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Spiritual Bypassing, the Most Common and Biggest Trap on the Spiritual Journey

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

Watch out for the easiest and most widely spread trap to fall into on your spiritual/self improvement journey.

On my spiritual path, I fell into this trap for a long time… Once I realised it thank to deep introspection, I wanted to bang my head on the wall a few times because I knew that I’ve been running in circles for a very long time. Where would I be now if someone would have warned me about it when I first started this journey… I was just meant to receive such a humbling lesson.

I noticed what I was doing when I had my first shadow work experience and I could have a look into the shadow side of my psyche. Spiritual bypassing manifested itself in two ways in me: anger phobia and forced positivity, a beautiful avoidance strategy doubled with a reinforcement of the ego. I wish you good luck in identifying in which form you are spiritually bypassing.

Spiritual bypassing is the use of spiritual practices, beliefs, and experiences as a way to avoid dealing with difficult emotions and psychological issues. It is a term that was popularized by psychologist John Welwood in the 1980s, and it refers to the tendency to use spiritual beliefs and practices to avoid facing unresolved emotional issues or psychological wounds.

Spiritual Bypassing is a phenomenon in the spiritual world that has spread in both religious and secular communities. It refers to the act of using spiritual beliefs as a way to avoid dealing with unmet needs, deep pain, and unresolved issues. The problem with spiritual bypassing is that it represents a form of avoidance, and as such, it constitutes a form of resistance.

Spiritual bypassing is the dark side of spirituality, as spiritual beliefs from any tradition, religions and self-help, can justify living inauthentically. The beliefs can be used as an excuse for ignoring uncomfortable feelings and states of being in favor of a more "enlightened" state. Even the popular saying "Keep Calm and Carry On" can glorify spiritual bypassing.

Some examples of spiritual bypassing include

  • anger phobia

  • exaggerated detachment

  • emotional numbing and repression

  • blind or overly-tolerant compassion

  • weak boundaries

  • using reasoning to escape emotions

  • self-judgment

  • devaluing personal experiences

  • avoidance of everyday life

  • delusions of enlightenment

  • over-emphasis on positivity that leads to resistance to negativity

There are several signs that someone may be engaging in spiritual bypassing, including:

  • Using spiritual practices and beliefs as a way to avoid dealing with difficult emotions

  • Seeing personal issues as solely spiritual in nature, and neglecting to address them through therapy or other means.

  • Using spiritual beliefs to justify harmful or destructive behaviour

  • Focusing on the attainment of spiritual states, without integrating these experiences into one's life.

  • Using spiritual beliefs as an escape from reality and avoid taking responsibility for their actions

All religious practices and spiritual traditions promote some form of Spiritual Bypassing like Catholic confession, Buddhist premature transcendence, and Christian unconditional love can perpetuate false beliefs. Meditation can also be used to avoid confronting personal feelings and life situations, while spiritual drugs can be used to avoid working through emotional issues. Positive focus has become a prevalent form of Spiritual Bypassing within spiritual communities. Forcing positivity to avoid negativity is not a healthy way of dealing with emotions, as it can lead to feelings of shame and powerlessness. Authentic positivity is different from forced positivity, and working through pain is essential for personal growth and self-acceptance. In today's society, people prefer to rely on pills to alleviate their pain, but spirituality should not be used as an avoidance strategy. Turning away from pain or from oneself is ultimately avoiding and resisting oneself, which guarantees that growth will be hindered.

It is essential to be aware of the potential for spiritual bypassing and to address underlying emotional and psychological issues, rather than trying to transcend them.

Integration of spiritual practices and beliefs with therapy, or other forms of personal development, such as self-reflection, journaling, and self-inquiry, can be very helpful in avoiding spiritual bypassing. It is also important to be aware of the cultural and societal context in which spiritual practices and beliefs are used, and to be aware of the potential for misuse, especially when it comes to self-deception or avoidance.

Thank you for taking the time to read us

Nicolas Belliot

Every week Metanoia brings you a different topic to explore self development, spirituality and mindfulness.

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the organization. The organization does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in this blog. The author of this blog is solely responsible for the content and any harm or damages that may arise from the use or reliance on the information presented in this blog.

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