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Spiritual bypassing. What is it an how do we recognize it?

Photo by Christopher Beddies on Unsplash

In order to understand spiritual bypassing, it is important to first understand spirituality (see previous blog here). Spirituality isn't a religion, doctrine or teaching, but a way of life. Yet, if you are religious, you can also be spiritual and vice versa. So, it is possible also that one doesn't believe in a God yet considers him or herself religious. In essence, spirituality has to do with the expansion of consciousness within oneself. Spiritual people look at the deeper meaning of life and believe in a higher consciousness of which they are a part. In other words, we are all consciousness and therefore interconnected.

As it is not defined, it can be a concept that is loosely used. Sometimes people think they are spiritual if they have read a mind- expanding book or if they have seen a medium/channel. Sometimes it is considered spiritual when one begins to question the established order (government and media) and believes in an elite group who manipulates and suppresses mankind.

Yet, spirituality is a deep inner process. It is a constant journey of discovery into our authentic self, which means that we work to recognize and release everything that stands in the way of expressing this authentic self. Through spiritual practices, such as meditation, contemplation and self-reflection, a person becomes more aware, connects to that higher consciousness within themselves and tries to cultivate the properties of this higher consciousness (love, compassion, understanding, empathy, gratitude, trust etc.).

Spirituality also has its pitfalls. When one has been on the spiritual path for a long time and has gained either a lot of spiritual knowledge about a certain religion or teaching (through books or from a teacher or guru), or has had beautiful spiritual experiences, such as seeing colours, visions, glimpses into the future or experienced pure bliss during meditation, the ego can get hooked and inflated. We get distracted by the experience and think we have arrived.

There is a real danger that we will start to think we are better/more special/more spiritual than another, because we meditate more, know more, feel more, see more, manifest more or are more clair(voyant or such), while avoiding or bypassing the deeper path of spiritual integration, transformation and oneness.

This is called spiritual bypassing!

On Wikipedia, spiritual bypass or spiritual bypassing is described as "tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks". The term was introduced in the mid 1980s by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist (I highly recommend you read the full interview with John Welwood ).

Tina Fossella, who interviewed John Welwood in the above-mentioned interview writes: "Being a good spiritual practitioner can become what I call a compensatory identity that covers up and defends against an underlying deficient identity, where we feel badly about ourselves, not good enough, or basically lacking."

Spiritual bypassing thus involves using spirituality to sidestep or "bypass" the necessary inner work that individuals need to do to address their emotional and psychological challenges. This necessary inner work can be: dealing with and healing relationships, family problems, child abuse, loneliness, the death of a loved one, low self-esteem, self-sabotaging behaviour, fear, mental or emotional health problems or any other obstacle that we may face in life.

Here are some important aspects of spiritual bypassing:

  1. Emotional avoidance: Individuals engaging in spiritual bypassing may use spiritual beliefs and practices as a means of avoiding or suppressing difficult emotions. They may believe that elevated emotions should be cultivated, while negative feelings are rejected and denied.

  2. Spiritual materialism: This spiritual bypass may involve a focus on acquiring spiritual knowledge, practices, or experiences as a form of status or identity. The focus is on doing and practicing rituals and exercises, which can become an obsession without any real internal transformation taking place.

  3. Denial of shadow aspects: Spiritual bypassing often involves ignoring or repressing what psychologist Carl Jung referred to as the "shadow" – the darker, unconscious aspects of oneself. This can lead to a lack of self-awareness and an incomplete understanding of one's true nature.

  4. Overemphasis on positivity: People practicing spiritual bypassing may focus excessively on positive thinking, affirmations, and spiritual practices without addressing the underlying issues. This can create a superficial sense of well-being that doesn't address deeper emotional wounds.

  5. Judgment and blame: Those engaged in spiritual bypassing may judge others who express negative emotions or face challenges, believing that such experiences are a result of a lack of spiritual understanding or effort.

  6. Rigidity in beliefs: A rigid adherence to spiritual beliefs can be a sign of spiritual bypassing. This can manifest as an unwillingness to be open to alternative perspectives or in a belief that one's chosen spiritual path is the only valid one.

  7. Escaping reality: Instead of facing life's challenges, individuals practicing spiritual bypassing may use spirituality as an escape, seeking transcendence or enlightenment to avoid dealing with practical and earthly matters.

Finally, I would like to explain 11 ways of spiritual bypassing, so that we can easily recognize ourselves.

  1. The optimist bypass. We have all encountered people who only want to focus on the positive. While it helps to realize that you have a lot to be grateful for rather than focusing on everything that goes wrong in your life or the difficulties that others are causing you, the optimist bypass is used as a way to avoid having to look at the ways in which we are triggered by our environment. We avoid the uncomfortable emotions which are triggered in us by certain experiences and which need to be seen and healed.

  2. The philosophical bypass. The more spiritual knowledge we acquire, the more we can understand our own patterns and behaviours as well as those of others. We can get together with our spiritual friends and analyze and discuss for hours why this or that person reacts in this or that way, what trauma probably lies at the root of it and that they are afraid of moving forward. We put a label on it and instantly feel better than them. The philosophical bypass has its origin in judgment and labeling. We even analyze our own behaviour to its root cause which we may proudly share as though we clearly understand ourselves and have it all figured out. Analyzing and understanding our triggers is not enough to change our behaviour if we don't put our insights into practice.

