The Truth About Spiritual Bypass


Until I was about 10 years old, I thought shit was spelled "chit."

I was a sheltered, highly-disciplined kid who rarely sidestepped rules out of fear of looking bad or getting in trouble. Shockingly, I was also very good at spelling. But cursing was off limits — wayyyyy off limits — in our house. So I didn't use the word "shit," and avoided merely thinking of the word in case my mom could somehow see inside my brain and know I was breaking the rules.

Anyways, it took me until at least fifth grade to muster up the cajones to think about it, and because I'd only heard people aggressively spit out that cursed word between clenched teeth, I assumed the ch- prefix. (Yo, apparently I was not hooked on phonics) Eventually, I figured it out, though, and am happy to report that the proper pronunciation often makes it into my lexicon.

I really thought I knew how to spell that word. I was certain. And I was kind of close ... but so, so wrong.

As kids, we tend to question our understanding of everything. But as adults, we've got more data to go off of — years of education, experience, and critical thinking. As a result, we often skip asking a simple question: "What does that *really* mean?"

In the world of wellness, many of the terms, philosophies, and even modalities are undefined. They bring up soft, vague connotations but rarely is there a concrete, industry-agreed upon label. Instead, phrases like cleanse, clear, energetics, and "hold space" get tossed around with perceived weight. But if you were to talk to a wellness newbie in holistic speak, you'd likely get a strong side eye. And I hope that instead of just nodding their heads as if they understand, they'd unabashedly ask, "What does that mean?"

Which brings us to Spiritual Bypass …

Spiritual bypass is the wellness version of chit for me. I first heard it in a workshop, and from the way the facilitator described it, spiritual bypassing seemed to apply to people who thought they were enlightened but had actually just glided over the tough parts of spiritual growth. Think: fair-weather evolver. When things got scary or tough on the spiritual journey, someone experience spiritual bypass simply skated through the hard bits without really digging in and doing "the work."

This is not what spiritual bypass means.

I've also seen spiritual bypass thrown around as a way to gaslight well-intentioned students who raise valid questions about a guru or teacher's work. Instead of addressing the issue, students are told they're "spiritually bypassing" because they're challenging a methodology. It's not that dope. [Tanget: If you ever have a teacher, guide, shaman, guru, or mentor who gets angry at you for respectfully asking questions, run away as fast as humanly possible.]

Spiritual Bypass is rooted in psychology

Spiritual bypass is actually a phrase coined by a psychotherapist named John Welwood — not a guru or spiritual teacher. It's a clinical term that therapists spend a good deal of time studying while achieving their credentials because it's such a common situation. According to Ingrid Clayton, P.h.D, "Many people will take their bad feeling and try to pray it, meditate it, service it, spiritually distract themselves from it, thinking that this means they are working a good program. This experience is actually called spiritual bypass."

Spiritual bypass occurs when someone turns to any sort of spiritual belief system or practice instead of working through "unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks." We've all been guilty of it, at some point, when we've run into an emotional issue and instead of sitting in it and working through it, we meditating it away, see practitioner after practitioner for answers, wear all white, or turn to a guru.

Is all wellness spiritual bypass?

All of these methods have value, and I personally believe can contribute to personal, soul-level development — and, in turn, healing. But it's when we don't acknowledge a problem that things get icky. It's like Jung's theory of the shadow self: When the shadow (problem) is ignored, it only gets stronger and bigger. No amount of light will ever eclipse the shadow, as they need each other to co-exist.

Spiritual bypass becomes problematic because it prevents us from really working through our shit/chit, which means we can't fully evolve and level up. It also tends to mean that we're acting out of alignment with who we truly are, wearing a mask of spirituality over our real feelings and personality in an attempt to achieve enlightenment. Ironically enough, this actually handicaps you from really evolving.

OMG, am I experiencing spiritual bypass?

If you're anything like me, you're low-key freaking out about all the times you've accidentally taken the spiritual bypass route and now you're wondering what road you're *actually* on, is it going where you want it to go, is it actually one of those Toll Roads that's gonna cost like $6 to go 0.3 miles?! Don't worry. It seems that one of the biggest ways to avoid spiritual bypassing is simply to be aware of what it is.

I'd argue that it's pretty difficult to spot in yourself when it's happening, but glaringly obvious when someone else is going through it. And in my experience, it's something that lots of people go through, especially as they enter the Wild Wild West of wellness.

What can you do if you think you're experiencing spiritual bypass?

Well, a great first step would be to talk to a therapist who's been trained in spotting the situation. Not only can they tell you if you're coping by using spirituality, but they can help you work through the situations that pushed you into that coping mechanism.

If therapy's out of the question for you for whatever reason, pull aside a trusted friend and ask them their opinion. Embarrassed to ask someone, or worried you won't get an honest answer? Look deep inside yourself and ask these questions:

- Do you give yourself permission to feel all of your feelings — including the taboo ones like anger, rage, jealousy, fear, and sadness?

- Are you looking to others for external validation and answers?

- When things get tricky, what is your pattern for coping?

I'm curious — did you know the real meaning behind spiritual bypass, or did you have a chitty definition of it like me? Let us know in the comments below!