Call Us Now: 01721 728118

The Problem of Spiritual Bypassing When Spirituality is Part of Recovery

In the 1980’s, John Welwood noticed something happening in himself as well as the spiritual communities he was surrounded by. In an interview, Welwood explains that he “noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” He explains that when doing spiritual work, many people try to skip the mud for the lotus, so to say that they try to get to spiritual awakening without walking through the emotional dirt necessary to get to spiritual awakening. The lots, of course, a symbol of spirituality in different disciplines, grows out of the mud. Rather than confront issues which need to be confronted, the confrontation being what necessitates spiritual growth, people opt for the more “spiritual solution” by acting “as if” without coming to any kind of resolve. For those in treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, this can be deadly.

Addiction and alcoholism are rarely standalone issues. Meaning, drug and alcohol addiction do not happen spontaneously without underlying contributing factors. There is a reason people turn to self-destructive behaviors and continue believing in the payoff those behaviors bring. Despite growing negative consequences, the benefit of abusing drugs and alcohol has to be greater. Of course, there are neurobiological mechanisms at play which include the hyperproduction of hormone chemicals like dopamine which prioritize pleasure over everything else. As a focus on pleasure increases, there is less of a willingness to look at negativity. From negative consequences to negative memories, the addicted mind no longer wishes to cope with any kind of stress or discomfort. This, in a way, is addict or alcoholic bypassing.

Once in sobriety, the tendency to overlook the problem in order to avoid negative feelings can continue. When developing a spiritual lifestyle and a spiritual program for living, there is a tendency to adhere closely to the spiritual principles like acceptance and forgiveness without feeling difficult feelings. It is important to work through the negative feelings which have been suppressed for so long. Drugs and alcohol act as numbing agents to emotional experiences, but do not get rid of emotional experiences, which is why they are there for addicts and alcoholics to reckon with after they get sober.

Real life demands to be met. Treatment for addiction and alcoholism includes getting real about life problems and learning to effectively cope with them, without turning to mind altering substances.


Castle Craig has been bringing thousands of patients to a lifestyle of recovery for over 25 years. Our residential treatment programmes are designed to restore patients to an optimum health of mind, body, and spirit. Our approach to treatment helps renew a sense of purpose while encouraging patients to make new meaning in their lives. For information, call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line: 0808 231 5861. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006

Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | July 26, 2017