Beware Of Spiritual Bypassing
The term Spiritual Bypassing was coined by the Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, John Weldwood in the early 1980’s. As defined by John, it’s the tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds and unfinished developmental tasks. Dr. Robert Augustus Masters defines Spiritual Bypassing as the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds and developmental needs. Jeff Brown defines Spiritual Bypassing in his book, Soulshaping, as the tendency to jump to spirit prematurely, usually in an effort to avoid various aspects of earthly reality.
Jeff also acknowledges that sometimes there’s a need for bypass techniques in a difficult world. “In a world of pain, the spiritual bypass is an ongoing temptation. It gives us something to believe in and a vision of what we are missing in our localized reality. Without it, many of us would have to suffer unbearable situations. At the same time, it can be a detour on the path to genuine spirituality. In our efforts to leapfrog to something better, we often avoid something crucial. Spirit becomes the crutch rather than the expression of a natural unfolding.”
Spiritual bypassing then, becomes another defense strategy, which can be harmful as in my experience it creates a dissociation of the depth of the emotional wounds our bodies carry. It can also create toxic shame that lingers because of the belief that we shouldn’t feel or experience certain emotions and this shame gets stuffed down. This can show up in subtle ways and I wanted to share some of the ways I’ve seen spiritual bypassing show up in my own personal experience and interactions with others. We see spiritual bypassing happening with the mindset work of the personal development world, the “just think positive” groups, the law of attraction teachers and when spiritual development ignores psychology.
“If your spirituality does not include psychology, it’s spiritual bypass.”~Imaya Sabine
The Forgiveness Spiritual Bypass. Forgiveness is a hot topic in the spiritual development world and the concept is that when we don’t forgive others, it keeps us tied to their energy. This continues to drain us and impact the way we feel. Further, forgiveness is for us and doesn’t mean what the other person did was okay. Here’s the issue I see happen and have also personally experienced. People who have a people-pleasing wound, are overly understanding and empathetic, are all over the concept of forgiveness. They’re the good girl and forgive quickly at the expense of bypassing their own emotional pain.
This is where the problem lies. Anytime we’re bypassing our own internal experience to forgive others or give them the benefit of the doubt, we’re self-abandoning. I also see people mistaking forgiveness to mean that they don’t need to set boundaries and get to engage in relationship with people who might actually not be healthy for them. It’s a fine line to walk and to understand that forgiveness does not mean you need to be in relationship with others. We can forgive and still release. Deep work is needed to understand the difference between operating from wounding and operating from our authentic self and intuition to understand what we need when it comes to forgiveness.
“Just because you don’t choose to forgive doesn’t mean you haven’t let go yet. Maybe you realize forgiveness is not essential to your healing, and not your responsibility. Some of us actually heal and choose not to forgive. Imagine that.”~Jeff Brown
The Positive Thinking Spiritual Bypass. I have totally been there with this bypass myself and the underlying message is that your emotions like, sadness, anger and fear are not acceptable. What happens is we suppress these emotions and put on an “everything is awesome” mask. When we do this, we’re showing the world we’re a certain way, yet internally something continues to feel off. Something feels missing. This happens because we’re rejecting parts of our human experience. I actually experienced this with the body positivity world early on. I personally believe the body positivity movement has done so much good in normalizing the various sizes, shapes and colours of the human body. It’s also important to note that it was created for those in bodies that experience oppression because they don’t fit the societal ideals. For me I was using it as a way to bypass the fact that I didn’t love or even accept my body, but was pretending that I did. I was also bypassing the root of why I had experienced eating disorders. It wasn’t until I got honest with myself and how I truly felt, that I began to do the deeper healing work of touching in on the emotional pain under the struggle with food and body. Robert Augustus makes a good point in his book, Bringing Your Shadow Out Of The Dark when he says we’re being negative about our negativity with this positive bypass.
