Spiritual death symptoms: 13 signs to look out for

Spiritual death is when your soul has gone to sleep and stopped trying.  

Spiritual death is generally regarded as a temporary state that can be bridged by awakening or conversion. 

But it’s something you need to watch out for, as the approach of spiritual death signifies that major changes are needed in your life to keep love and hope alive. 

Here are the top 13 symptoms of spiritual death.

1) A feeling of giving up

The first of the symptoms of spiritual death is a deep feeling of despair.

It’s more than just emotional or sadness.

It’s a feeling of not really seeing a point in continuing and being truly, deeply exhausted. 

Spiritual death is feeling like being asked to make a choice or keep going when all you want to do is stop.

It’s like you’ve reached a fork in the road after carrying far too heavy of a burden.

You’re now being asked to choose which way to turn, but all you want to do is sit down and go to sleep.

The challenges and struggles of life, and even its joys and opportunities just don’t mean much to you anymore.

You don’t necessarily feel like ending your life, it’s just that you feel like hitting the pause button and not being asked to make any choices or take any actions.

Everything feels futile, and you just want to be left alone.

2) A leaving behind of old philosophies and beliefs

As you feel like giving up, spiritual death also leads to a loss of surety in old philosophies and beliefs.

No matter how sure you were at one point, it seems to have faded away.

Your interest and passion is gone…

The old points of view and traditions or spiritual paths that once spoke to you no longer seem to matter.

You try to read books that once moved you, but give up near the beginning…

You start doing activities that once brought you pleasure and meaning like meditation but find yourself a complete blank…

You’re just not engaged and not into it…

Try as you might, the type of things that used to bring you meaning and inner peace just aren’t doing it for you anymore.

Not even a little bit.

You feel like no spiritual, religious or mystical path could ever really appeal to you again and find yourself totally uninterested when others discuss various ideas and spiritual concepts.

In addition to finding that your former beliefs and philosophies no longer mean much to you or give you comfort, you may also feel that your sense of self is also fading and changing.

3) A sensation of losing who you used to be

Along with the desire to give up and sleep is a sensation of losing who you used to be.

This is disorienting, upsetting and confusing.

It may feel like all the former identities and labels you were sure were you are being stripped away.

Who are you, really?

It feels impossible to know.

It can seem like you’re grasping along in the dark trying to rediscover, or perhaps for the first time discover, who you really are.

Or what you are.

Or what you want to even do in your life.

Things which used to matter a lot to you on the positive and negative side just no longer matter much to you.

Old friends may also drift away as you stop being so communicative.

You just aren’t sure who you are anymore.

4) A certainty that you are nothing 

In addition to not feeling motivated and losing a sense of who you always thought you were, comes a deep sensation of nullity.

It’s what the spiritual teacher Gurdjieff referred to when he talked about how humans are automatons who are “nothing” unless they learn that who they thought they are is essentially unreal and begin waking up through applied effort.

You have a feeling that you’re nothing.

You exist, or appear to, but you don’t know what it means, and you feel certain that any hope or transcendent meaning simply doesn’t exist.

Even meeting people who are inspired with spiritual or religious fervor and kindness doesn’t do much for you anymore.

Something in your soul has simply lost its spark or been truly crushed.

You’re spiritually dead.

5) The feeling of being unmoored or lost

Spiritual death is often accompanied by a feeling of being unmoored.

Those identities and purposes that you previously were sustained and driven by just no longer do it for you.

Apart from providing for basic necessities, you don’t feel motivated to do much at all.

Even something as simple as wishing a friend or family member happy birthday can feel like a burden.

It’s not because you don’t love them or don’t care.

It’s just that you’re so very tired and every spoken or written word can feel like a Herculean effort.

You feel like you’re drifting and you don’t know where you’re drifting toward.

You want to cry out for help, but it’s hard to even muster the courage or importance to care enough to do that.

This leads into the next point…

6) Having no willpower or drive left in life

When you’re experiencing spiritual death, you will find that your willpower is zero.

You are barely able to cook or feed yourself, have stopped exercising and get little or no pleasure from anything even sex, drugs or the latest greatest entertainment, video games and foods.

You can objectively say “that was delicious cake” or “amazing movie.”

But you don’t feel it deep down.

And the desire to get up and become active in your life and actually do something with yourself is at zero.

You just don’t care.

And the more you try to get yourself to care, the less you actually do.

It’s a vicious cycle. One that feels impossible to break.

And even if it weren’t impossible to break, what would be the point in breaking it?

7) You feel no ability to control your own life or destiny

When you’re going through spiritual death it feels like your own life isn’t yours.

Along with a dissociation from what you thought was your identity, you feel like your destiny is totally out of reach.

Making decisions or knowing what you value feels almost impossible.

You feel trapped in this existential merry go round, except instead of having fun you’re nauseous and just want it to stop.

What should you do now?

Whatever you do it seems to lead to you alone and feeling lost, so you head to your bedroom or the couch and try to just enjoy some sleep for a while.

But that’s when we get to the next problem.

8) Trouble getting to sleep at night

On the more ordinary side, another of the top symptoms of spiritual death is insomnia.

You may experience quite a lot of trouble getting to sleep at night and find yourself tossing and turning.

Your mind is either full of thoughts or full of a dreadful kind of nothingness that keeps you awake.

