These days everyone is a spiritual guru and they all want to tell us how to live and heal our lives. It’s great that so many people want to help others on their paths, but we need to be really careful of who we choose to listen to. One of the biggest red flag behaviors I’ve seen pervasively arising amongst “spiritual” practitioners is spiritual bypassing.
Believe it or not, not everyone has our highest good in mind. And not everyone is actually doing the work they claim to be doing. There are many charismatic people hiding behind the identity of spiritual teachers who are happy to take your money, hook you in energetically, and take advantage of you.
Something to remember….
The most important thing to remember is that we are already spiritual beings. Being more spiritual isn’t where we need to focus. We need to focus on being more human. And part of being human is feeling pain. We’re meant to walk through darkness, feel sadness, rage, anger, jealousy, and so on.
Feeling anger, pain, rage, sadness, jealousy, envy, fear or any other “negative” emotion doesn’t make you less spiritual than the Zen monk who has mastered his emotional observation and mindfulness practice. It just means you’re at a different stage of the journey. And yes, even the evil among us are spiritual by nature. I know that’s a tough one to swallow, but it is true.
How much more arrogant does it get then defining what is and isn’t spiritual based on our limited human intellect and understanding?
So what is spiritual bypassing?
Spiritual bypassing is a term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984. It is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. It is much more common than we might think. Considering our culture generally shuns negative emotions, it’s no surprise many of us respond to those emotions with repression. Spiritual bypassing, while seemingly more benign, is much more difficult to notice because it’s disguised in the appearance of wholeness and wisdom.
For example, perhaps we subscribe to the belief that everything happens for a reason. And that’s wonderful. I personally do believe this. However, just because I believe everything happens for a reason doesn’t mean that I won’t have some very real human emotions over said events when they happen. So if I get robbed at gunpoint tomorrow, I may accept that there is a reason for it. However, I will still need to process my grief, anger, sadness, and any other emotions attached to the event. If I was to write it off as “a spiritual lesson” and just immediately go directly to forgiveness for the person who violated me I would be doing my human self a massive disservice aka spiritual bypassing.
Examples of spiritual bypassing
That’s just a basic example of what spiritual bypassing can look like. It can also show up in the form of detachment, emotional disassociation, premature forgiveness, suppression of anger, labeling anger as aggression so as to write it off, weak boundaries, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, and devaluation of the physical as opposed to the spiritual.
Let’s discuss a few of these more deeply:
- Overemphasis on the positive. I’m all for positive thinking, but not when it’s used to bypass our much-needed processes. It is a sign of bypassing when we want to discuss our anger and someone tells us we need to “be more positive”. There is a way to talk about our emotions without getting all wrapped up in the negativity of it. We just need to learn what that is! And if we need to yell, rant, rave, and cry in order to process something – GO FOR IT! You’re human.
- Blind or overly tolerant compassion. I constantly hear “Don’t you do yoga? Why are you so angry?” and I can’t help but chuckle. Where did we ever get the idea that anger is wrong and bad? It’s what we do with the anger that mucks things up, not the anger itself. When we find ourselves grabbing onto compassion for someone who has just done something that violates everything we believe in, we skip right over our anger, thus completely invalidating a very real aspect of us. This allows some very unacceptable behaviors to go on.
- Anger-phobia. This belief that by being more spiritual we can somehow make the anger go away is so harmful. The more anger that we suppress out of fear of being “un-spiritual” the more harm we do to ourselves. It’s just the spiritual ego that gets in the way of accepting our darkness and our light as our own perfection.
- Not taking responsibility. Now this one we see so often, but it can be very hard to identify. We are guilty of this when someone presents something we’ve done or a behavior they see in us, and we immediately write it off as them projecting their unhealed stuff onto us. For example, I once pointed out that perhaps fear and greed were getting in the way of someone close to me. And in all their spiritual ego and arrogance told me passive-aggressively that I was just jealous of their success. It was a bit of a punch in the face to me because I this person was someone I looked up to in a way. That was a tough one to swallow. It really hurt me and had I immediately jumped to premature forgiveness instead of honoring my process, I too would have been bypassing.
Society adds to the problem
Part of the reason for [spiritual bypassing] is that we tend not to have very much tolerance, either personally or collectively, for facing, entering, and working through our pain, strongly preferring pain-numbing “solutions,” regardless of how much suffering such “remedies” may catalyze. Because this preference has so deeply and thoroughly infiltrated our culture that it has become all but normalized, spiritual bypassing fits almost seamlessly into our collective habit of turning away from what is painful, as a kind of higher analgesic with seemingly minimal side effects. It is a spiritualized strategy not only for avoiding pain but also for legitimizing such avoidance, in ways ranging from the blatantly obvious to the extremely subtle.
So what’s the solution?
The key is to remember that we all must take responsibility for where we are at any given moment. When we are grounded in reality and honest with ourselves we will know if we are suppressing our own feelings. When we are stuck in ego and bypassing, we suppress in favor of what we think is the more “spiritual” way of being.
Spiritual practice doesn’t wipe out our human experiences, hurts, traumas, and losses. If we choose to walk the path of growth and healing then we must dig into the psychoemotional elements of our experiences as well. Anyone who tells you otherwise is doing you more harm than good.
Perhaps the next time someone tells you to “love and light” your way to healing from your traumas, you can tell them to go f*ck themselves. (wink, wink. That was a joke, for my uptight readers.)
If you’re ready to start getting real and you want to learn from others who are getting real, I invite you to come join our facebook community at www.facebook.com/groups/hugyourchaos
Namaste and many blessings. The light and the shadows in me honors the light and the shadows in you!
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