When victims of betrayal and abuse are told things like, “You decide whether or not you are a victim” or “What’s done is done,” they are experiencing New Age Bypass. New Age Bypass, a form of victim-blaming, is harmful to betrayed and abused women.
Tracy, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community, joins Anne on the free BTR podcast, empowering victims of abuse and betrayal to identify and reject New Age Bypass techniques.
Read the full transcript below and listen to the BTR podcast for more.
What Is New Age Bypass?
We’re talking about the common self-help situation where faulty and harmful beliefs include: “If you just think about it differently, then it will change the situation,” “You don’t have to set boundaries, you don’t have to do anything different, you just need to think about it differently, then your reality will shift.”Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
When victims of betrayal and abuse are counseled to “bypass” the realities of trauma and healing, and instead achieve a quick and arbitrary end-goal of “putting the past behind” them, they are experiencing New Age Bypass.
What Does New Age Bypass Look Like?
If you’ve been told the following phrases, you are likely a victim of New Age Bypass.
- “We create our own reality.”
- “Nobody can hurt you without your consent.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “I wonder why you created this experience.”
- “It’s just karma.”
- “There are no accidents.”
- “There are no victims.”
- “There are no mistakes.”
- “Don’t look back.”
- “What’s done is done.”
- “Don’t be a victim.”
- “Your feelings are an illusion.”
- “Be strong.”
Why Is New Age Bypass Harmful to Victims of Betrayal and Abuse?
One of the reasons that New Age Bypass is so harmful is because it is a covert form of victim-blaming. Each of the above phrases carries with it the implication that victims are choosing to be victimized, hurt, and traumatized. By encouraging victims to “move on” and “be strong,” New Age Bypassers are invalidating the severity of the victim’s trauma.
Victim-blaming is very dangerous for trauma healing because it will actually keep victims stuck. It will actually make it more difficult for them to heal and find safety.Tracy, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community
When victims are blamed and shamed for how another person treated them, they are re-traumatized.
Victims deserve the safe space to process trauma, grieve, and share their experiences – all while being validated by supportive people. New Age Bypass often seeks to shame victims into avoiding the difficult work of recovery by shoving reality under the rug.
How Can I Protect Myself From New Age Bypass?
New Age Bypass is difficult to identify because it is cloaked in “I’m just trying to help you.” Whether it’s in a self-help book, 12-Step group meeting, therapy session, or conversation with a friend or family member, victims of betrayal and abuse can learn to identify and reject New Age Bypass.
Here are some of the ways that victims can protect themselves from New Age Bypass:
- Set and maintain a personal boundary that helps you commit to only sharing your story with safe people.
- When you feel an internal sensor go off that something isn’t right in a conversation or session, set a boundary that you will remove yourself and process the conversation with a safe person.
- Practice truthful affirmations about trauma that you can say out loud when you are confronted with spiritual bypass, such as “I feel hurt because I was hurt.” “I cannot cause, cure or control another person’s behavior.” “Reality is reality. I cannot change what happened to me but I will keep seeking truth and safety.”
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Abuse
At BTR, we understand the devastation and confusion that accompanies New Age Bypass. The re-traumatization that women feel when they are covertly blamed and shamed for being a victim is real and it is painful.
Betrayed and abused women deserve a safe place to process trauma, share their stories, express difficult emotions, and ask important questions. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone and offers victims the validation, support, and compassion that they deserve as they embark on their journey to healing.
Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
We have Tracy on today’s podcast. She’s a member of our community and an advocate. We’re going to be talking about New Age Bypass.
Before we get to that, I really appreciate those of you who have rated the podcast on Apple Podcast or your other podcasting apps.
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Learning About New Age Bypass
Tracy has been on the podcast before, talking about Spiritual Bypass, we’ll have some links to her past episodes here, but today we’re going to talk about New Age Bypass, which is bypass from the modern self-help movement.
I love yoga. Yoga is amazing, and I have the most amazing compassionate wonderful yoga instructors. I also work with an amazing coach. There are amazing compassionate people out there, who are very trauma-informed and they are very helpful.
Then, there is this contingent of “you can create your own reality, despite the current painful circumstances that you are living in,” implying that all you have to do is think differently and your external circumstances will change. We are going to talk about why that can be difficult for victims.
Also, the sound on this episode was kind of weird. I don’t know why, it just turned out weird, so thank you for your patience and understanding.
