“What you resist persists.”Carl Jung
Spirituality is a sanctuary for people who want to find themselves and end their suffering. However, with the wrong perception of spirituality, it can be a prison rather than a place to ease your burdens.
Spiritual bypassing is when you use spirituality to escape life’s pain without properly addressing your inner turmoils.
Often, people are unaware that they are already spiritually bypassing, leading to deeper wounds and bigger life issues.
So to guide you, we have compiled all the necessary information about spiritual bypassing, its dangers, types, signs, and how you can avoid it.
Spiritual Bypassing (Escapism Dressed in Spirituality)
We have this misconception that spirituality is always filled with light, an ever-peaceful and beautiful experience we must attain.
While this can be true, it’s important to note that spirituality is not always a paradise.
Often, it is our one-sided perception of spirituality that leads to spiritual bypassing.
According to Kendra Cherry from VeryWell Mind, spiritual bypassing is using spirituality, its practices, and principles as means of escapism from personal and interpersonal issues.
She added that when a person spiritually bypasses, they hide behind spirituality and spiritual practices to avoid addressing their real emotions and inner struggles. Spiritually bypassing to escape from the underlying issues at hand distances them from themselves and the people around them.
Transpersonal psychotherapist John Welwood coined spiritual bypassing in his book Toward a Psychology of Awakening.
In his life as a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, Welwood shared how we are often tempted to resort to spirituality to rise above tough situations and use it as a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from painful experiences.
Instead of completely addressing our problems, we gloss them over with forced optimism and spiritual explanations.
While we consider spirituality a means to protect ourselves from pain and maintain relationships with the people around us, we are often left with deep unresolved problems. Which, in the end, will resurface again to call our attention.
The Types of Spiritual Bypassing
Aletheia Luna from Loner Wolf explained that when you use spirituality as a shield to suppress your emotions, it becomes your greatest enemy, which prevents you from obtaining genuineness, courageousness, and completeness.
She shared that we often do not notice or refuse to recognize these different types of spiritual bypassing.
1. Optimistic Bypass.
While there’s nothing wrong with being optimistic, incorporating positivity in all types of situations (even the grave and dire ones) becomes toxic.
Optimistic bypassing is when people force positivity to get through tough times. They always seem to have a ‘see the glass as half full.’ and ‘always see the good side of everything.’ mindset.
They always believe in maintaining a positive mindset without providing room for negative emotions like sadness, anger, and fear.
Aletheia Luna described optimistic bypassing as a result of anger phobia or one’s inability to regulate negative emotions.
2. Victim Bypass.
Victim bypass is when one becomes a victim of their gifts. According to Aletheia Luna, some spiritual seekers believe that their extrasensory gifts prevent them from living a healthy and happy life.
For instance, a person identifies themselves as an empath, meaning they can sense, feel, and experience others’ pain and emotions deeper than an average person.
Being an empath is a great spiritual gift; however, if a person excuses their emotions to that of others, it is spiritual bypassing.
Aletheia Luna added that other spiritual gifts (such as being an indigo child, clairvoyant, gifted healer, and so on) could also cause people to fall into this type of spiritual bypassing.
3. Horoscope Bypass.
Horoscope bypass is rooted in a person’s fear and mistrust of themselves, fear of being accountable to one’s decision, and resistance to life’s flow by seeking guidance and help from external resources.
We all need help and support at some point in our lives, but constantly seeking guidance from external resources to prevent being the one at fault for your circumstances is wrong.
Luna added that depending greatly on horoscopes and other forms of divination prevents you from accessing your inner strength and ability to create your faith.
4. Prayer Bypass.
Prayer bypass is putting your faith in a higher power and depending on them to solve all of your problems.
Luna stated that prayer is a healthy practice; however, praying without taking action to improve your situation and solve your issues can lead to an imbalanced way of living.
Always remember you can only reach your dreams if you take action.
5. Saint Bypass.
Kindness is a positive trait to possess, but when boundaries are overstepped, it might put you and those who receive your kindness in danger.
Being too nice without regard for yourself can lead to suffering because you are conditioned to only show the positive side of yourself.
You suppress your negative emotions, thinking it will hurt others or make them judge you. You suppress and suppress your negative aspects until you explode and lose your sense of identity.
