Many spiritual principles provide us with ways to navigate life in a compassionate and progressive way. There are times however when these spiritual laws interfere with healing, and can actually be harmful. This is called spiritual bypass.
Spiritual bypass is the use of spiritual ideals and practices to sidestep emotional pain or painful truths. We can experience temporary relief from wounds, avoid conflict, and generally feel better for the time being by applying spiritual practice to our inner pain.
However, spiritual bypass is especially problematic for those who are caught in the grip of narcissistic abuse, because spiritual principles can be used by the narcissist to gaslight, manipulate, and get away with shirking personal responsibility for their behaviour.
The Spiritual Narcissist
The spiritual narcissist can be for example a charismatic leader, a spiritual teacher, or a even a healer. You may simply be in a relationship with someone who claims to be spiritual as you are, and uses spirituality to manipulate and control you.
They can be clairvoyant and have a deep understanding of spiritual principles and human psychology. This makes the spiritual narcissist particularity adept at manipulating spiritual people by feigning helpfulness, hiding their emotional abuse with spiritual bypass, and making you feel the like the problem.
This is a dangerous combination because the aim of the game for a narcissist is status, personal gratification, and control over others. All this in order to compensate for their emotional wounding, with which they have no awareness of any longer.
Signs of Narcissistic Behaviour
- Total absence of personal responsibility for their behaviour
- Failure to recognise (sometimes outright reject) your needs, emotions, and thoughts as valid
- Shirking personal responsibility by instilling doubt into you, or attacking in outbursts when feeling challenged, threatened, or questioned.
- You are made to feel like the problem
- No interpersonal issues are resolved, you feel like you are walking on eggshells
Deep shame and a sense of unworthiness are buried inside the narcissist. Although they have lost touch with these wounds, they fuel the narcissist’s behaviour. It’s the repression of this pain that enables the narcissist to do as they do.
(Don’t try to put the narcissistic in touch with their wounds – this will only make you light up as a rescuer and the narcissist will use that to manipulate you…)
How the Narcissist Uses Spiritual Bypass Against You
“The Golden Rule” is often employed by spiritual narcissists to get what they want. The golden rule can be used to twist your compassion against you, to the benefit of the narcissist. You might feel guilty for not complying with their request, and reason that yes, indeed – you would like it as well if someone washed your car, went out with you to the restaurant when you wanted to stay home, or paid the light bill outside of your means. You will know when you are being manipulated by your compassion if you are contributing in a way that is at the expense of your own well being.
Spiritual bypass can sometimes include the repression or denial of negative emotions. For example, we know that like attracts like – and may as a result avoid facing a painful truth in the interest of remaining positive. This is not spiritual however, because the pain still exists internally and we all deserve healing.
If you are feeling anger, resentment, bitterness for example in relationship with a narcissistic, you may be experiencing signs that your boundaries have been violated. By spiritually bypassing your negative emotions, you may be shutting off the internal signals that you are unhappy with your relationship with the narcissist, and for good reason! (Your boundaries, needs, and preferences are not being honoured). This make you vulnerable to gaslighting.
Gaslighting is when the truth is denied, and replaced with a lie. Making you question your reality, and your ability to discern reality are ways that the narcissist can maintain control and hide their unsavoury deeds.
A form of gaslighting can come by way of abusing the mirror principle. The mirror principle states that whatever qualities are within you, will be projected outwardly so that you can see these qualities in other people (mirrored back to you). For example if you find that you are unhappy about how judgemental your friends are, you may find that you are quite judgemental in some area of your life which you were previously unaware of. Narcissists can use the mirror principle to deny their own bad behaviour, by shifting blame to you.
Blind faith in charismatic leaders is another sign of spiritual bypass. Ultimately this is a confusion about personal responsibility. Just as you are responsible for the way that you think, feel, and act (and all the rewards and consequences of your choices) – so is the narcissistic, who can be quite charismatic. Double standards are a sign that your relationship is unbalanced and unfair – and you can bet that this imbalance is in the narcissist’s favour.
Self-responsibility (the attitude that you are the presiding power of your own life, and no other life) is a requirement of balanced spiritual practice. Don’t give your power away. Take your choices into your own hands, and never give your power away no matter how much charisma is thrown your way. This is all simply glamour, and not real substance.
Another way that narcissists can use spiritual bypass to control you is via the principle of surrender. In spiritual practice we learn to trust the higher forces and cycles, and to remain humble in this view. This can lead to a belief that all circumstances are for our benefit, and implies that painful situations are imbued with spiritual lessons. This is true on a higher level, however when facing mistreatment, where your spiritual rights and sovereignty as an individual being are not being honoured – the lesson is about honouring your personal boundaries rather than surrendering to toxic circumstances.
Spending time alone is another spiritual practice. Time without distraction to reflect internally, understand our own natures, and dive into our individual consciousness can accelerate spiritual growth. However, when intentional time alone becomes social isolation, it can become problematic if you have a narcissist in your close circle. Social isolation is a tactic of power and control over someone. If you are socially isolated, there is noone to compare notes with, validate your concerns, or simply feel supported by.
We are all human and all feel a range of emotions, goodies and badies. It can be harmful to push the energy of negative emotions down into our bodies and out of our awareness, because they will get stuck inside and cause more harm than good. If something doesn’t feel right…it needs your presence.
Wanting to be good can mean that you sacrifice your real needs and deny your legitimate concerns if you fear that it will make you a “bad person” to acknowledge them. This is heaven for a narcissist who will pick up on the fact that you won’t address issues and encourage compulsive goodness to your detriment.
The only way to heal wounds is to take personal responsibility for them, and until a narcissistic (if they are able to access their wounds) do the same, your energy and efforts are simply narcissistic supply.
We all want to get a long. Social harmony is a beautiful thing, which contributes to progressive and loving community. If you are dealing with a narcissist, please note that their goal is not to get along. Their goal is to always have the upper hand, so trying to find common ground will not work. Clear, solid boundaries are key (especially if you are an empath dealing with a narcissist!) and learn here about what makes you vulnerable to having poor boundaries and healing them.
Rachel Anenberg, BA (Psyc), BSW, MSW (Master of Social Work) is a psychotherapist and spiritual coach providing integrative therapy. Her expertise as a psychotherapist come from a combined background and education in psychology, social work, and soul sciences.
Psychotherapy with Rachel can help you to heal depression, treat anxiety, recover from child abuse, adult abuse & narcissistic abuse. Genuine happiness is often out of reach because of unhealed past experiences. Psychotherapy can help you to get in control and feel naturally happy.