Spiritual bypassing stems from an attempt to live a better life. 

People don’t spiritually bypass on purpose. It’s a result of looking for a different way to feel. To the ‘seeker’, spirituality provides a set of positive reinforcement mechanisms that shape their existence. For many people, spirituality is a path to empowerment after many years of wandering lost through life. New age spirituality, in particular, provides a general framework of positive affirmation, self-acceptance and non-judgement. These are beautiful pursuits.  

It’s when spirituality is followed dogmatically that spiritual bypassing can become a burden.

My teacher, Dr Gabor Mate, states that spiritual modalities often ignore emotional realities. Spiritual bypass leaves people confused and stuck. With a perception of how their spiritual path intends them to be, many people are left unable to process their emotions. As such, emotion is even further repressed.

Spiritual Bypassing: A Mask for Underlying Emotions

Spiritual bypassing becomes a mask for underlying emotions. Those people who end up spiritually bypassing are really looking to cope with discomfort that stems from unresolved patterns and habits stemming from formative times in their lives. They are looking for something to make them feel better – like a balm for their soul. 

For many, spirituality provides a context that creates a framework for safety. In that framework, seekers understand the permitted behaviours, attitudes and beliefs. 

Spiritual Bypass Gabor Mate

From that perspective, spiritual bypassing serves an important purpose. It regulates the nervous system, allowing the seeker to feel at ease and to be safe in the world. From a polyvagal-informed approach, this place of safety is where everything seems possible. 

When someone challenges our spirituality, that mobilizes the nervous system. The seeker now feels unsafe, and needs to be hypervigilant. “I must pay great attention and ensure my system of security (spirituality) isn’t under threat”.  

That’s the really interesting part: people who spiritually bypass have found an effective tool to keep their nervous system regulated.

The Antidote: Awareness

Spiritual bypassing is a sincere attempt for people to express themselves in new and positive ways. It stems from a desire to understand the world and our experience in it. 

It’s when individuals are unable or unwilling to look deeper, to address habits and patterns, that spiritual bypass becomes an issue. Without the capacity to address emotions, seekers will find themselves on a perpetual quest for comfort. Which will only come when they accept that discomfort is the greatest teacher.