Anne: Welcome back, Tracy.
Tracy: Thank you.
What Is Spiritual Bypass?
Anne: Let’s start with New Age bypass. When you say bypass—we did a couple of episodes before about spiritual bypass. Can you just recap that? We’ll also have links to your past episodes, so can you just do a quick recap of what spiritual bypass is, for our listeners?
Tracy: Yeah, so it’s the use of spiritual beliefs or practices to shortcut, or bypass, deep healing. While it can be helpful, in some cases or circumstances, like in the short-term, when used too widely all of the time it can actually stunt our growth, progress, and healing.
Anne: An example of spiritual bypass is that you kneel down and say a prayer and you feel like, “Okay, I can move forward and forgive,” if you found out that your husband has had an affair, for example.
Tracy: “I can just pray these feelings away,” and move on.
Anne: And you feel like, “Okay, that was the past and now I can move forward,” but there is no actual healing that has taken place. Also, there is no change in behavior, in his case, so you’re still not safe.
Understanding New Age Bypass
Okay, let’s talk about New Age bypass. We’re talking about the common self-help situation where, if you just think about it differently, then it will change the situation. You don’t have to set boundaries, you don’t have to do anything different, you just need to think about it differently, then your reality will shift.
Let’s talk about why that can be dangerous for victims of abuse.
Tracy: Today, we’re going to be talking about where the New Age teachings can go wrong, especially in healing from trauma or if you’re in a dangerous situation. Like most things, it’s not all bad and it’s not all good. The problem is when these teachings are overapplied or misapplied. I’m going to give you some examples: “It happened for a reason.” “Nobody can hurt you without your consent.”
New Age Bypass Harms Victims of Betrayal and Emotional Abuse
Anne: Let’s talk about how this modern self-help, like, “You can create your own reality” can sometimes hurt victims. Can you give us a few examples of this type of thing that can be harmful to victims?
Tracy: Yes. Well, there is a lot of victim-blaming that can go on in this kind of teaching. What you just said, the “we create our own reality,” is a form of victim-blaming. There is the teaching that everything that we feel, or experience originates with our own thoughts so that we are creating our feelings with our thoughts. That nothing is happening to us from the outside. That can be very victim-blaming.
New Age Bypass and Victim-Blaming
Victim-blaming is very dangerous for trauma healing because that will actually keep victims stuck. It will actually make it more difficult for them to heal and to find safety.
Anne: List off some of those examples. You’ve got “everything happens for a reason.”
Tracy: Yes, so these are some common things you might hear: it happened for a reason, nobody can hurt you without your consent, I wonder why you created this experience, it’s just your karma, there are no accidents, there are no victims, there are no mistakes, don’t look back, what’s done is done, don’t be a victim, you’re feelings are an illusion, be strong.
Anne: In fact, I have one that’s taped to my computer right now and it says, “There is no blame.” Would that be an example?
Victims Can’t Change Reality
Tracy: Yep, that definitely falls into that. It’s not that the statement is false. That statement is true in some circumstances, and that’s where it goes wrong is these things are implied as absolutes. They are taught as absolutes and that can be very dangerous.
Anne: I see the biggest danger in that is that someone would think, “Well, if I can just think different thoughts, then my reality will change,” without actually taking action to keep themselves safe. Have you seen that in your experience?
Tracy: Yes, I see that. I do see that. Let’s hit on this one: we create our own reality. Okay, so we’re going to de-muck that.
Julia Ingram, she actually has a great blog post on victim-blaming. She goes through and lists things that victims will often hear. “We create our own reality, so you shouldn’t do that.” “You should not be writing or thinking about something so negative or else you will draw negative things into your life.” “You should not maintain victim consciousness and you should not stay dwelling in the past.”
Victims of Betrayal and Abuse Cannot Alter What Happened to Them
It’s The Art of Healing Trauma, and there are several parts. This is Part Five: New Age palliatives are harmful for trauma survivors, by Heidi Hansen. Heidi says “It’s magical thinking to think that we create our own reality. We can focus on certain goals within what is being created around us and link with certain people. We can direct the focus of our minds, but we still must handle all the real limitations and obstacles in these human systems as we go forward.”
