Spiritual Bypassing: Using Spirituality To Avoid Pain

Author and psychotherapist Robert Augustus Masters outlines a pervasive phenomenon in contemporary New Age spirituality, spiritual bypassing:

Via Reality Sandwich:

Spiritual bypassing, a term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984, is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. It is much more common than we might think and, in fact, is so pervasive as to go largely unnoticed, except in its more obvious extremes.

Part of the reason for this is that we tend not to have very much tolerance, either personally or collectively, for facing, entering, and working through our pain, strongly preferring pain-numbing “solutions,” regardless of how much suffering such “remedies” may catalyze. Because this preference has so deeply and thoroughly infiltrated our culture that it has become all but normalized, spiritual bypassing fits almost seamlessly into our collective habit of turning away from what is painful, as a kind of higher analgesic with seemingly minimal side effects. It is a spiritualized strategy not only for avoiding pain but also for legitimizing such avoidance, in ways ranging from the blatantly obvious to the extremely subtle.

Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many forms, often without being acknowledged as such. Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being…

Read more at Reality Sandwich.

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  • Andrew

    Excellent post.

  • JG

    Spiritual Skepticism.

  • Dana

    very surface. i suppose one could argue to read the book to get to the meat. nothing is explored here regarding how to understand pain through psychodynamics or spirituality. numerous paragraphs of just restating that spiritual bypassing is a common phenomenon (agreed) and that psychotherapy might be the answer? and that common signs of being a spiritual bypasser are: exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive, anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgment about one’s negativity or shadow side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being. yet no definition of spirituality is given. only characteristics of what is not spiritual – such as being able to tap into other dimensions of reality (stated later on in the article).

    we live in shifting times. language is shifting, psychic abilities are shifting, synchronicities are speeding up, extensions of our senses are growing due to technology, and boundaries are definitely becoming more “porous” as a result. because of this and as this continues to happen we are gradually developing stronger connections “feeling wise” with the “other”. being able to recognize this is being able to recognize hurting the other is hurting the self. combating the other for harming the self, is the same. endless compassion and tolerance is precisely what is needed at present. energy feeds off of energy feeds off of energy. we are all energy. if we don’t figure out a way to stop attacking ourselves, we aren’t going to get anywhere. however, attacking back and not forgiving is not the solution either. accepting lies, accepting pain, seeing what the “other” is trying to construct but accepting it is essential through allowing them to see how they are harming the self.

    spirituality is a hard word to define but essentially is the belief in something higher than the self, not necessarily bound to any organised form of practice or worship. essentially it means faith in a higher order than our minds and our human ability to deconstruct behavior through psychodynamics.

    there are definitely other dimensions beyond than one we live in. some people can see them, some can’t. often times those who can are dismissed as insane. is trying to understand other dimensions escapist? no. it is the self try to comprehend the eternal mystery. uncomplacent and perhaps more curious than most who accept the physical for the eternal.

    spiritual bypassing is common now adays. and it exists in people giving themselves over to distractions of the senses such as television, alcoholism, sex addiction, materialism, etc. we are so much more than the physical and the times we live in are making us increasingly more and more aware of this.

    now where does pain play into this all? suffering is a large part of existence in this dimension. sure you can drink every day to avoid it. i did for many years. or you can project your suffering outward onto others, or you can avoid trying to understand pain on an infinite amount of paths to nowhere should you so choose. understanding pain however, has to do with understanding this mess we are in on this plain. the earth is bleeding, there are wars everywhere, the system is crashing, people can’t get medical attention in this country unless they have a certain income at present, and the list goes on. how we contribute to understanding this however differs from person to person. some people are contemplative, they can only shift through meditation via contributing healthier energy through healing the self to the collective. others are active revolutionaries who create change through waking others up to what we have been contributing our collective energy to for so long. increasing suffering for the collective, is of course a means of waking people up fast, however it is not an inspiring one.

    evolving is not easy. and we all grow at different rates and have different obstacles to overcome. i don’t think psychotherapy is the answer, i don’t think being able to tap into other dimensions is escapist, i don’t think being eternally compassionate is wrong and the porous boundary phenomenon is going to continue to become more and more of a growing reality. having faith in something higher than the self, understanding reality is constantly shifting, not trying to quantify things so concretely and being forever forgiving and compassionate, is the only answer. if those who fall into this category don’t make it through, the cosmos will reorder things accordingly. some things are higher than us and we don’t have much say in the matter. just be yourself and try to be good.

  • Dana

    and i’d also like to state that those who create the most pain for others are generally suffering the most and need to be loved all the more.hence endless compassion and forgiveness.

  • alizardx

    What’s described in the last paragraph can also be used for personal manipulation. People are likely to believe other things told to them by a person who encourages delusions that make one feel good.

  • blahblahyouyou

    Old news, prompts the rambling we see here. “.. a life in which the personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal are all honored and lived to the fullest” – that’s also feel good language to some extent. Look at how people go on with their monologues and expect others to just listen to them, it’s not interactive in any way. Even when people supposedly engages in dialogue it’s to state their thinking and position on a matter. Bypassing and avoidance is one thing, but if your predominant perspective is a subjective, or intrapersonal one then that will shape your communication and behavior. It doesn’t matter what you say, the actual behavior or lack of interaction is the reality. It’s easier to relate to people with your judgments whether they be psychological, spiritual or psychic – you don’t have to deal with the messy reality.

    Anyone who want to throw out unconditional “compassion” should consider this:

    http://mettarefuge.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/the-difference-between-compassion-and-idiot-compassion/

  • blahblahyouyou

    Ever notice the attitude of indiscriminate compassion is rather similar to Christians who want to pray for you? The person assumes they are doing something that is noble and higher, for your benefit. This is of course reflected in the intellectual treatment of such subjects. Rather than engaging others there’s this whole display of wise advice being offered, as if anyone asked. There may be the best intentions, but it’s a bit presumptuous.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rthoneunomia.celine Threedinium

    I’m a little confused, I suppose mine and Mr Masters definition of ‘spiritual’ differ. I’m not sure how a spiritual path doesn’t involve working through problems, facing pain and learning to deal with ‘negative’ aspects of the self? I would say that to develop ‘lopsidedly’ as he has put it is unlikely to be the product of spiritual endevours.