Spiritual Bypassing: Using Spirituality to Hide from Your Problems

In my first job, I didn’t give a shit.

That is, I did what was expected of me. I wasn’t lazy and didn’t avoid work. But other than that, I didn’t give a shit. I only did what I was told, did it with the minimum effort, never volunteered for anything, and didn’t socialise with anyone.

Not because I was an anti-social introverted asshole. I was. But that’s not why I did a half assed job.

No, it was because I was sooooooooooooooooo sure I was going to be enlightened soon, so why bother with the career/making money? LOL, I was going to laugh at all these losers working in their cubicle when I became an enlightened Buddha, and they came to me for blessing. “Bitches, you should have been meditating like me instead of whatever you were doing,” I would laugh at them.

Narrator Voice: But it did not go as planned for Shantnu… Dum-da-dummmmmmm

Not only did I not become enlightened, but my career also suffered too. I was stuck in a dead end job where I didn’t get a promotion for 10 years and the bare minimum pay rises. I became “that” guy everyone ignored and moved to dead-end projects.

But worse: At one point, around 2011, I felt so angry at the Universe/God I said fuck it! And gave up meditation and became an atheist. For 6 long years.

Where had I gone wrong? I had assumed that once I became enlightened all my problems would go away.

I was using spirituality to hide from my problems.

That, in a nutshell, is Spiritual Bypassing. Not only does it harm your spiritual life, but it also harms your material life as well.

What is Spiritual Bypassing

The term was coined by John Welwood. He said:

I noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks. 

 When we are spiritually bypassing, we often use the goal of awakening or liberation to rationalize what I call premature transcendence: trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it. And then we tend to use absolute truth to disparage or dismiss relative human needs, feelings, psychological problems, relational difficulties, and developmental deficits.


We start believing that we don’t need to fix our psychological problems because once we become enlightened they will all go away (and to be honest, that’s how traditional Hindu and Buddhist teachers have taught meditation for centuries).

Not only do we ignore our humanness, but we also treat it with contempt, something to get rid of or “transcend”. I call this phenomenon Spiritual Arrogance.

One thing that used to piss me off about many Westerners when they first discovered Eastern traditions– they would shave their heads, wear an orange robe and call themselves something like Swami Fart-ananda (translation: One who finds bliss in farts).

I could never explain why this irritated me till I read this delightful article:

Shtick is a Yiddish word that means “bit” or “piece.” In show business it came to refer to a gimmick or routine that is part of a performer’s regular act. A shtick might also be an adopted persona that is maintained across a performer’s career. The personas used by the Marx Brothers in all of their films are great examples. 

It seems to me that spiritual bypassing often begins when people adapt spirituality as a shtick, or a persona, instead of practicing to get to the root of dukkha. They wrap themselves in a Spiritual Person persona and ignore what’s beneath the surface. Then, instead of honestly dealing with their wounds, fears, and issues, John Welwood says, their spiritual practice is taken over by a “spiritual superego.” They go about “making spiritual teachings into prescriptions about what you should do, how you should think, how you should speak, how you should feel.”

This is not true spiritual practice; it’s shtick. And when we repress negative emotions and urges instead of working with them honestly, they remain in our subconscious where they continue to jerk us around.


And that’s what I see in a lot of spiritual circles– shtick. It’s all “Oooh, look at me, I’m so spiritual, I will speak in this soft voice while eating kale and avocado.”

The Spiritual Bypassing Book

There is a great book on spiritual bypassing by Robert Masters called Spiritual Bypassing.

I’d had the book for some time sitting on my Kindle but I had never read it as I thought it was stupid. Until one day my bypassing became too much and I read the book, and was like “Wow! This is awesome. Why didn’t I read the book before?”

I guess I hadn’t been ready to receive the message. Robert gives several ways to bypass, not all of which might be obvious.

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 elements, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.


Let me go over some of the ways we can bypass what Roberts mentions.

Exaggerated Detachment: The whole “The world is an illusion, lah-di-dah” crowd (whom I’ve called the biggest idiots in the spiritual community).

Toxic Positivity / Anger Phobia: I’ve written about Toxic Positivity here. In bypassing only certain “positive” emotions are allowed.

Blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries: Leads people to become exploited by cults or abusive/narcissistic people. This is a really serious issue, one of the most serious in my opinion, as this fake “compassion” opens us to abuse, but no one in the spiritual circles talks about how to escape this abuse, and that it’s okay not to be kind or compassionate to narcissistic assholes.

One thing that pisses me off is the whole “Oh you need to forgive” that victims of abuse are given. Along with the Law of Attraction mafia it is one of the places where we are shamed and blamed for suffering abuse. I wrote a whole post on it F*ck Forgiveness.

Devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual: This was me, ignoring my career/health/relationships while chasing after some spiritual high. Misquoting Ben:

Those who give up the material world for the spiritual lose both and deserve neither.

Me, misquoting Benjamin Franklin

Delusions of Grandeur: No explanation needed. Every fake guru, every abusive teacher, all of these spiritual ascended masters who had one experience and decided they were now enlightened and ready to teach. You can usually spot these as they are very narcissistic and suffer from anger issues. They claim to be oh-so-enlightened but challenge them even a little and they will start belittling you or insulting you.

In addition, this great article by Loner Wolf lists 10 ways to bypass, 2-3 of which were new to me. They are sort of related so I will talk about them together:

Bypassing due to God / Guru / Astrology / Guide / Angels

Man, this was me. I was sure God / my astrological sign / angels etc would fix my problems for me. I prayed and prayed and prayed and……

….. fuck all happened.

That’s why I became an atheist.

I now realise that the reason nothing happened was because

  • I wasn’t taking enough action
  • I wasn’t ready to take the next step in my career/spiritual life
  • I had reached a very toxic place, one where I had reached a dead end. I now realise I had to take a few years off to rebuild my spiritual practice.

The linked page above gives some good reasons why:

Relying 100% on our spirit guide/s to give us all of our insight, all of our protection, and all our spiritual sustenance keeps us in a spiritually infantile state. In other words, we fail to develop strength of spiritual character.

Similar to the Spirit Guide Bypass, the Prayer Bypass circumvents personal responsibility by putting faith in a higher being to solve all of our problems and issues. While praying can be a healthy practice, it can easily become limiting and misguided. Sinking too much into passivity is an imbalanced way to live life and can easily lead to disaster. We must learn to take action and trust our own instincts as well.

How to Avoid Spiritual Bypassing

I find the best way is to be aware of it, and your own tendencies to hide from your own darkness.

Shadow Work or Inner Work is needed to ensure we are not avoiding hurtful stuff.

In some cases, therapy, counselling or coaching might be required. You know better what your circumstances are and if you need any help.

Finally, remember it can take years to work with our shadow, so a bit of self-compassion and kindness is needed.

Read about more Traps on the Spiritual Path