First coined by clinical psychologist John Welwood in the early 1980s, spiritual bypassing describes the act of using explanations of enlightenment or catchall sentiments to avoid complex psychological issues. “It’s a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks,” Welwood explains in his 2000 book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening. “Essentially it’s avoiding or repressing one’s basic needs or feelings that may be uncomfortable and giving meaning through spirituality,” adds therapist and mental health advocate Liz Beecroft.
In this context it makes sense that feel-good affirmations have proliferated across the public forum that is social media since the beginning of the pandemic. Everything happens for a reason seemed to be the comfort phrase of choice in the spring as my peers were furloughed from jobs or forced to move back home with their parents. Then over the summer, when a dear friend from Long Island announced on Instagram that her mother had died due to the virus after a two-month-long battle on a ventilator and an induced medical coma, I noticed an influx of other similar one-liners in the comments—things like “sending love and light” and “she’s in a better place.” These are phrases I too have said to console friends and community during these trying times. And as loss became the heightened theme of my own existence in the fall—when my grandfather passed away in China after battling the fast spread of a cancerous tumor, just a week before my partner’s father passed from lymphoma in the Bronx—I found temporary relief in these sentiments while prioritizing a mindset that looked to the future. Then I realized I was spiritually bypassing the raw pain of these cumulative experiences—a mountain of emotions that was easier to ignore than to climb with everything else going on this year.
And most importantly, always drink responsibly.This year we have collectively experienced massive trauma on a scale some scholars have likened to the societal impact of World War II and the Great Depression—events that have lived exclusively in the pages of history textbooks for my generation. As our nation passes 333,000 COVID-19 deaths—which is comparative to experiencing the devastation of 9/11 every day for 100 consecutive days—we mourn our physical losses as well as the losses of our small businesses, of physical touch, of financial and emotional security, and of so much of the culture we once knew.
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