No matter how scary it sounds, shadow work is anything but that. Everyone has their separate set of shadows. Some of them can really sabotage an individual’s growth, both materialistic and spiritual. Our shadows are that dark sides of ourselves which we have repressed for so long in fear of being judged and which we are too nervous to face ourselves. In order to heal our inner self, we must do shadow work, i.e., face our shadows and work accordingly so that we can transform our life for the better.
Acquiring spirituality in life definitely help in dealing with your shadows. Because spirituality gives you the strength to face your shadows and heal them accordingly. But when spirituality is used as a mean to build a false sense of hope and happiness instead of encountering our shadows and ego, it becomes toxic and is called spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypassing is a tendency when real life challenges are bypassed in order to feel pseudo-safe in life. It is a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid altogether the unresolved psychological wounds, emotional issues, and unfinished developmental tasks. For example, it is toxic positivity, and it sounds like, “Don’t be negative”, “Everything will be alright” or “Just think happy thoughts” etc.
How do you know if you need to do shadow work?
When you find yourself reflecting on various life aspects and questioning yourself for lacking in the same, you’ll know your inner self is in dire need of shadow work. Without shadow work, the sense of unfulfilment in life will never leave. For reference, here are a list of questions if you find questioning yourself, you’ll know you’re in need of shadow work.
- What am I addicted to?
- What are my delusions?
- How have I been distracting myself?
- How have I been ignorant?
- Which projects haven’t I finished?
- What toxic people should I distance myself from?
- Am I a victim of trauma?
- Have I done enough to heal?
- What are my deepest fears?
- How much have corrupt forces penetrated my life?
- Am I truly healthy?
Related read: How Real Are You? – Know Your Shadow Self
What is spiritual bypassing?
John Welwood, a prominent psychotherapist and author in the transpersonal-psychology field, coined the term “spiritual bypassing” in 1984. Spiritual bypassing is when we use God and correlated consciousness, to circumvent uncomfortable real-world matters and unpleasant emotions. Ingrid Clayton, Ph.D. says on this subject as, ‘Spiritual Bypassing is a defense mechanism which shields us from the truth and helps in avoidance of issues we face.’
In other words, spiritual bypassing is a form of escapism. To spiritually bypass is to use God and spirituality to avoid, escape and suppress difficult and uncomfortable issues in life. People tend to avoid serious life issues like loss of loved ones, relationship break-ups, family issues, childhood emotional traumas, loneliness, self-sabotaging behaviors, low self-esteem, fear, mental and emotional illness, or any other certain uncomfortable issues- with spirituality, God and religion. Indeed, spirituality is a kind of support system when you have nothing else to rely on. You need spirituality as a way to stand back up again to face difficult stages of life. But when spirituality is used as a drug so that you become addicted to it to a point where you aren’t willing to face the darker elements of your life aka your shadows and demons, you unintentionally harm yourself instead of healing.
Examples of spiritual bypassing:
Last year, when everything was falling apart in my life, I met an older person online. He was much older than me, maybe as old as my father or older. He was into spirituality and an active practitioner of religion. We mostly talked over DM. One day he asked me about my ongoing life and how am I doing in spirituality. Since, I wasn’t in my right state of mind I said, in this mindset, I really cannot do much about spirituality. What he advised me can be reckoned as spiritual bypassing. He asked me to leave everything on God and keep on praying. ‘Everything will be alright.’ This is avoidance of real-life issues by over-depending on spirituality and God. If I do not take responsibility of my situation and work my way through, that’s not how spirituality is going to help.
Spirituality bypassing examples are:
- Avoiding reality and everything happening in the real world by immersing into spirituality.
- Avoiding or escaping any conversation or situation that makes you feel uncomfortable and/or doesn’t match your spiritual ideals.
- Seeing yourself as the chosen one or different from the rest.
- Pretending to be happy when you’re anything but. It is that good-vibes-only life motto.
- Seeing everything in love-and-light perspective when it is not.
- Using the term Empath to see yourself as the victim and throwing the blame on others all the time for how you feel.
- Seeing and presenting yourself as super spiritual after attending a bunch of psychedelics.