The faulty thinking there is that, somehow, if our belief is strong enough, if our energy is high enough (like our vibration is high enough), then we will only attract good things and we can somehow avoid attracting negative things that will bring us down. That’s magical thinking, because we exist within these human systems and these natural systems. We don’t have control over everything within those systems.
There are other people and forces acting all around us. It’s a very human tendency to want to think that we have control over more than we do, because it helps us to feel safe and secure and powerful but, ultimately, there are just all kinds of things that we can’t control.
Victims Are Not To Blame For Abusers’ Choices
We can have the most positive thoughts and be kind and take all kinds of precautions for our safety and still be deceived or still be victimized in another way. It’s magical thinking to think that we, by ourselves, can somehow control what’s going on around us and what can affect us.
Anne: Through our thoughts. Like we’re Jedi Masters, or something, “You will not look at porn anymore.” “Oh, I will not look at porn anymore.” “You will not hurt me anymore,” or thinking, “This isn’t hurting me,” when it is hurting you.
Tracy: She makes a really good point here: “Trauma and trauma symptoms are not the result of negative thoughts. People think it happens like this: you have a negative thought, it leads to negative feelings or perceptions, which leads to bad things happening, but there is actually no proof that this is the case.
“It’s not logical, and in fact, it can be dangerous to avoid negative thoughts because you erroneously believe that they will cause something negative to happen. Negative thinking could actually prevent future trauma, in terms of thinking negative thoughts draw negative things to oneself, the exact reverse is true.”
Recognizing Reality Helps Victims of Betrayal and Abuse
She says, “If I had been more skeptical and thought about negative potential consequences, I may not have PTSD today.”
If we actually learn from our experience, actually feel the pain of what we have experienced, that can help us to set boundaries. It can help us to do things that are within our power to help us stay safe. Recognizing that everything is not in our power, but there are some things that we can do to minimize risk and keep ourselves safe.
Anne: This would be like, “If you feel anger, that’s a negative emotion, so you’re going to draw more anger to you.” An idea like that, rather than realizing anger is a human emotion. It’s a gift to us that can help us get to safety. It can help us take action. It’s an emotion that can keep us safe. If we try and push it away over and over again, we may get stuck in an unsafe situation perhaps.
Tracy: Absolutely. That’s at the core. Recognizing that we’re human, recognizing that we do have great power within our humanity and within ourselves. There is so much light within us, and if we tap into that there is so much empowerment there, and that’s great, but we also have limitations in our humanity.
New Age Bypass Can Encourage Dissociation
With spiritual bypass, with this New Age bypass especially, there is this real emphasis on “We can transcend it. We can transcend the human experience,” basically, but that’s not the point. We’re not meant to transcend the human experience.
Anne: When you say “transcend,” what do you mean? Like we don’t have to experience it, we can be above it?
Tracy: Basically, float above it. Basically, get so good at disassociation is what it is, learning to disassociate and fooling ourselves into believing that’s transcendence, that we’re beyond pain.
Anne: We’re going to take a little break here to talk about Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group, which is our live online support group. We have multiple sessions a day in every single time zone.
Join the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group Today
Our coaches are amazing and understand abuse. When you talk to them, you don’t have to explain stuff, you don’t have to try and justify what happened. They get it immediately and they can really help you move forward and get to safety and make some forward progress to establish peace in your life. Visit btr.org to see our group session schedule, and we’d love to see you in a session today.
It reminds me of a lunch that I went to. This lady was a gratitude coach and she wanted to partner with BTR—we were looking to see if we could somehow work together. At this lunch, she said, “Gratitude is the heart of everything, and I have learned that, if you can be super grateful, then any experience that you go through is beneficial to you, useful to you.”
I was like, “That’s not going to be helpful for women, because if they’re stuck in this abusive situation and all they’re trying to do is just be grateful for their situation and what it’s teaching them, rather than actually getting to safety, that’s not going to help them at all.”
I told her this would never be a good fit for my audience, although it’s good when you’re in trauma to see the things that are actually worth being grateful for. You know, you might want to say, “Oh, I’m grateful that I have food today. I’m grateful that I don’t have to sleep on the street. I’m grateful that I have a blanket that I enjoy,” or something. You don’t have to say, “I’m so grateful to be in this abusive situation.”
Gratitude Is Not the Cure-All For Abuse
Tracy: No. No, you don’t. In fact, there is power in recognizing that you’re not grateful to be in that situation. There is truth in what she is teaching, but trying to apply that broad brush, yeah that’s not going to help women who are stuck in an abusive situation or people who have just been victimized.
