It’s one thing to be on the path of spiritual growth – committed to looking deep, challenging ourselves, evolving, and actively connecting to our Source.

But it’s another thing when we mistakenly use this orientation to our life’s journey to do what John Welwood, a Buddhist Teacher and Psychotherapist, labeled a “Spiritual Bypass.”

A Spiritual Bypass is when we use our own identity as someone on a spiritual and enlightened path to push down and reject our authentic feelings and instead “take the high road”. 

Let me give a real example.

Yesterday I received some incredibly painful news. A dear, dear friend and longtime client of mine received some test results that confirmed that some physical abnormalities are, in fact, cancer.

She is quite caught off guard. Stunned, actually, as someone who for years has been in terrific physical health and had no sign or inkling that this was happening.

One of her initial feelings was that of anger. Why is this happening to her rather than so many people who aren’t remotely health conscious? And she also felt fear, understandably. What if the prognosis is poor? What if her life is in jeopardy?

MA-7-21-16But no sooner had she shared these feelings with me than she discounted them.

“Look, it’s not fair to say ‘why me’ – this happens to all kinds of people, why should I be immune? And besides, it’s been caught early and very likely not life threatening, so think how lucky I am — it could be so much worse.”

And on and on she went beyond that, trying to force herself to take the spiritual “high road” and look at this from a positive angle.

Now, you might ask, what’s wrong with wanting to choose perspective? Positivity? Gratitude?

Nothing… EXCEPT when you’re using it to stuff down very REAL human emotions that are equally understandable – and need to be felt and expressed!

In other words, of course she would feel angry… vulnerable… frightened… distrusting of God… and many more real-life very natural and appropriate feelings! But instead of allowing herself to FEEL these things fully and with 100% acceptance, she was unknowingly doing a Spiritual Bypass – pushing herself to be “more evolved” than that.

But nothing could be of more harm actually!

The answer is an “AND.”

It’s imperative that we allow our feelings, ALL of them. That we create a safe space to say I’m enraged! I’m terrified! This isn’t fair! I’m angry! I’m despairing! I’m in grief! I feel powerless! Etc. Etc. Etc.

When we can “hold” the part inside where these feelings reside and simply allow them…. validate them… witness them… and truly feel them without shame for having them, we can nurture that part of ourselves and actually find that the feelings pass through us.

Only THEN we can truly move to a place of more perspective. A place where we can anchor in positivity. A place where we can feel gratitude and hopeful and embrace a spiritual perspective.

Remember this: When you do a Spiritual Bypass and disallow your most vulnerable feelings, you’re telling yourself that you are wrong to have those feelings, as if a “Spiritual Person” wouldn’t feel that way.

But what happens when those feelings get stuffed down, shamed, and judged is that they create a pressure cooker that grows stronger and stronger and eventually “seeps out the cracks” in all kinds of dysfunctional ways!

Despite anyone’s best intentions, a Spiritual Bypass isn’t loving. Fully feeling and validating and holding a safe space for the expression of all of your emotions IS loving, and is what allows you to genuinely move through them to a true place of acceptance, positivity, creativity, and spiritual trust.

Barb Wade

Barb is a Speaker, Author, and Coach, who has been on the leading edge of Transformational Coaching for over 15 years. Barb works with high-achievers who, despite external accomplishments, are finding themselves yearning for more freedom, joy, and meaning in their lives. Barb herself knows that “hole” of quiet desperation that can exist even though achievement is high.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m Roman Catholic and one of the treasures of my faith is that I try to at least once a day pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which is a prayerful reading of selections from mostly the Psalms, but other parts of Scripture and sacred writings as well. I’ve been over and over amazed by how often the selections deal with those raw human emotions, usually phrased in powerful word pictures such as (my personal favorite) “my enemies have made their furrows in my back!” Along with that, there is a lot of asking “How long, O Lord, will you allow…” insert whatever awful thing is currently going on, and from today, “Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down!” Often when I’m praying along I’m feeling some of those things based on things I’m going through, and often I’m feeling just fine, so I’ll pray that for someone else who may be feeling that way. But one thing this has accomplished for me is to normalize the feeling and expression of those very strong negative feelings. Hey, God can take it! And not only that, I’ve found, like you said, that once I do give those feelings (when I have them) full expression even if just between me, God and my journal, I often genuinely *do* feel better and more positive afterwards. So actually, giving full expression to those negative feelings, feeling them fully, is the best pathway to being able to authentically take the spiritual high road.

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