Ep #051 Why Spirituality Needs Psychology – How To Avoid Toxic Positivity
Spiritual bypassing shows up in the holistic health and personal development world, the “good vibes only” groups, the “love and light” circles when spiritual development ignores psychology.
The term, spiritual bypassing was first coined during the early 1980s by Buddhist and psychotherapist , John Welwood in his book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening . It’s defined as the tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds and developmental needs.
It’s what’s happening for example when we find ourselves using meditation, yoga, bodywork, spiritual ideas – even healthy eating to avoid dealing with our unpleasant, unresolved emotional stuff.
Spiritual bypassing is a tempting defense strategy in today’s complex world but it can have harmful emotional consequences and become an obstacle on the path to genuine spiritual development.
Learn how to identify it and what you can do to avoid it.
Welcome to the Soul Science Nutrition Podcast, where you’ll discover that when it comes to your health, you are so much more powerful than you’ve been led to believe. And now your host, she’s a holistic nutrition and lifestyle coach, chef author, and Yogi, Christine Okezie
Hello and welcome to the Soul Science Nutrition Podcas I’m Christine Okezie. Thanks so much for listening today. So in today’s Uber wellness culture, there is an insidious phenomenon that I want to shed some light on. It’s a form of toxic positivity, where the belief is that to be truly healthy, you have to free yourself of negativity, of negative energy. You know, those popular new age, slogans, love, and light thoughts and prayers. Good vibes only. Well, the actual term that I want to explore today is Spiritual Bypassing. It was first coined during the early 1980s by a psychotherapist named John Welwood in his book, Toward A Psychology of Awakening.
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And according to Wellwood spiritual bypassing can be defined as a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep, unresolved, emotional issues and psychological wounds. It’s what it’s what’s happening. For example, when we find ourselves maybe using meditation, yoga, body work, spiritual practices, ideas, even healthy eating, frankly, to avoid dealing with unpleasant, unresolved, personal and emotional stuff we avoid or minimize our so-called negative feelings like anger, jealousy, resentment. We tend to devalue the feelings and emotions by espousing spiritual ideas and principles.
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And we might fall into the tendency to judge others for feeling those again, negative feelings at its core. Spiritual bypassing is a psychological defense mechanism. It gives us a false feeling of security and peace while blocking genuine growth and transformation. Meditative practices are a great example. Are we using them to escape from the stresses of life as a shield to avoid deep personal exploration, avoid uncomfortable conversations. It’s a really relevant question. And if we’re on the path of raising consciousness, then giving it some real reflection is the health promoting thing to do.
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Listen, we’ve all fallen into this trap at one point or another. I know I’ve made it a deliberate practice over the years to check in with myself. Am I meeting myself with that deeper level of awareness? Am I suppressing or disavowing some uncomfortable part of myself? Am I getting caught up in spiritual dogma at the expense of opening up to what’s happening in this? In other words, is my ego in check. In other words, does having a strong spiritual practice turn into feeling morally superior after all these wellness tools are meant to assist in one’s transformation journey, not replace it because on this show, I love sharing powerful ways to calm the mind, get the body out of that fight or flight activate the body’s self-healing and self-regulating capacity.
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And it’s so important to realize that the end game of all of that is not to transcend our human experience. It’s actually to cultivate a level of awareness that connects us to a deeper reserve of self-compassion a deeper resource where wisdom lies. And so for me, these two powers that we access the self-compassion, the deeper sort of self knowledge and wisdom. These are the two powers that for example, in my world, using the technology of Kundalini yoga, this is what helps build actual emotional resilience, the mental caliber to more effectively do that inner work, the inner work of processing, the tough emotions, the confronting, the unresolved issues, which by the way, sometimes that works, that work begins by just bringing awareness to our resistance, to doing this.
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So what are some signs of spiritual bypassing to be really clear? Well, one that comes to mind is never allowing yourself to get angry, right? Sort of being overly optimistic, kind of ungrounded in that way. Another one is being kind of overly detached. See, now there’s an interesting connection here between spiritual bypassing and our self-compassion capacity or our practice of self-compassion. Here’s why if we struggle within ourselves to find a way to be with our own suffering, to open up to our own life challenges, then more likely we’re we will attempt to avoid or minimize the suffering of others.
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In other words, if we have old internal stuff that’s gone on healed or that we’re not willing to look at, we can actually find it just too triggering or uncomfortable to face and empathically feel the suffering of others. The ugliness of racism, the horrors of gun violence, poverty for instance, will become too overwhelming and the whole love and light thing. Everything happens for a reason. Well, these platitudes, you know, fall short and they actually become a hindrance to the valuable process of acknowledging important truths, the value of being with painful emotions and ultimately living in the web of interconnectedness, that is the human experience.
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So another sign of spiritual bypassing that we want to bring awareness to is an inappropriate tolerance of unacceptable behavior. So this shows up with, you know, an inability to set boundaries, right? Where are we tolerating hurtful, insensitive, or even worse abusive behavior in the name of being able to rise above it all. Another sign of spiritual bypassing would be what we call spiritual ego, essentially being very dogmatic and using kind of, you know, empty platitudes to puff ourselves up essentially, but really not having the effect or the intention to offer comfort or insight for others.