- Taking help of astrology for every aspects of your life instead of making decisions on your own.
- Looking for signs and synchronicities from universe instead of working your way through and creating your own reality.
- Depending on spiritual masters too much for the answers of your miseries.
- Having the stubborn belief that if you just meditate and send prayers, your sadness and all the hardships of life will just evaporate.
- Blaming someone else rather than taking responsibility on your own.
How can spiritual bypassing can affect shadow work?
Shadow work is the process of working with the repressed dark sides of ourselves. These dark aspects are the traits and characteristics which manifest within our subconscious as our shadow self. Our shadows and demons are the parts of ourselves that are annoying, angry, childish, and not good enough. These traits are those which we have deemed as ugly and try to hide from others or too afraid to encounter.
The majority of our shadows come from our childhood traumas. It is because of certain societal norms that we are taught to not to show our weak/darker sides. We are conditioned to believe that if we express ourselves a certain way, we would be judged and will be punished certain way. As a result, we grew up avoiding those parts of ourselves and felt shameful if ever those shadows came out.
Shadow work is the way which we do to heal those traumas so that our shadows no longer affect our lives. Unless we do inner work, we react to situations influenced by our traumatic mind and unhealed self. People have misconception about childhood traumas. Childhood emotional traumas aren’t something huge and catastrophic. Childhood emotional traumas are such a distressing event that have affected your childhood in a certain way. This can be as simple as being embarrassed by the words of your parents or teachers in front of others which led you to suppress your thoughts from expressing publicly, or sabotaging your needs and wishes as you couldn’t ask your parents because of financial issues. When you start inner work, it gets easier to identify those events which has left wounds in you or where your shadows are hiding.
But when you seek help from spirituality bypassing to deal with your shadows, it does not make you face your demons. Instead, it makes you avoid them, and escape your responsibility from facing your shadows. Spiritual bypassing makes you delusional in believing that if you keep on praying, your inner self will be healed on its own. Spirituality is definitely needed in order to do shadow work, but spiritual bypass does not assist you in your shadow work, and you become an escapist behind the mask of spirituality.
When we avoid shadow work, an individual end up with several personality disorder.
How to avoid spiritual bypassing?
People who are born and brought up in an environment of intimidation, threats, verbal abuse and physical abuse, and apathy, have a tendency to repress their emotional and psychological needs, and that is how ‘cognitive dissonance’ forms. Cognitive dissonance is a mental discomfort or psychological distress where a person has two contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. This cognitive dissonance is the main reason why we differ from ‘what we think’ to ‘what we actually are’. It is the reason why we cannot connect with others in a harmonious relationship.
Shadow work may be triggering to old wounds. This can be uncomfortable of course, and maybe painful in some way. But if we avoid doing the shadow work in fear of discomfort and pain, the problem itself does not disappear. Our troubling thoughts and emotions still exist under the temporary veil that the spiritual bypass provide. But our unexamined psychological impulses still remain underneath, affecting our subconscious.
Related read: Emotional Wound: Symptoms, Causes and Ways to Heal
To avoid spiritual bypassing:
- You need to stop labelling emotions as good and bad. There is nothing ‘good-vibes-only’. If you are feeling crappy, accept it. It’s okay to feel down. You’ll get better, eventually.
- Always remember the uncomfortableness you’re feeling, has a purpose. Because these uncomfortable emotions will teach you lessons that will help you move on in life. It’s best to take the lesson rather than avoiding them.
- Your discomfort about something or some situation is just a way to tell you what needs to be changed in your life. If you tend to ignore and escape the signs, it won’t disappear. Instead, you can take notes and make the change in your life.
Spirituality itself is a strong tool to cope with mental, emotional, psychological distress. Spirituality helps with depression, self-improvement and finding the meaning of life. But instead of avoiding shadow work and spiritual bypassing, spirituality needs to be used as a way to life improvement. Researches show, people who practices spirituality are less likely to be depressed and they are calmer than who do not practice spirituality. They even have better physical wellbeing overall. So, by avoiding spiritual bypassing and doing the shadow work, you can move to a more fulfilling and happy life, and that’s a fact.