Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and The Shadow

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I first started becoming aware of spiritual bypassing a few years ago. My eyes opened wide as I was reading the page in front of me. "A spiritual bypass or spiritual bypassing is a "tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks" John Welwood & Tina Fossella. This was it! This was the thing I had been aware of for years in myself and others that I had not known what it is or how to describe it! I was so excited that there really was such a "thing" and it had a name. I have cut out parts of the article below but most of the content on spiritual bypassing is included. Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and The Shadow - Providence Life Coach and Reiki Counselor

Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and The Shadow By Bernhard Guenther

The universe and life draw people and situations into our lives at times to deal with the personal unconscious – the darkness we need to make conscious in ourselves before we can attain any higher spiritual states. Relationships are very powerful and challenging in that regard as we engage in the dance of shadow projection, triggering unconscious traits in each other. When we are in the midst of challenging situations and life takes a downward spiral and everything seems to fall apart, it is hard to make sense of it all. The pain and suffering can be intense, resulting in depression, resentment, anger, guilt and shame. We feel resentment if we feel wronged by another person and we blame him/her for the pain they have caused us. Or we blame ourselves with guilt and shame of how bad of a person we are. So we judge others or ourselves, reacting mechanically and unconsciously.There is nothing wrong with feeling resentment, anger, guilt or shame. It’s ok to acknowledge and say “Ouch, you hurt me!” or admit our wrong-doings to others and making amends because we feel guilty that we have hurt another person because of our actions. There is a place for healthy expression of negative emotions. It helps us to shine light into things we had suppressed. It only starts to become toxic and self-defeating if we keep lingering on resentment/anger or beating ourselves up with guilt and shame to the point that we diminish our healthy self-worth. When we can’t let go of resentment and keep feeding our anger by continually pointing out everything the other person is doing and has done wrong, blaming him/her for our pain and getting stuck in victim-consciousness, then this issue is deeper and relates to our childhood wounding which is coming to surface. It relates to our needs not being met by our parents, or old wounds from past relationships we haven’t fully processed and let go of are being reactivated. The same applies if we keep diminishing ourselves with guilt and shame, and making ourselves feel worthless. It relates to our inner child that is carrying wounds we haven’t made conscious yet. In that sense, negative emotions about ourselves or others can lead us into a downward spiral where we suffer mechanically and unconsciously. However, if we can recognize the triggers and reflect how this relates to our past and childhood wounds, without projecting them into the present and taking things personally, then we can use these negative emotions to suffer consciously in order to dissolve them, rather than reacting mechanically. When we suffer consciously it enables us to respond with compassion and empathy towards ourselves and others. Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and The Shadow - Providence Life Coach and Reiki Counselor

Spiritual Bypassing - The Body-Mind Connection

This, of course, is sometimes easier said than done because our unconscious behaviors are hard to spot at first, for the simple reason that this behaviour is unconscious. It is important not suppress or avoid negative emotions. They are not really “negative” to begin with but we tend to judge them as “bad” or we identify so strongly with them that we think we are them. Non-reacting doesn’t mean suppressing, but rather feeling them consciously – being vulnerable. In order to do that we need to tune into our body.Being a bodyworker and receiving massage on a regular basis myself, as well as having a consistent Yoga and Qi Gong practice has shown me many times the importance of the body-mind connection, how our traumas and childhood wounds are stored in our bodies. Our muscles, tissue, organs and bones are carriers of energy and memory, all of which is interrelated and connected.The body is a holistic organism where nothing is isolated. Everything affects us physically and energetically on some level. Any experience we ever had, even things that happened to us but we’ve long forgotten about, or were unaware of, is still held in the body. Be it grief, a broken relationship, emotional pain, everyday stress, childhood issues, injuries and accidents, past life trauma, etc…. the body stores the experience(s) and does not “forget” until it is released in the body.

