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Spiritual Bypassing: What It Is, Why It’s Harmful, And What To Do About It.

I remember the very first time I heard the term “Spiritual Bypassing” and someone told me what it meant.

I was 25 years old and living and working at Esalen Institute as a member of the kitchen staff as an Extended Student. Extended Students (or ES’s) back then had lots of little daily tasks like cleaning up the lodge (the communal dining facility), restocking teas and breads, and tidying up after meals.

Spiritual Bypassing: What It Is, Why It’s Harmful, And What To Do About It.

I was doing just this one late afternoon sometime before dinner and well after lunch with one of my fellow ES’s when a yoga group workshop broke for the afternoon and the participants came into the lodge for a break.

This group had been at Esalen for the week and the theme of the workshop was something about “existing in love and peace.” I remember being impressed with them because then (and now) I could barely do yoga for one hour let alone a whole week!

Anyways, several members of the workshop came into the Lodge and when one saw that the drink container of lavender lemonade was empty and, when explained by a fellow ES of mine who was working in the lodge with me, that it wouldn’t be refilled until dinner, they angrily exploded and cursed at my friend for not having more available given how much they were paying for the workshop.

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Watching this play out, I was stunned that this person who had signed up for a workshop on existing in love and peace for a whole week then lost their sh*t over lemonade being unavailable to them! Where the heck did all the love and peace go?

Talking it over later with a friend, a longer term Esalen staff member, she told me about the term spiritual bypass and described it as a concept where people use spiritual principles or ideas to avoid dealing with their unresolved emotional issues and their strong “negative feelings” and instead sidestep this work through following and espousing “more positive feelings” or concepts. She also said that sometimes when folks do this, their “negative feelings” might leak out sideways surprising them and others with their intensity. Like what happened in the Lodge with the yogi and the staff member.

In the years since as I went to grad school, trained, and became a licensed psychotherapist, I came to connect the concept of “spiritual bypassing” with several other key therapeutic concepts I learned about: psychological disintegration, the Shadow Self, and projection on others.

I also learned why it’s so important we work to heal “spiritual bypassing” and what there is to do about it. 

Spiritual Bypassing As a Form of Psychological Disintegration and Projection.

As I mentioned, “Spiritual Bypassing” is a term I learned about informally in my early days in California but then later came to connect to core therapeutic concepts like psychological disintegration, The Shadow, and projection.

Psychological disintegration is, essentially, when we consciously or unconsciously disown or disavow certain aspects of ourselves – usually the parts of us that are the hardest and most painful to acknowledge and own. In doing so we become disintegrated, we become psychologically un-whole.

Those disowned and disavowed aspects then comprise what Jungian psychotherapists would call The Shadow – the entirety of our unconscious that we are not fully aware of which “holds” the behaviors, memories, and ways of being we do not identify with and we judge as largely “negative.”

And, as Carl Jung, M.D. would say,

“Everyone carries a shadow…and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

In other words, problematically, what we resist persists.

What this may mean is that, when we spiritually bypass or disavow/disallow certain aspects within ourselves, we may also disavow and disallow it in others through the form of projection.

What’s projection? Well, on a micro level, this may mean verbally shaming and blaming a family member who displays irresponsible behavior (possibly because you don’t own and accept that erratic, irresponsible part in yourself).

On a macro level, this may mean shunning or actively politicking against someone with a more fluid form of gender or sex identity (possibly because you’re unwilling to look at your own sexuality and gender identity and practice acceptance around that).

That which we cannot own within ourselves, in our Shadow, we tend to project outwardly, potentially impairing our relationships, and most certainly leading to continued psychological disintegration within our own psyches.

Several ways that this “spiritual bypassing” or psychological disownment/Shadow work may show up can include:

  • Anger avoidance
  • Devaluation of feelings versus lauding of spiritual principles
  • Emotional numbing and repression
  • Over-emphasizing the positive
  • Judgment of others for feeling those “negative feelings”

The bottom line? Spiritual bypassing is a psychological defense mechanism.

It may seem more preferable or tolerable than a defense mechanism of alcoholism, binge eating, or deflecting with sarcasm, but it’s still a defense mechanism that keeps the person using it from feeling the full range of their experience and moving towards psychological integration.

So if we find ourself Spiritually Bypassing, what do we do about it?

The reality is that we ALL most likely “spiritually bypass” or avoid or disavow or project onto others the parts we don’t like in ourselves some of the times.

My point here in this article isn’t to cast a stone at yogis and meditators (not even that one who lost it in the Esalen lodge) or you, my lovely blog reader. I have a Shadow side, I have parts of myself I’m still very much trying to integrate and own, I still project. None of us are perfect. And that’s not what we’re aiming for, anyways.

We’re aiming for progress, not perfection, and a slow and steady march towards increased psychological wholeness, more embodiment, and an increased ability to live a more fully enlivened life.

So if you, like me and like so many others, find yourself “spiritually bypassing”, projecting or disavowing, know you’re not alone. And if you’d like to do something about it, I have some thoughts:

No Such Thing As a Bad Emotion.

First, importantly, I think it’s important to train or retrain ourselves to understand no such thing as “bad” emotion.

Look, the reality is that we don’t get through this human experience without feeling strong feelings including anger, greed, jealousy, pain, anxiety, grief, etc..

And there. is. no. such. thing. as. a. bad. feeling.

All feelings contain valuable information for us, and when we learn to feel and appropriately express and tolerate all of those feelings within us, we move towards psychological wholeness and a greater level of embodied, enlivened experience.