This gratitude coach that you’re talking about. This is a really common thing. It’s this toxic positivity, which is the excessive or ineffective overgeneralization of a happy and optimistic state all the time. Denial, minimization, and invalidation of genuine emotional human experience.
That would manifest as hiding what we really feel behind a positive front, dismissing our emotions, feeling guilty for the negative emotions that we feel, minimizing other people’s experiences, trying to distract them from what they’re feeling, encouraging ourselves or others to reframe their experience, which that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes that can be very helpful, but we have to be mindful of timing and then also shamming others for feeling negative emotions.
Embracing Difficult Emotions Helps Victims of Betrayal and Abuse
When I was in serious trauma, I’d had a major D-day a month before. I was with family and something triggered me. Mind you, I’d just found out about everything that had been going on in my marriage for 15 years just a month before. Something triggers me, and I start crying and I left the room because I was with family.
I was with extended family: my parents and a sister and her family. It was embarrassing and I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable, so I left the room. I could not stop crying, just sobbing, and my mom followed me, and she said, “You know, Tracy, you just need to put a smile on your face for the sake of your children.”
That was not helpful. Not only was it not helpful but it was very shaming. I felt like, “Okay, now I’m a bad mom because I’m crying in front of my children?” I had no control over that trigger, in that moment. The trauma was too fresh, it was too recent.
Also, she told me in the same conversation, “You just need to put the past in the past and look to the future,” but that’s not helpful when striving to heal from trauma because it’s a long, long process.
Healing From Abuse and Trauma is a Process
Anne: Also, a month after you don’t know if it really is in the past. You don’t know anything a month after.
Tracy: You’re still living it, yeah. I was still not safe. All I needed right then to begin healing—she wanted me to skip healing. She wanted me to pretend that nothing was wrong. Whereas, what I really needed was safety and stability.
After I found safety and stability, then I need to go through the long messy process of remembrance and grieving, which is that second stage of healing. That’s a long process. It takes a long time, but we have to be able to do that.
Processing Trauma Is Essential For Healing From Betrayal and Abuse
We have to be able to process what has happened. We have to go back to the past, acknowledge it, validate it, feel what we need to feel. In the process, oftentimes, we can learn really great things from it, but if we can’t or we don’t, if that’s not part of our process, we shouldn’t shame ourselves for it.
It takes a very long time, but you can’t even really make any progress in that second stage if you haven’t found safety and stability first. It’s basically just, “You’re making me uncomfortable with your difficult emotions, so I’m going to tell you to turn them off and pretend that nothing is wrong.”
Anne: And move on, right? A lot of people say things like, “It’s going to be okay. It will be fine; things will work out.” In that stage, you don’t know if it’s going to be fine. You don’t know if it’s going to work out, and it might not, so that’s not the right thing to say.
Let’s skip right to, “Oh, just put on your happy positive attitude about it and everything will be okay, but if you keep crying, then it’s for sure not going to be okay.” That is another way of telling a victim that it’s her fault.
Why Do Others Push “New Age Bypass” Onto Victims?
Tracy: Right. Exactly. It’s more victim-blaming. Which, why we do this I already mentioned, it’s a human tendency, we want to feel in control because it makes us feel safer. Also, society teaches us that we’re responsible for what happens to us, that we can and we should be totally in control in our own lives, which leads to, when we’re victimized, we feel helpless, because we feel this loss of control, then we feel shame, and the shame will keep us stuck.
We have this societal intolerance, this cultural intolerance for feelings of helplessness and loss of control, which leads to victim-blaming. People who have an inability to tolerate their own difficult emotions are not really very capable of tolerating the pain and suffering in others, so they are impatient for us to just move on or just pretend that everything is fine.
Victims remind us of our own vulnerability. “If she was victimized, then I could be victimized and that’s scary, so I’m going to pretend that she wasn’t victimized. She just made a bad choice or she just put herself in a bad situation, and so if I can not make that same bad choice or put myself in that situation as she did, then I won’t have to feel helpless.”
Anne: Or, “That would never happen to me, because I’ve asked all the right questions and because I’ve made sure that I’ve done the right thing.” A lot of women ask all the right questions and they’re still victimized.
