Spiritual Bypass: Conflict Avoidance in the Guise of Easy Going

Jun 22, 2020

In this excerpt from Trauma-Informed Dharma, Dr. Miles Neale talks about one of the many possible ways we can use spiritual beliefs and practices to avoid dealing with painful feelings, unresolved trauma, and developmental needs. What follows below is a lightly edited transcript of the video.

Common examples of spiritual bypassing. Here's one for you: Conflict avoidance in the guise of easy-going. Who doesn't like an easygoing person? Isn't the most classic, prototypical spiritual person very easygoing?

Everything is okay... Everything is chill...There's no conflict...That person is so easy... That person's so nice...

I'm not saying it's not possible. Maybe it's my idealized projection on Geshe Tenzin Zopa but I really do think he's an honestly nice guy. I think it's possible to evolve to a place to be genuinely easygoing. But for your own inventory and your own self-introspection, if you know yourself to be very easygoing, then you can shift the lens a little bit on to yourself and look underneath it and start to wonder or start to sense, is there any resentment under there? Is there any irritation under there? Is there any anger under there? Is there any fear under there? Is there any shame under there?

It may be very possible that in our developmental legacies, in our childhood systems, that being easygoing was a very, very, useful adaptation. This is where I think a healthy sense of acceptance and forgiveness comes in. This is why l don't think it's useful to judge ourselves about our different kinds of spiritual bypass because at one time or another they served a survival purpose. How could you blame somebody and judge them, namely you, when mostly what we're dealing with is an accommodation at a time where it was really about survival?

Being a nice person in a house where there's chaos meant that you could survive. Being easygoing when when you have a borderline mother or a rageful father is a very intelligent survival strategy because if you weren't easy going it might mean your head or it might mean abandonment and if you are dependent and you can't resource for yourself that's essentially death.

All across the board as we go through this, we have to keep this sense of being really gentle and understanding. By putting all of these adaptations into context they become much more understandable. If we see them in isolation we wonder what's really going on, but if we put them in context they are perfectly honest adaptations. The best that you could do when you're seven.

The problem is that we grow up and the adaptations become second nature and we import them into later developmental stages of our life and then they become wired in to the Wheel of Becoming. They just become who part of who we are. Easy going is about an absence of boundaries and the inability to tolerate your own frustration and anger and the inability to communicate it because of the perceived danger that it implies.

What looks like someone being very, very, easy going, underneath the surface in the quietude of their own private mind is the build up of these toxic emotions, resentments and angers and frustrations and then a lot of layers of shame on top of it, like what's wrong with me? Why can't I do it? Why can't I speak up for myself? Why do I let my boss manhandle me when all I really want to do is note my vacation dates, which I own?

I'm going to list some of these things. They were also part of the story that I set up with the master yoga teacher. These are some of mine.

Makes Excuses for Other People's Behavior.

'Oh, don't worry about it... I know you were really tired...It's all good...' You don't acknowledge that other people are being negligible or even hurtful. You don't value your own experience of being hurt or disappointed. That was one thing I couldn't do. I couldn't tell this person I'm really disappointed and frustrated with you.

That's the conflict avoidant in the guise of being easygoing. I'm just giving you a little flavor. I'm giving you a flavor for what the presentation is, what the cost is, what the origin might be, the layers of shame that may keep it frozen in time and tact and how you can diminish the shame and actually use it as an investigation to see historically how it made sense.

That's going to be important so that you can start to see that part of my history is now over. I'm now safe to say 'this hurts'. I'm now safe to say 'this is disappointing'. I'm now safe to say 'I'm actually really frustrated about this.'


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