“The path of the spiritual warrior is not soft and sweet. It is not artificially blissful and feigned forgiveness. It is not fearful of divisiveness. It is not afraid of its own shadow. It is not afraid of losing popularity when it speaks its truth. It will not beat around the bush where directedness is required. It has no regard for vested interests that cause suffering. It is benevolent and it is fiery and it is cuttingly honest in its efforts to liberate itself and humanity from the egoic ties that bind. Shunning strong opinions in the name of spirituality is actually non-spiritual. Spirituality that is only floaty soft is a recipe for disaster, allowing all manner of manipulation to run amok. Real spirituality is a quest for truth, in all its forms.”~Jeff Brown
The “Everyone is a Mirror” Spiritual Bypass. Yes, sometimes when we’re triggered by others, we can self reflect and possibly uncover that they are showing us a part of ourselves that we’ve not fully accepted. This isn’t always true though. It’s much more complex than that. We’re all working with multiple parts of ourselves in any moment including our attachment style, inner children, ego, people pleaser, perfectionist, various protectors, etc. This bypass removes personal responsibility from those who do cause harm through their behaviours and words, and stops us from moving through our own internal experience and healing process, which may include feeling our anger and setting boundaries. There’s nuance to everything and it’s important that we learn to discern when it may not be appropriate or relevant.
The “Everything is Happening for a Reason or in Perfect Timing” Spiritual Bypass. Personally I’ve found this one to be helpful for myself. Other times I’ve seen it used when someone has been diagnosed with cancer and I wanted to shout from the roof tops “NO!” Use it for yourself, but be mindful when you’re bypassing a hard conversation or emotions that need to be felt. When we use this bypass on others, we’re denying their own internal experience and this can create shame in the person for feeling another way. This bypass, like many of them, minimizes a persons experience, which never helps healing. Healing happens when we meet our pain and our darkness with acceptance for exactly what it is.
“Love and light without shadow integration is just spiritual bypassing.”Richelle Ludwig
The “Love & Light” and “Good Vibes Only” Spiritual Bypass. This bypass is used again to avoid our more painful emotions and human experiences. I find that this bypass specifically avoids the emotion of anger. When we deny our own anger, we stay disconnected from our needs and boundaries. When we deny other’s anger we are gaslighting their rightful experience. When I talk about anger, there is a distinct difference from aggression. I don’t believe we should put up with aggression, which is the energy of anger being directed at others, things or ourselves. Aggression is a defense mechanism that blocks vulnerable core emotions like sadness and fear. Anger on the other hand is a healthy emotion and like any core emotion it is communicating to us so that we can take action. I feel this avoidance of anger contributes to the avoidance of conflict as it’s seen as lesser than. The thing is so many of us didn’t learn how to repair after conflict or disagreement. Conflict is actually healthy when done right and learning to repair creates deeper connection and intimacy with others. The “Love & Light” bypass ignores the shadow and what stays in the shadow continues to rule our life. Real spirituality integrates the shadow which includes our ego and the parts of us who are critical, self-righteous, holier than though, controlling, etc.
“Blind compassion is rooted in the belief that we are all doing the best that we can. When we are driven by blind compassion, we cut everyone far too much slack, making excuses for others’ behavior and making nice in situations that require a forceful “no,” an unmistakable voicing of displeasure, or a firm setting and maintaining of boundaries. These things can, and often should, be done out of love, but blind compassion keeps love too meek, sentenced to wearing a kind face. This is not the kindness of the Dalai Lama, which is rooted in courage, but rather a kindness rooted in fear, and not just the fear of confrontation, but also the fear of not coming across as a good or spiritual person. When we are engaged in blind compassion we rarely show any anger, for we not only believe that compassion has to be gentle, we are also frightened of upsetting anyone, especially to the point of their confronting us.”~Robert Augustus Masters
The Transcendence Spiritual Bypass. This bypass ignores the fact that we are having a human experience and existing in a human body. This bypass is used to rise above our very real human experience. If this is even possible, it’s not something most of us can learn to do in a matter on minutes, months or even our lifetime. We can’t just leave our brains and body behind. This spiritual term of transcendence is often really dissociation dressed up in spiritual elitism. I’ve done that enough in my lifetime that I’d rather build a home in my body and become intimate with its whole experience. I’d rather become more embodied, than less. Stephen Porgess, author of The Polyvagal Theory, states that dissociation is a manifestation of the “freeze” response. It makes me wonder how many people who talk about transcendence are actually just dissociating because their nervous system is in a freeze response.
