What’s a spiritual bypass?

What’s a spiritual bypass? Could you be sidestepping your issues without even realising? And, what’s the harm?

A spiritual bypass is when we use spiritual practice or spiritual language to avoid psychological issues. When we sidestep, mask or overlook our unfinished business – emotionally – we are simply covering up problems, instead of healing. We approach things with extra positivity, place our faith in a spiritual guide or guru, or continually look outside ourselves for help…

Let’s take a closer look.

What does a spiritual bypass look like?

Spiritual bypassing comes in many forms. Sometimes, it’s a form of escapism. The realisation you are doing it – or have been doing it for a long time – can creep up on you.

Some examples:

    • Avoiding action by justifying suffering. When painful things happen, you might say “It is as God intended” or “It’s that way for a reason” or even “It is what it is”. What’s happening here is you’re making it easy to accept things by making them appear natural, divine or inevitable. Instead, action can be taken to make the situation better. We need to sit with our pain, in order to process it, shift it, and let go.
    • Judging negativity. When we judge others as “negative” for expressing their anger or frustration, we are effectively trying to suppress valid emotions – because they feel uncomfortable. You may feel a sense of superiority in your spirituality and see other people’s negativity as a flaw or weakness. You may think “They’re just not evolved” but really, you’re avoiding negativity because it feels uncomfortable.
    • Denying uncomfortable emotions. When we deny feelings of anger, disgust, shame and guilt (with a “good vibes only” approach) rather than dealing with these negative feelings, we are effectively blanketing them. Until we really sit with them, they’ll keep coming back.

What’s the harm in spiritual bypassing?

Essentially, a spiritual bypass will keep you in an emotional pattern of avoidance and denial. When spiritual practice is used to compensate confronting issues like low self-esteem or social isolation, it’s a temporary cover-up of an issue that instead needs to be brought into the light – and dealt with. Let’s say you run away from problems by going to a spiritual retreat. You may find some peaceful moments and feel enlightenment briefly, but when you get home you soon feel triggered and all the inner fear, drama, confusion and lack of self worth is still there. Nothing has changed. You were simply bypassing the real issue.

Signs to watch out for…

Here are some signs of emotional bypassing:

    • Pretending everything is okay – when it’s not
    • Being overly compassionate.
    • Not being present in the here and now, but living in a spiritual realm most of the time.
    • Being overly idealistic.
    • Avoiding feelings of anger.
    • Believing in your own spiritual superiority to mask your insecurities.
    • Overstating the positive and avoiding the negative aspects of life.

How to stop sidestepping your issues

While spiritual bypassing can be seen as a coping mechanism, it can stifle growth, emotional development and even get in the way of fully realised spirituality.

So, how to stop bypassing?

First of all, see uncomfortable feelings as a sign there is something wrong and something needs to change. Uncomfortable emotions need to be recognised – rather than avoided or masked with superficial positive escapism.

Then, avoid labelling your emotions as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Accept all emotions, recognising that they are temporary – and don’t make you a ‘bad’ person for having them.

Lastly, use negative thoughts and feelings to propel you into positive action. Instead of ignoring them or masking them with an “It is what it is” mindset, use them as a catalyst for real change. Ignoring a problem, or sidestepping it, doesn’t solve it.

Header Photo by Unsplash

January 19, 2021 — Amy Crawford

Made by Amy

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