The term “spiritual bankruptcy” is a word used in the rooms of 12-step programs to characterize addicts who have lost their connection to “higher power.” One dictionary definition describes spiritual bankruptcy as “a state of complete lack of some abstract property.” Recently, I’ve been pondering what I believe “spiritual bankruptcy” means and how it appears in the people I know personally and treat in my practice.
If I were to think of the personal qualities of someone who seems to be spiritually bankrupt, what comes to mind is despair. The spiritually bankrupt person cannot envision a future different from the present. The spiritually bankrupt person has lost his/her moral compass and makes poor choices. The spiritually bankrupt person is self-absorbed and often oblivious of the effects of his/her actions on others.
As I write this, these qualities are sounding an awful lot like how I would describe someone who is deeply depressed. And I also wonder, what’s chicken and what’s egg. Does someone become depressed because he/she is spiritually bankrupt or is it the other way around?
People become depressed for many reasons including genetics, life circumstances and temperament (sensitivity). Can we say that a person who has faith and is deeply spiritual will never become depressed? That faith and being spiritually grounded will always be the antidote to depression?
I’m not so sure. But what I do know is that those who have faith, who are connected to the God of their understanding, who have a relationship with a higher power do recover from bouts of depression faster and more completely.
The reasons for this I believe are that a spiritually connected person knows somewhere in the depths of his/her being that the depression is temporary, an aberration as opposed to a constant and permanent state of being. The spiritually connected person can look at the depression as holding value for him/her, perhaps in the form of some opportunity for deeper understanding of self and life.
In other words, the spiritually grounded person may not succumb to the same level of despair or lack of hope that someone without a spiritual connection might.
In my particular faith (Yoruba), we believe each individual has a destiny and it is his/her obligation to fulfill that destiny. Everything is part of it, including sadness, pain and even depression. Depression is not viewed as punishment for wrong doing or as some moral failure. Knowing that can be a strong hedge against losing that connection to higher power. It is a hedge against the sort of spiritual bankruptcy I started out describing in paragraph one.
We must each find our own spiritual path. Our beliefs can take many forms. We can be a part of many different spiritual and religious communities. But one thing all religions and spiritual paths have in common is the presence of the divine. A spiritual connection can help people feel a greater sense of fulfillment in life. The emphasis is on the “fill” in the word fulfillment. It is one of the best remedies for that deep-seated emptiness that many people feel. We as humans, by connecting to our spiritual selves, have the opportunity to compensate for what we never received in our families of origin and perhaps from society.
© Copyright 2011 by Kalila Borghini, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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