Spiritual bypassing is the cancer of the spiritual world. It is a disease that has run rampant in both religious and non-religious circles. Spiritual bypassing (or whitewashing) is the act of using spiritual beliefs to avoid facing or healing one’s painful feelings, unresolved wounds and unmet needs. It is a state of avoidance. Because it is a state of avoidance, it is a state of resistance. I personally, consider Spiritual bypassing to be the shadow side of spirituality.
The spiritual beliefs of any spiritual tradition, be it Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, New Age, Islamic, or even Self Help, can provide ample justification for living in a state of inauthenticity. They can all provide justification for avoiding the unwanted aspects of one’s own feelings and state of being in favor of what is considered to be “a more enlightened state”. Even the non-affiliated and unanimously beloved saying “keep calm and carry on” is in fact a glorification of spiritual bypassing.
Some examples of spiritual bypassing include anger-phobia, exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, using cognitive reasoning to escape emotional feelings. Debilitating judgment about one's negativity or shadow side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, avoidance of physical day to day life, delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being and my personal least favorite, overemphasis of and attachment to the positive to the degree that there is a high level of resistance to anything negative. Every religious practice propagates its fair share of spiritual bypassing. For example, Catholic confession, which is expected to just wash away sin and effortlessly alter someone’s negative behavior. Buddhist premature transcendence, which is to act as if one is above and beyond the messiness of life’s drama, when the truth is, one is not. Christian unconditional love, which is to espouse love that is false. It is to say, “I love them” when in truth, one harbors prejudice and resistance to them and only wishes they could learn to love them. Meditation is also frequently used as a form of spiritual bypassing. It is used to avoid uncomfortable feelings and unresolved life situations. For those in denial about their personal feelings or wounds, meditation practice can reinforce a tendency toward detachment, disengagement, or interpersonal distance. Spiritual drugs can be a form of spiritual bypassing.
The use of spiritual drugs can be a tool to avoid getting ones’ hands dirty in the work of resolving emotional issues. It is easier to spend time in an altered state of consciousness than to spent time facing the pain of one’s current state of consciousness. And in the spiritual community, no form of spiritual bypassing has become such a widespread disease as “positive focus”. Here is a prime example of positive focus spiritual bypassing; person A is really struggling with grief because their romantic relationship just ended. Person B feels incredibly uncomfortable about the fact that they are suffering and so, they wish to help the person A avoid those painful feelings. Person B tells person A that she creates her own reality and that she should therefore just quit thinking about what she is thinking about and “be positive” instead. Not only does this condemn the thoughts, which are being thought by person A (and therefore shame them), it also requires them to do something that they are not actually capable of doing. It requires them to jump from a purely negative thought to a purely positive thought; and that cannot be done. It is too far of a vibrational gap to jump. The result is, Person A feels shamed and powerless to their own thoughts. They feel as if where they are, is not ok. There is a big difference between being authentically positive and forcing positivity in order to try to avoid negativity. In today’s world, we have little tolerance for working through our pain. We much prefer instantaneous solutions that involve numbing out pain. Low and behold, Spirituality itself has become it’s own avoidance strategy. When we turn away from our pain or away from “wherever we are”, we abandon ourselves. We resist the very thing we are trying to avoid and so, we guarantee that it will come up in our realities again; only it will come back bigger next time.
Authenticity is the highest state of being for the spiritual practitioner. In fact in the years to come, authenticity will become the replacement for enlightenment as the true goal of spiritual practice. When we use spirituality to whitewash over our issues and try to avoid them, we use the goal of spiritual transcendence to try to rise above the raw and messy and real side of human life before we have fully faced and made peace with it. This can be seen as premature and false spiritual transcendence. It is one of the major pit falls or occupational hazards of walking the path of spirituality. Spiritual bypassing isn’t just an annoying facet of spirituality. It is in fact very dangerous. Why is spiritual bypassing dangerous? It is dangerous because it sets up a major division between the physical self and the higher self. It creates a definable split between where one really is and where one thinks they should be. It enables us to lie to ourselves and delude ourselves and live our lives through the projection of a false self. We cannot heal unless we are willing to admit to where we are and who we are. Spiritual bypassing is like breaking your leg, but being unwilling to admit to it, putting a band-aid over the compound fracture and trying to continue forward anyway. You can easily see how much harm would come to someone physically if they did that. That is exactly the same amount of emotional damage we do to ourselves when we use spirituality to bypass the truth of our emotional self. We need to take time to face and move through and heal our emotional pain in the same way that we need to take time to face the fact that our leg is broken, re-set the bone and spend time healing the leg before we are truly able to move forward.
