Is Taking A Spiritual Bypass Harming Your Mental Health?

It always happened.

After a relapse he would always say ‘I’ll never do that again, I’m trusting in Jesus to help me’.

Charged up by some sort of white knuckled determination and singing a few Jesus songs off he would go. Sure enough though his grit would grind out and he would crash back into the old behaviours.

You see he delighted in the feelings that flowed when in that place of escape.

Name your poison. Shopping, Drugs, Alcohol, T.V., Pornography, Church, Worship. All can be escape routes from the reality of what is really going on.

I learnt a new term recently

Spiritual Bypass.

Its like a you’re driving on a road and you hit a traffic jam, or the road gets difficult to drive on. It’s clogged, difficult and just downright frustrating.

You weren’t meant for this. You were meant for speed, comfort, and ease of travel. Not gritting it out on a gravel road.

Then up ahead you see a potential detour. Lots of others are taking it, so you decide to take it too and see where it leads.

This merry little scenic drive feels so good because you’re not stuck on that difficult pot holed track. 

Spiritual bypass is a defense mechanism by which we use spiritual practices or beliefs to avoid our emotional wounds, unwanted thoughts or impulses, or threats to our self-esteem. Ingrid Mathieu

You become so entranced with this scenic route that little by little it takes you further away from the reality of life until you discover you’re lost.

Then you have to take that route all the way back to where you took the detour.

I wonder if Jesus was thinking about difficult roads like these when he talked about life with him being like walking a narrow path, squeezing being two boulders.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it”. Matthew 7:13-14

I think that at times our spiritual practices are a kind of spiritual bypass to avoid pain. Maybe a quick fix of worship dopamine to annul the reality of living in a broken world.

It’s interesting to note that Step 1 of A.A. 12 step recovery program is a step into honesty.

Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome
your addictions and that your life has
become unmanageable.

It’s like being real honest that nothing within you can fully resist the magnetic pull of the bypass. That you need a higher power to alert you to the warning signs and to keep you on track.

Ingrid Mathieu Ph.D writes this

Spiritual bypass shields us from the truth, it disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the big picture. It is more about checking out than checking in—and the difference is so subtle that we usually don’t even know we are doing it. Ingrid Mathieu

I want to know God in my darkest reality and not jump into some spiritual bypass that actually takes me away from where God actually is and wants to commune with me.

How can we assess whether a spiritual practice or belief can potentially become a spiritual bypass?

Perhaps at times we need to ask ourselves some deep and hard questions. Even more revealing might asking others to answer these questions about us.

  1. Am I avoiding any emotional wounds, unwanted thoughts or impulses, or threats to my self-esteem by the spiritual practices I undertake and the beliefs I hold?
  2. Do my spiritual practices and beliefs help or hijack a wholehearted connection with others, particularly those closest to me?

Most of all we need to be consciously aware of the trap of the Spiritual Bypass.

It can be very alluring for those grinding it out in the grit of a narrow path experience. But will that detour take you to where God ultimately wants you to go?

Questions to consider

  1. What are some favourite Spiritual Bypasses people use to avoid the narrow path difficulties?
  2. How would denying what’s happening and how scary it feels, deprive God of really doing some deep and good work in your soul.
  3. Do you think we have a culture of looking for the next ‘Spiritual Bypass’ that would take us away from the real narrow path?

Quotes to ponder on

  • Why does sin seem so attractive, somehow necessary to my felt well-being, to the satisfaction of what I believe I most want and need? Sexual addiction, compulsive under- and overeating, self-protection against further rejection, grudge-holding that seems justified: Why can what I know to be wrong feel so right? The answer? I long to feel what I was created to feel more than I want to be who I was created to be. Feelings then trump truth as the motivation for the choices I make. A Different Kind of Happiness Larry Crabb
  • If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s. Joseph Campbell
  • The spiritual life begins with accepting and living our reality. Richard Rohr
  • Integrating the fullness of the human condition into one’s spiritual practice is what leads to emotional sobriety. Ingrid Mathieu
  • Although incredibly seductive, anything that promises the light without acknowledging the shadow isn’t telling the whole story. Ingrid Mathieu
  • We are drawn to the light just like a flower to the sun. However, unless we stay rooted, plugged into the dirt, we won’t be able to survive. Ingrid Mathieu

Further reading

Barry Pearman

Image: frank mckenna



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3 comments

  1. Re the sentence ‘Name your poison. Shopping, Drugs, Alcohol, T.V., Pornography, Church, Worship. All can be escape routes from the reality of what is really going on.’
    Wait on, Church, worship….. that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? There was a time when I would have been very offended. But now, 20yrs on and a broken marriage that happened in the midst of being very church addicted tells me it’s true. It can be an escape like any other but not usually with such severe consequences. I am a seeker after the truth and no matter, how tough I do face up to reality. But I can only do that in relationship with a God who knows me and loves me intimately. Have learnt he truly “has my back”. Another great post – thanks Barry.

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