When self-improvement is self-destruction: The 4 warning signs

In the age of Instagram, self-help and wellness have never looked more glamorous and appealing, says inspirational speaker Danielle LaPorte.

But as she points out in her new book, “White Hot Truth, sometimes the path to self-improvement can become self-destructive.

“So much of the self-help space looks great. It looks liberated, progressive and great in yoga pants,” she said recently over a vegetarian lunch in Venice. “It looks like it is doing the right thing, and sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t. It needs to be examined.”

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In many cases, she says, people are simply replacing one kind of addiction or problem for “a better-looking one.”

LaPorte chronicles hers and others’ stumbles along the path to enlightenment in her new book, as well as her prescription for doing it healthfully.

Here are four ways she sees self-improvement taking an unhealthy detour as well as strategies for dealing with them.

1. Spiritual bypassing

This term, coined by psychologist John Welwood, is defined as “the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds and developmental needs.”

In short, LaPorte says, “sometimes we do the right things for the wrong reasons.” But instead of medicating with alcohol or drugs to feel better, she says, we’re doing it with macrobiotics and metaphysics. Of course, these habits won’t land you in rehab, she says, just in more goddess workshops.

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One prime example, she says, is that friend many of us know, with a not-so-loving relationship with her body, who maintains a strict health-food regimen and talks a good game about body positivity but is merely disguising a mild eating disorder as a holistic wellness routine.

The fix: Examine your motives as you journey down the spiritual path; spend some time in self-reflection and asking yourself what you are really seeking and why.

2. Lack of boundaries

In the quest to grow, LaPorte says, many people – women in particular – become way too tolerant of other people’s bad behavior, thinking they are acting from a place of spiritual acceptance and compassion. This may manifest in staying in an unloving relationship too long, accepting blame and criticism from narcissistic friends, or ceding too much authority to a spiritual teacher – even if the instructor’s approach feels like manipulation or raises alarm bells.

The fix: “You have to keep your antennae up,” LaPorte says. She advises her own 13-year-old son to have an open heart but to guard it with a big fence that lets in only people who are “respectful and interested and really, really loving.”

3. Guilt

If your spiritual regimen includes a rewards system or punishment, it’s a bad sign, LaPorte says. You shouldn’t have to meditate for an hour, practice yoga every day or eat 100% gluten-free and organic to earn that chocolate or get that pedicure you’ve been wanting. That’s not self-love or self-care, she says.

If you’re constantly adding to your spiritual to-do list and feeling bad about falling short, or if you find yourself getting competitive about your yoga practice and healthy eating, that may be a sign that you’re seeking approval as much as enlightenment.

The fix: With any spiritual practice, she says, “You shouldn’t have to feel guilty when you don’t do it. Do it when you need it and you want it,” she says. “A really powerful question is: What if no one was keeping score, would you do it? It’s not about brownie points, it’s about the sweetness and the freedom and the euphoria of being a loving person.”

4. One-size-fits-all spirituality

Many think they need to adopt all the habits and practices of a spiritual teacher or self-help guru, whether it’s Deepak Chopra or Tony Robbins. A good teacher should be meeting students at their level and seeing what they need, rather than prescribing a spiritual formula. If mantras are your thing, great. If crystals seem too far out there, fine, she says.

“There are a lot of paths and they all work” for someone, she says. Like anything else, she says, finding a spiritual practice and path to self-improvement is like finding your own beliefs after you leave a small, one-church town.

The fix: “You have to learn to think for yourself,” LaPorte says, and that includes being willing to take a break from that meditation practice, Reiki habit or vegan diet to see if it's really working for you.

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