Spiritual bypassing also leads to a one-sided form of spirituality where one aspect of life is elevated at the expense of its opposite. For example, objective truth (being valued more) is used to invalidate subjective truth. Non-physical is valued over form, 5d is valued and 3d is devalued. Transcendence is valued over physical embodiment, and detachment is valued over feeling. This behavior of valuing one side of polarity over the other gives rise to extremely damaging experiences. For example, one might, try to practice emotional detachment from others by suppressing one’s need for love and becoming independently self loving, but this only drives the need to be loved by others underground, so that it often becomes unconsciously acted out in covert and manipulative ways instead. Being a good spiritual person can become a substitute identity that covers up and defends against an underlying deficient identity. The spiritual idea we have of ourselves is used to whitewash over the truth of our true concept of ourselves, which is that we feel badly about ourselves. We feel that we are not good enough. We feel that we are innately Bad. Then, although we may be practicing diligently, our spiritual practice can be used in the service of denial and defense. And when spiritual practice is used to bypass our real-life human issues, our spirituality becomes compartmentalized. Our spiritual life and practice remains separate and un-integrated with our day-to-day life and our overall functioning. We feel like we have split personality disorder. We can never truly become the embodiment of the higher self, because we are still thinking of our lower self as our lower self, or as our unwanted self. Our spiritual practice cannot ever fully penetrate our life and make us feel good if we are using spiritual principals to avoid ourselves or avoid pain. Ask yourself these questions: Are you avoiding the fact that you feel like you are deficient and not good enough or bad by creating a “persona” of a spiritually transcendent person? Do you use spiritual beliefs to avoid your pain or problems? Do you feel like the spiritual you is different than the embodied you? Do you use spirituality to justify an insecurity within yourself? Do you use spirituality to avoid looking at things in your reality that you would rather think didn’t exist?
Now I’m about to make a bold statement, most of us alive today struggle with spiritual bypassing. Do you want to know how to know if you struggle with spiritual bypassing? You struggle with spiritual bypassing if you espouse, “I create my own reality” and then you worry. You struggle with spiritual bypassing if you espouse unconditional love and feel emotional resistance to someone. You struggle with spiritual bypassing if you espouse the idea that the universe is benevolent and good but then demonstrate distrust for others or the world at large. You struggle with spiritual bypassing if you espouse loving kindness and then berate yourself. If there is any kind of split within you between spiritual principal and the actuality of how you feel or act, then you struggle with spiritual bypassing. And if you struggle with spiritual bypassing, the order of the day is authenticity. We are not just physical beings waking up to our spiritual essence; we are also spiritual beings waking up to our physicality. Physical life is not clean. It is messy. Physical life is a life of contrast. It is an experience that involves both what is wanted and what is unwanted. Spirituality is not an excuse to run away from physical life. The soul is not a justification to deny the human side of ourselves. Spiritual principals are not an excuse to avoid the unhealed aspects of your psyche and your pain. Spiritual principals are not meant to serve as a justification to support your defenses.
In order to avoid the trap of spiritual bypassing, we need to be brave enough to admit to how we feel, what we want and don’t want, what we like and don’t like. We need to be willing to risk admitting to where we are and who we are, even if we think that where we are and who we are isn’t good or ok. If we want to avoid the pitfall of spiritual bypassing, we must express and allow our emotions, wounds, traumas and pain to surface healthily and with compassion.
Make a conscious effort to allow instead of suppress your emotions and not judge them when they arise. We often turn to bypassing to cope with our internal pain and suffering. Examples include addictions to food, drink, drugs, shopping, sex, work, focusing on others and diverting attention away from yourself etc. Make peace with being uncomfortable. If you are numbing yourself inside out this energy lingers and creates a breeding ground for other issues to arise and manifest. Get down to the root of your problems. The journey through life is not always one of bliss. And you haven’t gotten life wrong if you are not in perfect bliss. Sometimes the path through life leads you to breakdowns where you are curled up on the floor in tears.
In order to avoid the trap of spiritual bypassing, we need to apply what we learn to our life. Spiritual and Self help information is relatively abstract. Attending workshops, talks, reading books, going to yoga and meditation classes, etc. are good tools. However, tools are of no use if they aren’t used. Take action by applying what you are learning from these modalities consistently. Integrate them into your life daily. If these ideas remain abstract and merely intellectualized, they aren’t going to help you to create long lasting and permanent change.
If we are to avoid the trap of bypassing, we need to let go of the idea that something must be terribly, “wrong,” or dysfunctional about us if we have problems of negative beliefs or negative feelings or negative thoughts. Everyone has personal, “struggles,” to work through. I mean EVERYONE. When we judge our problems or feelings or negative-ness as wrong, we suddenly have a motive for spiritual bypassing. We make where we are “not ok”. We want to be good and right but we can only achieve that goodness or rightness by being inauthentic. We put on a false façade because of it.
You cannot avoid your pain because you cannot avoid yourself. Anything you try to avoid will haunt you. It will return again and again until it is so large that you cannot avoid it. The thing about spiritual practice, is that we turn to it because we are in pain and we want to feel better. But then all too often, we wind up using spiritual practice as a substitute for facing our psychological issues. When we do this, our spiritual progression is halted. We cannot move forward on our path of spirituality by lying to ourselves any more than we can reach our destination on a map, if we are unwilling to admit to where we are first. For this reason, true spirituality must incorporate the practice of shadow work and if we want to progress, we must face our psychological wounds. If you want to feel better and enjoy your life more, dare to face your pain. Dare to be… Authentic.