According to integral psychotherapist Robert Augustus Masters, spiritual bypassing causes us to withdraw from ourselves and others, to hide behind a kind of spiritual veil of metaphysical beliefs and practices. He says it “not only distances us from our pain and difficult personal issues, but also from our own
authentic spirituality, stranding us in a metaphysical limbo, a zone of
exaggerated gentleness, niceness, and superficiality.”
Painful Realizations: My Own Spiritual Bypassing
In Robert August Masters’ groundbreaking 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.”
I encountered the concept of spiritual bypassing for the first time in Masters’ work. Although I was reluctant to admit it, I immediately knew on some level that this concept applied to me.
As I continued to reflect on spiritual bypassing, I noticed more and more shadow aspects of spirituality, and I realized that I had unknowingly been enacting many of them at one time or another.
Though painful, these were some of the most important realizations I’ve ever had. They’ve helped me to stop using a warped form of “spirituality” as an ego boost and to begin taking greater responsibility for addressing my psychological needs and the issues that arise in my life.
10 “Spiritual” Things People Do That Sabotage Their Growth
The best way to understand spiritual bypassing is through examples, so now, it’s time for some tough love.
I’m going to go into detail to describe ten specific shadow tendencies of spiritual people.
Caution: Some of these may hit pretty close to home.
Remember: You need not feel ashamed to admit that some of the items on this list apply to you. I suspect some of them apply to everyone who has ever taken an interest in spirituality. Most of them applied to me at one point or another, and some I’m still working through.
The goal here is not to judge, but to increase self-awareness in order to progress toward a more honest, empowering, useful spirituality. Let’s get into it.
1. Participate in “spiritual” activities to make themselves feel superior to other people.
This is probably one of the most pervasive shadow aspects of spirituality, and it takes many forms. Some people feel superior because they read Alan Watts. Or ride their bike to work. Or refrain from watching TV. Or eat a vegetarian diet. Or use crystals. Or visit temples. Or practice yoga or meditation. Or take psychedelics.