What Is Spiritual Bypassing? And How to Avoid It

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New-age spirituality is becoming increasingly popular in today’s society and, in many ways, it’s beautiful that people are exploring their spiritual nature and finding a spiritual path of growth that resonates with them.

But unfortunately, there is also a dark side to spirituality, and some spiritual teachings and practices come with a cost – spiritual bypassing.

Spiritual bypassing is the tendency to use spiritual ideas, beliefs, and practices as a shield against facing real-world issues, traumas, and challenges. 

While seeking spiritual growth or “enlightenment”, it can be easy to discount deeper psychological work to create a superficial sense of “inner peace”. And this comes with many issues.

In this post, we’ll be discussing the concept of spiritual bypassing and the consequences of falling into this trap on your spiritual journey.

And perhaps most crucially, we’ll go over actionable ways in which you can avoid spiritual bypassing in your own life. So you can continue seeking growth but without the cost of your holistic wellbeing!

how to avoid spiritual bypassing on your path to spiritual growth and development

This post may contain affiliate links. Click here to read my full disclosure.

In this post you’ll find:

The definition of spiritual bypassing

Spiritual bypassing is a psychological defense mechanism, where people use spiritual beliefs, practices, and ideologies to avoid facing and dealing with reality.

In other words, it’s using spiritual concepts as a way to “bypass” difficult or uncomfortable things that need addressing, whether that’s internally or externally.

This may mean avoiding negative emotions, denying traumas, justifying behaviours towards others, and seeking spiritual enlightenment at the cost of genuine personal development.

Examples of spiritual bypassing

Recognising spiritual bypassing is essential for developing a balanced and authentic spiritual growth journey, which is healthier for the individual and those around them.

Some common examples of spiritual bypassing are:

  • Emotional suppression: suppressing and denying painful emotions due to beliefs that spiritual practices should focus on happiness, or that certain emotions such as anger are negative and should be transcended
  • Toxic positivity: insisting on being positive, “good vibes”, or full of “love and light” at all times, regardless of genuine emotions and challenges that are a part of the human experience
  • Using spiritual concepts to justify actions: using spiritual beliefs and practices as an excuse for harmful behaviours and to avoid taking personal responsibility
  • “Spiritualising” personal problems: avoiding genuine trauma work by attributing traumatic experiences as due to spiritual concepts such as past lives, karma, or cosmic influences
  • Judgement and superiority: adopting a sense of superiority towards others who don’t share the same spiritual beliefs or practices, and dismissing their feelings and experiences due to them being “unenlightened”
  • Escapism: using spiritual practices and substances as a way to escape and avoid dealing with reality
  • Dismissing material concerns: believing that material concerns are unimportant or beneath spiritual pursuits, leading to neglect of basic needs
  • Neglecting boundaries: tolerating harmful behaviour from others without boundaries, due to the need to practice forgiveness and compassion at all costs
  • Avoiding critical thinking: blindly accepting spiritual teachings without question, leading to vulnerability to manipulation and cult recruitment
examples of spiritual bypassing

The potential harm of spiritual bypassing

The fact is that spiritual bypassing is oftentimes a subtle coping mechanism that an individual may not be aware they are engaging in, but that can have detrimental effects on long-term wellbeing.

Some of the dangers of spiritual bypassing include:

  • Poor emotional regulation: suppressing true emotions and emotional numbing means that there is little capacity to cope with them when they do arise, and can lead to unresolved emotional issues, long-term mental health issues and less resilience for stressful situations
  • Lack of integration and trauma resolution: bypassing traumatic events means that they are never truly resolved and integrated, which can prevent an individual from truly moving forward and processing their experiences
  • Lack of personal growth: by avoiding necessary inner work, an individual can stay repeating unhealthy patterns that keep them stuck in a reality that they’re not actually happy in
  • Disconnect from authentic self: by denying and avoiding parts of the self, over time you may have a disconnect from your authentic self leading to feelings of emptiness, low self-esteem and dissatisfaction
  • Poor relationships and social isolation: spiritual bypassing can harm relationships as it can make an individual difficult to communicate or reason with, leading to alienation from previously close friends and family members
  • Increased ego: focus on constant positivity and judgement of others can lead to increased ego and unhealthy feelings of superiority
  • Lack of empathy: spiritual bypassing can lead to a lack of empathy and the tendency to invalidate genuine emotions, not only towards others but towards yourself
  • Abusive behaviour towards others: lack of willingness to look within and putting behaviour down to spirituality can lead to continued abusive behaviour towards others that goes unaddressed
  • Vulnerability to manipulation: porous boundaries due to spiritual bypassing leaves some individuals vulnerable to manipulation and being taken advantage of, which is why spiritual people can be more susceptible to being recruited into cults or being in an abusive relationship
  • Disconnect from reality: an excessive focus on spirituality can lead to disconnection from reality and challenges that need addressing in your life
the harm of spiritual bypassing list

How to avoid spiritual bypassing

It’s clear that there are many costs to spiritual bypassing, but this doesn’t mean that you should entirely give up your spiritual goals or use of spiritual practices!

As with many things in life, the key is to find balance.

By bearing the following things in mind you can still seek spiritual growth while avoiding spiritual bypassing.

1. Practice emotional awareness

To avoid using spirituality as a way to suppress or bypass painful feelings, it’s a good idea to frequently find ways to get in touch with your full range of emotions – including those that you might see as undesirable.

Try to get into the habit of sitting with and being curious about an emotion as it arises and witnessing it with compassion and kindness, rather than immediately pushing emotional pain aside.

