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  • Laurie Teixeira and Jari de Jesus

Unlocking True Spiritual Growth: Break Free from the Trap of Spiritual Bypassing

John Welwood, a transpersonal psychotherapist, first used the term "spiritual bypassing" in his book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, published in the early 1980s. Spiritual bypassing is what Welwood called "a trend to use spiritual thoughts and methods to avoid or prevent facing unresolved emotional problems, emotional wounds, and incomplete developmental tasks."

People who go on spiritual retreats to escape their worries are a prime example. These individuals may feel enlightened throughout their journeys, but when returning home, they are often provoked by the same problems that caused them to leave. Nothing has changed, and all the anxiety, chaos, and drama are right back where they started.

Spiritual bypassing stunts growth, but genuine spiritual practice fosters development. By doing so, it opens up a can of psychological worms that the victim may not be ready to deal with.

Having an authentic spiritual practice allows you to address these wounds with the proper balance and acceptance that are necessary for their healing. Avoiding these types of emotional pain is not a sign of growth, rather spiritual bypassing is a form of self-deception.

Understanding and sympathy should be extended to those who are afraid of facing their shadows. Doing so requires an openness and courage to work through the trauma. The paradox is that it is precisely these aspects that need to be recognized and accepted for change to occur.

Although spiritual bypassing can be used as a defense mechanism or to promote peace among people, it is ultimately ineffective in solving problems. In reality, all it does is avoid dealing squarely with the problem at hand.

Using spirituality as a crutch to avoid dealing with real problems is counterproductive; it prevents us from developing the actual strength, trust, and wholeness that are the hallmarks of a refined spirit.

The practice of spiritual bypassing provides a great shield from the world, but it also locks us into a false sense that everything is fine.

However, some psychotherapists think that spiritual bypassing can be a helpful way to deal with stressful situations. There may be times when leaning significantly toward one extreme, such as putting more emphasis on spiritual growth and less on psychological growth, is the best course of action. Therefore, the strategy is not zero tolerance but rather a soft awareness of when this mechanism is unbalanced.

It is important to be aware when you are doing spiritual bypassing. Below are some examples:

  • Putting too much emphasis on the positive and too little on the negative.

  • Possessing a sense of entitlement.

  • Being full of one's own enlightened superiority.

  • Putting up a false front and acting as if nothing is wrong.

  • Having frequent outbursts of rage.

  • Experiencing or having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and changes in our attitude.

  • Being overly idealistic.

  • Being overly detached.

  • Dwelling primarily in one's head or the spiritual sphere, rather than the physical one.

In Summary

To believe that spirituality has no negative aspects is false. In order to develop spiritual discernment and see where we could be off course or misaligned, we must first face our own emotions and trauma.

A spiritual practice that ignores the reality of daily life is as insufficient as a psychological approach that ignores the realities of the human spirit. Both maturing and awakening are necessary processes that should be worked on at the same time. It's a blessing that we live in a time where reputable sources of support and information on both topics are simple to find and use.

When you break through your spiritual bypassing, you can finally see the stumbling blocks in your mind and heart that are keeping you from healing and becoming whole.


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