In college I had a friend who, whenever I was relaying something challenging in my life, she would say, “Don’t worry. It’s all good!” And then she’d glide away on her rollerblades with a big smile on her face. I loved that damned girl, and I know she had good intentions, but when she said that it would totally piss me off and I’d want to shake her and be like, “It is NOT ALL GOOD!”
Spiritual bypassing is a tendency to use spiritual ideas, explanations, and practices to sidestep or avoid complex psychological experiences.
Spirituality can be a force that helps enhance our well-being, but engaging in spiritual bypassing as a way to avoid complicated feelings or issues can ultimately stifle our growth.
Some people argue that applied mindfulness, mindset work, thoughtwork and the tools I teach are a type of spiritual bypassing. But actually, to me that interpretation tells me there’s likely a misunderstanding of this work.
I think this happens when people think it’s all about always changing a thought so you can be happy all the time. Or that there is nothing “real” outside of our thoughts that can influence our experience of life.
The point of this work is NOT to be happy all the time. That’s not even the point of LIFE.
We’re not supposed to be in any emotional or physical state all the time. They don’t last forever and are impermanent
We have this idea that we’d love to be happy all the time, but then we realize if we were happy all the time we wouldn’t appreciate it. The contrast – the opposite – of happiness is what makes happiness a thing we even desire.
We need negative emotion to understand and appreciate positive emotion. Being present with challenging emotions help prevent them from having control over us and us simply reacting to them instead of responding to them intentionally.
Thoughtwork is not spiritual bypassing when used correctly. It is not to be used to avoid feeling difficult emotions, to avoid facing difficult experiences about the world we live in, or to avoid taking courageous action, for example.
How can we recognize if something is spiritual bypassing? It can be tricky because it is subtle.
Remember that spiritual bypassing is a way for someone to hide behind spirituality or spiritual practices instead of acknowledging what they are feeling and what is happening. Ultimately this creates separation from others, too
Some examples that might help you identify it are:
- Believing that all traumatic events must serve as “learning experiences”
- Feeling that “truly spiritual” people rise above the suffering of the world
- Thinking that you must “rise above” your emotions without first processing them
- “Good vibes only!” “Positive thinking only!”
- After a loved one dies, people tell you that it was “part of a bigger plan.”
- When someone shares their feelings of anger or upset from a person’s actions, their friends tell them to stop being so negative or defensive.
- Rather than addressing the behavior of someone who regularly crosses boundaries, you remain overly tolerant, feeling that’s what a spiritual person “should” do.
Spiritual bypassing is also often used to dismiss the very real experiences of people who are faced with injustice and discrimination. This implies that people can rely on just their positive thinking to overcome complex social issues.
When you aren’t sure if your reaction to someone else is spiritually bypassing, see if your statement is coming from a clean place and check in with your motivation.
Is this for the other person or is it to help you dismiss an uncomfortable situation so you can feel better?
At this point it’s natural to start wondering, “Where does spiritual bypassing come from anyway?”
Like most actions that don’t serve us, it is a form of a defense mechanism. It protects us from uncomfortable emotions.
“Wellness culture” has also often created an environment where we have yet another thing we are supposed to do perfectly. This culture may teach people that a fulfilling life is only possible if we can “rise above” negative thoughts, emotions and experiences.
The other thing that contributes to this is the belief that it is JUST our thoughts that create our reality – and it ignores very real institutional systems of oppression, racism, patriarchy, heterosexism, and more. It blames the individual.
Like most things, spiritual bypassing isn’t always something to avoid. It can actually be a helpful way to temporarily deal with a challenging situation. It becomes a problem when it is used as a long-term way to deal with our deeper issues and complex societal problems. This can lead to shame, anxiety, spiritual narcissism, and blindly following spiritual teachers, mentors and guides – and yes, coaches.
It’s also important to remember that if we want to truly connect to other humans, it’s not beneficial or compassionate to dismiss what others are feeling.
But we do this because it is uncomfortable to hold space for that, right?
Spiritual bypassing ultimately falls into a form of avoiding being present with what is – challenging emotions, challenging discussions challenging and complex social realities.
When trying to assess if we are engaging in spiritual bypassing, it’s helpful to check in with our motivation: Is this to avoid? Is this a way to feel superior to others?
If yes, then it might be falling into the category of spiritual bypassing.
So what can we do? There’s more in the pod, but some tips are:
- We can accept that suffering if part of being a human being and that we are in this together
- We can see our emotions are natural and can be useful sources of information
- We can remember that all emotional states are impermanent – that they will come AND go.
- We can cultivate compassion for our fellow humans – and for ourselves
Spirituality and spiritual practices are not bad in and of themselves. However, it is important that we not use it to bypass the human experience.
What is one way you might have been closing off to the humanity of this life?
What’s one way you may have been trying to convince yourself you “shouldn’t” be feeling so bad about something, and maybe telling yourself to “just get over it?”
What is one way you may have been judging someone’s suffering? Or unknowingly stepping into spiritual bypassing?
Can you open up to that more today?
As rebels, we choose to walk into the full fire that is being a wild and whacky human.
I remember Ram Das saying how we are all just walking each other home.
We are all just walking each other home. And kindness is all that really matters when we realize that.
In this episode:
// Is thoughtwork a type of spiritual bypassing?
// How to recognize spiritual bypassing
// Where does spiritual bypassing come from?
// When can spiritual bypassing be helpful?
// 3 steps to take to avoid spiritual bypassing
// Check out Episode 19 on anger
// Check out Episode 51 on self-compassion
// Check out Episode 29 on misusing thought work & mindfulness
// Sign up for my free LIVE training on how to Speak Up and stay in your power in uncomfortable situations. Go to NaughtyBuddhist.com. (If you get to this after it’s gone live, sign up and you’ll be taken to the recording.)
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the starter kit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll get access to the private Facebook group where you can ask me questions! Once you join, there’s also a weekly FB live called Wake the F*ck Up Wednesday, where you can ask questions that come up as you do this work – in all parts of your life.
// If you’re interested in finding out more about how to free your mind and free your life, join Freedom School. Enrollment is open, and we are diving DEEP into ways to cultivate clarity and courage so you can create your best life. There are also some sweet bonus courses for you there. It will set you up to live the best version of you in the year to come. Learn more at JoinFreedomSchool.com