Offer validation to your emotional experiences, and try to reframe them as an opportunity to know yourself more deeply. There are no negative feelings.

2. Do the inner work

Be willing to work on yourself through self-reflection, therapy, and other personal growth practices like journaling. And avoid censorship of what is truly coming up, practicing shadow work to meet your shadow side: the parts of yourself that you may have denied on your spiritual journey.

If you’re aware of unresolved traumas and psychological wounds, it’s a good idea to approach these in a safe place with a professional, rather than with individuals who may not be trained to effectively deal with the difficult emotions that may arise.

3. Question spiritual concepts

To avoid blind faith in spiritual concepts, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of questioning everything. This will allow you to stay grounded in your beliefs, and find a balance between faith and logic.

Take time to truly reflect on whether or not they align with your own values, and avoid idolising any one spiritual teacher to the point that you take everything they say as gospel.

4. Practice grounding

Practicing grounding can help you to stay rooted in the present moment and the earthly plane. Mindfulness meditation is a great way to practice present-moment awareness without judgement, which can keep you connected to the here and now.

This can help you to find a balance between spiritual practices, like transcendental meditation, and awareness of real-life responsibilities. This is important for avoiding escapism and trying to “transcend” reality.

person meditating in nature

5. Avoid judgement and comparison

To avoid developing a big spiritual ego and losing empathy in your relationships, it’s a good idea to refrain from judging and comparing your path to others.

If judgements come up about the way others live their lives, try to stay rooted in the awareness that every human is unique and one path is not “better” or “worse” than another.

6. Seek healthy community and support

Be mindful about who you surround yourself with, seeking a community that allows you to be the authentic expression of yourself, and doesn’t demand you to share every world belief with them.

Be wary of creating an “echo chamber” of only those who share your beliefs as this can make you prone to cult-like thinking. Instead, surround yourself with open-minded individuals who are open to hearing your perspectives and supportive of your journey, while remaining on their own.

7. Stay open to feedback and alternative beliefs

It’s also important that you stay open to other beliefs and feedback from those around you. Before immediately going on the defense and dismissing anything that goes against your beliefs, try to stay curious about how other opinions may be valid.

You don’t have to agree, but staying open and curious can help prevent you from becoming too rigid in your spiritual beliefs.

8. Be mindful of spiritual bypassing triggers

Practice self-awareness to shed light on the situations and emotions that may lead you towards spiritual bypassing. Being aware of your own triggers can help you to avoid falling into defense mechanisms, and actively challenge yourself to grow.

spiritual image of woman in prayer by the ocean

9. Embrace humility

Beware of treating your spiritual journey as a means to a final destination, where you will be “enlightened” and there is no further work left for you to do.

Instead, remind yourself of the fact that as humans we are imperfect, and we are constantly evolving and learning. By practicing this level of humility you can stay open to growth and not fall into the trap of thinking you should be “above” certain emotions and experiences.

10. Set healthy boundaries

Learning the art of setting boundaries is essential to avoid slipping into spiritual bypassing other people’s unhealthy, or even abusive, behaviour. Oftentimes spiritual individuals are more prone to tolerating toxic behaviour and making excuses for people who may be their “soulmate” or “twin flame”, meaning they don’t set the necessary boundaries and standards for how they will tolerate being treated.

Remember, forgiveness should never come at the expense of putting yourself in toxic and dangerous situations. It’s okay to set boundaries and make your own rules about who you surround yourself with.

11. Get clear on your values

Your values are the cornerstone of your being, so getting super clear on your values and priorities can help you to stay grounded in your authentic self and make choices that align with you, rather than blindly following spiritual doctrine.

Take some time to explore your values through therapy and self-reflection, and then choose practices and environments that are in alignment with this.

12. Avoid spiritual bypassing language

The kind of language we use has a very real effect on our mindset and behaviour. Be wary of the kinds of mantras you might be repeating that are actually harming your authentic self-expression.

For example, phrases like “good vibes only” are often used as a form of toxic positivity, to deny and suppress any emotion or experience that might be deemed as “negative”. Similarly, “love and light” is often misinterpreted as meaning you must be compassionate and forgiving at all times, and can encourage a lack of boundaries.

Phrases like this aren’t all bad, but be mindful of how you’re using them and how they might be affecting you on a subtle level.

13. Stay open to change

Part of the human experience is that our beliefs change and develop as we gain new evidence for and against them. If we close ourselves off to change and stay rigid in our spiritual beliefs, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by restricting our ability to change and develop. It also means that we’re more likely to get locked into unhealthy beliefs that we can’t let go of.

It’s a good idea to keep yourself open to change and allow your relationship with spirituality to develop. You don’t have to continue following one specific doctrine if it no longer resonates!

neon sign of the word "change"

Hopefully this post has given you some food for thought when it comes to spiritual bypassing, and you now have some actionable tips to avoid it in your own life.

Remember, your relationship with spirituality can still be a rich and fulfilling one, without the need to discount other practices.

Always aim to stay open-minded and balanced to maintain a healthy relationship with your spiritual nature!

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And don’t forget to pin this post for later!

avoiding spiritual bypassing list

Esther is the founder of Through the Phases, a wellbeing and healthy lifestyle blog dedicated to sharing mind/body/soul practices for self-exploration, healing, and fulfilment. She has a degree in Psychology, is yoga teacher trained (200hr), and is currently pursuing a Neuroscience MSc to further study the mind-body connection. Read more about her story here.

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