In the quest for spiritual growth, Catholics often encounter a phenomenon known as "spiritual bypassing." This intricate process involves the misappropriation of spiritual ideas, practices, or actions to shield oneself from emotional or psychological distress, evade acknowledgment of deficits in human formation, or deny basic human needs in the natural realm. For example, a college student who suffers from social anxiety pursues religious life not as a vocational calling, but as a means to avoid the discomfort of dating and social situations.
Spiritualizing the natural inappropriately elevates human issues to a spiritual plane, blurring the boundaries between the two. The three common components of spiritual bypassing are the misuse of spiritual concepts, practices, or actions; the evasion of emotional or psychological distress; and the use of self-protective defense mechanisms.
Often the origins of spiritual bypassing stem from unmet attachment needs such as feeling safe, seen, comforted, cherished, and valued by others as well as unmet integrity needs like the desire to exist, matter, have agency, be good, and find purpose in life. Understanding and addressing these foundational needs can serve as the key to uprooting the problems at their source, rather than merely trimming the leaves of symptomatic behavior. By shedding light on spiritual bypassing and its underlying causes, individuals can embark on a more authentic and fulfilling journey toward truly loving God, neighbor, and oneself.
Learn more about the causes and effects of spiritual bypassing and how to address underlying human needs at Souls and Hearts. Souls and Hearts has hundreds of podcast episodes and articles, bringing the best of human formation and psychological resources grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person. Check out our resources page for more information.