I spent about three years reading about spiritual teachings and incorporating them into my life before ever learning that spirituality has a dark side.
Naturally, I was taken aback. I felt kind of betrayed.
How could something that seemed so pure and good be harmful?
The answer has to do with something that psychologists call spiritual bypassing. In the early 1980s, psychologist John Welwood coined the term "spiritual bypassing" to refer to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid confronting uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs.
According to integral psychotherapist Robert Augustus Masters, spiritual bypassing causes us to withdraw from ourselves and others, to hide behind a kind of spiritual veil of metaphysical beliefs and practices. He says it "not only distances us from our pain and difficult personal issues, but also from our own authentic spirituality, stranding us in a metaphysical limbo, a zone of exaggerated gentleness, niceness, and superficiality."
Painful Realizations: My Own Spiritual Bypassing
In Robert August Masters' groundbreaking book, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us From What Really Matters, he writes:
"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 side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being."I encountered the concept of spiritual bypassing for the first time in Masters' work. Although I was reluctant to admit it, I immediately knew on some level that this concept applied to me.
As I continued to reflect on spiritual bypassing, I noticed more and more shadow aspects of spirituality, and I realized that I had unknowingly been enacting many of them at one time or another.
Though painful, these were some of the most important realizations I've ever had. They've helped me to stop using a warped form of "spirituality" as an ego boost and to begin taking greater responsibility for addressing my psychological needs and the issues that arise in my life.
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