You just aren’t sure what to do about it.

Natural remedies and medication may help physically sleep, and you certainly will drift off now and then.

But that feeling of waking up refreshed and whole eludes you. 

Even the simple act of drifting off to sleep seems beyond your efforts right now as your spirit flounders and dies.

9) Experiences of intense anxiety and dread

Part of the reason for the insomnia is that there are often symptoms of intense anxiety and dread involved in spiritual death.

After all, feeling you’re nothing and you aren’t who you thought isn’t exactly a comforting thought.

This is especially true if you haven’t done much spiritual work before or thought of the non-physical parts of life often in the past.

Yet now your life is confronting you with this reality whether or not you like it.

And you feel overwhelmed and full of the “fear and trembling” written of by the Apostle Paul and which was later used as the title of a famous book by existential Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

10) Changes leaving you feeling trapped or confused 

Changes happen in life even when you just sit still and do almost nothing.

When this happens and you’re in spiritual death, it feels like fighting windmills.

Not only do you feel no ability to direct or shape what is happening, you also feel like every change is an assault or imposition on you.

Sadly, this often includes typically “good” changes like:

A potential new romantic partner…

An exciting and lucrative job opportunity…

New friendships, collaborations, projects and hobbies.

Whatever opportunities or choices come up, you feel like you wish it would all just go away.

You’re not interested.

Of course, life doesn’t necessarily care whether or not you’re interested, because it will continue happening regardless.

11) You start self-sabotaging future actions, or…

In order to avoid having to go through the motions, you may find that you self-sabotage.

This ends up creating a self-defeating loop and doesn’t actually do anything to exempt you from the rigors of life and the usual stresses and demands.

It feeds into the spiritual death you’re experiencing, although this may make no real difference.

Since you already feel distant from who you are or why you’re here, having that reinforced by situations that are disappointing only serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It can even feel vaguely reassuring to have more decisions go sideways on you, since it confirms the feelings that almost nothing is really worth doing and life is essentially futile.

Now and then, however, big changes occur which can help stir us out of a spiritual death.

This happens when we start to act first, think later.

A side effect of spiritual death can be a grimly determined kind of daredevil attitude.

After all, if life is more or less a nullity, this can lead to doing nothing or it can lead to taking bold action since it feels like it will all work out the same regardless.

Which brings me to the next point.

12) You start acting courageously or recklessly to just do something

This is the point at which you may take bold actions and go through various soul deaths as you undergo life changes.

You start trying new things, moving to new places, finding people you connect with and changes occur.

You will often meet others who relate far more than you expect to the kind of spiritual death you’re experiencing.  

These kinds of soul deaths can be the start of a new cycle and a kind of spiritual death and rebirth process.

As Chris Butler writes:

“Changing jobs, cities, and lives are all forms of soul death and rebirth, as you leave behind something that didn’t work for you any longer and embrace something that you hope will make you feel a little more whole.”

13) You feel an intense nostalgia but you’re not sure what for

Another of the intense symptoms of spiritual death is an intense sensation of nostalgia.

You may feel like you are longing for a kind of golden past that never even really existed…

Almost like you’re peering in on another reality.

You feel sure that you’re missing something, some kind of purity or truth, but you just aren’t sure exactly what…

You’re also really not sure how to find that truth and beauty that seems lodged in your heart and mind.

Where was it, exactly?

On a family trip to the lake when you were 10 at that special moment you canoed and saw loons gliding past the foliage?

The first time you kissed someone and felt butterflies?

A moment of spiritual or religious epiphany that changed your life but eventually got left by the wayside?

Maybe it’s your hometown and where you grew up, maybe you just miss it?

They seem like likely candidates, sure, but any attempt to go back and recapture that feeling or find out for sure when you really felt like “you.”

Maybe you go back to live in your hometown but it’s just not the same and you still feel so empty.

So what is that nostalgia and sweet sadness really for?

The “answer” continues to elude you and the nostalgia continues.

As the band the Bravery sings: “I’m so homesick now for someplace that I’ve never been.”

When the morning light shines in… 

Spiritual death is painful and confusing.

But a lot of progress happens at this exact intersection, from experiences and pain that we didn’t choose and don’t understand.

We build patience, resilience and slow but ironclad wisdom as we navigate such experiences.

If you’re undergoing or have experienced a spiritual death, you’re likely feeling it’s the end of the line.

But on a hopeful note, this is often simply the start of a new ride.

This can be the start of growing into a new and more meaningful existence…

This can be the start of developing maturity and reciprocity in love and having more real gratitude for those around you…

Spiritual death can be like a coat of primer that’s put all over the walls in order to provide space for new paint in a nice, bright color that will change your life!

If you’re experiencing spiritual death, accept it.

Allow the lack of feelings and the confusion and struggle to occur. Validate this process. Let it happen. You are on a journey.

As Monica Rodgers of the Revelation Project writes, sometimes a seeming spiritual death can actually be space for an empowering transformation to occur:

“Death in the spiritual sense can be hard for me to identify right away. 

“Instead, I usually think I’m losing it until I recognize what’s actually happening…

“Recently I had such an experience where I suddenly felt like the world I knew was being turned upside down, and while I had already felt a sense of inner shifting, this event really accelerated the process, threatening my whole world order.”

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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