  3. The superiority bypass. This bypass is practiced by those who want to feel enlightened, superior, or somehow 'more awakened' than others in their spiritual development. We strive for a certain spiritual goal (enlightenment), whereby the divine consciousness within us will become visible in all its glory and everything in the universe will be revealed to us. At that moment we will embody the unconditional love and wisdom of God. In other words, we will finally be perfect! Our shortcomings and insecurities will vanish and as a result we will finally receive the love and respect that we have yearned for all our lives.

  4. The bookworm bypass. Reading spiritual and self-help books can be very valuable for individuals seeking self-improvement and positive change. However, the bookworm bypass is used to learn more and more about the workings of the psyche in order to gain more and more knowledge and concepts on how to improve ourselves (and others). With each book, we get the same concepts explained in a different way. This prevents us, however, from trusting our own experiences, our own intuition and our own inner knowing and thus we miss what our experiences are trying to teach us.

  5. The helper/healer bypass. In this bypass, the spiritual knowledge and experience one has gained is used as a skill to help, coach or teach others. It can feel so good to be able to help others and contribute to someone's consciousness, that we may lose sight of our own process. Because of the euphoria (and ego boost) we experience from our spiritual contributions to humanity (and the world), we allow it to overshadow our own wounds. For example: - because we are able to help someone who is stuck, it makes us feel we make a difference and the feeling of "I'm not good enough" does not get triggered; - because we have many 'likes' on Instagram or social media, we do not have to look at the underlying feeling of inferiority, because we receive confirmation from outside that we have value; - when we manifest success, we don't have to look at the underlying doubt about our abilities; - when we are financially successful, the underlying sense of insecurity is masked by status, prestige and material wealth.

  6. The letting-go bypass. Part of the spiritual path is letting go of our attachment to outcomes. We surrender control to a higher consciousness and learn to live in the moment. However, letting go can also be a spiritual bypass when we let go of people, situations and emotions, because we a) do not want to confront a difficult situation, b) do not want to invest time and energy (in it/them), c) do not want to take a stand or d) are afraid of how it will affect us. We give it a spiritual name and claim that we have transcended the situation, but in fact we avoid the work and growth that this situation or person is mirroring.

  7. The New Age bypass. New Age as we know it today seems to have become a name for a collection of teachings and beliefs and is hard to explain in a few words as it does not fit into the established order. It seems based on a freedom to choose what works for the individual, without the dogmas of religion. Each person determines the truth for themselves about what moves him or her to the new era of 'love and light'. This allows an individual to create a new 'faith' for oneself, based on a selection of positive aspects from different movements. It may become a person's strong belief of what spirituality means. Although this new 'faith' sounds beautiful and feels good, many become intoxicated and distracted by the warm and fuzzy side of spirituality which focuses on 'love and light', while avoiding the dark, painful and demanding sides of the spiritual path.

  8. The psychedelics bypass. Many spiritual people explore the boundaries of the mind, soul and reality through the use of psychedelics such as LSD, DMT, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and other plant medicines, which expand consciousness. While psychoactive substances can be a fascinating way to explore reality, like any drug, they can be used to escape from everyday life. The images (and messages) that come through while on the drug can be taken as the ultimate truth, without understanding or exploring its deeper meaning.

  9. The guidance-seeker bypass. When we always turn to others for answers and guidance in our lives (think horoscopes, mediums and channelings), we depend on external predictions to make decisions in our lives. As such, we will not learn to trust our own intuition, wisdom and inner strength. This bypass usually arises from uncertainty about the future, a need for confirmation that we are on the right track and a fear to be the masters of our own creation. By always taking advice, we do not have to take responsibility for our decisions.

  10. The spiritual guide bypass. It sometimes seems that the more spiritual (special) you are, the more spirit guides you have. Even though we all have beings in the unseen who help, protect, guide and serve us on our journey in this (human) life, it was our choice to have this human experience. Our human experiences (in this 3-dimensional reality) are given to us so we may learn and grow. By constantly checking in with our energetic guides, the possibility exists that we spend more time in the energetic field than in the physical, tangible field. As a result, we are not fully embodied in the physical and therefore cannot lead a fully integrated life. The human body's signals, such as triggers, pain and emotions cannot be fully experienced.

  11. The Guru bypass. A guru or spiritual teacher is like a signpost. He or she points us in the right direction by teaching us to distinguish between the ego and our true self. However, there is a temptation to (consciously or unconsciously) worship spiritual teachers and put them on a pedestal, meaning that we think they are better than ourselves. In this way we give away our own power and wisdom to a guru or teacher. We lose discernment between what is their truth and what is ours. Ultimately, listening to teachers is about integrating the essence of their teachings into our own experience and building upon our own spiritual growth and transformation. The Guru bypass means that we give the responsibility to the Guru and blindly follow their advice without thinking for ourselves. If we do this, we have not understood the Guru's message.

Without deep and honest self-acceptance, the spiritual life rests on a dangerous psychological foundation and is nothing more than an escape into a world of illusion. Humble self-knowledge is the most basic condition for any true spirituality.

~ John Monbourquette

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