The Higher-Lower Game – Spiritual Bypassing in Relationships

The Fear of Intimacy
One of the most challenging areas of life for many of us is the whole realm of personal relationship. Intimacy can bring up both our greatest hopes, and our greatest fears. The hope is that we can surrender our defenses and really let another “in-to-me-see.” The fear, though, is that if we truly let someone see us, they will see something they don’t like, judge us and leave us!

Most of the conflict in relationship is caused by this very fear of intimacy. As Carl Jung said, “whatever we resist, persists.” If we have not dealt with our own core wounds around intimacy: feeling unlovable or un-wanted, fear of being vulnerable, or unresolved issues around trust, then we will tend to project these dis-owned feelings onto our partner.


Our Partner is a Direct Mirror of our Inner States
Projection, whether positive or negative, occurs all the time in relationships. The challenge is to see that our partner is a direct mirror of our inner states. In other words, what we see that we like is us, and what we see that we don’t like is us too! As another famous psychologist, the cartoon character Pogo, once said: “we have found the enemy and he is us!”

Projection can also be a very powerful healer when we realize that the positive love we feel for our partner and the positive attributes we see in them is also “us.” It is impossible to see traits in our partner, whether positive or negative, that we don’t hold in ourselves. The healing comes when we see that the unconditional love we feel for our partner is also meant for us. The danger in personal relationships comes when we project our disowned feelings onto our partner, thinking that they are the source of our suffering and unhappiness.

Unresolved pain that is unconsciously projected onto our partner eventually becomes the source of conflict that occurs in the relationship. What this unconscious projection can create is a “higher/lower game” where one partner becomes the “identified patient” or problem (lower) and the other becomes “the evolved one” (higher.) It then becomes apparent to the “higher” partner that the cause of any conflict in the relationship is outside themselves and resides in their partner. This is also reinforced as the “higher” partner continues to see the “lower” partner through the filter of his or her own projections. In other words, the “lower” partner actually becomes what the “higher” partner is thinking of them!

Using Wisdom as a Defensive Tool
This whole “higher/lower” pattern can be compounded if the “higher” partner sees him or herself as possessing more wisdom, spiritual truth or knowledge than the “lower” partner. This is a very common phenomenon in relationships, particularly in spiritually oriented communities, new-age circles and in personal growth oriented workshops and events. The damaging aspect of this is that the “higher” partner may use whatever true wisdom they have acquired as a defensive tool to make themselves right and the other wrong.

This is what is sometimes called “spiritual bypassing”, or what I heard Lama Surya Das once describe as “premature immaculation!” The truth about relationship is that “it takes two to tango!” Conscious relationship is about seeing that each partner is 100% responsible for their experience of the relationship. The higher/lower game begins when the “higher” partner tries to convince the “lower” partner that they are more responsible and that if they would change, the relationship would be better.

The Challenge of the Higher/Lower Game
The challenge of the higher/lower game is that it is very difficult to see what is going on. What seems to be “higher truth” and opportunities for spiritual growth in relationship often masquerades as manipulation by the ego, power struggle, domination, and control. In other words, the higher/lower game is often not pretty and manifests through pain, suffering and separation consciousness.

To truly be in intimate relationship we have to eventually uncover and let go of all identifications with false self or limited identity. This includes letting go of limited beliefs such as low self-esteem, perfectionism and feelings of being un-lovable. It also includes letting go of “higher” beliefs that we are more evolved than we actually are. Usually these “higher” beliefs are harder to identify because they are actually compensating for feelings of lack, limitation or self-deprecation. The most common though, are arrogance, self-absorption/narcissism, false-pride, vanity and egotism.

True Humility
What takes us beyond the higher/lower game and spiritual bypassing in relationship is a deep commitment to true humility. In true humility we no longer have to prove how good we are or how evolved we are. In true humility we are centered in the knowing of our essential nature, which is neither good nor bad, right or wrong, higher or lower. In true humility we allow our partner to see our imperfection and vice versa with compassion. In true humility we let go of our defenses so that we can truly been seen in both our humanity and divinity.

James Jarvis, M.A. (Counseling Psychology) is a master vocational astrologer, career & marketing coach and self-improvement counselor. Through his international astrology, coaching and counseling practice, James has helped thousands of people draw out and productively use their inherent gifts and talent. For those who want support in discovering, clarifying and manifesting their vision and life purpose, James is available for astrological, career & marketing coaching sessions by phone. To schedule phone consultations call toll-free (866) 851-2906, or e-mail: [email protected]

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