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Breaking the Pattern: Spiritual Bypassing

Spiritual Bypassing.

It’s admittedly a trendy buzzword that gets thrown around a lot these days, but I want to devote this week to exploring this pattern in more depth.

Here’s my own personal working definition of the term: Spiritual bypassing is the misuse of a spiritual belief or practice to avoid, conceal, minimize, or condone behaviors, situations, or psychological patterns that are legitimately harmful, toxic, unjust, or abusive.

For the record, I believe this misuse & abuse of spirituality is equally common in organized religious communities as well as in more alternative spiritual spaces like yoga classes, meditation groups, and new age communities.

And here’s a few examples that come to my mind of just how harmful, and even dangerous, spiritual bypassing can be: Denying or minimizing someone’s legitimate grief over a death or major loss by offering cliche statements about it being part of “God’s plan” or “for a higher purpose” (Even if that’s true, the person has the right to come to that conclusion on their own terms and in their own time.)

Avoiding or minimizing legitimate concerns within a relationship or community by insisting that only positivity is welcome (“positive vibes only”) and labelling anyone with genuine criticisms as having “negative energy”.

A survivor of abuse believing or being told that they need to forgive or practice compassion for their abuser, especially if that abuse is ongoing and the abuser has made no effort towards accountability or responsibility. (Again, a survivor may choose forgiveness on their own terms, but being empowered to set the firmest boundaries with an abuser may be a matter of life and death).

Ignoring harm to the planet or minimizing matters of social injustice because “this world” somehow isn’t important or real compared to a transcendent spiritual reality (whether that be heaven, the 5th dimension, or some idealized state of enlightenment).

Here are a few guiding principles to help you break the pattern of spiritual bypassing, in your own life and in your relationships with others.

Always honor the fullness of your humanity - including your right to have a wide range of experiences and emotions, including challenging ones like anger or grief. You don't have to be filled with "love and light" at all times to be spiritual. You can be fully spiritual AND fully human.

Never use a spiritual belief or concept to dismiss what someone is feeling or to minimize a challenging experience they are having. This goes for yourself, as well. Spirituality, at its best, helps guide and comfort us through the difficult seasons of life. But it shouldn't be used as a tool to shame us or judge us when we're suffering.

Remember that spirituality should always been on the side of healing & freedom, never used to condone or conceal an abusive & unjust situation. A spiritual belief or practice should never be used to convince someone to accept behavior that is harmful to their well-being or stay in an abusive situation. Ever.

- Matthew Foley


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