The West’s bias toward a good/bad binary makes us vulnerable – and not in a good way

“People who are unwilling or unable to take an honest look at their own shadows might be equally poor at seeing other people’s shadow sides. This makes them vulnerable to manipulation and abuse.”

A Conversation with Liana Yip, Registered Clinical Counsellor

Yoga Outreach: Liana, how far is too far …spiritually?

Liana Yip: When I came back from studying yoga in India – intended to supplement my Master’s degree in clinical counselling – I felt a renewed purpose in my life, entirely devoted to the spiritual path, God, and the Universal.

But at the same time I felt increasingly disconnected to this reality. It was very subtle at first. I wasn’t able to relate to mundane conversations, or participate in my usual activities. I couldn’t understand why anyone would be interested in anything but spiritual practice – everything else was inconsequential.

YO: What is “Spiritual Bypassing” from a psychotherapy perspective?

LY: Everything in life has a light and a shadow side. Spiritual bypassing is when we over value the light, positive, good, and love, and ignore or reject anything viewed as negative.

Our shadow contains all those traits we don’t like about ourselves, unacceptable emotions, and parts of the world that are hard to look at. (On the flip side, the shadow also contains unlived potential.)

YO: What’s the trouble with walking on the bright side?

LY: The trouble is that maintaining a consistent, unchanging facade of positivity is exhausting. It denies our authentic selves, pushing us into a lopsided life of black-and-white thinking about which emotions and experiences are acceptable and which ones aren’t.

Sometimes, these repressed emotions grow in potency until they explode into our lives as debilitating depression, anxiety, perfectionism or uncontrollable anger.  

And since our shadow resides in the unconscious, we tend to project it onto others when we can’t acknowledge it in ourselves.

A greater risk is that people who are unwilling or unable to take an honest look at their own shadows might be equally poor at seeing other people’s shadow sides. This makes them vulnerable to manipulation and abuse.


YO: Why are Westerners particularly susceptible to Spiritual Bypassing?

LY: Our culture is obsessed with optimism, and progress. There’s even a meme – Positive Vibes Only! Looking on the bright side is, apparently, a shortcut to prosperity, the perfect life, the perfect relationship, etc.  

Despite its name, spiritual bypassing isn’t necessarily tied to religion or spirituality. If we live in this culture, we’ve likely categorized our emotions and experiences as good or bad at some point.

Carl Jung thought that the Western psyche was primed for it. The culture was founded on the Christian tradition of one good God versus evil. Choosing good over evil makes sense if those are the only choices.

In polytheistic cultures, in contrast, there is more room for everything – the good, the bad, and the ugly are present together in each Divinity. People in cultures based on the premise that even Deities have good and bad sides may have more ability to hold light and dark together in tandem.


YO: This fits in well with the theme of our Boundaries and Bridges conference about confronting negative aspects of yoga culture without condemning the whole practice.

LY: In depth psychology there is something called the transcendent function – being able to hold the tension of the opposites, until something greater appears. Holding the reality that yoga culture has a light and a shadow side could be what we need to create a new relationship with yoga culture.

Holding tension is a lot of work. Grief for old ideas and ways of being, and anger for betrayal and disillusionment take time.

When we can acknowledge the shadow of yoga culture while also holding how profound and healing the practice can be, we hold the shadow in our consciousness. Awareness diminishes the risk of taking on the yogic shadow unconsciously. We’re able to acknowledge the anger, anxiety, and intuition necessary to call a spade a spade and create healthy boundaries for ourselves.

By shining conscious awareness on both the light and shadow of a situation, we cultivate discernment rather than reactivity.

Liana YipLiana Yip is a Registered Clinical Counsellor in private practice with a masters degree in counselling psychology from Adler University. Her love of learning has led her to North America’s foremost institute for the study of depth psychology, Pacifica Graduate Institute, where she is currently completing doctoral studies in depth psychology, specializing in Jungian and archetypal studies. Liana has been immersed in the practice and study of both yoga and psychology for the past 20 years. Driven by the healing impact yoga had on her own life and with a desire to bridge the benefits of eastern and western psychology, In 2010 she travelled to India to study yoga. She is a Registered Yoga Teacher with the Yoga Alliance and has taught yoga at numerous locations throughout Vancouver.


You might also enjoy our conversations with other presenters at the Boundaries and Bridges conference, held May 2019 in Vancouver::

Julie Peters on survival self-care

Farah Nazarali on setting boundaries

Matthew Remski on preventing cult dynamics in yoga culture

Insiya Rasiwala-Finn on how mainstream self-care differs from ayurvedic self-care

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