Spiritual bypassing is a term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984. He saw something happening in himself and in the Buddhist community he was a part of. It was a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep spiritual growth!
Most of us tend not to have very much tolerance for facing, entering, and working through our unresolved emotional issues and psychological wounds. It’s uncomfortable. So, we find ways to avoid feelings like fear and loneliness that inevitably come up.
Some people choose drinking, smoking, cutting, sex, or over eating. And some of us choose spiritual bypassing. It looks healthy: it looks like enlightenment and positivity. But it is not spiritual health, it is spiritual bypass: a side road that avoids the mess of actual spiritual growth.
Perhaps you recognize some of these aspects of spiritual bypass: exaggerated detachment, anger-phobia, overly tolerant compassion, weak boundaries, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.
A lot of us can feel that something is just not right when a friend is telling us that ‘all things happen for a reason’, that we should forgive, be compassionate, stop judging, stop being angry, ‘think positive’, accept and move on. We can tell they are just not living it. Most of us who have experienced interpersonal trauma have a really good instinct for bullshit. We just know when people are not being honest. It can be very obvious but it can also be very subtle.
I remember when I was backpacking around the middle east, I met more than one guy who had left a woman in some distant land with a baby he had fathered. These guys were ‘going with the flow’; man. They were following their bliss; at one with the universe. Ugh. No. They were just chasing my tail and playing didgeridoo to make it look like a higher calling. They were avoiding their responsibilities and the uncomfortable feelings that facing them would bring.
So next time someone tells you that everything happens for a reason, ask them what was the reason it happened to them. If they can’t give you a simple answer, they haven’t really learned the lesson. If someone tells you to ‘just let it go’, ask them what the 3 main steps were that they took to let it go. If they can’t give you a simple answer, they haven’t done the work. Next time someone tells you not to be so angry, ask them what techniques they use process their own emotions. If they can’t give you a simple answer, they are avoiding them.
If we really want the light, we cannot afford to flee the heat. As Victor Frankl said, “What is to give light must endure burning.”
Congratulations on deciding to face the flames.