A Quieter Violence: Spiritual Bypassing | Guest column

A Quieter Violence: Spiritual Bypassing | Guest column

Submitted by Erica Karnes

Struggling with feelings of sadness and despair lately? Staring down an insurmountable bout of insomnia due to heart palpitations, debilitating anxiety and a very real sense that the world as you know it might not have your hopes, dreams, and best interests in mind?

Consider this the daily reality of the victims who—in voicing their trauma and rallying against systemic sexual violence—have shaken our fragile, privileged existence.

Triggered by the above sentiment? Ready to take to social media for a hashtag-riddled monologue spouting hurt feelings and general unease?

Before we hammer Facebook with more “Lopez is a loving place” philosophies, or suggest that we all just “Hurry up and heal,” let’s consider instead the quieter, often equally damaging effects of spiritual bypassing.

Spiritual bypassing is the use of glass-half-full idealisms to avoid dealing with our own painful feelings and unresolved wounds. It’s an extremely subtle gaslighting technique for dismissing someone’s experience in the name of “light, love, and peace.”

It’s the collective ask that victims be a bit calmer, politer, nicer—instead of demanding accountability from those abusing their power. It’s the inspirational-quote-as-band-aid we repeatedly try to slap on complicated, unjust, and extremely painful realities. The painful truth is that victims within our community, who have faced repeated sexual violence while fearing repercussions, are simultaneously confronting the feelings and fragility of everyone else not involved.

An example of spiritual bypassing:

I hear an individual describing their lived experience—that their child is being physically or psychologically harmed while at school, or that their higher-up is commenting on their breasts. Out of my own discomfort, I attempt to “tone police” them into a more “loving” or “peaceful” means of expressing themselves.

Another reality—if we’re any of the following: white, male, Christian, heterosexual, cis-gendered, monogamous, able-bodied, neurotypical, a native English speaker, financially stable and housing-secure, we belong to a group or groups that define our dominant culture. The privilege that we reap as a result of that belonging is automatic—we don’t need to earn it or activate it. Consider it an invisible suitcase packed with the provisions, tools, resources, and opportunities needed to sail through society easier than others.

The next time we’re watching the clock at 3 a.m., craving “collective healing,” let’s first start with checking our privilege. Let’s scrutinize the systems and biases that work to our advantage, and examine our own discomfort from a larger framework—one in which women are silenced, children are sidelined and civil rights justice is bypassed for a watered-down “Can’t we all just get along” mentality. Additionally, let’s recognize that opting out of participating is also a form of privilege—one not afforded to the victims we keep prodding to “Speak a little softer.”

Rather than repeatedly voicing our own discomfort, let’s acknowledge the quiet violence behind our pleading chorus of “calm downs,” and recognize that the victims—women and children and their families—are still struggling to be heard, seen and protected by our own community.