Bring Awareness to Your Process.

Next, as is true for any process of change we’re trying to undertake, it’s important to bring your awareness to your patterning around “Spiritual Bypassing” (ideally closer and closer to the moment you actually catch yourself doing it).

As you do so, be really curious about how and why you might do this.

Ask yourself what feels hard about acknowledging that there’s anger, rage or jealousy [fill in the blank] inside of you? Where and when did you learn that these feelings, behaviors, or ways of being are “not okay”? What do you imagine might happen if you let yourself feel this or do this yourself?

Practice Allowing Yourself To Feel or Embody This Yourself.

Safely and appropriately, work on allowing yourself to feel more of what you’ve denied, live out more of what you hate in others, or own the parts that you’ve tried to tuck away.

For example, if you can’t stand laziness in others and get furious each time your significant other crashes on the couch after work versus immediately joining you in the housework, maybe practice letting yourself do this, too.

Or maybe, if you need help feeling the rage you’ve tucked inside for so long but are afraid of what may come up if you start to feel this, work with your therapist to safely titrate your feelings and find ways of processing what comes up for you around this.* If you are curious about online counseling or in-person counseling, connect with us here.

(*Please note: I’m not talking about and advocating for acting out and allowing destructive behavior in yourself or others such as rape, physical violence, verbal abuse, etc.. That kind of behavior is not okay, period. But it’s much different than acknowledging and appropriately allowing feeling states inside ourselves which we may label as “destructive” or “negative.” Allowing the feeling to exist versus acting on it = big difference.)

Wrapping this up.

As we work on integrating the Shadow Side of us, as we work on eliminating any Spiritual Bypassing, as we work on owning our projections, we then practice psychological integration — a positive and healthy psychological development that can lead to increased emotional maturity.

So now I want to ask you a question: what’s been one tool or practice that’s helped you move past any Spiritual Bypassing or projecting? How have you worked on this in yourself? Leave a message in the comments below so our community of blog readers can benefit from your wisdom.

If you would like additional support right now and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together. You can also book a complimentary consult call to explore therapy with one of my fantastic clinicians at my trauma-informed therapy center, Evergreen Counseling.

Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.

And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie



  • Jung, C.G. (1938). “Psychology and Religion.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P. 131)
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Reader Interactions


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  1. med says

    Good article. I’ve never heard of spiritual bypassing, and honestly, I’ve been guilty of it. I’m so glad you posted on this topic. Thank you for sharing your expertise with your readers.

    • Annie says

      I’m so glad this article resonated with you, Danica! Thank you for taking the time to read it, and to comment. Warmly, Annie

  2. Elaine says

    Didn’t know there was a name for it. I sometimes see people using even meditation or Buddhism to avoid uncomfortable emotions, which fascinates me – how the avoidant mind can use almost anything to accomplish its goal. And thank you for going into the heart of the matter – reframing perceived “bad emotions” and educating on shadow. My friends love when I send your [usually synchronistic] articles! Oh, speaking of shadow & Jung, here’s something I once wrote about it:

    – Carl Jung believed that the shadow is also the seat of creativity; so if we never confront our shadow, not only do we spend an inordinate amount of energy suppressing it, but we remain slaves to subconscious drives and patterns and never access our full potential. –

    Glad you also touch on process. It seems learning about and experiencing process orientation is the key. Until we understand, apply and “experience” the alternative to fix-it orientation – process, and start flexing that muscle, we can’t embody or believe. I think it just starts with an open mind, a seeking mind.

    Love you, Annie!

    • elaine smith says

      Meant to add in that last paragraph-

      …we come to embody and believe because the right brain/feminine/unconscious Process orientation leads to a whole new experience of life; one that is supported, flows, and leads to possibilities and opportunities we never dreamed possible.

    • Annie says

      Elaine! It looks like my comment response to you never went through. I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to read this article and also share so generously and aptly about Jung and the potentiality of the Shadow. I absolutely agree that the Shadow can hold deep wells of creativity, energy, and regenerative lifeforce and if we repress it, we lose access to these things as powerfully. I appreciate you and your wonderful insight! Warmly, Annie

  3. Milica says

    I am guilty of spiritual bypassing with astrology. I tried to minimise my traumatic experiences and find comfort in reading my natal chart. This took over ten years of my life. Now I find myself constantly sad, stuck and depressed.
    I don’t think mental health professionals empathize enough how astrology is often used and unhealthy substitute for proper therapy.

    • Annie says

      Milica, thank you for bringing attention to this. Astrology can absolutely be associated with Spiritual Bypassing. I think the fact that you can acknowledge this in your own experience speaks to your commitment to healing. Please know that transformation is always possible and I’m rooting for you. Warmly, Annie

  4. Laura says

    As one with a trauma history which included dissociation, it was a challenge as an adult to learn how to access my feelings, much less identify and interpret them. Yet of course they were always there, often adversely affecting my behavior. When I had strong “negative” emotions I would avoid and/or judge them. And I used “spiritual work,” including meditation, to cope, but that did nothing to process the feelings. The training that has helped a lot is to notice when I am having an emotional arousal of some kind, then identify where in my body I’m feeling it, and then actually welcome and allow the feeling to be there and move through, as it always will if allowed.

    • Annie says

      Laura, thank you so much for sharing a piece of your journey and the training that has helped you the most. I’m so glad this post spoke to you. Warmly, Annie

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