What is Spiritual Bypassing?

Spiritual bypassing is a concept where we try to hide our negativities under the garb of spirituality. This concept is very relevant for India as we firmly believe in the concept of karma as propagated by Lord Krishna.

It is our belief that whatever we are getting in this life is because of the karmas of our past lives. Indians, and particularly Hindus, and people belonging to those religions which originated in this landmass like Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, all believe in this theory.

Simply, the theory is that we have a body and there is Atma in it. Whereas the body gets destroyed, Atma is indestructible. It is this Atma that carries the good or bad deeds with itself to the next births. The karmas, which we perform in any birth are carried over to our next births.

In Gita Lord Krishna tells to Arjun :

नासतो विद्यते भावो नाभावो विद्यते सत:।

उभयोरपि दृष्टोsन्तस्त्वनयोस्तत्त्वदर्शिभि:।।

It broadly means the physical body is destructible but Atma is not. It remains the same throughout. It keeps taking birth till we get moksha, which is not taking birth on earth.

There is a problem in this theory. The problem is that under the umbrella of this spiritual concept, some of us try to hide all our negativities and short-comings. Broadly this is termed “Spiritual Bypassing”.

The term was first coined during the early 1980s by a transpersonal psychotherapist named John Welwood in his book Toward a Psychology of Awakening. According to Welwood, spiritual bypassing can be defined as a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.”

Many people use this spirituality as a defence mechanism to justify their hard emotions or bad practices.

The problem is when we use this practice then we continue to ignore the problem. We just justify it without resolving it. The important point is that spiritual bypassing should not be done for each and everything. There are many hard emotions that can be solved with the use of modern science and medical practices.

Instead of using those available instruments, when we try to bypass them under the garb of spirituality, it becomes harmful. It should be avoided at all costs.

The main point is that spirituality should be used to enhance one’s well-being, but it should not become a tool to gloss over intricate issues or feelings. This would only choke the growth of an individual.

What Are The Signs Of Spiritual Bypassing

As explained above, spiritual bypassing is using spirituality as a tool to ignore our hard, unwanted feelings. These are those feelings that are hampering our growth. Not only growth but also these may be causing harm to our inner and outer body without we realizing it. A few of the signs of spiritual bypassing are given below:

  • Very high level of spiritual Idealism that cannot be practically attained
  • Focus only on spiritual attainment and not worrying about the current situation
  • To be highly positive
  • To always have a feeling that everything is fine when apparently they are not
  • To have this feeling that every problem can be resolved by having positive feelings only
  • To deny or to suppress a visible bad situation
  • To suppress anger or abhorrence of a feeling or situation

In brief, if you have a feeling that is creating abhorrence or revulsion inside your body towards a particular situation or sentiment and you are trying to suppress it, this is a sign of spiritual bypassing. You may be doing it by either ignoring the feeling or justifying it with your spiritual logic.

In a way, it is an artificial way to ignore our problem. Such ignorance may make us feel better for a short period of time. But ultimately the problem will continue to exist and harm our interest in one way or the other.

By now this will be clear to everyone that seemingly there is a conflict in spiritual values and spiritual bypassing. However, this is not so in actual practice. There is a thin line to understand what is spirituality and what is spiritual bypassing.

Particularly, we should not try to ignore those of our negative feelings which should not be suppressed. We should cure those by simply changing our attitude or curing them through medical procedures.

Hidden Spiritual Bypassing

Spiritual bypassing is mostly hidden. It is difficult to understand it. It is so deep inside our subconscious mind. Some of the spiritual bypassing examples are like this:

  • Saying that everything is according to God’s will
  • Telling others that “don’t be so negative”. The person may have genuine point and maybe genuinely aggrieved at that point in time
  • Accepting someone’s unfair attitude

Understanding a few examples of spiritual bypassing, let explore beyond the horizon.

Beyond Spiritual Bypassing

Basically, spiritual bypassing is not only confined to spiritual explanations. It is also connected with our individual behaviour, cultural and social attitudes.

Spiritual bypassing saves us from those unwanted situations that seem to be difficult to handle at that point in time. But this attitude comes at a huge cost. If ignored for a long time, the issue becomes difficult and hard to handle at a later stage.

To understand it fully, every objection to a particular situation should not be taken as negativity. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to detest something wrong. Until this is done, positivity will not come and change towards positivity will not come.

Impacts of Ignoring

Spiritual bypassing isn’t always a bad thing. In times of severe distress, it can be a way to temporarily relieve frustration or anxiety. However, it can be damaging when allowed to prevail for long term to suppress problems.

Spiritual bypassing can have a number of negative effects. It can affect individual well-being as well as relationships with others. Some of the potential negative consequences include:

  • Anxiety
  • Unbalanced or inappropriate behaviour later on as a consequence of bearing the unbearable
  • Disregard for personal responsibility
  • Emotional confusion
  • Excessive tolerance of unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour
  • Feeling of guilt and shame

Anger as Genuine Emotion

Getting angry is a genuine feeling. It is an appropriate feeling for something that is happening wrong. Anger does not mean shouting. It means revulsion to something wrong and expression of that feeling.

It also means that someone is doing something wrong and it is of utmost importance to tackle that problem or issue or behaviour. It would not be counted as spirituality if we don’t react to something happening wrong just because it would be uncomfortable.

How to Understand Spiritual Bypassing

It is very necessary to understand what is spiritual bypassing and what is spirituality. Some tips are given below to understand a particular situation.

Emotions are not Good or Bad

Emotions are not bad. It is a fact of life. No human being can live without emotions. And emotions will be good when one sees something good and these would be bad if the situation is on the negative end. So, we should not take bad emotions as taboo or being anti-spiritual. It is not in our hand to create an emotion. These are generated according to the situations.

Negative Thoughts are Useful

Negative thoughts are not always wrong. There are two kinds of negativity. One is self-generated, which is wrong. It means that any wrong feelings or actions towards someone else are wrong.

But the rise of a negative feeling towards something wrong is certainly a positive feeling. Actually, it is a reflection of your positivity that you are not ready to accept something wrong happening.

Negative Thoughts Serve a Purpose

Remember it is a must to have love towards good things and good feelings. That love will come if one does not love a bad situation or negative feelings. So these negative feelings are a must to have a love for good things and positive thoughts. Only thing is to have negative feelings should be at the level of emotions only. There should be no physical expression of it. That would be considered spiritually wrong.

How to Use Uncomfortable feelings

Remember that uncomfortable feelings are often a sign that there’s something wrong and something needs to change. If you are always trying to reduce discomfort by simply avoiding it, the situations that are causing you distress will stay the same. Look at these uncomfortable emotions as an opportunity for transformation rather than a burden to avoid.

Spirituality is Not Bad

All this does not mean that spirituality is bad. Spirituality has huge benefits. Many studies world over has found it to be true. Many types of research have established the fact that spirituality has huge physical and mental benefits. Spiritual people are less prone to distress and depression. They can restore hope in their life. They have meaning for life. They are able to adjust to changing situations at the workplace and within the family.


In the end, it must be understood that a balance is to be maintained between spirituality and spiritual bypassing. One has to be spiritual to the core to cope up with this stressful life. It is only possible to be in peace if one is spiritual.

However, that does not mean that one should do spiritual bypassing. Spirituality should not become an excuse to call a spade a spade. Negativity must be resisted. Be it an emotional or situational.

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