Spiritual Leader Burnout reason number 6:
Shame versus healthy Self-love
Spiritual leaders often have been raised in religious households and environments. The love of Self is usually not a value talked about or embodied in many religious homes. It is not even mentioned, or it is overshadowed by the commandment to love God and to love others. Usually children of religious families feel “called” to become spiritual leaders as they feel the strong urge to serve God and others in special ways. Sometimes this need to be “especially called” is a compensation and is based on a sense of shame that something is imperfect, missing or not OK with one’s self (a message that rigid religiosity can easily convey.) And so, to overcome this sense of shame, the step of gaining this sense of special calling gives spiritual leaders a certain “ego” boost and a sense of importance, as true self love was not something that was allowed or even talked about. When a professional career as spiritual leaders is built on the need to be seen as “special”, it often compensates for a deep sense of shame, a lack of love a person has received or a lack of self-love.
Sometimes this sense of “special calling” makes spiritual leaders then to become narcissistic, in that their thinking and preaching revolves around themselves and their own calling and “specialness”. They secretly have their spiritual community take care of them like a spoiled child, unconsciously making up for the lack of love or attention they might have received earlier in life, and covering up the shame they still feel.
At other times, the “special calling” becomes a way for spiritual leaders to sacrifice themselves into the task of serving God and others. Self-neglect or even “self-aside” (not quite suicide, but close) can occur. This is when spiritual leaders neglect their personal health, sacrifice quality time with their family or deny themselves friendships without any sense of loss. They also deny themselves time away, vacations or small pleasures, all of those unconsciously shame based in the false assumption that “called and special servants of God” do not need these.
Neither the extremes of narcissism nor shame filled self-aside match the self-love that spiritual leaders are really called to role model to others. A healthy self-love does not need a special calling to have one’s ego boosted. Self-love overcomes the earlier shame by accepting one’s own imperfections. It also means the every day claiming of God’s grace as “accepting that one is accepted”- “no matter what”. Three helpful resource books are: the classical book on grace by Paul Tillich “The courage to be”, or the book by Katherine Ketcham and Ernest Kurtz: “The Spirituality of Imperfection”. A great current teacher on overcoming shame is Brene Brown. See her writings on healing shame for example “The gifts of Imperfection” or “Daring Greatly”.