130- Spiritual Bypass

Following is from When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Matters

Have you ever:

  • Used spirituality as a sort of escape from reality, or as a way to avoid some painful aspect of your life?
  • Let yourself get taken advantage of or walked all over in the name of blind compassion?
  • Allowed your understanding of ultimate reality to help you avoid or push away your anger, believing such negative emotions to be “lower” or “less spiritual” than your enlightened ideals?
  • Used spiritual (or integral) terminology to relabel your own shadows, using spiritual ideas to pave over the potholes in your own personality?

Recently, the term Spiritual Bypass came up in therapy. It has come up before, and I have acknowledged it’s presence in our society over many discussions over the years, but not quite in the context presented HERE.

Spiritual bypass is when we use “spirituality”, or the acts representing said state, in lieu of actually dealing with our “stuff.” When I was in middle school, I saw organized religion as a crutch. I found people using confession as their way of feeling okay about doing things that they knew were wrong and hurtful. Did they deal with the trauma at the root of their actions? Did they acknowledge their anger, their bigotry, their judgement? Hell, no! I found people saying they were religious because they went to church regularly and volunteered at the church, and did bible study, and blah, blah, blah. Really? Really? (I admit I have some judgement around this, but I also have compassion, since I am not immune)

I find that when people have to talk about how spiritual or religious they are, it’s because they want that affirmation. People say what they want to hear. If you know you are spiritual, you don’t need outside affirmation. You don’t do it for the recognition, so you have no need to brag to the world what a great person you are. Bragging about said spirituality is narcissism at its finest, and the world of spiritual dogma is full of narcissists. Also, sacrificing your needs in the name of compassion (martyrdom) is a symptom of Spiritual Bypass. When you step into that realm, whether it’s New Age practices or hardcore Christianity, be(a)ware. Spiritual Materialism is a by-product/sign of Spiritual Bypass.

So, what’s my point? Well, I find that many people (and I am not immune from being  human. I, too, have done this and try always to be aware of when I am doing this) will go immediately to yoga, meditation, kirtan, church, confession, etc in an effort to “deal” with their anger, sadness, anxiety, etc. They will deny their own needs to appear (to themselves as well as others) compassionate, when in actuality, they are bitter, and understandably so! But, they have themselves to blame.

What they are often really doing is turning their back on these feelings. Unless we turn around and face our fears, our sadness, our anger, and all of those “shadow” parts of our selves, they will haunt us.

We can not let go of what we do not embrace.

I am learning to embrace my shadows and have compassion for myself. In the midst, I find myself feeling resentful, childish, mostly confused, gloriously free and happy, at ease, anxious, angry, ….and did I mention confused?

Discernment is the next step, I feel. Am I upset and rightly so, or is this my “stuff” coming up? People in my life will make me doubt. The judge within me will make me doubt. By speaking to those parts of me that hurt, that judge, are angry, and to those parts that have unconditional love, I can come to some clarity. If I turn my back on all of these parts of my self, I am denying my Self, my wholeness. They will, like spoiled and needy children, continue to create chaos in my head and heart.

As I learn to look at and love the parts of myself unconditionally, I can respect and love those parts in others.

Empathy comes naturally when we love ourselves first.


  • Geoffrey Burrows

    There’s been times when I’ve struggled with my emotions, and then done something like meditation or spiritual labelling. I think it can sometimes seem like the “right” thing to do, but I sometimes just gloss over the problems.

    Suppose I’m feeling angry about something at work, I might go and meditate on my lunch break. Sadly though, I sometimes don’t address the real issues. Those are the times when I’ll just clear the pain out of my mind for a while, without even trying to identify or acknowledge why I feel angry. It can feel good for a little while, but in the long run it doesn’t fix anything.

    Thank you for a timely reminder. 🙂

    • Aloha Geoffrey,
      Thank you for your comment! The first step to positive change is awareness, the second is acceptance. Beautiful acknowledgement of your “pattern.” Many blessings on your journey. Please continue to share your thoughts.

  • Elinor Gawel (Eli)

    I like to think that I use meditation and qigong to separate temporarily from the anger or hurt so that I can return fresh with new ideas on how to deal with it or to decide to let it go.

    • Aloha Eli,
      Thank you for sharing. It’s all in the intent, as Geoffrey pointed out. What I pointed out was that our society deems anger and sadness as “bad” emotions, so we want to get away from them, even temporarily. It is in the embracing of these emotions that we find clarity. It is through sitting with the emotion and asking why it is there, what it is pointing to, and what it needs, just as if it were a child desperately in need of understanding. Our emotions can serve as guides if we listen to them.

  • Maui Goodness

    This is so true, and something I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately. As much as sweeping your demons into a corner feels better, confronting them and dealing with your personal issues is the only way to attain true well-being. It’s not an easy thing to do, but so important.

    • Aloha,
      Thank you for your comment! Yes, the spiritual path can be very difficult, but it is so worth it to be fully alive. Have a blessed day!

  • Jt Clough

    When going through a break up of a long term relationship there are so many things to get through. Anger, pain, heartache, sadness, more anger. I do go to yoga a lot and mediate on my own way more than before. Sometimes I wonder why one find themselves doing these things in times of healing and shouldn’t they have been done before. Possibly that would have made the difference.
    On any account, pain and anger are both hard to face, yet I know there is healing that will come by facing it. Mahalo for the thought provoking post.

    • Thank you for sharing. I am in the middle of a similar situation and starting to focus more on myself as well. I think people often rely too much on others to fulfill certain needs, and when a home yoga or meditation practice is not very consistent, it is usually the first thing to go when adding a relationship to the mix.
      I agree that self care is very important and allows one to be more centered (if all done for the right reasons).
      Kudos to you for facing your anger. It is the only way you can understand it.
      Many blessings to you,

  • Tania Ginoza

    Wonderful post! I have a very easy time forgiving others but it is very difficult for me to forgive myself.

    I feel very much the same about organized religion. Especially when there is judgement passed on others. Holier than thou attitudes say to me that person doesn’t quite get spirituality and may be embracing their religion for similar reasons we embrace belonging to other groups or status symbols.

    Judgement of your peers choices which may differ from your own choices (working vs stay at home moms comes to mind) is also an indication that we are not looking inward and trusting out own choices unconditionally.

    I really enjoy your writing. I’m hopping over from Maui Bloggers but I have you in my reader and enjoy every post, even though I may not always leave a comment.

    • Aloha Tania,
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and kind words!
      I find that our perception of our world and the people in it reflects our internal state, which means that if we are critical of others, we are equally critical of ourselves. It is only through true compassion with ourselves that we can have compassion for others.

  • mauijungalow

    Spiritual bypass is something one can write about, but each person has to come to his/her own truth based on usually – raw life experience, getting knocked down, dealing with emotions, relationships, all the entanglement of living and being humans. It’s usually easier to notice in other people – i.e., when other people are bragging about their spirituality/religion, or being “excessively” compassionate because this or that guru/teacher/priest said to do so – than to see this in ourselves. For women esp., I think the danger is to overgive, be excessively compassionate, put others’ needs ahead of our own because of cultural attitudes, church, and the need to please. I remember one spiritual book that said to practice one day in which if you have a desire to give something and it’s in your power to do so, to do that. I think that can be a good exercise for some people, but not for people who are already prone to overgiving. Just because it’s from a spiritual book or teacher or church doesn’t make it spiritual or good for you.