice psychotherapy, and I have this great conflict within me when I have to choose sometimes between psychology and spirituality. I wonder if that makes sense to anybody here. It didn’t make sense to me for many years. – Anthony de Mello

Which is the most powerful: psychology or spirituality? What do you think?

Our mind turns reality into beliefs

One of the characteristics of our mind is that it likes to turn practical things into theory and beliefs.

Take philosophy, for instance. Originally, philosophy is one of the most practical things in the world. Choosing your own philosophy is choosing your own way of life and, as a result, has huge consequences on your life. Unfortunately, most people are more interested in talking about philosophy than practicing philosophy. They are more interested in trying to boost their ego than in trying to boost their happiness.

It is one of the characteristics of the mind. It turns everything into theory, beliefs and abstract concepts. It is a filter of reality. It distorts it. Similarly, our mind likes to turn spirituality into a belief, but is it?

Psychology vs. spirituality

When I was a kid, I went through all the compulsory teaching that “devoted” Christians have to go through. It lasted 5 years (from 7 to 12). However, I realize now that there was absolutely nothing spiritual in that teaching. In fact, we can say that most religious people are not spiritual people. Why? Because they aren’t trying to find who or what they really are, but they are simply following a set of beliefs dictated by institutions that have distorted the meaning of spirituality over time. Religion turns spirituality or god into a belief, but spirituality is not a belief, it is an experience. Going to the church every Sunday and praying mechanically doesn’t make you more spiritual; direct experience of who you are through profound self-enquiries does. For that reason, I don’t consider myself as a religious person, but rather as a spiritual person.

Improving your self-image vs. distancing yourself from your self-image

You have never been, nor shall ever be, a person. Refuse to consider yourself as one. But as long as you do not even doubt yourself to be Mr. So-and-so, there is little hope. When you refuse to open your eyes, what can you be shown? – Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

So what is the difference between psychology and spirituality? Psychology is mainly about changing your self-image while spirituality is about realizing the falsehood of your self-image and differentiating yourself from it. Do you understand now why psychology is operating at a much more superficial level than spirituality?

Our self-image/identity (see What is the Ego) consists of a set of beliefs about ourselves. We can either work hard on changing these beliefs, or we can simply realize that our whole identity is a mind-made entity that has no real existence and learn to differentiate ourselves from that false identity.

In a nutshell, psychology is about trying to “fix” your self-image while spirituality is realizing that your self-image is actually an illusion. What is the difference? When you believe yourself to be a person and cling to your self-image, you automatically take things personally. However, when you realize that you are not a person, well, you don’t, or more precisely, you can’t!

Distancing yourself from your current self-image is something you can directly experience through self-enquiry, meditation or contemplation for instance. There is nothing magical or extraordinary about it. By observing yourself thinking, talking, doing things or feeling all sorts of emotions throughout the day, you gradually understand that you are not your self-image. Yes, you still exist without your self-image and your beliefs, and life actually gets easier. Imagine how great you would feel, if you could stop being obsessed with your self-image 24/7 like most of us. Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t care anymore about what people think of you or if rejection, disapproval or disrespect did nothing to you? That’s possible.

You are not your social conditioning

Most of our emotional reactions towards rejection, disapproval, disrespect, love ones’ death etc. are actually the result of our social conditioning. We have been programmed to behave that way! Rather than trying to change our program (psychology) it is actually more powerful and easier to observe and understand that we are not our program (spirituality). There is no need to identity with that program, but just to understand it. Then, gradually, our tendency to get upset, or to be more precise “to upset ourselves” as Anthony de Mello calls it, will fade away as we realize the falsehood of the whole thing. Nothing is wrong with you. There is nothing to be fixed but there is a lot to be understood.

Psychology or Spirituality? What is your choice? Leave me a comment below to let me know 😉

To learn more about spirituality and who we really are, don’t forget to read my series of articles on Spiritual Enlightenment

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Comments 1

  • Hi I would describe spirituality as a connection to other people, the world etc where as psychology is the cogs within our brain. Both are important as they interact with each other, they are a team, just sometimes one is much stronger or faster than the other and dominates.

    Knowing when one needs to come to the front and the rest of the team supports is a skill which over time, with guidance and practice will come.

    I am not just a body, I have a brain, I have feels, I have a heart, I have a sole I am many things just like life itself it is made up of lots of different people, cultures, animals etc. no one is mor powerful or important than the other.

    Take care


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