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How to Avoid Spiritual Bypassing During Grief-Filled Holidays

Holidays oftentimes mean you’re going to have many gatherings, whether they’re with your family or friends — and if you’re someone who’s trying to manage your grief, the holiday season can sound like a nightmare. 

Many Muslims in our community tend to suppress their grief during social gatherings, and start engaging in spiritual bypassing so that they would feel better for some time until they get by themselves once again.

What Is Spiritual Bypassing?

Spiritual bypassing was coined in the mid-1980s by the late Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, John Welwood, to describe humans’ tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices so that they won’t face their unresolved issues and wounds — whether they’re emotional, psychological, and/or interpersonal.

Most Common Signs of Spiritual Bypassing

Spiritual bypassing can manifest in multiple forms, as it varies from one person to another. That being said, here are some telltale signs that you’re engaging in spiritual bypassing:

  • Being overly spiritual and dismissing reality
  • Focusing on the positive and ignoring all the negative — good vibes only
  • Being overly detached from your experiences, surroundings, and everyone else
  • Obsessing over spirituality during times of crisis, such as choosing to meditate so that you’ll avoid feeling your feelings
  • Avoiding anger at all costs
  • Avoiding any situations that will distract you from being spiritual
  • Calling others “toxic” so that you won’t have to deal with challenges in your relationships
  • Minimizing other people’s negative experiences 

Grief within the Muslim Community

When losing someone special or facing a difficult calamity, many Muslims fall into practicing spiritual bypassing when they use Islamic spiritual practices, such as prayer, so that they won’t face their reality. 

Spiritual bypassing is also evident in situations like when Muslims tell themselves and/or each other that they shouldn’t grieve and that they should just focus on being grateful for what they still have. 

And this is a common misconception because grief and gratitude co-exist. You can grieve for what you’ve lost because you value it so much, and still be grateful for what you have. 

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ taught us that grief is normal, and he himself showed us how gratefulness and grief do co-exist. 

A perfect example of this teaching is when prophet Muhammad ﷺ cried over the death of his son, Ibrahim, saying to his companions, “tears are mercy.” Then he demonstrated how he was still grateful to Allah while acknowledging his grief when he said: “The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O, Ibrahim! Indeed, we are grieved by your separation.”

Likewise, spiritual bypassing can manifest in the form of suppressing your grief because you want to feel like you’re one of those with extreme patience.

Again, if we observe the life of prophet Muhammad ﷺ, he has lost six children during his lifetime. He lost many of his companions and lost his wife Khadijah (ra) as well as his uncle Abu Talib in one year. 

But what the prophet ﷺ did was that he let himself feel his grief and sorrow while still accepting that this was decreed by Allah (SWT).

How to Overcome Spiritual Bypassing in Times of Grief

Although it’s hard, overcoming spiritual bypassing is simple. Since the act of spiritual bypassing, in and of itself, is all about avoiding our emotions, then the only way to prevent it is to allow ourselves to feel what we should be feeling. 

So, if you’ve been spiritually bypassing, you’d notice that you’re being overly spiritual so that you could escape from facing your emotions. This can harmful because nobody can run from their emotions forever. So the best solution is to work on actually recovering from your loss.

In fact, the prophet ﷺ said, “Allah does not punish for the shedding of tears or the grief of the heart, but punishes or bestows mercy for the utterances of this (and he pointed to his tongue).”

So in essence, you need to allow yourself to feel your emotions because these emotions are normal, and at the same time, you need to pay attention to your tongue so that you don’t utter anything that would displease Allah (SWT).

How to Manage Grief during the Holidays’ Social Gatherings

Holidays can be an overwhelming experience if you’re still trying to cope with grief. So here are some tips you might want to consider for this holiday season:

  • Engage in activities that soothe you and help you channel your love to what you’ve lost
  • Say “no” to gatherings if you don’t want to join — remember, “no” is a complete sentence
  • Take it easy on yourself and surround yourself with those who respect and understand your current situation
  • Pray Allah to make your hardship easy on you
  • Talk to someone you trust in your gathering if you feel overwhelmed

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