Spirituality good! Spiritual bypassing, not so much

Photo by tabitha turner on Unsplash

In 1984, psychologist John Welwood coined the term “Spiritual Bypassing.” By his definition, it refers to using spiritual practices to avoid uncomfortable emotions or unresolved relational or psychological issues. In essence, spirituality is used as a defense mechanism to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved trauma, or difficult life situations.

Examples of spiritual bypassing include the overuse of positive affirmations to deny negative feelings, avoiding conflict by insisting on unconditional love and forgiveness, using meditation to escape rather than insight, believing that “manifestation” and positive thinking solve all problems but not actually taking concrete action, and using spirituality to avoid accountability.

People engage in spiritual bypassing for various reasons, including a desire to appear spiritual, fear of facing challenging emotions, avoiding painful, honest self-reflection, or believing that spiritual practices can provide a shortcut to healing. However, such avoidance can and often does make things worse over time.

Facing one’s difficulties with courage and honesty is the fundamental solution to our pain. That hard work involves acknowledging and accepting the full range of emotions that come with life’s challenges, including pain, sadness, and anger. Using spirituality and self-reflection to gain insight into our experiences helps us develop greater self-awareness and cultivate resilience. While spiritual practices are essential to grow and development, they must be used with honest self-reflection and emotional processing rather than as a means of avoidance or escape.

As you know, I teach my clients to start a daily spiritual practice. But, we use that practice to gain more self-awareness and emotional balance. With time, their practice serves to moderate and, in some cases, helps them to grow beyond their challenges. May you have the courage and strength to acquire the skillful awareness necessary to grow and feel better.

With love,


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