Spiritual Bypassing - Psychotherapeutic Work

Throughout my life I have worked through many issues with the help of these body-mind techniques and other self-help modalities, but sometimes more is needed. A few years ago, I went through a difficult break-up with my partner. I realized I had hit a wall and dead-end. My relationship with my partner was disintegrating as our individual childhood wounds were starring each other in the face crying for recognition. Too many triggers and mechanical reactions, not enough conscience and mindfulness. We decided to see a psychotherapist (as a couple and individual sessions) trained in Gestalt Therapy, Jungian Psychology (Shadow Work), Somatic Release Therapy and various other body-mind techniques.
Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and The Shadow - Providence Life Coach and Reiki Counselor - Bernhard3

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Going to see a therapist was the best thing I could have done. When I was telling her about what I was going through, she stopped me sometimes in mid-sentence, making me aware of subtle body-movements or facial expressions I had made but wasn’t aware of as I was talking. Gently guiding me, she encouraged me to feel the underlying emotions, asking me where I was feeling it, then encouraging me to talk to it, helping me to get ‘out of my head’ and feel more. Her presence of radiant empathy, but with clear energetic boundaries, was very powerful, giving me the space and safety to process without being judged.   After this process, I felt an emotional depth of sensitivity with empathy and compassion I’d never experienced before. Yet the work never stops – it’s an ongoing process.

Spiritual Bypassing

The main thing I realized in my own process is how easy it is for any of us to engage in “spiritual bypassing” – a thought process whereby we use spiritual and esoteric concepts to bypass basic psychological work, over-estimating ourselves and essentially lying to ourselves about our state of being. In other words, intellectualizing things rather than embodying them. Especially nowadays with all the pop-psychology and new age material, we can easily buffer up issues and avoid deeper psychotherapeutic work, fooling ourselves all along.
All who are into the spiritual have engaged in spiritual bypassing. We need to accept that we have or are using it to avoid our psychological issues and to feel better about ourselves. We must view this with genuine compassion and understanding, not judgment or denial. We must be aware of our capacity for spiritual bypassing. We need to stop impaling ourselves on various spiritual shoulds and practices and preoccupations of being nice, positive, and spiritual.  We need to recognize and act on addressing our darker or less spiritual emotions, impulses and intentions and stop denying them as part of who we are. We must be aware of our need to be someone special, spiritual, advanced, and stop dividing everything positive and negative, higher and lower, spiritual and non-spiritual. We want to reach a state of immunity to suffering.” – Robert Augustus Masters
But even with regards to psychotherapy we need to be discerning, therefore choosing the right therapist is key. When I refer to psychotherapy, I’m referring to techniques I mentioned earlier (Gestalt Therapy, Jungian Psychology, Somatic Release Therapy and various other body-mind techniques), not simply Freudian “talk therapy” or getting pharmaceuticals from a psychiatrist. Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and The Shadow - Providence Life Coach and Reiki Counselor As some of us know, psychology has also become much distorted, however at the same time, there are many new concepts and practices that have evolved, combining spiritual and psychological work with body-mind techniques in very efficient and practical ways. Especially in this day and age where life has become more complex and uncertain as the world is changing faster and faster, it is important that we dive deep into our unconscious to heal what needs to be healed. It is part of being the change you want to see in the world, confronting the shadow within and without. Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and The Shadow - Providence Life Coach and Reiki Counselor

