We’ve all known that person. The highly spiritual one who is all about love and light making all their life decisions based on what Spirit told them to do, constantly searching tarot videos for predictions to their life or relationship problems, sharing their latest positive affirmation for the week (“my new mantra,” they say), raving about the best ceremonial cacao to drink at breakfast, and who is not available for any “low vibes'' as they wave a burning bundle of white sage or palo santo in their IG story to show them how they cleanse themselves of them.
Upon first glance, they are all sunshine and rainbows, and they seem nice enough, but upon closer observation of their life, you’re left feeling uneasy. This uneasiness grows with each off-color comment they make about others who hold a different viewpoint from them. You may have felt this way when they come to you because “no one else understands them” and proceed to vent about all of the toxic people in their life.
Despite their put-together persona, in reality, they seem to be barely holding it together outside of the public eye. You feel both concerned and a bit confused when they show up online with all love and light again after the emotional meltdown you witnessed them having the night before.
You may be left wondering what happened to all the love and light they spoke of. In actuality they seem quite negative, and quite the victim.
Fake Happiness- Henn Kim
No, you are not imagining things. You are just experiencing someone who is spiritually bypassing and let me tell you, just love and light cannot help someone who is.
Would you believe that some of these examples are from my past too? It’s true, I too have been guilty of spiritual bypassing in the past. I believe that it can be quite easy for anyone to fall into the trap of spiritual bypassing if you do not learn more about it and examine how it may show up even in your spiritual practice.
I share these examples not to make anyone feel attacked, but to shine a light on a serious problem that is prevalent within spiritual spaces today that even the most well-meaning and intelligent people can manifest. It’s a widespread problem we have to confront because it is hurting people from truly benefitting from spirituality in a way that truly helps them. This causes individuals to believe that light and love will save them by creating a lack of awareness that feeds collective escapism.
Spiritual bypassing can be a subtle form of self-sabotage and it is important to talk about.
The term spiritual bypassing was first coined by an American psychotherapist named John Welwood in 1984 and naturally, I believe he explains it the best. I feel it is important to share his very own words on spiritual bypassing from his book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening:
“Spiritual bypassing is a term I coined to describe a process I saw happening in the Buddhist community I was in, and also in myself. Although most of us were sincerely trying to work on ourselves, I noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks… And then we tend to use absolute truth to disparage or dismiss relative human needs, feelings, psychological problems, relational difficulties, and developmental deficits. I see this as an ‘occupational hazard’ of the spiritual path, in that spirituality does involve a vision of going beyond our current karmic situation.”―John Welwood
So why does spiritual bypassing even happen? Many spiritual bypassers become that way quite innocently in the beginning, for a couple of reasons. It can happen simply because of the popular information we are widely exposed to about what spirituality should look like (#love and light #beyourbestself #goodvibesonly) from society. It can be easy for anyone to spiritually bypass in more ways than one, and to different degrees, considering all the information we are exposed to. The truth is that we are greatly influenced by our surroundings. From a sociological standpoint, it is acceptable to say that humans are social beings. We follow norms, and we don’t like to deviate from that norm. More often than not we too easily accept popular opinion spread by mass media as truth.
What comes up for you when you think of a spiritual person? To aid us in answering this question, I went to the best source to see what is currently trending concerning spirituality- social media. I opened my phone and went to Instagram and TikTok (because these are the two most popular social media apps on my phone) and searched #spirituality or #spiritualitytiktok.
Chances are things like the following will come up for you when you think of spirituality because this is what we are most exposed to; Law of attraction (around love or money), love and light, Spirit, positive affirmations, twin flames, chakras, kundalini, yoga or yogic wisdom, meditation, witchcraft, angel numbers, astrology, star seeds, how to live your best life, cutting out toxic people, energetic protection, and the list goes on.
Way by Benjamin Degen, 2020
It is important to make one thing very clear- there is nothing inherently wrong or necessarily false about any of these things. However they can become problematic once you engage in them in unhealthy ways, and this is a key trait of spiritual bypassing. You need to discern the function and purpose that these spiritual tools provide for you and get very honest with yourself as to whether or not these things are truly bringing you a deeper awareness of the ethereal self. For it is that part of you, your soul, that is connected to Spirit.
