"Too blessed to be stressed": Understanding spiritual bypassing
For many people, the journey of personal growth leads us to explore our spirituality and our relationship with a higher power – whatever that means to each individual. This can be a healthy and helpful process and can lead to tremendous healing and meaning making out of our suffering.
However, just like our unresolved emotional patterns can show up in our adult lives in any number of ways, our spiritual lives are not immune to our emotional defenses. For some people, their spiritual life can become one more place where they don’t allow themselves to have authentic experience. This phenomenon, known as spiritual bypassing, can interfere with our ability to heal and change unhelpful emotional patterns.
If you are curious about whether or not you might be using spiritual bypassing as a way of coping with difficult feelings, read on!
This blog will explore what spiritual bypassing is, how it manifests, and why it's essential to address it on the path to genuine spiritual and personal growth.
What is spiritual bypassing?
Spiritual bypassing is a psychological defense mechanism that occurs when individuals use spiritual beliefs, practices, or ideologies to avoid dealing with their authentic emotional and psychological pain. It is a form of escapism where individuals hide behind spiritual concepts or practices to circumvent the challenges and discomfort of addressing their inner wounds, traumas, and unresolved issues.
For example, when someone proclaims “I’m too blessed to be stressed” instead of acknowledging they are feeling anxious. Or when a person over-focuses on "love" and "light" and "peace" in their posture toward someone else instead of addressing a conflict in the relationship.
The 3 most common ways spiritual bypassing shows up
Spiritual bypassing can show up in a number of ways, but here are the three most common ways I see in my practice:
1. Overemphasis on Positivity
Spiritual bypassing can look like the tendency to overly focus on positivity, emphasizing love, light, and joy while neglecting the less pleasant, more challenging aspects of our experience. While positivity is certainly important and can be a strength, it becomes problematic when it is used to mask unresolved issues.
2. Denial of Painful Emotions
Along with an overemphasis on positivity often comes the suppression or denial of painful or less pleasant emotions, such as anger, sadness, or fear. Instead of allowing themselves to experience and process these emotions, individuals who are spiritually bypassing may prematurely shift their focus to forgiveness or compassion.
3. Escapism Through Practices
I often see clients who come to work with me in therapy after having spent years - even decades - engaged in spiritual communities and practices, reading spiritual books, taking spiritual courses, meditating, praying, and going on spiritual retreats, and, while they might feel some relief temporarily, the core problems in their lives haven't changed. They haven't yet allowed themselves to actually experience their own painful feelings. Rather than using spiritual practices as tools for self-discovery and growth, spiritual bypassers may use them to escape reality or numb themselves.
Why spiritual bypassing is a concern
Spiritual bypassing, while it might offer temporary relief from emotional discomfort, ultimately obstructs authentic spiritual and personal growth. Here are a few reasons why it's essential to recognize and address this issue:
1. Stagnation: Spiritual bypassing can lead to stagnation in personal development. By avoiding one's emotional baggage, unresolved issues persist and continue to influence one's life negatively.
2. Inauthenticity: Authentic spirituality and personal growth require honesty and self-awareness. Engaging in spiritual bypassing is, in essence, inauthentic because it prevents us from truly experiencing ourselves and engaging with others honestly.
3. Interpersonal challenges: When individuals project their unresolved issues onto others, it can lead to strained relationships and a lack of accountability, preventing healthy communication and growth in those relationships.
4. Missed opportunities for healing: By avoiding painful emotions and experiences, we miss opportunities for healing, transformation, and genuine spiritual insight.
Overcoming spiritual bypassing
To overcome spiritual bypassing, we can learn to turn toward, rather than away from, our own experience - whether it's pleasant or painful.
There is no substitute for noticing what we are feeling, naming it, and staying present with it without judging it or trying to make it go away.
Authentic feelings - when they are allowed to be there - have a natural cycle. A beginning, a middle and an end.
Feelings are to the emotional self what breathing is to the physical self. It's the most natural thing in the world, and we are born knowing how to do it.
But some of us get early messages that we shouldn't. And that's the real issue.
Many people find deep solace in their spiritual life in a genuine and healthy way. But spiritual bypassing is a complex and subtle phenomenon that interferes with authentic spiritual and personal growth. By recognizing it and learning to turn toward our true emotions, we can foster greater self-awareness, emotional healing, and more genuine spirituality.