The Psychological Processing Bypass

By Paul Dunion | January 14, 2017

The psychological processing bypass is likely the most insidious of the bypasses. Employing it typically accompanied by denial that it is actually taking place. Anyone witnessing it is hard-pressed to identify what’s going on as a bypass. But, bypasses are like that. They’re are meant to conceal what is actually taking place and have the person look good doing it. Let’s look at some of the basic characteristics of this bypass.

• Psychological processing is a verbal exploration of a person’s emotional life. It often includes an examination of how early wounding impacted future decisions and relationships, with considerable emphasis about how self-concept has been organized. It is often done in the presence of a psychotherapist and/or some form of support group.

• This bypass defines personal growth as creating and participating in opportunities for verbal processing. Transformation and change are not identified as valued outcomes of psychological work.

• The person doing the processing may be willing to express deep emotion including sorrow, fear, anger and despair. Such emotional expression can elicit very favorable responses from therapists and members of a support group as the person is viewed as courageously attending to needed healing.

• When a male is exercising this bypass he is received with admiration and respect. He appears to be interrupting the cultural mandate that real men don’t do deep emotional work.

• Similar to other bypasses, the goal is to bypass living life on life’s terms and look good doing it. This bypass entails the elimination of developing the courage to face life’s challenges in support of genuine personal transformation.

Price Paid

• When personal growth is reduced to expressing emotions, life is stripped of its ability to teach. The arousal of discovering how to interrupt limiting behavioral patterns and experience life in a fuller way is sacrificed.

• Coping skills become seriously arrested. The emotional resources gained through actual experience are forfeited.

• Innate skills and talents are often denied as a way to justify reducing life to something that is emotionally talked about and not lived. False modesty haunts the psychological processor. There’s a need to present oneself as simply too small to live life on life’s terms which calls for risks.

• Genuine emotional maturity is disabled. Maturity is dependent upon a willingness to learn from life. Learning takes place by a willingness to fully participate in life. When we don’t fully participate, we can’t fully be who we are meant to be.

• There are serious limits as to how a relationship can be created. The psychological processor enters relationships with the following directive: “I’m willing to talk about our relationship but not fully be in it.” Relationships simply become another way of declaring that life is too big to warrant full involvement.

Impact Upon Others

I became more aware of the impact this bypass has upon others when a client of mine, Patrick, a human relations consultant, wanted to discuss the challenge regarding supporting his friend Mac.

“I’m in a men’s support group with my friend Mac. We’ve been in the group for almost five years. I have a great deal of respect for Mac’s ability to process his emotions and support the emotions of other men,” explained Patrick, moving his gaze downward.

“Sounds like Mac knows how to show-up and allow his emotional life to be visible,” I replied, aware there was more to Patrick’s story.

“Absolutely, he fully partakes in the support group. In fact, he belongs to four different support groups. Sometimes, I think he sees life as a support group. What’s been bugging me lately is how alone I feel when I’m relating to him in the group,” Patrick pointed out, with his head dropping toward his right shoulder and both hands turning palms up.

“Something is missing for you,” I suggested.

“Yes, if I’m grieving some loss in my life, he’s right there with me. But the minute I’m addressing some new professional undertaking, I can’t find him. He fades whenever I’m breaking some new ground in my life,” asserted Patrick, with a sense of satisfaction having deepened his understanding of his challenge.

“You sound like you better understand what’s going on between the two of you,” I noticed.

“Yes, I think it’s something about change and taking risks. He’s sixty and rents a yurt on his Uncle’s farm. He professes a devotion to ecology and clean living and yet what I pick up on is an excessive austerity. It is as if he’s trying to strip life of its immensity. Does he actually believe he can decide how big life is?” questioned Patrick, with a note of disdain.

We spent several weeks focused on Patrick’s friendship with Mac. He came to understand that Mac did not want his support regarding personal empowerment and that Mac did not know what to do with Patrick’s commitment to live life on life’s terms. Patrick also came to understand that he and the other men were colluding with Mac’s attachment to the psychological processing bypass. They were all willing to make sense of Mac’s inertia by deciding he was simply excessively wounded. Patrick expressed great remorse concerning this appraisal of Mac. He refused to see him as damaged goods. He decided to leave the group, finally accepting that Mac did not want his support and that Mac would not support Patrick’s commitment to live life on life’s terms.

The psychological processing bypass is becoming increasingly popular, as people want to benefit from being perceived as committed to personal growth. They also want to avoid the risks involved with any transformative work. Can it be that they simply won’t forgive themselves if some risk yields unfavorable results? It may be that forgiving ourselves for meandering, getting lost and getting defeated Is crucial when fostering a relationship with the unknown.


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