“Choose love instead of fear.”
“Don’t polarize; unify- because we are all One.”
“Don’t complain about your lot in life. Your soul chose this incarnation so you could grow.”
“Don’t protest. Pray for world peace instead.”
“Forgive and forget and move on.”
“Turn the other cheek.”
“Your abuser is your greatest teacher if you surrender to the soul lesson.”
“Get out of your victim story .”
“Just meditate on it.”
“You must love your abuser unconditionally.”
“Take responsibility for your projections and point the finger back at yourself.”
“Why argue with reality? Just accept what is.”
“If only you’d free yourself from negative thoughts you’d stop manifesting pain in your life.”
“That’s just your ego talking.”
“Anger is a negative emotion; just choose love.”
“I don’t believe in interrupting other people’s karma.”
“Don’t confront your abuser; do The Work on yourself.”
“Keep your vibe up and don’t get caught up in all that negativity.”
“Everything happens for a reason.”
Some of these common New Age aphorisms can feel comforting to some of us, some of the time. They may be partially true, and if you’re caught in a spiral after something shitty happens to you, these teachings might help some people get out of the nosedive. I know, for example, that when I was dealing with 13 back-to-back traumas between 2014-2017, believing that my soul chose all that injustice and tragedy to help me grow spiritually helped me tolerate what might have felt intolerable otherwise. But it didn’t heal my trauma. It simply bought me time until I dove into trauma therapy, when I was finally able to cope with the intense emotional load and start to truly heal.
Psychologist and spiritual teacher John Welwood initially coined the term “spiritual bypassing” to describe the tendency in spiritual communities to use spiritual practices or beliefs to avoid conflict, bypass painful emotions, keep us out of therapy, and narcotize ourselves out of our pain, rather than treating what hurts. Robert Augustus Masters knows this well. As a reformed cult leader, he knew perfectly well how brainwashing people in the cult he led by teaching them how to spiritually bypass groomed them to tolerate the narcissistic cultic abuse he inflicted. After doing what he could to apologize and make amends to those he harmed in his cult, he wrote the book Spiritual Bypassing to educate people about the harms of spiritual bypassing and teach people how not to be vulnerable to people who abuse their power and expect to be let off the hook of accountability.
Yet, even in the social justice conscious milieu of 2021, people in the New Age world are still parroting these teachings and letting MeToo abusers, pastel QAnon conspiracy theorists, people who spread misinformation and profit from it, white supremacists in yoga clothes, and manipulative con artists off the hook of accountability, even amidst real global catastrophes.
It’s not okay. And those of us who give a shit need to do our part to heal ourselves so we can move beyond spiritual bypassing and take up the mantel of social justice. It is now entirely obvious to me that any spirituality that does not include taking a stand for those who are harmed by abusers of power needs to fall by the wayside.
In the past year and a half, it is crystal clear that spiritual bypassing is not just a benign narcotic that helps relieve our pain with meditation, yoga, bliss hunting rituals and ceremonies, or New Age beliefs. It’s also built into the fabric of white supremacy and systems of oppression that profit and enjoy unearned privilege from this oppression.
As sickening as it feels when you finally get this, if you pull this apart thread by thread, you’ll see that as good as someone’s intentions might be, and as much as these beliefs and practices might make you feel better personally (for a while), there is a price we pay when we spiritually bypass. Not only does it disable our healthy anger, making it hard for us to protect our boundaries and hold people who violate our boundaries accountable. It also (ouch) makes us complicit in causing social justice harm. These teachings groom vulnerable trauma survivors to tolerate narcissistic abuse and support cultic leaders, rather than the victims they harm.
Not only do these teachings harm us personally; if we overlay these beliefs and teachings on anyone who has a legitimate social justice beef- like a #MeToo victim of sexual harassment or assault- or a victim of #BlackLivesMatter abuse by police- or an Indigenous activist fighting for reparations from the US Government- or an LGBTQIA+ activist who is calling out transphobic messaging- we are not supporting the social justice cause they have a right to be angry about. As a sign quoting Desmond Tutu that I saw beside Highway 1 yesterday says, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
The minute we try to silence, diminish, tone police, deny, or gaslight ourselves when we are being mistreated, or the minute we do the same towards someone else who is protesting mistreatment, we enable those who abuse power and can no longer count ourselves as allies in the social justice movements we might give lip service to supporting.
We must stop using spiritual bypassing to let people who abuse their power off the hook of accountability!
Yes, I’m a fan of “calling in” people who abuse their power before we publicly humiliate someone by calling them out.
Yes, I believe in truth and reconciliation and restorative justice.
Yes, I believe people who abuse their power and traumatize others are themselves trauma survivors and should not be exiled from the wholeness of humanity or cast out as monsters. All trauma deserves our compassion. But the victims and the perpetrators are not equal. Perpetrators are still choosing to perpetrate harm as a free will (abusive) choice, while victims are often entirely innocent. Victims deserve more of our compassion than the perpetrators and need us to stand with them, as allies.
I do not believe people who abuse their power (or those who enable and profit from abusers) should be let off the hook of accountability for their abusive or enabling behavior in the name of spirituality. Every time we do that, we invalidate the victims of those abuses of power.
The existing hierarchical, patriarchal, white supremacist, heteronormative, cis-gender, ableist structures of power depend upon us defending the abusers and enablers of abuse, rather than defending and taking a firm stand in support of the victims of oppression.
Those people at the top of the power hierarchy, who abuse their power and feel entitled to get away with it with no accountability or consequences, make up 0.01% of the world’s population, if that. If the 99.99% of oppressed people simply said NO to all the ways people in power abuse their power, we would have a grassroots uprising.
If others in positions of power cared more about abiding by a moral compass and taking a stand against abuses of power with the oppressed, if they cared more about doing what was right than about profiting from hobnobbing with and enabling those who abuse power, imagine how things could shift overnight. If those of us with power, privilege, and platforms exerted pressure on our peers who abuse power rather than enabling the enablers of abuses of power, if we stood with and for the victims of oppression rather than prioritizing our own self-interest, just imagine the sea change we could be part of.
It’s disappointing to see that there aren’t (yet) many white, heterosexual, cis-gender people like me in positions of power, privilege, and with big platforms risking such a stand publicly. But the tides are turning. I want you all to know that I get private texts and emails from other authors and influencers in the mind-body-spirit world saying, “Me too, but I’m scared.” To which my spiritual bypassing part is tempted to say “Choose love, not fear.” But I know better than to bully scared parts. It’s legit to be scared of being a David to the corrupt Goliaths of the mind-body-spirit billion-dollar business that makes its billions off parroting and platforming spiritual bypassing teachers who uphold the systems of power that oppress billions.
I’m scared too. But my scared parts are willing to let my Divine Self hold them while they tremble so my activist parts can take a stand in solidarity with the victims.
I believe MeToo victims.
I stand for Black Lives Matter.
I support reparations for Native Americans.
I believe it’s appropriate to try to call in, and if we fail, to call out homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise oppressive slurs.
I stand for vaccine mandates to protect the vulnerable from a lethal virus.
I stand for climate reform so we can keep our children (and those most oppressed by climate change already) safe.
I stand against anyone who abuses their power or enables others who abuse their power and profits from it.
What do you stand for and against? How can we extend compassion to both victims and perpetrators while not allowing our compassionate, trauma-informed hearts to collapse our firm stand for that which is just and right? Am I missing any nuance here, folks? I’d love to hear your feedback, but be mindful to stay respectful, please! I know this can be triggering material and I’m sorry if this is confusing or painful to any of your parts. (((Hugs)))
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