Loving astrology doesn’t mean you have a healthy relationship to it.
From easy-to-download astrology apps like Co–Star and The Pattern to pithy horoscope Twitter accounts and Instagram zodiac sign gurus, following the stars is easier than ever before.
But why has astrology become so wildly popular?
“We live in an age where everyone wants instant gratification and a quick-fix, so we’re looking at anything we can do and consume quickly as being better. And astrology is that,” suggests Brooklyn-based astrologist and psychotherapist Aimee Barr, LCSW.
Astrology and horoscopes may indeed help soothe or reassure in the short term. But there’s a line where it transforms from a fun and enjoyable start to your day, week, or month into a tool you’re using to your own detriment.
As Barr says, “I love astrology, but it can’t help you gain deeper coping skills that allow you to move through trauma.” Basically, it’s no substitute for therapy. Barr says she’s noticing an uptick of folks using astrology both in place of therapy, and — unconsciously or not — to avoid the work that happens in therapy or with a mental health professional.
In psychotherapy, this avoidance vis-à-vis spiritual practices like astrology has a name: spiritual bypassing. Here, mental health experts explain spiritual bypassing: what it is, the symptoms, why it’s harmful, and what it looks like, astrologically speaking.
The term “spiritual bypassing” was introduced in the mid-1980s by Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist John Welwood. He coined it to name the unhealthy pattern of behavior that uses spiritual ideas and practices (such as astrology, analyzing birth charts, reading tarot, and crystals, to name a few) to sidestep healing psychological wounds.
As psychotherapist Annie Wright, LMFT, explains, “It’s using spiritual principles or ideas to avoid dealing with unresolved emotional issues, and the hardest, most painful parts of yourself.”
Barr calls these hard, painful parts of ourselves our “traumas.”
“What trauma looks like for everyone is different. It’s any type of events that our regular coping skills fail us in managing,” Barr says. It could be a divorce, a sexual assault, a breakup, being ghosted, or getting fired, she explains.
According to Wright, there are several ways that spiritual bypassing may present itself:
- anger avoidance, or even fear of anger (anger phobia)
- overemphasizing the positive and only focusing on the “good” stuff
- judgement of others for feeling “negative” feelings
- repressing painful memories and experiences
- emotional numbing
- valuing spirituality more than lived experiences, reality, and your true self
- claims or delusion of having arrived at a “higher” level of being
Spiritual bypassing with astrology is ignoring traumas — and avoiding the work needed to work through trauma — with the help of astrology. For example, someone may use a horoscope to explain a negative outcome or event rather than using introspection.
Important note: In spiritual bypassing, the spiritual practice itself isn’t the issue. In fact, these practices and tools can be part of a path of healing. The issue here is the way people are using that spiritual practice to replace therapy or other treatments.
Astrology isn’t meant to be used as an escapist tool, but there are definitely ways to engage with it healthily.
ISAR-certified astrologist Annabel Gat, VICE astrologer and author of “The Astrology of Love & Sex” (out July 2019), explains, “Horoscopes are a fun way to get grounded in your day before your day starts. It’s a framework that can help you look at and reflect on your life more closely. It should inspire you. It’s supposed to be an addition to your life, not a solution to your problems or an escape from your life.”
That isn’t in the scope of what a horoscope can do. Good astrologists also won’t tell you exactly how your individual life is going to pan out.
Randon Rosenbohm, a Berlin-based astrologist with Allure, starts every session by explaining to clients that her role is to interpret what’s written in the stars, not give a prescription for what’s going to happen.
“When I give readings and write horoscopes, I like to use language like ‘For example…’ and give a few examples so that people see one or two of the many ways the planets could affect you.”
Still, responsible astrologists can’t control how people are going to use (or abuse) their readings. In fact, both Gat and Rosenbohm have had people ask them questions that they should be asking a doctor, lawyer, therapist, or themselves.
Gat explains, “Sometimes horoscopes are what people turn to when qualified experts aren’t telling them what they want to hear.” In these cases, the astrologists say they try to explain to clients what they can and can’t do or say.
Not all astrological readings have a human component (an astrologist sitting at the opposite side of the table) to remind folks how to properly use the tool. In fact, most don’t. That’s why it’s easy to develop an unhealthy relationship with astrology via apps and other social media platforms.
You may spend lots of money you don’t have because Astro Poets told you to expect cash flow. Perhaps you decide to have sex when you’re not in the mood because Co–Star said, “Intimacy is easier than usual today.” Or maybe you want to make a big career decision because The Pattern said, “You’d make an incredible artist, actor, or musician,” but without thinking about whether or not that’s something you actually want.
Essentially, astrology is guiding your behavior and decisions regarding traumas or other important life affairs instead of introspection and therapy with a professional.
But there’s no one way that spiritual bypassing occurs. It may occur to different degrees. Barr suggests asking yourself the following questions to help interrogate your relationship with astrology:
Questions to ask yourself about your astrological habits
- Do you feel like the driver of your own life, or like something else (the stars, the moon, the planet, etc.) are in control?
- Are you reading many different horoscopes until one tells you what you want to hear?
- Do you feel like your life isn’t changing, even though you’ve been regularly utilizing astrology?
- Do you find yourself blaming all negative emotions on the stars or horoscopes?
- Do you feel like you’ve found a “quick-fix” for your problems?
- Do you feel a need to broadcast and share that you’ve been “helped” or “cured” as a result of reading your horoscope or listening to the stars?
While spiritual bypassing using astrology may seem harmless, it’s still a defense mechanism that shields us from pain, explains Barr. “What ends up happening is that you’re not feeling the pain associated with the trauma, and therefore are not able to move through it,” she says.
The consequence? The trauma persists.
Basically, you need to look inside for healing rather than seeking outward guidance or reassurance without reflection. Instead of using spiritual practices like astrology to distract from working through emotional issues, find a professional who can help.
Psychotherapy is the best tool for working through trauma, says Barr. “Therapy can help people work through unresolved issues, and therefore help them access greater emotional freedom,” she says. Gat agrees. “If you’re at a crisis in your life, you need to see a practitioner who is trauma-informed,” she notes.
But that doesn’t mean everyone has to leave astrology behind entirely. What you want with astrology and therapy is a healthy balance, says Barr. “A therapist will develop the coping skills you need to process your trauma. But astrology can be used to enhance your recovery,” she explains.
Barr offers the following comparison: “When a person has cancer, you need medical interference. But that doesn’t mean that eating healthy, exercising, reading books, and quitting smoking can’t support the health efforts.”
So, while astrology can’t be the healing tool itself, it may be beneficial if it helps you think deeply about yourself, makes you feel seen and heard, or otherwise adds positivity to your life.
It may also be helpful to find a holistic psychotherapist who doesn’t discount your interest in astrology. Instead, they should be committed to helping you develop a healthier relationship to the practice while still addressing and healing past traumas.
If you haven’t been to therapy as a result of cost or access, check out our list of affordable therapy options.
Astrology can be an enjoyable way to start your day and a source of inspiration and reflection. However, it can’t take the role of therapy or replace healthy coping skills.
If the symptoms of spiritual bypassing sound familiar to you and you’re looking to reframe your relationship to the practice, a trauma-informed psychotherapist is a good place to start. They can help you develop coping skills to move through past trauma.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drunk, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.