Spiritual Bypassing - The Shadow

The shadow is, so to say, the blind spot in your nature. Its that which you wont look at about yourself.The nature of your shadow is a function of the nature of your ego. It is the backside of your light side. In the myths, the shadow is represented as the monster that has to be overcome, the dragon. It is the dark thing that comes up from the abyss and confronts you the minute you begin moving down into the unconscious.” – Joseph Campbell
Relating within in everyday life, within intimate relationships and friendships, are all situations where we can trigger the shadow aspects within each other. When issues arise in a relationship – as they always do at a certain point – our individual shadows come out and we end up projecting our shadow onto the other, hurting each other unconsciously. But there is a chance here to heal deep-rooted childhood wounds that are coming to surface again, each partner playing out the parent (or both) we were wounded by (as we all have been in various degrees because no parents are perfect), because of their own wounds. If we can recognize this and take our projections back, understanding that there is no one to blame, neither the partner nor the parents, but only lessons, the relationship can be transformed to a higher level. But this requires sincere work on the part of both partners – work that must be done with humility, compassion and empathy, especially since the projections won’t stop overnight as we keep getting triggered and slipping back into unconscious behaviors. Sometimes a third person, a mediator or therapist is needed. It’s about addressing, processing and resolving, making amends and helping each other in the process. This is not easy work because those old wounds can hurt a lot and we all tend to avoid pain and buffer it up with a “band-aid”, projecting it onto the other person instead of healing it. But it’s the fire where lead is transformed into gold. If this is not possible and we don’t stay aware of the triggers and projections that keep us taking things personally and lashing out in blame, the relationship will disintegrate. This will happen because either or both cannot or are not willing to own their projections, or because one person is so repressed and wounded (trauma/addiction), they are not engaging in sincere self-work. In these situations the projections intensify, masked up with unconscious anger, passive aggressiveness, and resentment that leads to constantly finding fault in the other to justify these feelings, making him/her walk around on eggshells. Then the only way is to separate otherwise we will follow a downward spiral. We need to take care of ourselves first and foremost and can’t “do” anything for the other in this instance. This is not being selfish, but mature. “Peaceful resolution” where both people own their projections and make amends is not always possible. Being the target of shadow projection in an intimate relationship (or friendships) is the hardest, especially when you are doing your best to own your own projections, and acknowledge the hurt you have caused due to your own unconscious behaviors. It hurts because we love the other person. But even in this pain, I know that the one who hurts me is in even more pain and it is not about me, so I meet it with compassion and empathy but with clear boundaries as well. Sometimes this is harder said than done, but it is the only way if we don’t want to repeat those lessons in the next relationship with a different face, being confronted with the shadow again and again. A strong indication of shadow projection is when we’re trying to “save” someone or wanting to be “saved” by someone, even if only unconsciously. The victim/savior relationship is one of the most common unconscious drives that bring people together, mistaking these needs/wants for love. It all relates to not getting certain needs met in childhood and trying to get them met through our partner or friends. As long as we keep F.A.C.E. (Fear, Attachment, Control, Entitlement) we don’t learn the lessons that keep us projecting onto the other. But the only person we’re really hurting is ourselves, even if we can’t see it in that moment. Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and The Shadow - Providence Life Coach and Reiki Counselor

Spiritual Bypassing - Dancing in the Shadows

When we are involved in the pushing and shoving of the shadow dance, no one has more fault than the other, no one is better than the other. Sometimes one person’s actions seem to be way more hurtful than the other’s. But we will always have a very limited view on this. We don’t see the full picture. Karma and past life issues are at play as well. The universe always strives for balance in the bigger picture, even if we can’t see it (or don’t want to see it) in the situation we’re in. It’s the play of duality, the yin and yang, dark and light. Intimate relationships can act like a fast-track in spiritual development, like a catalyst, because much of our unconscious shadow can easily hide as long as we avoid relationships or endlessly look for the “perfect partner” who will never appear. On the other hand, some of us go from relationship to relationship, afraid of being alone, not integrating the lessons from past relationships and constantly looking outside of ourselves for love and fulfillment. In this day and age, relationships are very challenging, especially for the ones who seek truth sincerely within and without, stepping out of complacency and conformity, not playing by society’s rules, expectations and socially conditioned perceptions of relationships. We have to “pay with ourselves”, confronting the shadow within first and foremost.

Spiritual Bypassing - The Journey 

Considering all that, we can easily feel disempowered and overwhelmed and there is still so much we don’t know. We need to remember to take small steps one at a time, with patience and compassion for ourselves and others. Spiritual Bypassing, Relationships and The Shadow - Providence Life Coach and Reiki Counselor - Bernhard7We will always hurt others or self-sabotage our own development in the process of living life at times. We will look for blame and excuses, trying to make sense of challenging situations that can’t be understood in the moment, rationalizing our decisions and behaviors and lying to ourselves and others unconsciously. We will inflate our egos with self-importance and righteousness or diminish ourselves with pity; we can be over-emotional or emotionally closed off, we can be over-bearing with others or shy away from necessary confrontation to stand up for ourselves. We will overestimate our spiritual progress at times, engaging in spiritual bypassing or become too hard on ourselves. In short, we will always make mistakes and screw up sometimes. It’s life! But through the suffering and sincere self-work we learn and grow. In the end, all there is are lessons. Be good to yourself in the process. Healthy self-love and compassion are key.
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