Find out what you really want in love take the quiz now

Spiritual Bypassing Will Stall Your Healing

There I was sitting in the Green Room backstage at a big symposium on sexual trauma. Healing sexual (and other) trauma is at the center of the work I do in the world, and I love teaching about it.  I also love watching and learning from other experts.  So I excited watched the monitor on the wall backstage in rapt attention, as it televised what was happening on stage. A very popular and well-known spiritual teacher was speaking about different ways to handle PTSD symptoms in front of an audience of about 100 women. 

All of a sudden, one of the audience members raised her hand.  I had noticed her earlier in one of the rows close to the front. To me, she was hard to miss; a beautiful young woman who was at least 6 feet tall, towering above most of the audience, but energetically (and literally) curled in on herself.  She hadn’t yet said a word or asked a question over the past 48 hours we’d been there. Intrigued I sat up straighter in my seat to see what she was going to say. 

“Um, I just want to ask…Sometimes my boyfriend wants to have sex with me, and I don’t want to.  But he keeps pressuring me and asking, and then gets angry when I say I don’t feel like it. So, in the end, I just do it?” She looked down at the floor as she said this heart-wrenching statement as a question, shoulders hunched even more.

I felt tears prick behind my eyes, feeling her pain, but also the indignation at the way her sexual trauma was being re-perpetuated regularly in her relationship.  I waited with anticipation to see what this revered spiritual teacher would say in return.  I assumed it would include recognizing and calling her (and the rest of the audience) to consciousness around the fact that it is not ok for anyone to exert sexual pressure on you, educating about how this was a typical experience in those who have had sexual trauma, informing around the concept of trauma-bonding (that was likely at the core of her current relationship, and guidance around setting boundaries and claiming your true power as part of your healing.

Instead, the speaker did something that literally blew my mind and filled me with rage at the same time. She didn’t address the woman’s pain or the fact that she was being re-traumatized again and again.  Instead, she simply said (with a beatific gentle smile), “OK, well let’s tap that away!”   She went on to demonstrate tapping; a technique included in EFT, or Emotional Freedom Techniques, which involves tapping on specific meridian points on the body while focusing on emotional issues to alleviate the emotional charge around something and rebalance the body’s energy system. 

I watched the woman in the audience sit down and shrink even smaller into her seat.  She continued looking at the floor. If I could see her consciousness, my guess is it would have been leaving her body at that instant as she disassociated even further from herself.  

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with EFT. I use it all the time, in the right context, but this was not it.  What this revered teacher was doing was teaching spiritual bypassing, an often well-intentioned, but frankly dangerous process that runs rampant in the spiritual and personal empowerment world.  

At its core, spiritual bypassing involves using spiritual ideals and practices as a defense mechanism to sidestep uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, or challenging aspects of one’s life. It’s a form of avoidance that might manifest in different ways, such as denial of one’s shadow self, excessive positivity, detachment from emotions, or overemphasis on love and light while ignoring darker aspects of reality. Essentially, it’s like trying to use spirituality as a shield against the complexities and messiness of human existence.

Messages like “Just think positive!” or “Tap it away!” not only inadvertently reinforce the idea that one can transcend difficulties solely through spiritual means, without addressing underlying issues. It also prevents us from doing the important healing work that will actually set us free.  Not to mention, when spiritual bypassing doesn’t work (beyond a brief band-aid effect), it leaves the person with a sense of failure or inadequacy when their problems aren’t solved through positive thinking alone.

Of course, spiritual bypassing is not solely confined to spiritual communities. It can also manifest in other contexts, such as interpersonal relationships. In relationships, someone might use spiritual concepts like unconditional love to justify tolerating unhealthy behavior or avoid setting boundaries. 

While spiritual bypassing offers temporary relief from discomfort, it ultimately hinders genuine growth and healing. By bypassing difficult emotions or experiences, individuals deny themselves the opportunity for authentic self-exploration and transformation. Moreover, unresolved issues tend to resurface later, often in more complex or challenging forms, perpetuating a cycle of avoidance and stagnation.

True healing involves cultivating a balanced approach to spirituality—one that acknowledges the importance of recognizing what’s really happening, doing the inner work, and shadow integration alongside practices of love, compassion, and mindfulness. This process often involves seeking support from therapists, spiritual teachers, or trusted friends who can provide guidance and accountability.

After that morning’s session, I went and found the woman who asked the question. She was sitting outside the dining hall by herself, deep in thought.  I sat down next to her to check-in.  While I didn’t criticize the spiritually bypassing speaker, I told her that tapping, while a beautiful practice, was more a mechanism for self-soothing and nervous system regulation but not a way to heal from trauma or protect her needs in a relationship.  I shared some of my knowledge and experience, the way I wish the speaker had done in the moment. I taught her some practical strategies for coming back into her body, grounding herself there, and getting clear on her own body’s “yes” or “no” (explaining how trauma often leaves us out of our bodies and unable to discern what we want minute to minute).  We spoke about trauma bonding and the way we unconsciously replay our earlier trauma in our choice of partners.  I shared some ideas on how to continue healing and begin to set boundaries that allowed her to protect herself in the way others never protected her when she was young.  Most of all, I normalized that what her boyfriend was doing to her was absolutely not OK and she was totally within her rights and power to set healthy limits (and how to make sure she was safe doing so). 

By the end of our conversation, her shoulders were no longer hunched up by her ears. She had shed some gentle tears, and she had taken some deep breaths. And she had a path to healing that I hoped she would continue to follow.  

Spiritual growth and personal healing are not always paved with positivity and light. In fact, it’s usually a bumpy, rollercoaster of a ride that is not at all comfortable. It requires courage to confront our shadow selves, compassion to embrace our vulnerabilities, and humility to acknowledge that true transformation often occurs in the messy, imperfect, and sometimes uncomfortable spaces of our lives. Only by facing our challenges head-on can we truly evolve and embody the deeper truths of spiritual bypassing.

Shopping Cart