Victim-Blaming Enables Abuse
Tracy: Victim-blaming is a convenient way to avoid taking responsibility for our own actions, if we have played a part. Often, abusers will do this, or people who have contributed to secondary trauma, exacerbated the trauma. They’ll continue to blame the victim because it’s a way to avoid taking responsibility for their own part in the victim’s pain or injuries.
Then also, there is self-blame that happens, oftentimes, where we as victims, desiring a sense of control, blame ourselves with, “Well, if I’d just done this or just done this or just done that, then this wouldn’t have happened. If I can change the way that I am or the things that I do going forward, then this won’t happen to me again.”
We see this often, I think. in the betrayal trauma community. They’re safety-seeking behaviors, essentially. It’s, “If I am just the perfect wife in all of these different ways, then he won’t betray me again.”
Anne: In some 12-Step circles, women are told, “You have to keep coming to 12-Step meetings for the rest of your life or this will happen to you again.”
Victims Cannot Cause, Cure, or Control Abusive Behavior
Tracy: Yeah. As if doing that has any bearing whatsoever on his choices, it doesn’t.
Anne: I think it’s ironic, because they talk out of both sides of their mouth. They’ll be like, “You have no control over him, but this will happen to you again if you don’t keep coming to meetings for the rest of your life.” I’m like, “What? You’re saying two opposite things at the same time.”
Tracy. Yeah. I want to read this quote. This is from Jeff Brown, he’s an author and teacher. He calls himself an enrealment activist. I really like him. I think he has a lot of good insight. He makes up a lot of his own terms, which are kind of fun, so enrealment vs. enlightenment.
He says, talking of the New Age movement, “If it’s all a mirror then I’ve got some work to do. No need is all an illusion. Wait, how can it be both? If it’s all an illusion then there isn’t anything to mirror, and if it’s all a mirror then none of it is an illusion. Methinks the new age movement is confusing as bypass mantras. My illusary head just smashed my illusary mirror into illusary bits.”
Yeah, it’s this talking out of both sides and it just doesn’t make sense. You can’t have all of these things be absolutes at the same time.
Reality is Reality: BTR Can Help Victims Stay Grounded
Anne: There is a lot to be said on how you perceive things is going to change your reality. In our case, what we’ve been perceiving incorrectly is we have been perceiving that we’re in a relationship with a really good guy who has a few small problems. Rather than the reality that he is an abusive person.
That is the reality. That, “I’m in an abusive relationship and, even if he has these good qualities, this is still the abuse cycle. These are still abusive behaviors and I need to get to safety.”
I think, rather than thinking, “How can I change my inner thoughts so that I can change reality,” if victims are most interested in truth: “What is the truth of my current situation? What is the truth of what is currently happening? Is it true that these behaviors that I’m witnessing, regardless of how he looks at church, regardless of how good of a provider he is, regardless of this or that, are these behaviors that I’m experiencing abuse?”
Tracy: Yes, exactly. I’m so glad that you brought that up. I encounter this when, “Well, we just need to have positive thinking, or we just need to change our outlook.” I like to remind women that more important than positive thinking is truthful thinking. Because positive thinking sometimes, while it can be helpful much of the time, it is really just denial and can keep us in dangerous situations.
Positive Thinking Doesn’t Cure Trauma
I know a woman who experienced incredible betrayal trauma. It’s a very, very sad story, just terrible, and a friend, in trying to help, she’s into coaching, and she wanted to pass on some of this stuff that she thought would be helpful. Basically, just reframing. It’s this reactive reframing. Like, “Oh, we can’t be in that negative place, so let me help you reframe this experience to just looking for the positive. To just imagine the good that can come of this.”
I’m like, “No, no, that’s not going to be helpful. Please, just no, that’s not what she needs right now.” Because, I knew enough about her situation that what she needed was safety. She was not safe. Immediately jumping to, “Well, what are the lessons or what are the blessings that could come of this or let’s hope for this outcome and just think about that and focus on that and work towards that,” wasn’t going to help her achieve safety at all.
What she needed was truthful thinking, not positive thinking. You can have both. They don’t have to do one or the other, but what we don’t want is for the positive thinking to inhibit actual truthful thinking. We don’t want positive thinking to take us to a place of denial. That’s where it gets dangerous.
Anne: We’re going to pause here and continue this conversation with Tracy next week.
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Until next week, stay safe out there.