“Racism and spiritual bypassing are harmful in and of themselves, and their combination compounds the harm. Add gaslighting (LINK), and you’ve got an exponentially toxic brew. In this case, the manipulative elements and dizzying doublespeak were staggering. There were acknowledgements that racism had in fact occurred, followed by denials that it did, round and round. There were fauxpologies followed by defending, round and round. There were expressions of caring for those who had been hurt, immediately followed by not-so-subtle digs at them, round and round.”
~ Camille Williams,
When Spiritual Bypassing Meets Racism Meets Gaslighting (LINK)
In Part 1 of this series (LINK), we explored the phenomenon of spiritual bypassing and its effect on individuals and groups. I referenced the article by Robert Augustus Masters, PhD – Spiritual Bypassing: Avoidance in Holy Drag (LINK). I encourage you to read Part 1 and the Masters’ article before reading this post, which follows up on ideas already presented.
The focus of my book, CREATING THE BELOVED COMMUNITY (LINK), and of much of this blog, is to promote healthy spiritual leadership in New Thought (and other) spiritual communities, in part by writing about the difficult, often overlooked areas which deeply affect how spiritual leaders operate, and how followers perceive leadership. For a spiritual community to be in alignment with the creation of #TheBelovedCommunity, it must have both healthy leadership and healthy followership.
The second article referenced in Part 1 is a powerful one by Camille Williams, a blogger and essayist. In When Spiritual Bypassing Meets Racism Meets Gaslighting (LINK), she takes a dive into some of the most difficult places in spiritual community – racism and Gaslighting, as affected by spiritual bypassing. Her article focuses on an online exchange on spirituality, but one can easily see the same dynamics in a spiritual community of any denomination. Note that all of these negative issues arise from a lack of emotional and spiritual intelligence in one or more of the parties involved. Healing is needed and involves deep personal work, both individually and within the community.
“Willingness to push past our discomfort in these situations (spiritual bypassing & racism) is literally the rock bottom least of our responsibilities, considering the risks, abuses and indignities black and brown people and other marginalized groups live with on a daily basis. I think it helps to give some thought beforehand to different ways we might respond, so that when it happens we can think on our feet and not freeze in deer-in-the-headlights fashion.”
~ Camille Williams
When you read Ms. Williams article, note the many resources at the bottom. She also writes:
“If spirituality is an important part of your life (as it is for me), and/or if you place a high value on positive thinking, and especially if you’re a Law of Attraction enthusiast, please read about spiritual bypassing beyond the paragraph definition. . .. We need to understand the nature of this thing so we can actively avoid it, especially if the thing being bypassed, denied or oversimplified is the reality of systemic oppression and how it impacts people from marginalized groups. Side benefit: understanding this can help us deal with everything else in our own lives more skillfully, too”
~ Camille Williams
Those of us in New Thought can be particularly susceptible to spiritual bypassing for a few reasons.
- Our emphasis on positive thinking and how our thoughts create our experience of reality can lead us to fail to recognize unhealthy behaviors and attitudes. It’s easy to live in denial by saying things like “It’s ALL Good!”
- Our unconscious biases can easily overlook the experience of those outside our race, gender, or class. Privilege exists in the unconscious and often manifests in New Thought as a failure to take into consideration anything beyond one’s thoughts as cause to their experience. Instead of, or in addition to, the common question, “What about a baby born with a disease?” we might also ask, “What about someone born as an oppressed person, or into a subculture with no access to New Thought principles?” To fail to consider this is to diminish the experience of many people, triggering feelings of guilt and shame and perhaps “otherness.” It might help to explain why New Thought is less diverse than it could be.
- In New Thought curricula (as far as I have experienced) we do not teach opposing points of view, except perhaps to denigrate them. A prescient post by Harriet Hawkins speaks to this (LINK). Unlike, say, the Jesuits, we are not taught to be critical thinkers regarding our teaching(s) as they relate to other worldviews. This can lead us to become unquestioning and refuse to see the limits of some aspects of our philosophy.
- We want everyone to feel good all the time, so we often refuse to acknowledge issues and experiences which do not reflect that desire. We tend to have a high tolerance for dysfunction and a low tolerance for ambivalence and we tend to want to see all worldviews as equally valid, even when there is evidence to the contrary.
None of this is to say that all spiritual bypassing leads to serious dysfunction, although it is produced by dysfunction. But, serious dysfunction will rarely occur in an atmosphere of spiritual authenticity. The reasons above make many of us more open to spiritual bypassing to avoid what is unpleasant or difficult. It can also reinforce our unconscious biases, leading to behaviors which marginalize others – racism, sexism, or “otherness.” These are very often major factors when spiritual communities go into crisis or decline.
“All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us.”
~ Richard Rohr
“One way of measuring ego-strength and maturity of personality is to assess a person’s capacity to tolerate ambivalence. This capacity is closely related to the ability to feel empathy. It is all about tolerating otherness.”
~ Heidi M. Kolb
All of this comes together as a self-perpetuating system of unconscious behaviors, limiting our ability to really see ourselves and others, to feel empathy and express compassion, to be deeply present for others in our spiritual community and elsewhere.
SHADOW – PROJECTION – DENIAL – SPIRITUAL BYPASSING – NEED FOR CERTAINTY – EXCLUSION OF OTHERS – DENIAL – SHADOW – PROJECTION – DENIAL . . . THE CYCLE CONTINUES.
Until we interrupt it.
While this must begin within each person, it is also a systemic issue – our culture is weighted with limited thinking and spiritual bypassing. It is time to face this and begin the process of leaving this particular set of limitations behind us. We will never be perfect at this, but we will get better at it. We know that we have no fear of a greater Truth being revealed – we welcome the healing potential of spiritual disruption!
As always, your comments are welcomed below. Please feel free to share this post with others who may be interested. If you like, you can sign up to follow the blog above and receive an email whenever a new post is published.
Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard
NOTE: I referred to an article by Robert Augustus Masters, and to several quotes from that article in Part 1 of this series in this post. At the time, I was generally unfamiliar with his work, other than an article on spiritual bypassing. I have since learned that he has admitted to abuse of students and members of a group which he led. I will not be referring to him or to his work again. – Jim Lockard October 2018