Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many forms, often without being acknowledged. ~ R. Augustus
What comes to mind when you think of ‘spirituality’? You might picture beautiful temples, ethereal instruments, golden Buddha’s, gardens and forests of paradise, the faces of enlightened masters, angels, mountain ranges, sunsets, or any number of other dazzling images.
We tend to associate spirituality with transcendental, heightened states of being that are invariably associated with the feelings of happiness, joy, deep inner peace and contentment.
While all of this is true and wonderful, many of us become intoxicated, distracted and ensnared by these highly attractive images of spirituality, avoiding the darker, painful and more exhausting sides of such a path.
At its core, spiritual bypassing is like any other form of avoidance that rewards us with a false feeling of security and happiness, while undermining our deeper path of self-growth and transformation.
Spiritual Bypassing: An Enticing Form of Escapism
What you resist, persists. ~ C. G. Jung
For a long time, I struggled with understanding what ‘true’ spirituality looked and felt like.
I would look in the newspapers and find ads from kooky looking psychic women promoting their services, or browse the internet and find alluring pages dedicated to finding your ‘guardian angel’. I would read books about “optimism” and articles about casting spells to attract love and prosperity. But amidst all of this searching, I just never felt a connection with any of these things. They felt somehow amiss, something, somehow, seemed intuitively off-center and “wrong” about them.
It was only in the past year that I discovered why I had always felt this way about certain spiritual practices. The answer I found was that many practices falling under the guise of spirituality are actually forms of spiritual bypassing.
The term ‘spiritual bypassing’ was originally coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984. As he explained in an interview, “Spiritual bypassing is a term I coined to describe a process I saw happening in the Buddhist community I was in, and also in myself. Although most of us were sincerely trying to work on ourselves, I noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”
As we can see, spiritual bypassing is largely about avoiding or escaping from difficult life tasks. Or, in other words:
To spiritually bypass is to use spirituality to avoid, suppress or escape from uncomfortable issues in life.
These issues could be the loss of a loved one, a relationship breakup, family problems, childhood abuse, loneliness, low self-esteem, self- sabotaging behaviors, fear, mental or emotional health issues, or any other problems life presents.
To many people, spirituality becomes a sort of crutch used as a way of standing back up again in the face of life’s turmoil – and sometimes this is necessary. We all need support at some time or another in our lives – but the problem comes when spirituality is used as a drug for which we become dependent on in order to bypass the darker elements of our lives.
When spirituality is used as a defense mechanism to ward off the gremlins and dirty little devils of our existences, it actually becomes our greatest hindrance, preventing us from developing true courage, authenticity and wholeness; qualities that refine our souls. While the use of spirituality can provide us with a solid wall to hide behind, in doing so it traps us in an all-is-happy-and-perfect jail cell of illusions.
Types of Spiritual Bypassing
What gives light must endure burning. ~ V. Frankl (Man’s Search For Meaning)
The reality is that not everything in life is ‘love and light’ as is the slogan for many spiritual seekers. Pursuing the light and living enlightened, raw and deeply interconnected existences is also about setting yourself on fire. It is about creating an inferno of your false beliefs, illusions and separating desires, ideals, and prejudices. It is about surrendering to the destruction of every limiting thing you ever thought and felt about yourself, other people and the world.
Spirituality is not always pretty. In fact, often times it is the most shattering, tumultuous and testing experience we can go through in life. But only once we emerge from the embers of our destruction can we be reborn – like phoenixes – into new lives of clarity and purity.
The truth is that there are many types of spiritual bypassing that we sometimes don’t recognize (or refuse to recognize) in life. I have listed a few examples below that you are free to add to in the comments.
I) The Optimistic Bypass
We’ve all come across people in life who love to laugh and smile, yet seem to be forcefully optimistic. “Focus on the positive!” “See the glass as half full!” “Don’t let a frown get you down!” are some of the catchcries of these people who tend to use optimism as a way of avoiding the more somber and troublesome realities of life. The optimistic bypass is often a side product of anger-phobia, or the inability to deal with negative emotions.
II) The Aggrandizement Bypass
This is a type of self-delusion that some spiritual seekers use as a way of masking their perceived deficiencies and insecurities. The aggrandizement bypass is adopted by those who seek to feel enlightened, superior or having reached higher planes of existence. It is sometimes used by self-proclaimed masters, leaders, awakened souls, and gurus.
