I grew up in the Methodist church, with three ministers in my family, so I was literally raised on the religious version of spiritual bypassing. About half of the healthy, normal human emotions were judged as “unspiritual” by my mother (in the name of the church). So I learned the “turn the other cheek” instead of feeling my anger and allowing it to protect my boundaries. This prepped me to tolerate horrific and sometimes violent abuse at the hands of the surgeons who were my medical school professors, which prepared me perfectly to repetitively “forgive” a partner who was violently abusive with me. What a good Christian woman I was for not calling the cops on professors who threw bloody scalpels at me and sexually harassed me in the operating room! I turned out to be not such a good Christian wife when I gave up on my abusive partner and wound up calling the cops after he broke into the house I had recently purchased in order to escape his abuse. The threat of a restraining order made him keep his distance after that. But it literally took domestic violence, breaking and entering, and theft of my property for me to set a boundary.
After realizing I had post-traumatic church syndrome, I left the church because my church did not stand for the values of Jesus. It stood for hate and intolerance in the name of Jesus, which, even as a little girl, I knew was the opposite of what Jesus stood for. Then after my first direct mystical experience at 35, I joined the “spiritual but not religious” crowd and tried on a variety of New Age and Eastern philosophy beliefs and practices which once again taught me to bypass half the human emotions, social justice issues, accountability, boundaries, the most rudimentary kinds of human empathy, and basically anything that wasn’t some sort of bizarrely toxic positivity. I outgrew that soul-eroding phase much quicker than it took me to leave the church.
But then I felt lost. Everyone in my social circles was either a church-goer (my family) or a spiritual bypasser (my friends, business colleagues, and any potential dating partners.) That’s when I went in search of a new spirituality- one that is trauma-informed, embodied, emotionally intelligent, grounded in science and 3D reality, open to the mystical, in touch with the earth, actively anti-racist and anti-patriarchy, and responsive to social justice issues. Finding this kind of spirituality was not easy. Every path led me to some kind of spiritual bypass, and by that point, I had become allergic to it. Not only was nearly every spiritual path a spiritual bypass; those practicing these bypasses were so certain of their righteousness, so smug in their judgment of me for being so emotional and going to therapy to heal my traumas. One spiritual teacher told me in the midst of a hugely traumatizing life event that was threatening to drown me that I “reify trauma and should just meditate more.” When I literally begged for empathy, I was blamed for “staying in my victim story.”
I almost gave up on spirituality at that point. If people could preach “love and light” and valorize “unconditional love and compassion” but demonstrate zero empathy in the face of a legitimately suffering person, I’d be better off just making friends at a gym. My gardener was nicer to me than so-called “spiritual” people.”
Many people at this point just become atheists, giving up on spirituality altogether. But that makes no sense to me, given the depth of my direct mystical experience. I have no doubt that there is a Godforce- not some patriarchal God in the sky, but a Divine life force inside of my own heart and inside of every living being. To deny that would be to turn away from my own life experience.
Fortunately, my quest led me to a different kind of spirituality, one that required me to increase my tolerance for being with pain- my own and the pain of others around me. I had to become skillful at being with anger, grief, loss, injustice, despair, jealousy, and hatred- in myself and in others. But nobody had ever taught me how to do this. Quite the opposite. I had been taught from the moment I was born to suppress painful emotions, push trauma into the basement of my psyche, and put on a fake “spiritual” mask that made me pleasing to other people but required me to abandon myself.
Now, I don’t do that anymore- and I’m becoming less and less interested in being close with others who do. I can love them from afar, but I’m realizing they’re just not safe to become intimate with. What I thought was intimacy was a cotton candy kind of high- a boundaryless fusion that’s not robust enough to withstand life’s hard times- like 2020. I trust my body, my intuition, my intellect, and my emotions now to assess whether someone feels safe to be close with- and if they don’t feel safe, I protect myself.
I’m very grateful for the teachers who do not teach spiritual bypassing- people like Richard Schwartz, Karla McLaren, Thomas Hubl, Miranda Macpherson, Asha Clinton, Shiloh Sophia, and Tosha Silver- all of whom have supported me in my own journey. I also love that none of these teachers ever shamed me for my spiritual bypassing phase. Instead, they loved me through it until I was strong enough to feel the pain my spiritual bypassing was trying to protect me from feeling.
Spiritual bypassing is a natural and common phase of spiritual development, but it’s not the destination. When you’re ready for something deeper, more authentic, more real, more intimate, more inclusive of the wholeness of the human experience, just know that a richer spirituality awaits you. We’ll be exploring this inquiry in a new program I’m pulling together in order to help support this need for a more inclusive spirituality. We’re calling it Spiritual Bypassing Recovery 101, an off-ramp for those who are ready to grow past spiritual bypassing in community with others who are seeking a richer path as well. Learn more and register here.
See you on the other side of this deep inquiry!