Religion and spirituality lay claim to a number of benefits, and these are real, measurable, and clear benefits for many people in many situations. Spiritual activities are undertaken with some expectation of personal benefit. However, these activities may in some cases be used as a way to avoid addressing an issue: this is called spiritual bypassing.

The term was introduced in the 1980s by John Welwood, an American clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, to refer to instances where spiritual beliefs or activities are used to avoid addressing real problems, to disconnect from one's emotions, or to just plain check-out from real life.

Skeptical readers may need a moment to separate 'honestly trying something that isn't scientific' and 'using an activity to avoid thinking about a problem'; those are two very different things. It is also worth noting that even if you are skeptical about any given spiritual practice, many practices are generally useful tools to have (e.g. meditation, fasting), and others are useful to specific people, even if they are not useful to you.

Moreover, spiritual bypass is a potentially biased term; while it is absolutely true that many people use alternate metaphysics as an avoidance strategy, other people use politics, scientific detachment, alcohol, philosophy, or personal drama to achieve the same ends. Humans are very good at telling themselves "it's not my fault, I'm doing the right thing very hard, so it's not my fault!" Spirituality is only one of many possible paths to decreased self-awareness.

Having said all that, spiritual bypassing is worth highlighting above other sorts because we have granted religious and spirituality a free pass in many cases. We have been trained not to judge people's beliefs and actions in the realm, and while this is good from the standpoint of maintaining peace in social situations, it should not cause us to be blind to what may be going on it other people's minds.

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