Spiritual Bypassing: It Hurts More Than It Helps

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”. (Wikipedia)

More often than not, the Sunday church experience helps us avoid and bypass our pain, instead of helping us deal with and overcome it. From the moment we step into the building, our frowns turn into smiles: we put our best foot forward as we greet our brothers and sisters in Christ, we (falsely) automatically reply “good” in response to the question, “How are you?”, and we dare not show the slightest sign of sadness.

Everything gets categorised as spiritual, and we completely dismiss psychological issues. Every negative thing gets labeled as demonic without any proper investigation, and therefore we attempt to solve it by spiritual means instead of using other effective methods. Am I saying that we shouldn’t turn to prayer? Of course not, however, we need to learn that prayer is often not the only or best solution.

Spiritual bypass is both a misunderstanding of our human nature and a giving-in to that fallen nature. While there is a clear place for prayer in one’s journey towards God, it is rare that psychological issues are solely solved via prayer. Instead, therapy which honors the person’s spiritual life along with helping them psychologically can bring about a level of flourishing not thought of by the person before entering into the therapeutic journey. It would be an error to believe that God works as a genie who grants our wishes and wants, but those who adhere to spiritual bypass believe just that about God.

– WILLIAM MCKENNA

We’ve created a culture of hiding our struggles in church in order to fit into a false narrative of Christianity. We’re being taught that things such as acknowledging negative emotions and experiences, therapy and medication are a betrayal of God and faith. In fact, not dealing with our psychological scars can negatively affect our faith and prayer life. We get taught that the solution to everything is to pray more. Fast more. You didn’t quote enough scriptures. You didn’t pray long enough and have given the devil a loophole. We go into overdrive in spiritual warfare and exhaust ourselves trying to solve problems spiritually, when there is a practical solution. Everything certainly isn’t spiritual, yet we’ve learned to use spiritual things as a coping mechanism to avoid our true feelings. We use phrases such as “God is good”, “have faith” and “I believe” as a means to bypass our pain. However, our pain doesn’t take away from God’s power and sovereignty, and our acknowledgement of it doesn’t mean we don’t believe in God.

My question is, why? Why should we hide our pain, flaws and struggles from mere people? How will we learn to be authentic with God when the place we go to learn about Him, teaches us to hide in shame? Your strength as a person or belief in God is not determined by how much pain you can take without breaking down.

I’ve experienced moments where I’ve felt shamed because I was honest about my true feelings, and I’ve experienced moments where people I’ve gone to church with approached me to share their pain in secret because they felt they couldn’t be honest with their leaders, out of fear of being judged. The culture we’ve created in church has caused God’s people to shy away from authenticity, and sometimes, we leave with heavier hearts than what we came with. We preach a counterfeit gospel that eliminates suffering and replaces it with the belief that Christians are not allowed to feel sadness…or any negative emotion, for that matter. In the long run, spiritual bypassing causes more harm than good, because it teaches us a false view of God and the Bible, and it prevents us from truly healing.

Relegating everything to the spiritual world is called “spiritual bypass.” Spiritual bypass is both a philosophical and psychological disposition. On the philosophical end, spiritual bypass is the belief that all problems only have a spiritual explanation and solution, and that other explanations are invalid. Psychologically, spiritual bypass is a person’s reluctance to admit that his distress might have a psychological root and solution. Instead distress (and remedy) is attributed to the spiritual world alone. For example, if a wife comes to therapy convinced that the only explanation and solution to her marital distress is for her husband to attend church more often, then she has fallen into spiritual bypass since she is ignoring the wider issues within her marriage.

WILLIAM MCKENNA; Spiritual Bypass: 3 Reasons Christians Ignore Psychological Problems

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