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The term “spiritual bypassing” (coined by John Welwood in the 1980s) refers to a pattern of sidestepping emotionally complex issues with simple spiritualizations.

The intentions behind spiritual bypassing are usually positive. These quick-fix phrases are typically meant to offer us comfort or perspective when life is difficult or confusing. Because they're so oversimplified and over-spiritualized, however, spiritual bypassing inadvertently encourages us to detach from difficult things, lean into magical thinking, and suppress valid emotions


Spiritual bypassing often looks like toxic positivity or emotional numbness. When we habitually use it to cope with difficulties in our lives, we get better and better at denying reality and suppressing inner tension by relying on spiritual explanations and solutions. 


Spiritual bypassing happens in religious and non-religious systems all over the world, and it's not specific to any faith or ideology. The messages that spiritual bypassing communicates usually stay the same even when you substitute the words or phrases specific to certain groups. 

These are the common messages behind spiritual bypassing:

  • There's a divine (or cosmic) plan.

  • There's a spiritual purpose behind suffering.

  • There's a spiritual explanation behind positive events.

  • There's a spiritual solution to our problems.

  • There's always a spiritual lesson to be learned.

  • Harm is justified when it's for the greater good.

  • All injustices will be made right eventually.

  • All of our needs can be met through spiritual enlightenment.

  • It's spiritually enlightened to trust in things we don't understand.

  • It's spiritually enlightened to be grateful and peaceful at all times.

  • There's no need to feel worried or anxious about the future.

  • There's no need to feel anger, sadness, or hopelessness.

  • Faith, devotion, and sacrifice will always be rewarded.




Below are some specific phrases that are used as spiritual bypasses. As you read, try to connect them with one of the universal messages listed above.

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”

  • “Count your blessings.”

  • "God will provide." / "God's in control."

  • "That person is in heaven now."

  • “You'll never be given more than you can handle.”

  • "Don't lean on your own understanding."

  • “You'll get your reward in the next life.”

  • "God works in mysterious ways."

  • "Maybe this is a blessing in disguise."

  • “God must be trying to teach you something.”

  • “I'll pray for you."

  • "We're called to be holy, not happy."

  • “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

  • "Forgive and forget."

Note: Many of these examples are from Christian traditions, but that's just because they're the most familiar to me. Every religion has its own variations of these.

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