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The biggest one really, when it comes to spiritual, bypassing is sidestepping, you know, feeling your emotions. You know, we see anger, fear, sadness, jealousy, those are just too negative. So once again, you know, believing that we need to rise above the emotions and here’s the other thing that’s super fascinating. The body never lies. So we might be saying, I’m fine. All is well. But what we’re really tuning into is, you know, feedback potentially, you know, these signs from the body of the sanitation of our emotions. So tune into that back pain, that fatigue, that chronic hip pain, those lingering colds, insomnia notice if your body is telling you something different.
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And in this regard, it’s really useful to think of the body as the subconscious mind. Here’s another one jumping to looking for the silver lining. And here we talking, we’re talking about a lack of sensitivity. And once again, a lack of groundedness, right? There’s an over-reliance on, on individual positivity when it comes to complex social issues, for example. So this overemphasis on individual self-actualization while it leads to teaching people that they and they alone are responsible for their outcome, their destiny. And while there is a lot of value in talking about personal responsibility and individual reflection in this dogmatic narrow way, this type of spiritual bypassing can become a real obstacle to addressing important structural and environmental changes.
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Spiritual bypassing can show up as a form of victim blaming. So when people are experiencing or reacting as a result of various levels of personal trauma or emotional wounding, while telling people to be more positive, to avoid, you know, having anxiety or depression or some other manifestation of stress, again, it shows up as a form of victim blaming very disempowering from a personal standpoint, if we are in not aware of the tendency of spiritual bypassing, it can bring up feelings of shame. In other words, I shouldn’t be feeling this. I shouldn’t be feeling what I’m feeling, right.
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I’m falling short in my spiritual practice. It can lead to emotional reactivity because as we said, those emotions don’t go away unless we deal with them. And it keeps us stuck in those unwanted behavior patterns. There is an avoidance of personal responsibility. So for example, it’s kind of paradoxical, but you know, you, you kind of believe that you’re just above it all, you believe you’re too good, a person and you couldn’t possibly be causing anyone harm, right? Again, that’s spiritual ego or kind of superiority complex. More importantly, I think, you know, spiritual bypassing when I reflect on it is, is very unfortunate for so many reasons, but one of them is it really does actually stunt and hinder personal growth and more over genuine spiritual development.
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It takes training and experience to recognize the value of our challenges. You can’t jump to looking for the silver lining in that without, without doing the work. There are more steps. I think that we need to bring awareness to before we get to that. So the question becomes, how do you know you’re using practices in a genuinely health supportive way? Well, I think we need to ask ourselves, what is your intention and are you avoiding difficult emotions? And of course, you know, is it making you feel superior over other people? So for me, my intention, when it comes to embodying these yoga tools, these energetic practices embodying them into my everyday I intention, is that they help me live from a space within myself, that’s clearing and resolving mental patterns, tendencies, essentially, any of these things that are getting in the way of me experiencing true happiness.
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And what do I mean by that? I don’t mean, I mean, real happiness. I mean, not the happiness that’s dependent on external stuff, but the space of what’s sometimes called in, in other traditions as the awakened heart, it’s a deep and genuine sense of contentment, right? So the intention, I guess that’s really helpful is how can I better develop the capacity to digest all the circumstances of my life? Spiritual practice is in my experience, incredible medicine for dealing with the stress of life. It’s a means of healing and transformation.
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Absolutely. But it’s because it makes the internal work of self exploration more effective by instilling a source of hope, a sense of awe and wonder by offering an intimate connection to an infinite source of love and compassion within yourself. So with yoga tools, you can have a visceral experience of uniting the mind, the body, the love and the heart. And even if it’s just for a few moments, it gives you a sense of meaning and purpose to your life. So here are a few tips for avoiding spiritual bypassing.
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Number one, remember there are no good or bad emotions. Emotions are our GPS. They’re signposts with important messages about things in our lives that we need to pay attention to things that are maybe out of alignment with what really matters to us. Things that our soul knows need to change. And when we sidestep or try to rise above these difficult emotions, well, whatever they are fear, anger, grief. They go dormant for a short while, but eventually they get triggered and they come out sideways and cause even more friction in our lives. Step number two, go for authenticity.
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That means accepting the good, the bad and the ugly, recognizing that life is just magnificent and messy at the same time that the human experience is not just love and light, not just the pleasant, but also the unpleasant. We need the contrast of the highs and the lows. And it’s not about being fluffy about the hard stuff. Again, it takes time skillfulness and training to recognize and experience the value of it all. And number three, embrace what I like to call grounded. Spirituality.
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Grounded spirituality is rooted in a genuinely holistic approach to health and healing. We need attention on the body, the mind and the emotions honoring the complimentary processes of working with our psychology and our physiology. All of that will keep us from jumping to a purely spiritual response, which I get might feel really, really good temporarily. But if we’ve got unresolved stuff, it’s still running beneath the radar, influencing our behaviors and shaping the outcomes. A great quote. I think that captures. This is actually by John Welwood and he says, we are not just humans learning to become Buddhas, but also Buddhas waking up in human form, learning to become fully human.
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And these two tracks of development can mutually enrich each other. So I hope that’s helpful. My friends, and if this approach to health and healing and grounded spirituality resonates with you. I invite you to check out my website, energetic nourishment.com, schedule a discovery call. See if I can be of any support to you in your journey. I would love to connect with you. So thanks again for listening and bye.