I’m going to be really honest with you.

I wanted the rose-colored glasses experience. I wanted to float through life, unaffected and eternally optimistic. 

People like that just looked happy.

I tended to slant more toward realistic…perhaps slightly pessimistic. 

And after walking through life with depression, and anxiety, I just wanted to feel… happy. 

I thought there was a zen-like state of existence where I wouldn’t have to feel sad or angry or anxious and I could just live in a state of blissed-out peace.

And who doesn’t want that?

In my early twenties I got really into the power of our minds. I was reading self-improvement and motivational books that talked about the law of attraction, manifestation, and affirmations. As a bit of a control-junkie, I liked the idea that I could design my life and not be a victim of circumstance. That I could, in a way, think myself happy.

“What you think, you create!”

This became my mantra… a terrifying mantra for someone with an anxiety disorder, really. But I was convinced I could trick myself… If I only focused on happy thoughts, I could live a happy life.

Cue delusional theme music…

I was exceptionally good at overriding my body and ignoring my own feelings. Some might say I was a pro. So, continuing to ignore my anger, resentment, physical symptoms, or anything else I had deemed inconvenient was going to prove to be a cinch.

I remembered reading somewhere that if you wake up tired, instead of complaining how tired you are, and letting it control your day, you could simply tell yourself “I am refreshed!” and essentially trick your body into not feeling tired.

So I applied this. To everything. 

I used positive affirmations and mantras daily. I kept a gratitude journal. I looked for the lessons in my hardships and I sucked it up and pushed forward instead of feeling any of it or allowing myself time to process. It was much easier to avoid the difficult stuff anyway; the feelings, the conversations, the unresolved issues.

This is the definition of spiritual bypassing, by the way. I was dismissing and gaslighting myself into not feeling anything perceived as negative or difficult.

I was, essentially, using positive affirmations to further silence the alarms going off in my body.

And guess what? I wasn’t blissed out. Because all the stuff was still bubbling underneath, waiting to be witnessed.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the practices of gratitude and positive affirmations; when used correctly they can often be quite motivating and uplifting. It’s only when applied as a cover-up without doing the difficult inner work and addressing the stuff inside that it can become an issue.

What is Spiritual Bypassing?

The term was introduced in the 1980’s by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and Psychotherapist. He described spiritual bypassing as using aspects of spirituality in order to avoid facing difficult issues, either personally or systemically.

Some of the practices that fall under bypassing are so common and accepted, we don’t even notice we do them. Toxic positivity is a big one. Saying things like:

“Everything happens for a reason!”

“Just think positive!”

“A lot of people have it much worse”

“Be grateful!”

And while these are not things I found myself saying to others experiencing hardship, they were standards I was holding myself to. The refusal to allow myself to feel angry, or sad. The idea that those emotions were not welcome and would somehow hold me back from obtaining my rose colored glasses experience.

It seems innocent enough, why is it a problem?

Spiritual Bypassing can become a problem when we are using these things to avoid or dismiss real issues, our own or someone else’s feelings, or to not take responsibility for something. Especially over the long-run.

I didn’t even realize I was avoiding some bigger issues, until the pressure cooker started bubbling over.

In a way, I was protecting myself from things I wasn’t ready to address. Continuing to play the role of someone who didn’t stir the pot, or need anything, because that felt safest.

That calm, happy life I was chasing? I was convinced it would come in the form of not-feeling. 

Not feeling irritated or annoyed or angry. 

Not feeling the stress that seemed rampant in our world. 

Simply cruising through life.

And maybe, partly as a highly sensitive empath, collecting all the feelings of everyone and everything around me, it wasn’t such a crazy idea to want to feel less of it all. 

Obviously, this was impossible, and that only created further conflict within.

We are designed to feel. Suppressing emotions and feelings and experiences only leads to a build up of those feelings, festering under the surface. A relaxing bandaid on top to hold it all in was certainly not sustainable. 

The real “trick” was going to be in the acknowledgement that I was a human who was allowed to feel the spectrum of emotions: happy, sad, angry. And feeling those feelings didn’t make me less-than. I wasn’t missing out on some secret sauce that others knew to remain happy all the time. 

Life is not just the happy. It’s the peaks and valleys, and the valleys can be really, really hard. When we can honor those difficulties and honor our experience we are showing ourselves love and compassion.

Even if we handled them by pretending they weren’t there. Because how lovely of ourselves to want to protect us like that? And when we are ready, knowing it’s ok to grow and learn, because we are human.

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