Are You Using Spiritual Bypassing to Feel Better?
Spiritual bypassing is a term which was first introduced by psychologist, John Welwood in 1984. It refers to the process where people use spiritual beliefs or practices as a means of avoidance; either of processing difficult emotions, or facing overwhelming situations in life.
Spiritual bypassing is essentially a coping mechanism for dealing with overwhelming situations. On a superficial level, it may provide a false sense of comfort - it can ease emotional pain in the short-term, and give a temporary feeling of self-confidence.
But ultimately, it is an unhealthy way of managing challenges. It is a form of emotional repression which can lead to heightened longer-term suffering. When a problem remains repressed and unresolved, the emotional charge associated with it builds up over time, and often results in an emotional crisis. So, it is healthier to resolve it sooner, rather than later.
Recognising spiritual bypassing
So how do you recognise spiritual bypassing in action?
Here are a few common scenarios:
1 - Constant positivity.
Focusing on the positive is good advice. But sometimes this practice is taken to the extreme. When a person is constantly effusive about the great things in life, and also refuses to acknowledge the more negative aspects, this can be a sign of bypassing.
2 - Feelings of moral superiority.
Spirituality is usually perceived as being associated with 'good' people. As such, it tends to be attractive to people who have lower levels of self-esteem, and who would like to feel better about themselves. Being viewed as a 'spiritual' person is often associated with increased social standing - there is a lot of power within larger religious or spiritual communities. Aligning with this 'higher' level of moral value can give a false boost to a persons self-confidence.
3 - Spiritual martyrdom.
This is particularly common in highly empathic people who use their trait as an excuse for being ill, or for not taking full responsibility over their own life. It can be recognised in the presumption that being highly sensitive to others feelings automatically creates illness, suffering, or attracts abusive people into your life. This bypasses personal responsibility for your own experiences.
4 - Judgement of others.
When we judge or condemn people for not being spiritual enough, or for not acting in a particular way, we are succumbing to black and white thinking. This denies the possibility that all of us have a shadow side, and that spiritual perfection does not exist. Judgement of other people is a way of making ourselves feel better through moral superiority. It is an avoidance of our own shadow.
5 - Relinquishing responsibility.
In many forms of spirituality or religion, there is a passing of responsibility from ourselves, to other beings or practices. This can take the form of spiritual guides, astrology, angels, tarot cards, or other spiritual ideas.
Whilst these things can be helpful tools for spiritual development, they can also be a way of avoiding full responsibility for one's own life. So it's important to use them as spiritual tools on the path, rather than the final destination.
Creating a healthier spiritual practice
So now that we recognise some of the ways bypassing can occur, how do we create a healthier spiritual practice? Here are three ways to begin:
1 - Participate in shadow work.
Recognise that there is a darker side of life. Life is not all love and light - there is a great deal of suffering throughout the world. War, violence, abuse, and issues of control are all very real problems. Whilst we continue to focus only on the positive, we are stopping ourselves from making a real difference to the world.
The best place to start is to explore own own shadow - the hidden or repressed parts of ourselves. We need to address our own issues first, in order to become a fully competent spiritual practitioner.
2 - Take an open-minded and logical approach to life.
Begin to question the things which do not make sense in your life. When you notice that something does not feel right, for example, a spiritual viewpoint, ask yourself why. Don't be afraid to question widely held beliefs within society, or to challenge your own thoughts about people, or aspects of life. It is only by facing these issues and conflicts head on that you can make real spiritual progress.
3 - Develop emotional intelligence.
Learn to fully process all your emotions. Practice somatic processing techniques, let go of trauma, and learn how to develop a high level of emotional resilience. Spiritual bypassing occurs as a result of emotional repression. By developing your ability to deal with the more challenging aspects of life, open the doorway to being a true spiritual practitioner. One who can help others in a compassionate, and centred way, and can make a real difference to the world.
Spiritual bypassing is a coping strategy which prevents us from fulfilling our fullest spiritual potential in life. But if we choose to focus on developing our own self-awareness, emotional capacity, and spiritual insight, we can embark on a genuine path of spiritual growth.