Aletheia Luna explained that saint bypass comes from extreme black-and-white thinking, a belief that spiritual people cannot have dark sides as these will make them unspiritual.
She added that people fall to saint bypass because they reject their Shadow Selves by always showing kind and heavenly exteriors.
Signs of Spiritual Bypassing
Spiritual bypassing has been strongly woven into our daily life. We are oblivious to how the things we consider normal can already be an example of spiritual bypassing.
Spiritual bypassing is often challenging to ascertain as they are subtle, so here are different scenarios you can spot this trait.
1. Everything is a part of God’s plan.
It’s undeniable that we often encounter this phrase during tough situations. While this might be thoughtful and comforting, it can be harmful when used incorrectly.
An example of spiritual bypassing using this term is during the loss of a loved one.
In an attempt to comfort the bereaved, we often say,
“They are already in a better place without pain and suffering.”
“These are part of God’s plan.”
Yes, we assure the surviving family that everything will be fine, but we dismiss the reality that they are grieving—and grieving has no definite time. It can happen in months, years, and even an eternity.
2. Stop being so sensitive.
Upsetting others can happen in relationships. Family members and close friends can hurt one another through interactions.
For example, if a person shares that they are upset and hurt by what others consider a joke, there’s an instance where their group of friends will tell them to stop being sensitive.
But this is spiritual bypassing. Telling a person to stop being sensitive is like telling them that it’s their fault that they get affected by your hurtful actions. You are invalidating their feelings, making them feel they are not worthy of expressing themselves.
Always remember that each person has different levels of sensitivity and different circumstances.
3. The world is your mirror.
This mentality puts a lot of burden and guilt on victims of violence and abuse. It makes them believe that their circumstances are made by their actions and decisions, not by the people who brought trauma to their lives.
According to Kim Saeed, the ideology ‘you hate in others what you hate about yourself.’ is one of the most dangerous examples of spiritual bypassing as it’s a kind of victim-blaming.
According to the author, reflecting on oneself is healthy and normal, but owning traits that are not yours is not.
For instance, a person on the receiving end of a toxic relationship might reflect that they are the ones at fault which is why they are in that situation.
Instead of confronting the real narcissist in their life, they overlook their abuse and blame everything on themselves.
4. Good vibes only!
Pamela B. Rutledge from Psychology Today states that social media’s trend, ‘Good vibes only!’ creates toxic positivity.
The author states that toxic positivity is denying and minimizing negative emotions, dealing with negative situations with platitudes, and giving false consolations rather than empathy.
It is a misguided belief that a positive mindset should always be applied to all experiences of suffering, loss, and pain rather than accepting their downsides.
Imagine telling war victims to cheer up and always look at the bright side of life. Rather than comfort, you’re portraying your insensitivity to their situation, which is not a good vibe at all.
5. Everything happens for a reason.
It’s easy to let go of one’s responsibility with this mantra. Instead of owning your circumstances and taking responsibility for your life, you believe everything happens for a reason and might perceive life as unfair.
This mantra can also be a dangerous form of victim-blaming as it makes the victims believe that their decisions brought them their traumas and negative experiences.
6. Real strength is forged when you’re alone.
Kim Saeed explained that a growing trend of spirituality today is finding strength all by yourself.
But this mindset becomes toxic when misunderstood. Some think that seeking support and guidance from others is a sign of weakness, causing them to isolate themselves.
Yes, solitude is a great personalized experience. However, it doesn’t mean you have to block all forms of interactions, love, and meaningful relationships so that you can be alone.
No man is an island, and we need each other to survive. But this doesn’t mean you’ll let toxic people create a doormat out of you!
Finding strength alone does not mean you’re literally alone, with no contact or help at some aspect of your life.
Instead, it’s finding the right group of people where you can holistically thrive. You can grow alone with the help of the people who cherish and support you.
The Dangers of Spiritual Bypassing
Based on the study of Picciotto et al., spiritual bypassing is not always negative. It can be a temporary way to relieve one’s anxiety and distress during difficult situations.
However, it can be harmful when used for a long time to suppress and escape from your problems.
1. Spiritual narcissism.
According to Roos Vonk of Psychology Today, spiritual narcissism is the perception that your spiritual knowledge makes you superior to others.
