• Taylor Adams, MA, LPC

Spiritual Bypassing: The Lure of Avoidance

"Spiritual Bypassing is a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks." -John Welwood

Spiritual bypassing is often practiced by many people within religious organizations and spiritual communities; it is even indirectly and directly taught by a lot of spiritual leaders and gurus. Spiritual bypassing is amidst many of the clichés that we commonly hear:

“Let go and let God”

“Forgive and forget”

“Look on the bright side”

...pretty much anything that encourages us to AVOID our feelings.

When we avoid our internal realities, we disown our responsibility in the healing process. Feelings, thoughts, and beliefs can often be so painful or create so much discomfort within us that our ego will quickly and meticulously find a way to protect itself. The ego will grasp at straws to maintain the identity of “good.” For instance, if we perceive anger as “bad,” our tendency might be to deny our very real feelings of anger by reciting positive affirmations to ourselves. This pattern, though, doesn’t actually eliminate the anger; it suppresses it. Suppression leads to misaligned flow of energy, which manifests as physical pain, illness, and dis-ease when ignored.

Spiritual bypassing can be seen in a lot of the terminology that is trendy among spiritual communities: empath, lightworker, crystal child, etc. While these terms imply some degree of beneficence and awakenedness, there is a shadow side. For example, a person who avoids (note avoidance) leaving an unhealthy relationship because they identify as an empath who feels their partners emotions too deeply to walk away. Or a person who identifies as a lightworker and devotes themselves to helping others at the expense of their wants, needs, and overall energy. The ego can bypass the [often uncomfortable] work necessary to heal by deconstructing co-dependency, sprinkling in some spiritual jargon, and redefining it as something virtuous. It’s important to use discernment when identifying with such roles.

Another area where spiritual bypassing exists is within a lot of plant medicine and alternative healing communities. Substances such as marijuana, ayahuasca, and psilocybin mushrooms have great therapeutic properties when used as a catalyst toward inner-reflection; however, reliance on any mind-altering substance as a means of “escaping reality” taints the commitment to personal development. Ancient practices like meditation and yoga can be misconstrued and used as a medium to escape/avoid versus embody the present. Again, use discernment.

The only way out is through.

Choosing to embark on an genuine spiritual path for personal development and expansion is not one of “woo-woo” practices and 3D-avoidance, which unfortunately gets associated with many ancient and sacred healing approaches due to mainstream distortions. Committing to refinement and growth involves an authentic journey into every aspect of ourselves, the dark and the light. We must be willing to dive into the depths of our being, as uncomfortable as it may be, so that we can fully integrate.