Spirituality can be a means to cope with emotions too painful to deal with. As many turn to spirituality for greater awareness, self-improvement, and a sense of inner peace, there are equally as many turning to spirituality when they feel the most vulnerable and when they are internally suffering. They may turn to spirituality in desperation when nothing else in their life seems to be working and for a sense of protection. Spirituality for these kinds of individuals becomes their greatest defense mechanism, but this comes at a cost.
Don’t get me wrong, spirituality is a powerful way for anyone to find healing and to aid you in greater self-discovery. These things are a natural byproduct of further connecting with your spiritual self. However, this all comes with deep introspection, awakening parts of you that may have been dormant for a long time, experiencing catalyzing moments, catharsis, and self-alchemy. These things are truly rewarding to experience, but it comes with a lot of discomfort and willingness to see the more undesirable parts of yourself too. Spirituality is an embodied practice of integrating the totality of who you authentically are.
So how does spiritual bypassing manifest in people?
Here are some signs of spiritual bypassing:
Using spirituality as a form of escapism by being overly detached and/or overly idealistic. This takes form in multiple ways, constant positivity and feeling good which dissociates them from their inner pain- (e.g. dismissing or even demonizing negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, shame, etc.). Not exercising self-sovereignty and discernment in their spiritual practice and basing their life decisions on what “spirit” told them.
Good and Evil mentality- Taking form in stark dualistic ideology (e.g. Rejecting or judging more “dark” spiritual or occult practices. Exuding a sense of superiority or entitlement over others who do not share the same spiritual beliefs or opinions with them, as a way to hide their insecurities.
Being overly defensive when their spiritual beliefs are challenged due to a fragile sense of self. Such as when their culturally appropriative spiritual practices come into question. (e.g. Using ceremonial tools without initiation or proper guidance.)
Projecting their negative emotions onto others and positioning themselves as the victim. (e.g. The inability to discern between actually being a victim and being in a victim mentality.)
Relying on spiritual practices or divination tools as a coping mechanism, sidestepping proper help and the necessary inner work needed to address mental illness or emotional/mental health issues: This takes form by fixating on chasing spiritual highs (e.g. fixation on spiritual bliss or one-time awakening experiences) as an unhealthy form of self-regulation
Spiritual bypassing is a form of sabotage, harmful not only to yourself but even to others. The impacts of spiritual bypassing can hinder your personal and psychological growth, perpetuate codependent/insecure type of relationship patterns, exacerbate unresolved emotional wounds and/or control issues, and keep one in a state of emotional dysregulation. It provides a superficial detour for you to “rise above” your problems rather than addressing them for greater healing and deeper self-awareness. This is not the purpose spirituality should have in anyone’s life.
Spirituality looks different for everyone, but one true thing is that spirituality is an embodied practice of your inner self, of your spirit, in day-to-day life. Anything that disconnects you from you, your innermost self, is not helping you spiritually. For what is spirituality without spirit, if the spirit is you?
So what can we do to prevent, address and stop spiritual bypassing? Here are some things you can consider and 3 valuable questions you can ask yourself:
Notice the spiritual practices and tools you engage in everyday life. Ask yourself: Why am I using them and how do they serve me?
Get comfortable with getting uncomfortable. Ask yourself: Am I allowing myself to feel, observe and learn from my negative emotions? You can do this through shadow work. Seek to understand them rather than reject them.
Relationships will tell you a lot about the relationship you have with yourself. Take an honest look at the relationships in your life. What are they like and how do they feel?
Do not do yourself the disservice of being in spiritual denial, and let your authentic self shine through. Your authentic self is not necessarily the best version of you, it is the unique version of you that is composed of both light (yang) and dark (yin) aspects, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is time for you to show up in the totality of who you are, and in my humble opinion that is awesomely inspiring and deeply spiritual.
Written by: Song Kim
Song is a Self-Alchemy coach whose life's work is dedicated to cultivating greater love and harmony in the world by helping individuals to tap into and learn to work with their unique inner potential. Her coaching approach is implemented within both a spiritual and intellectual framework, and she approaches her clients with honesty, integrity and understanding.
Song has over 10 years of experience with shadow work, inner child work, and guided meditation. She combines both pragmatic and esoteric modalities to holistically guide her clients to success. She is currently en route to pursuing a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling to become a transpersonal psychotherapist.