The Spiritual Bypass: When Your Pursuit for Enlightenment is an Escape from You

The Spiritual Bypass: When Your Pursuit for Enlightenment is an Escape from You the spiritual bypass: when your pursuit for enlightenment is an escape from you
Photo by Frames For Your Heart on Unsplash

For many on the path of healing from narcissistic abuse, toxic relationships, or any past experience, seeking refuge or relief in something like another relationship, a higher power, a support group, or just practices can provide some sense of relief and comfort. But how comfortable is that comfort if we’re still experiencing inner discomfort?

It may provide relief, but relief is not the same as overcoming suffering. In fact, the more comfortable something is, the longer it may keep you in pain or lead to more suffering.

One aspect that may seem helpful on your healing journey is spiritual philosophies or spirituality itself. While it may provide comfort, if you’re not aware, you might be using it as a crutch, which is where spiritual bypassing comes in.

What Is Spiritual Bypassing?

Spiritual bypassing is essentially when spirituality or spiritual practices are used as avoidance strategies or defense mechanisms to bypass doing the real emotional work. It involves using spiritual concepts to avoid facing or processing painful emotions, including grief or the pain you’ve endured.

The concept of spiritual bypassing was coined by John Welwood, a transpersonal psychotherapist. He explained it as the “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”*et9czc*_ga*MTkxNjcxMDU2NC4xNjg1MDA1MjYw*_ga_6LJN6D94N6*MTY5ODczNDU3OC4yMjQuMC4xNjk4NzM0NTc4LjAuMC4w

It’s actually becoming more common nowadays because of the increasing popularity of spirituality and self-help practices in the modern world. It can share similarities with toxic positivity, but spiritual bypassing takes it a step further.

It can truly convince you that you’re seeking or even experiencing true liberation at a higher state.

The Appeal of Spiritual Bypassing

On some level, the desire to transcend painful experiences after leaving that toxic relationship through spiritual bypassing is very understandable. When you’ve gone through emotional torture from the hands of someone who once claimed that they loved you, the idea of “rising above” and “detaching” from the pain can feel absolutely appealing and even necessary for survival.

To sweeten this, you might come across stories of enlightened masters who have supposedly transcended their egos and achieved a “higher” state of consciousness and true freedom.

You read or hear about how they renounced everything in this world to attain true peace. You think about how your friends or your ex are bothering you, or how your divorce is bringing up a lot of emotional pain. In this context, this narrative can feel incredibly tempting, offering a seemingly ideal way to avoid or suppress the emotional pain you’re carrying deep inside you.

You might find yourself fully immersing in teachings that suggest your wounds as just mere illusions, and that all you need to do is change your perception of the past. To heal, you may be encouraged to simply “surrender to what is” or to “let go of the past and embrace the present moment” or “just breathe and focus on the now” or just say, “it is what it is” and move forward with life.

While those teachings have a point and yes, life is lived in the present moment not in the past, to your mind which has been stuck in unhealthy patterns and pain for a long time, they can serve as shiny philosophical shortcuts, subtly sidestepping the necessary deep emotional processing required for genuine freedom.

Signs of Spiritual Bypassing

Some common examples of spiritual bypassing in action especially after leaving a toxic relationship can include:

· Using spirituality or spiritual practices as a means of escaping or dissociating from the difficult emotions instead of allowing yourself to feel them

· Avoiding “negative” emotions like anger or grief by obsessively focusing only on positive thoughts of higher concepts even when those emotions need to be processed.

· Believing your particular spiritual beliefs make you superior or more “enlightened” than others which lead to you being so judgmental and patronizing instead of being humble.

· Avoiding responsibility or ownership for personal shortcomings by saying that flaws or hurtful behaviors are merely signs of “spiritual progress” or “the ego”, enlightenment tests or opportunities to transcend ego.

· Preaching about “non-resistance” and “allowing” suffering in such a way that you no longer fight for better life circumstances and simply remain stuck in denial of emotional and even physical realities.

· Jumping into new spiritual practices or any new shiny spiritual practice without really giving yourself space to process your pain. It’s always, the next best tool or spiritual retreat without really looking at where you are.

· Refusing to engage in difficult conversations about your current state of your healing journey because you want to maintain peace and harmony.

The Problem with Spiritual Bypassing

To show how spiritual bypassing works, imagine you have a splinter (thin broken piece of wood) stuck in your finger for a long time. It hurts and bothers you, but instead of taking it out, you put some essential oil and a bandage on it. You keep telling yourself, “I’m healed, I’m at peace,” without dealing with the splinter. That’s like spiritual bypassing — pretending everything’s okay without fixing the real problem.

You can keep using positive affirmations, burning sage, and meditating, but if you don’t face and remove that splinter, it’ll stay there. It will keep causing problems, getting irritated again and again, and stopping your finger from healing properly.

No matter how much you believe in inner peace, the truth is you have a physical object stuck in your body that needs to be removed. Using spiritual ideals won’t change that fact. You need to make a focused effort to physically remove it. Anything less just covers up the real problem with temporary comfort or with the hope that you will attain a higher state and the pain will disappear.

True healing can’t happen until you’re willing to honestly expose the splinter, experience the temporary discomfort of extracting it fully, and then allow the wound to finally close up from the inside-out. Any avoidance or purely surface-level treatment is just letting that splinter stick to your finger forever.

The Courage to Face Yourself

At first, spiritual bypassing may seem harmless as you’re just trying to focus on the positive and the possibilities beyond the mind, or by aligning with a power beyond your pain. But in reality, you’re simply avoiding where the source of healing is and searching for healing where you think it is or where your mind convinces you it is.

Yet all along, the healing is just within you, and isn’t that the essence of spirituality?

It’s about looking within, not just focusing on the positive, but examining everything as it is (not just sidelining the negative).

If it’s anger, resentment, shame, hate and all those other emotions, look at them directly. Don’t try to explain it away or label it as something else. Just feel it without overthinking it. It’s a simple fact: you’re angry, hateful, vengeful, bitter, sad, or lonely. See these emotions for what they are instead of chasing after shiny distractions. By facing them head-on, you’ll gradually realize that they were just dark clouds that needed your attention. This realization may bring you some sort of peace and relief.

In conclusion, spiritual concepts may seem appealing to the mind, but it’s that same mind that keeps you in toxic relationships and can also keep you stuck in toxic spirituality. Even though the spiritual path may seem better, you’re still the same person. The toxicity lies within you, and unless you confront it without trying to escape, you’ll continue to be in toxic relationships with other aspects of life.

You’re still viewing things through the same negative beliefs that kept you in toxicity or are currently keeping you in denial.

If you’ve been practicing spirituality for a long time and you’re not seeing any change in your life, chances are you’re avoiding the pain instead of processing it. Learn from all those teachers but have the determination to come back to the sad, lonely, and miserable parts of yourself to discover the other, hidden aspects that have been clouded by negative experiences. It’s better to honestly confront your misery and bitterness than to pretend to be enlightened or spiritual.

Note from the Author

If you’re ready and you’d like my help with healing, finding peace in life and breaking free from these toxic patterns, then you can book a FREE BREAKTHROUGH CALL with me HERE. Happy healing 💙💙. Feel free to share and comment! Use this information with caution, it comes from my own thoughts & bias, experiences and research😊.




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Edwin Bii
Edwin Bii

I'm Edwin Bii, a trained advanced conversational hypnotherapist (ACH) and Mind Shifting Coach from Kenya offering mental health support, and life coaching to help you crush your goalsand overcome your problems. Together, we'll navigate challenges, build self-awareness, and create a happier, healthier you. Let's unlock your potential.

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