The Vice of Sacrifice

sacrificial-lamb1Some of the greatest obstacles to spiritual development are hidden in a virtue’s shadow. Most of us raised in western culture have become afflicted with a sort of Jesus complex. Even if we don’t identify ourselves as Christians, we’ve been saturated with images that elevate personal sacrifice to the highest of spiritual ideals. In other words, we consider the most spiritual person to be the one that sacrifices themselves the most. Sacrifice itself becomes God, so that our entire value system revolves around a singular standard. Our souls get entirely shaped by the sense of shame or gratification that arises moment-by-moment as we measure our worth by how much we sacrifice for others.

Strangely enough, however, it can often be far easier to sacrifice ourselves, than to be ourselves. And that is what sacrifice can hide in its shadow. Sacrifice becomes a vice when it becomes a way to evade the spiritual obligation to become all that we are personally meant to be, fulfilling and fleshing out our soul’s deepest potential. Keeping faith with the life we are uniquely called to live can be excruciatingly demanding. The process of descending into the depths of our own souls, attempting to discern and embrace all that we are and are meant to become, is inevitably messy and confusing. There are things we don’t want to know about ourselves. There are wounds suffered and inflicted that would be simpler to forget about than to work to heal. We often forget that wholeness first requires the acknowledgement of all that we are – the good, the bad, and the ugly – before it becomes the realization of all that we can be. No wonder many of us would rather “sacrifice” our own wholeness for the sake of helping others towards it. We get to fill ourselves with the satisfaction of midwifing another’s wholeness without having to suffer the stretch marks of wholeness ourselves.

Beyond this, the vice of sacrifice can provide a sense of spiritual superiority that can induce a profoundly addicting high. There may be nothing more difficult than to give up the identity of being the one that sacrifices everything for others. There is an almost unopposable power that comes with that identity. One gains a kind of weaponized guilt that can force anyone whose been sacrificed for into immediate compliance. The rest of us far more selfish humans dare not question the spiritual advancement of the relentlessly sacrificial. They always say yes to sacrifice, while the rest of us sometimes say no. And perhaps that is the real issue. Never saying no, means we are always what others want us to be, and never have to face the rejection or loneliness that come with being a unique self, with a unique soul, facing a unique fate. When we succumb to the vice of sacrifice, we never have to suffer the death of being different, but that also means we never get to taste the holiness of being fully alive, whole, and free.

Dylan Hoffman is a PhD student in Depth Psychology, concentrating in Jungian and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is the founder and director of Earth Temple – a center for Jungian magic in Cortez, Colorado. You can contact Dylan by phone at (970) 529-3175, by email at, or visit Follow Dylan on facebook at

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