How to recognize and avoid spiritual bypassing
By Alexis Zygan, Staff Writer
The longer a person disconnects from their own emotions, the more likely they are to do and say things that make them feel uncomfortable and induce anxiety.
When I left an emotionally abusive partner, the pain of heartbreak was unbearable, so I turned to spirituality for comfort. As I navigated these circumstances, I sought out a community where I could heal and grow. One therapy session did not allow me to open up about the emotional pain I felt deep inside; limiting beliefs flooded my mind. I reached out to a friend who introduced me to a spiritual community based in Vancouver.
Having been raised within the Catholic church and denouncing God as a teenager, I was initially resistant to spiritual disciplines. During my exploration into spirituality, I came across the concept of spiritual or emotional bypassing and its prevalence in both spiritual and religious communities.
I decided to research and gain a more in-depth understanding of spiritual bypassing and see its harmful implications. In the 1980s, John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, coined the term. In his experience, he observed how some people succumb to spirituality to escape difficult memories, suppress their identity, and in general, impede their emotional development.
I came across a YouTube video by spiritual teacher Teal Swan. She defines spiritual bypassing as “the act of using spiritual beliefs to avoid facing or healing one’s painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and unmet needs.” An example would be when we talk about our problems and people say someone has it much worse than we do. We do it to ourselves when we cover up depression with a smile. The collective trauma of a health crisis may have led many of us to overextend ourselves, overeat, and restrict sleep or food, all different forms of emotional bypassing.
Spiritual bypassing manifests in various ways such as toxic positivity, obsession with the past or future, and even entitlement from religious leaders; an individual may spiritual bypass unintentionally.
When a person comes face to face with an unhealthy situation, the saying “keep calm and carry on” encourages hiding one’s true feelings behind a façade and can inevitably do more harm in the long run. The longer a person disconnects from their own emotions, the more likely they are to do and say things that make them feel uncomfortable and induce anxiety. I know this has been my personal experience of waking up hungover thinking, “what on earth did I say last night?”
Even people who grew up into emotionally healthy adults can adopt a spiritual bypassing attitude to look for a silver lining behind miserable experiences. Sometimes bad things happen to us, such as losing our job, and there is no deep meaning behind the suffering.
It’s crucial to recognize spiritual bypassing as more people walk away from organized religion and embrace a spiritual practice where they practice faith in the universe without the pressure of eternal damnation if they don’t acknowledge their sins. One in five Americans is spiritual rather than religious and many of them decide to practice in a community.
Understandably, being a member of a spiritual or religious community can improve an individual’s emotional state, immune system, and confidence. However, we need to recognize when our peers, ourselves and spiritual leaders use spiritual bypassing to avoid achieving the goal: emotional intelligence.