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Spiritual bypassing

Updated on May 30, 2015

The word spiritual bypassing was first coined by John Welwood in 1984. Spiritual bypassing can be defined as avoiding dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds and developmental needs with the use of spiritual practices and beliefs. It has been prevalent since the advent of different religions, though we could not define it earlier because it went unnoticed as it was not so common then. As a matter of fact, spiritual bypassing is now pervasively found in people, who practice the precepts of spirituality. It can be seen being practiced to the extreme by some people.

We are well aware of messy and dirty side of human nature. Spirituality requires us to fully face it and make peace with it. As human beings, we have needs, feelings, psychological problems and relational difficulties, which we have to face squarely to handle them. But, on so many occasions, people walking on the road of spirituality try to bypass or dismiss them in order to rise up in spirituality. Some call it premature transcendence. Trying to bypass or dismiss psychological and emotional issues can be dangerous.

For example, as the practice of non-attachment being so common among spiritualists, if a mother following spiritualism doesn’t give adequate love and care to her children and husband, believing that she is practicing non-attachment, she is, in fact, doing spiritual bypassing. This is harmful for the mother and her family as it will become her unconscious nature. A person practicing spirituality cannot ignore his or her duties in the name of spirituality but, on the other hand, the person has to do duties sincerely and righteously.

If an individual goes to a retreat to do spiritual practices, avoiding some pestering issues at home so that he or she may be able to focus better on spiritual practices. The problems that forced the person to go to retreat are not sorted out adequately. Since those troubles are unresolved, they are likely to magnify and haunt the person again. This is an example of spiritual bypassing. Before going to a cave or retreat for spiritual practices, the person has to resolve the issues at home.

It is also commonly found that some people, who are sincerely engaged in the practice of spirituality, come across Gurus proclaiming that they can make them reach higher evolutional levels of spirituality. Some may experience the grace of such a Guru, but one has to develop a certain level of awareness for a transformation to take place. In fact, there is no short-cut to higher spiritual evolution.

A person cannot go beyond the experiences of various emotions by any means. One has to experience and understand emotions so as to transcend them and this is a continual process as long as there are emotions, which are normal and unavoidable for people to have.

Spiritual bypassing an act of escapism -

Using spiritual practices as an attempt to bypass emotions is simply an escapist, avoidance tendency like workholism or indulgence in the utopian day dreams. There is nothing healthy about using spiritual practices to escape loneliness, sadness, and disappointment, or whatever we’re feeling. It is actually a form of self-harm to tell ourselves that we shouldn’t feel something.

Attending to painful emotions is actually not so painful if it is done by being in the present moment. Emotions seem only monstrous if they are not welcome. One can learn to tame emotions effectively and make use of them to one’s advantage.

Authenticity is a highest state of being for the spiritual practitioner. Many use spirituality to whitewash over upsetting issues and try to avoid them instead of fully facing them and making peace with them. It hinders us from reaching our higher self.

As a matter of fact, the spiritual liberation is not a state without emotions but, conversely, it is a state, where emotions and sensations can be experienced and tolerated without reactivity or suffering. To understand whether an individual is using spiritual bypassing, the person has to ask the following questions -

  • Does he or she use spiritual beliefs to avoid pain and problems?
  • Does he or she feel like the spiritual him or her is different than the embodied him or her?
  • Does he or she use spirituality to justify insecurity within him or herself?
  • Does he or she use spirituality to avoid looking at things in his or her reality?

Avoiding spiritual bypassing -

A spiritualist can avoid spiritual bypassing as suggested below –

  • We practice spiritualism by listening to the voice of our conscience; we can do this anywhere all the time; in fact, an earnest spiritualist always does so in all the situations of life.
  • A spiritually mature person understands that bypassing a difficult situation leads to nowhere but worsens it further. Such an individual does a reality check and then navigates through a difficult situation.
  • Following the precept of non-attachment, a spiritually evolved person gives unconditional love to all because such a person fully understands that non-attachment implies not getting attached to the expectation that others will return his or her love.
  • There is nothing wrong with visits to spiritual retreats to hone up one’s practices but such visits should not be done to avoid difficult situations. The litmus test of spiritual evolution of an individual can only be done by practicing spirituality in interaction with people in society.
  • There is nothing wrong with seeking guidance and grace of a Guru but an individual should not forget that there is no short-cut to spiritual evolution, which is a continual process requiring earnestly persistent efforts on the part of the individual.
  • We should not hesitate to express emotions, wounds, traumas and pain but should express them with a positive mental state so that we can handle them properly. We should make peace with being uncomfortable; we should get to the root of the problem and they will go away of their own.
  • In truth, one of the criteria to assess the spiritual growth of an individual is by knowing how an individual solves a messy situation by seeking the guidance of one’s conscience.

The bottom line –

Spiritual bypassing is commonly used by people practicing spirituality to avoid facing difficult situations in life. This practice doesn’t get the person out of the mess but it only magnifies it. As a matter of fact, persons practicing spiritual bypassing will have lop-sided growth of their spirituality as it is premature transcendence over worldly affairs. If we are listening to the voice of our conscience, we are practicing spirituality. Therefore, it can be practiced in any situation or circumstance we are faced with. Our emotions may surge up in different situations and we should allow them to do so. Experiencing the ebb and flow of different emotions and understanding them will acquaint us with all aspects of the situations. When we can learn to understand the true nature of various emotions, we will not allow them to affect us and will be able to respond to the situations with positivity. We will then be able to handle them with emotional stability and equanimity, which means that we have developed the ability to transcend the emotions. Therefore, the ebb and flow of emotions will not make us happy or unhappy in any situation whatsoever. This is a criterion on which the spiritual evolution of a person is assessed.

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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image
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      Dr Pran Rangan 2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Very enlightening comment. We should always express our emotions freely but we should also remember that while expressing emotions, we should not hurt others. In other word, we should express emotions with positivity.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 2 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      This hub is so on point! It's funny. I used to push pain down inside because we live in a world that teaches us that to express our emotions is a weakness. In fact, I come from a family that taught us to be strong and to "get over it' when we became hurt or disappointed. When I came to a point in my life where I couldn't move forward, I had to go back to all those things I avoided in order to heal. Pain just doesn't go away. It piles up and breeds into anger, bitterness and self hatred. Then those seeds breed drug addicts, abusive people and so forth.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image
      Author

      Dr Pran Rangan 2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your comments. In fact, by handling any situation in life as per the dictates of our conscience, we grow spiritually.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      This is certainly a different viewpoint of spirituality and the emotions than I have seen before. I can see how it is valid, though. Concentrating our efforts on spirituality rather than dealing with the issues at hand is, in essence, an escape. Rather than solving our problems, we are trying to avoid them!

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image
      Author

      Dr Pran Rangan 2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your comments. I agree that spiritual progress is slow and steady but it continues throughout one's life. Hari Om!

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 years ago from london

      Interesting term. I guess that there are many ways. I am happy that you indicated that true spiritual progress is a slow and steady one. For this, much purity is essential.

      I have only followed the Path of Bhakti, of Devotion, so all these areas are new to me. Bless you, my friend, and keep up the work of serving others according to your God-given capacities. Hari Om!