A spiritual narcissistic person might use spirituality to protect themselves from criticism, enhance confidence, and impress others.
They might also use their spiritual wisdom to dismiss others’ emotions and bring them down.
Narcissistic people might show that they have it all, but in reality, they are full of insecurities about themselves and often turn to others to make them feel better.
2. Disconnection from yourself.
According to Kendra Cherry, people often involve themselves in spiritual bypassing to avoid negative emotions they do not want to address.
They might feel ashamed and guilty of possessing negative emotions of disgust, annoyance, anger, and jealousy and do everything to conceal them.
Spiritual bypassing to suppress your negative emotions leads to disconnection from yourself. You deprive yourself of the attention you need when you feel down and undermine your self-worth to make room for others.
Cherry added that while it’s harmful to suppress your emotions, you should also avoid helping others in situations you are not comfortable with.
Shielding others from the circumstances of their poor choices is also a form of spiritual bypassing. Remember, helping is different from enabling.
3. Avoiding accountability.
Instead of owning your mistakes, spiritually bypassing makes you believe that your actions and behavior are not yours but your circumstances.
For instance, you intentionally failed to meet your project’s deadline because you didn’t feel like it. But when confronted by your colleagues, you excused your laziness as an important message you must follow from your horoscope reading.
4. Dismissing others’ situations.
Kendra Cherry stated that spiritual bypassing could be used by spiritual bypassers to dismiss others’ emotions and situations. Gaslighters can also use it to force their victims to keep and accept the things that harmed them.
Spirituality is used to reframe events that help perpetrators escape the consequences of their actions because the victims blame themselves instead.
Rather than helping them get through their situations, spiritual bypassers make victims think they are just being negative and sensitive.
5. Prevents personal growth.
Spiritual bypassing may be less damaging than other forms of defense mechanisms; however, it can still harm one’s personal growth and outlook in life.
Since spiritual bypasses are a means of escape, they ultimately allow various negative effects to manifest.
These include an excessive desire to influence others, guilt, anxiety, dichotomous thought, and emotional uncertainty. There is also high tolerance for improper behavior, co-dependence, and discomfort.
Other detrimental effects of spiritual bypassing can be substance addiction, abuse, blind belief in inspirational teachers, and the repudiation of personal responsibilities.
How to Avoid Spiritual Bypassing
According to Mind Works, spiritual bypassing might be challenging to overcome as we perceive them as a normal part of life; however, you can directly deal with spiritual bypassing by considering the following suggestions.
1. Daily meditations.
The first step to overcoming spiritual bypassing is through compassionate self-reflection. Reflecting on one’s mistakes, thoughts, and patterns of behavior will help you determine the issue at hand.
2. Notice signs of aversions.
Be mindful of tendencies to escape, avoid, and avert your attention from problems. Notice your urge to correct others’ mistakes and eliminate discomfort immediately.
Stop for a moment, and identify your emotions. Ask yourself the reason behind these emotions and slowly accept them regardless of their nature.
You don’t have to immediately face your problems; take time, and ensure that you won’t abandon and suppress them.
3. Allow pain.
Humans are wired to make sense of their suffering. And while this is a part of life, there are times when our pursuit of answers to end our suffering becomes harmful.
Allow pain and discomfort to be fully accepted by yourself. Do not resist them but slowly embrace them.
Allow yourself to feel negative emotions and find a healthy outlet to express and get them out of your system.
4. Practice compassion.
Practicing compassion doesn’t mean being only kind to others. It means you have to be kind to yourself as well.
Be open to yourself as much as you’re open to others. Allow yourself to make mistakes and listen to what your soul truly feels.
Wrapping It Up!
John Welwood coined Spiritual Bypassing to describe his observations of how people (including himself) use spirituality, its practices, and principles as means of escapism from personal and interpersonal issues.
It is strongly woven into our daily life, making us oblivious of how the things we consider normal can already be an example of spiritual bypassing.
Different types and signs of spiritual bypassing exist, and they all generally prevent a person from completely addressing personal issues.
Spiritual bypassing might be less harmful than other forms of defense mechanisms, but it can still affect one’s holistic well-being; that’s why it’s important to be familiar with it.
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