III) The Victim Bypass
When one becomes a victim of their gifts, or of other people, this takes away the pressure of responsibility for shaping a satisfying life and taking responsibility for one’s happiness – such is the case with the Victim Bypass. This type of spiritual bypassing is often used by spiritual seekers who believe they have extrasensory gifts of some kind, but due to their gifts they are unable to feel happy or healthy. Identifying as an Empath is sometimes a good example of this type of bypassing, as it can be interpreted as the fault of other people and their emotions for behaving in self-destructive and volatile ways.
IV) The Psychonaut Bypass
Many spiritual seekers explore the frontiers of the mind, the soul and reality through the use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD, DMT, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and other entheogens that expand the mind and perception of existence. While this is a fascinating way of exploring reality, entheogens, like any other drug, can sometimes be used as a way of escaping reality and avoiding committing to personal development and soulful refinement.
V) The Horoscope Bypass
When we frequently look outside of ourselves for help and guidance, as is with the case with Horoscopes and Psychics, we are failing to tap into our inner wellsprings of wisdom and strength and are allowing external predictions to control the outcome of our lives. The Horoscope Bypass is derived from a fear and mistrust of ourselves, our inability to make decisions, and our inability to deal with anything tough that comes our way.
VI) The Saint Bypass
Since we were little we were taught that spiritual people were kind, compassionate and saintly. We continued to repeat this story to ourselves when we ripened into adulthood, and for some of us it turned into our biggest nightmare. The Saint Bypass is a reflection of extreme “black or white” thinking, promoting the underlying belief that spiritual people can’t have dark sides because that would make them “unspiritual”. This type of bypassing is essentially an avoidance of one’s own Shadow Self by overcompensating with the guise of a sweet, heavenly, exterior. Self-sacrifice is a major symptom of this type of bypassing.
VII) The Spirit Guide Bypass
“I have an angel called Raphael who protects me.” In some spiritual traditions it is a God who protects, in others an angel, an animal or an ascended being. No matter who the Spirit Guide is, the belief that they are there to “protect” us is pleasing to the mind, but harmful to the soul. When we place our faith in another being’s power to ward off danger and keep us safe, we are committing a classic spiritual bypass: that being avoiding responsibility for ourselves and our lives, and sidestepping the tough development of courage and resilience. We are not children, but when we think of ourselves as being so we mold our lives in such a way that we fail to develop strength of spiritual character. Spirit guides serve to teach us rather than to babysit us.
VIII) The Praying Bypass
Similar to the Spirit Guide Bypass, the Praying Bypass circumvents personal responsibility by putting faith in a higher being to solve all of our problems and issues. While praying can be a healthy practice, it can easily become limiting and destructive.
IX) The Guru Bypass
Often it is beneficial to latch onto a particular guru, shaman or spiritual teacher to learn and grow from, however, too much attachment can serve as another form of spiritual bypassing. While not everyone has the ability to independently follow the path of spirituality, when we begin to worship another living being, we fall in love with the rose-colored illusory image we have of the teacher rather than the essence of their teachings. Not thinking or discovering truth for ourselves by treating the words of a guru or master as scripture subtracts from our growth and our own mastery on our personal spiritual journeys.
X) The Finger-Pointing Bypass
On our spiritual quests we begin to see through the lies, delusions and crazy behaviors committed by our fellow human beings and this can make us angry, downhearted and greatly frustrated. However, when we get caught up in “everything that is wrong” with the outside world and other people, dedicating our lives to the self-righteous quest of finger-pointing, this can be another form of spiritual bypassing. Finger-pointing instillss us with a false sense of righteousness, taking away our responsibility of looking inside and working on ourselves. At its roots, the Finger-Pointing bypass is sourced from fear and avoidance, and is a powerful form of procrastination.
Certainly, there are many other forms of spiritual bypassing, but here I present the most common ones that are easily observable in everyday life.
From what I have learned, it can be absolutely terrifying to personally expose yourself and the most profoundly vulnerable parts of your being to the process of purification. But slowly as you set afire all illusions and falsities, you see that life is much clearer, more connected, deeply satisfying and indescribably joyful.