“When transcendence of our personal history takes precedence over intimacy with our personal history, spiritual bypassing is inevitable. To not be intimate with our past—to not be deeply and thoroughly acquainted with our conditioning and its originating factors—keeps it undigested and unintegrated and therefore very much present.”~Robert Augustus Masters
The Law Of Attraction Spiritual Bypass. The biggest problem I see with the LOA is that people are focusing on what they desire and worry that if they experience “low vibes” or “negative” feelings that they are going to attract something bad in their life. This creates the belief that we need to always feel high vibe if we want the life we desire, and obviously this again ignores the human reality of our whole spectrum of emotions. I see this create shame and shame is one of the most harmful emotions. Shame is connected to the belief of “I am not good enough” or “something is wrong with me.” I also want to touch on the fact that we live in a world with systems of oppression, which truly impact the possibilities available to you unless you’re white, cis-gendered, and able bodied. For more on this check out this episode on the Truth Telling podcast with Elizabeth Dialto.
“If one claims to be a ‘realized master’, then they are, by definition, not. Anyone who grows in awareness realizes that there is so much more left unseen, so many wisdoms yet unknown, so many doors yet to open, a million more learnings to come. And we get more compassionate as we evolve. More humble. More subtle. We don’t get superior. We don’t form cults of personality. We don’t think we have it all worked out. If we imagine ourselves “all that,” then we have actually devolved. In my experience, claims of enlightenment are an over-compensatory, unhealthy egoic assertion that masks a profound insecurity. They are not to be taken seriously. Better we sit with those who both recognize their offerings and honor their limitations. I trust the ones who realize how far they have yet to travel. We have so much more to learn. All of us. Let’s walk together, side by side.”~Jeff Brown
The Independence Spiritual Bypass. As I began my own spiritual development journey it was easy for me to go sit and meditate on my own or reparent my inner child on my own when triggered. I was independent and felt like my partners issues were his to deal with on his own as well. The problem with this, is that it reinforced my avoidant attachment style and underlying fear of intimacy. There’s actually a middle ground between independence and codependency called interdependence. Interdependence suggests that partners recognize and value the importance of the emotional bond they share while maintaining a solid sense of self within the relationship dynamic. We are relational creatures and don’t heal in a vacuum. We can do all of our own work, but if it’s not integrated into relationship with others, what’s the value in it? In intimate relationship we can learn to co-regulate and ask for certain needs to be met. We’re not solely relying on our partner for our sense of self and well-being though. Codependency involves enmeshment and feeling responsible for others feelings, which is not a healthy dynamic. Independence is used again to bypass the very real need for connection and intimacy with other humans.
“Without deep and honest self-acceptance, the spiritual life rests on a dangerous psychological foundation and is nothing more than escape into a world of illusion. Humble self-knowledge is the most basic condition for any true spirituality.”John Monbourquette
At the root of all these types of bypass is an avoidance and rejection of what is. There’s an unspoken hierarchy of what is considered spiritual and good. In this quest we end up chasing a feeling of wholeness towards the light, that is never fulfilled. In reality it’s when we accept and include the shadow and all of our very real human experiences, that we access our innate wholeness. It’s when shadow and light merge that deep healing occurs. True spirituality embraces authenticity, which is when we show up exactly as we are. No hiding parts of ourselves. I hope you find this post on spiritual bypassing thought provoking. Be gentle with yourself if you discover that you have been spiritually bypassing. We all do at some point or another on this journey. As always, the process is to keep coming back to yourself over and over again. And with that I will leave you with one final quote from Jeff Brown.
Heightened’ consciousness- we aren’t birds. Fuck transcendence addiction masquerading as evolution. Fuck ‘non-duality’ that conveniently removes everything uncomfortable from the unified field. Fuck ‘enlightenment’ without integrity. Fuck patriarchal detachment models presented as ‘the’ royal road to the ‘Kingdom’ of God- what about the Queendom? (our only hope). Fuck ‘The New Earth’ as described by dissociative and disembodied pain bypassers. Fuck the yoga ‘industry’ that feigns awareness it does not hold. Fuck vertical spirituality that ignores what is happening right before our very eyes. Fuck the bullshit soulebrities who don’t give a shit about humanity. Fuck the guru who imagines himself realized. Fuck the New Cage movement and its trail of lies. Fuck any version of spirituality that doesn’t SERVE humanity. Fuck the story bashers. Fuck the victim bashers. Fuck the bloodied spiritual lie. Embrace enrealment- before it’s too fucking late.
- Bringing Your Shadow Out Of The Dark by Robert Augustus Masters
- Spiritual Bypassing By Robert Augustus Masters
- Grounded Spirituality By Jeff Brown
- The Dark Side Of The Light Chasers by Debbie Ford