What is Spiritual Bypassing?

“Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love, and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention.” Deepak Chopra

There is this phase in recovery I have witnessed for a more than a decade. I have experienced this myself several times. It’s a phase of rigidity and dogmatic ideals. We see it a lot in people with a few years sober, a “spiritual terrible twos” I consider it. It can happen way sooner as well. When we get sober (genuinely working the steps) for the first time its new, exciting, and inspiring.

It’s almost like going from a world of black and white to Technicolor. We tend to defend that which becomes our truth and not always understanding there are many paths; while simultaneously wanting to share our way with others. Anything different from our ideals is immediately shut down as wrong. Newcomers that get into the work and pay it forward quickly tend to show rapid spiritual growth. They skyrocket. When we hit this phase, we tend to have great results, and we blind ourselves and become “know it all’s.” I did at least.

What is Spiritual Bypass

Rapid spiritual growth and becoming a know-it-all is the perfect environment for spiritual bypass to take hold. The new high often becomes saving or changing lives. The intention is good; the motive is often pure, but something happens. Our ego hijacks our spirituality as a cloak. The egos favorite topics of conversation are “spirituality” and “God.”

Let’s take a closer look at the description and symptoms of spiritual bypassing from the article “How to know if you’re spiritually bypassing” by Jonathan Toniolo. “Spiritual Bypassing, a term coined in the early 1980s by psychologist John Welwood, refers to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs.”

Robert Augusts Masters, in his book, “Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Matters,” describes some of the avenues of spiritual bypassing as the following:
“Spiritual bypassing is a very persistent shadow of spirituality, manifesting in many ways, often without being acknowledged as such. Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and depression, 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 judgement about one’s negativity or shadow elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.”

How Does Spiritual Bypass Affect Our Recovery?

What does this look like in recovery? From personal experience, it was carrying too many sponsees while not being able to be emotionally present or faithful to a lover. I wasn’t investing in being a better son and giving quality time to family or friendships. I mistakenly made the 5th tradition of the group’s purposes to “Stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety” my life’s purpose.

Quite an oversight. There is no better-looking distraction from working on yourself than being a self-proclaimed hero that is making a positive impact in the lives of others. In truth, I have no regrets. There are no stars without the backdrop of the night. I’ve learned the hard way that helping an alcoholic is a life-changing experience for both parties, helping another alcoholic to stay sober is insurance against taking the first drink or drug. Assisting another alcoholic is not the path to emotional sobriety in and of itself.

Why is Spiritual Bypassing Dangerous?

Spiritual bypassing can be extremely detrimental to ourselves and our sobriety. We tend to get full of ourselves and our beliefs and discredit anything that isn’t our exact way. We get so focused on being a spiritual guru, that we don’t deal with our emotions. We use spirituality to distract ourselves from our feelings; it’s a defense mechanism.

In one article, it says that spiritual bypass is “The shorthand for spiritual bypass is grasping rather than gratitude, arriving rather than being, avoiding rather than accepting. It is a spiritual practice in the service of repression, usually because we cannot tolerate what we are feeling, or think that we shouldn’t be experiencing what we are feeling.” A spiritual bypass is using something that is deemed “good” to escape. Addicts and alcoholics are masters at evading our emotions; spiritual bypass is a wolf in sheep’s clothing to an alcoholic.

Spiritual bypassing is how we fall back into that same pattern of checking out of our lives. We will do things under the guise of “self-care” when really, we are avoiding responsibilities and not showing up for our lives. Spiritual bypassing is something that can happen without us noticing it, and our minds tricking us into believing that we were are doing is the right thing to do. Sobriety is about learning how to find balance in all things, too much of a good thing is still dangerous to an addict or alcoholic.

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