When I first heard the term “spiritual bypassing,” my interest was immediately piqued.
To be honest, it had never crossed my sometimes naïve mind that something like spirituality could be used as a crutch—the same way we would use alcohol, shopping, drugs, or any other form of addiction to avoid dealing with the pain of being human.
Life involves a tremendous amount of pain—we can be as sure about that as taxes. How we process and deal with that pain is the real determination of the success of our lives.
We live in this dual existence of pain, which teaches us great lessons on happiness, bliss, and contentment—unless we spiritually bypass and remain addicted to this endless cycle.
The term was coined in the early 1980s by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist. He defined it as “a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”
Well, f*ck…that’s the same as any form of addiction—this is addiction in tie-dye pants saying namaste with a wide, fake smile.
It’s a cover for denial, avoidance, and self-destructive tendencies that hurt us, as well as the people we are close to.
I remember someone once flippantly commenting to me that exercise could become an addiction. My first thought was, “But it’s good for you?”
I quickly came to the realization that anything in excess truly is detrimental. It’s a telltale sign that we are using something external to silence the demons or numb ourselves from having to feel what is essentially begging to be felt.
Strangely, and a little ironically, if we simply feel all the things that we expend so much energy trying to avoid, we will find that we are better, stronger, and happier for it. Ah, what a tangled pain-avoiding web we weave.
Here are five common ways we spiritually bypass:
1. Nonattachment as a Shield.
The teaching of nonattachment in many traditions is simply misapplied. Everyone on this planet, in our fragile human existence, needs healthy attachments and relationships, shelter, clothing, and a means to eat.
The spiritual teaching is simply not to overvalue objects of our life and to understand their place.
Sadly, denial of this truth can lead to avoidance and repression of basic and fundamental needs, and worse, we label others as “too attached,” which causes them shame.
We are social creatures, and not being attached versus being aloof are vastly different concepts. This is naturally backed up by tons of scientific research, some even showing that those engaged in positive relationships live longer and can heal quicker.
Sometimes, our nonattachment views are just a way to protect ourselves from hurt.
2. Not Seeing Colour. All Lives Matter. We are All Part of the Human Race.
After reading this heading, I’d like you to take a deep breath—I am not negating oneness, a belief I hold true. From a nondualistic perspective, we are all one, we are all connected and part of the glorious universe.
From relative reality, this is a particularly harmful dismissal of the real world we live in, where we are all not treated as one human race. Where not everyone has the same access to safety, health care, housing, food, or other basic human needs.
When we spiritually bypass this, we invalidate experiences, and we essentially tell others that we don’t see or recognize their struggles. It also gives us permission to avoid responsibility of creating conditions that are as equal and as beneficial for all.
3. No Bad Vibes, Good Vibes Only.
Yes, that’s right: toxic positivity.
It’s been doing the rounds on social for a while now, and it’s still f*cking relevant.
This is a way to shame and alienate people who are struggling with trauma, grief, mental health issues, or systemic injustice. The “good vibes only” narrative is not conducive to creating a space that feels safe for another to open up, and it might be toxic—I am just as sick of the word “toxic” as you are.
Finding the good in the bad is vitally important, but welcoming all the emotions, whether they make us comfortable or uncomfortable, is the way to foster healthy relationships with each other.
We don’t just negate the “negative” and move on with “love and light” forced bliss—we connect on a deeper and more altruistic level of understanding.
We also, then, cultivate authentic hope; hope that rises from recognition, feeling, and releasing our pain.
4. Don’t Be Angry or Afraid.
Anger and fear are the emotions that we all particularly feel the need to banish from our psyches—the faster, the better. While I don’t believe that walking around angry or fearful is the way to do things, we can’t overlook their core purpose.
They are both normal human emotions: sometimes, anger can spur us into action for good purposes, and sometimes, fear can protect us. Could we treat them with a little more respect? They’re like the bullied kids on the playground.
It’s perfectly okay to be angry.
It’s perfectly okay to be afraid.
Use these emotions as the valuable messengers they are and feel out of them.
As long as we are not inciting violence, I can assure you, it will be fine to sit with them for a while until they are released.
That’s the beauty of all emotions: they are always temporary, unless we suppress them and let them fester.
5. You Create Your Reality/Raise Your Vibration/Manifestation.
I was lured into the Law of Attraction.
After the first week, I felt like I needed a week to dedicate to all the negative bullsh*t I had squashed down into the depths of my soul.
This is a farce—plain and simple.
I wholeheartedly believe in the power of manifestation, of raising our vibrations, of creating our own realities, but in a space where the pain, the trauma, and the bad vibes have their own space.
I, too, often come across people crying, “Projection!” or “The reason your life is bad is because you aren’t manifesting properly—you are so focused on the negative!”
This is spiritual bypassing at its finest. I find the people who throw that cry-out are so deep in their own avoidance of their own issues that they lose credibility for me, and I see it for what it is.
I don’t judge, because like I said, I was lured into that tempting way of bypassing and it did work for me, for a little while. Until I started feeling like a complete asshole for dismissing the real and valid feelings of others.
I hope that, if anything, this article has helped you to (at least) consider if you are the recipient or preparator of spiritual bypassing.
The truth is, we have all participated in some way, and what we need now, in this mad world, is a hell of a lot more self-awareness.