Sometimes spirituality is the key to getting through tough times, but what if it’s actually preventing you from moving forward?
Here’s an example: We all go through challenges, no matter what stage of life we are in. Some aspects of our lives may be going swimmingly, while others are falling apart. When we don’t get our dream job, have a bad breakup or get outbid trying to buy a house, we tell ourselves or other people tell us, “Everything happens for a reason,” or some other bumper sticker phrase, to help us mentally cope and convince ourselves that things are going to turn out just fine.
But does everything happen for a reason? Will it all be okay? Honestly, probably not all of the time! And when relying on these clichés becomes a crutch, that denial can shield us from the reality of a situation.
What is spiritual bypassing?
Coined by the late John Wellwood in his book Toward a Psychology of Awakening, spiritual bypassing is using “spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep personal, emotional ‘unfinished business,’ to shore up a shaky sense of self, or to belittle basic needs, feelings, and developmental tasks.”
Spirituality can be like a drug, protecting us from trauma in the now, in a way that might serve us in the short term. However, spiritual bypassing creates even more problems and negativity in the long term. This is especially true when our problems are things we have some control over, such as health, behavior, or relationships.
In Robert August Masters’ book, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Matters, he writes, “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.”
We can try to believe, meditate, breathe, and down-dog our way out of situations, but change can only be brought about by action. A positive mindset can be part of the plan, but it can’t be everything.
When manifestation fails
Manifestation has gone from woo woo to a commonplace practice to achieve our goals. We can try using the Law Of Attraction to help us do everything from finding a partner to winning the lottery. And it can work for some things, because it puts us in a mindset to focus on our goals.
But there are times when manifestation fails—and not because someone didn’t manifest hard enough. It’s because that’s not the way life works.
For example, you can manifest getting a specific job all you want. But the reason why you didn’t get that job has nothing to do with the divine—it’s because you weren’t the ideal candidate for the position. We can spiritually bypass reality all we want and say something better is coming along, but tell that to someone who has been unemployed for three years. Your mindset won’t fix a cover letter or polish interviewing skills.
What if… you’re not exactly where you’re supposed to be?
Let’s get dark here. Unless you narrowly avoid boarding a plane that later crashes, is anyone who is currently dealing with the worst of times (think any tragic situation that makes news headlines) exactly where they’re supposed to be?
During my senior year of high school, I was in an SUV that flipped on Thanksgiving. I had a head injury and physical injuries that still cause problems to this day. I also had to deal with the wrath of a school principal who didn’t tell any of my teachers what happened, as they all proceeded to question me for a week about why I was breaking the dress code by wearing a hat. Could it be because I had a gruesome open wound on my head?
While spirituality forces us to see the positive, sometimes, there is no lesson to be learned. Was the reason for my accident to teach me how awful adults were? Or to be terrified of SUVs for years? I guess the lesson was not to get in a car with an 18-year-old driver when there’s black ice on the road in a town overpopulated with deer. I never did it again.
Then there are the situations beyond our control. One moment we’re living our “best” lives and the next minute everything changes forever. Terrible things happen to good people for seemingly no reason at all, not because it was supposed to happen.
The (short-term) benefits of spiritual bypassing
However, there are times when spiritual bypassing can work to our advantage as a temporary defense mechanism. For example, if we are feeling depressed or anxious, going to yoga or working up a good sweat can help. When that wave of anxiety hits at work, by all means—breathe deeply and cry later. If an affirmation or two can help you get through until you can really deal with underlying problems, there’s nothing wrong with that.
But switching your focus doesn’t make negativity or sadness go away in the long term. It’s just a useful way to temporarily ignore reality.
What to do instead of spiritual bypassing
Take action. Feel like anxiety or depression is taking over your life? Find a therapist! Is your business failing? Make an appointment with a coach! Don’t like your results at the gym? See a trainer!
And while there are definitely times where you really are exactly where you’re supposed to be (like when you miss your flight and the plane crashes), you shouldn’t feel pressured to find the positive in everything. Instead, allow yourself to feel bad and face your problems because tomorrow might not be a better day.