Spiritual Bypassing Made Easy

Spiritual bypassing is prevalent in psycho-spiritual personal development communities.

Which is understandable. Most people find themselves in this terrain because they want to feel better. And the fastest way to feeling better is to forget the problem exists. Ta da, miracle cure!

But just like a boxer sweating out water to make the weight limit, this isn't sustainable or healthy. Just like the boxer regains the weight after their fight, the problem will be noticed again.

It's suggested the relief found in smoking a cigarette is proportional to the stress caused by the beginnings of the withdrawal from the previous cigarette. In the same way, the relief of forgetting matches the distress of remembering. Which means the original feeling is hard to recapture. And so the nondual flipflop begins.

In general, teachers/coaches these psycho-spiritual personal development communities want people to feel better: because they are kind and want people to have a better life, because it bolsters the validity of their enlightenment approach, because they'll feel better about themselves.

Now, if a person finds themselves in the relief of forgetting, and that newly discovered sense of self is gently stabilised, they learn to navigate the problems of life with discernment. But if the bliss of relief is touted as a destination, an arrival, an achievement, that's when things begin to go awry.

The relief in the forgetting is a measure of distance. Distance between the purity of undisturbed awareness and the agitation in daily experience. The relief is not a measure of achievement, it's a measure of the deconditioning and healing available, should we choose to accept it.

Deconditioning and healing aren't exactly comfortable. Pain hurts on the way out. The avoidance of this restorative pain is part of how our corrupt, self-appointed gurus are created. But more than that, avoiding this discomfort is spiritual bypassing.

And it's easy to sound holy or enlightened:

  • "Look within"
  • "Whatever you see is your own creation"
  • "It's all awareness/love/prefect as it is"
  • "You are projecting your own stuff onto them"

In part because they all hold some truth. But they aren't complete. Even logic tells us that. For example, if I'm a coach telling a client they are projecting their self-judgements, surely them I'm projecting mine onto them? Or if someone is refusing to believe everything is perfect as it is, surely I am too, unless I see their refusal as perfect too?

The hallmark of spiritual bypassing is a false equivalence. And the role of the false equivalence is to justify avoidance.

Yet this is a complete sentence: "No."

For example, if someone asks me to name the names behind some of the cult-building behaviours I describe, I can just say no. I don't need to justify my choice. And it doesn't mean I'm judging anyone who does name names. And I'm not suggesting my course of action is divinely appointed or even the best. It's my course of action, I own it, I respect it has consequences.

Here are a few false equivalences I've spotted recently. I'm sure you can identify more:

  • To call out behaviour is to hate
  • To want things to be different is denial
  • To be spiritually enlightened is to have this particular political conviction
  • Mental health is the same as innate wellbeing
  • Material achievement is correlated to evolving personal development

None of these are true.

Sure, there can be overlaps, but they are not equivalent.

What a false equivalence does is push us towards bypassing our gut reactions and our simple emotions. The teacher/coach using them can (innocently, selfishly or maliciously) be creating a sense of lack, in order to recruit. Innocently means they genuinely believe their modality is the answer to all the world's problems. Selfishly means they see their modality as the only way to pay their own bills. Maliciously means they don't care about other people's feelings, and that those people are simply pawns in the game.

Here's one of my choices: This isn't about the individuals who perpetuate spiritual bypassing, and therefore keeping their clients/students in a bliss/despair flip-flop. It's about the behaviours, and about how magnetic they can be. Because, for me, spotting the patterns and making them visible is a massive part of healthy boundaries.

Spiritual bypassing overrides the gut response and the acknowledging of emotion. It creates a distance between us and life. And it often distracts from the very actions that would break out of the bliss/despair cycle.

This morning someone sent me a copy of a post they'd read that was packed full of false equivalences and spiritual bypassing prompts. The comment they added in their message to me? "I read it and felt really awful. Unfollowed." And then they went off to do the next thing that made sense to them.

There's someone following their gut, acknowledging their emotions, and not buying into the (innocent, selfish or malicious) manipulation. The more we learn to knowingly navigate this way, the less the attraction of the relief of spiritual bypassing.

Sara x

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

  • Sara Priestley
    These days I hang out with my little cat colony, drink a lot of coffee, help clients solve life problems, support people who have been hurt by cult-like groups, host my local poetry society’s online gatherings, read, write, teach nonduality, and play with this expanded understanding of who we are and how it shows up. And it’s so simple. But simple doesn’t always come easy when we have a lifetime of conditioning on top. So, I’m here to help you uncover that simplicity, and reconnect with life.

    You can find me at

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