Friday, February 16, 2007

The Demon at the Door

People who are religious are naturally going to default toward viewing NPD as a moral failing of free will, or character disorder, while secular people tend to default the other way, toward viewing it as a no-fault mental illness the narcissist is a victim of. But both sides should be open to the interpretation of the other. Ironically, I think the need for a more open mind is on mental-health establishment side. They seem to just snort at religious ideas.

You can't learn anything, or get any good ideas from, something you have no respect for.

I once had a friend who taught religion in a Catholic high school. Except the year he taught was a course in psychology, in which he was almost daily teaching his students about Freud. Why? Because, he said, theology is psychology. I had a hard time getting my mind around that idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I saw that it is true.

The rituals of Leviticus, for example, are a study in blaming the victim, he said, projection, and have given us the term "scapegoating." In fact the sacrificial rituals of all religions have that same common denominator - the mental gymnastics people go through to displace blame/punishment onto a victim. The "sacrifice" is ironic, because it's all on the part of the victim, not those "offering" him or her as the scapegoat to take the fall for their sins.

You needn't subscribe to these ancient beliefs to learn from what they expose at the bottom of the human heart. There's much profound insight there.

One valuable religious concept is that of "the demon at the door." The idea goes like this: You get headed the wrong way down the road of life. That is, you start living the wrong way. You get in trouble. Your past is going to catch up with you. You must repent (= go back) and get headed the right way.

But you can't. Why? Because of the demon at the door. The door is the way out of the fix you've gotten yourself into. You came into the trouble you're in easily, but going back out through that door ain't so easy. There's a toll to pay, and the demon at the door (shame/guilt) is there to collect it.

I gave an example yesterday. Say that a narcissist wants to turn his life around. One thing he must do is stop slandering a certain person. Sounds easy. But it ain't. Because he slandered that person yesterday, he must keep up the slander today. If he doesn't, if he now tells the truth (or merely acts in a manner consistent with the truth = telling the truth in deed), he exposes his lie of yesterday.

People will then know that he was lying when he slandered this person yesterday and abhor him for it. That's the demon at the door. That's the penalty he'll have to pay for coming clean. And he ain't ever gonna pay it, is he? So, he ain't ever gonna repent (quit slandering that person) is he?

That's just one easy-to-explain example. But you can take anything a narcissist does and see that it works the same way. What he did wrong yesterday is a demon at the door compelling him onward to do wrong today. He is a man with a past ever pursuing him down a dead-end road.

In that narcissists are really no different than anyone else. People often do a wrong or stupid thing today, if for no other reason than to prove that it wasn't wrong or stupid when they did it yesterday. Here's my favorite example of that.

I once lived in a duplex that was in an old part of town. So the house was just a few feet from the front sidewalk. The retired couple next door bought a second-hand snow thrower just before we got a blizzard. When the snow let up, I was reading a book in my living room when -- WHAMP -- the house actually shook and I looked up to see a wall of white plastered against one of my living room windows. I was sure that window had been broken by the force of the snow thrown against it, and the thermometer was taking the usual after-blizzard plunge to 20 below zero Fahrenheit.

Well-meaning people make mistakes. And everyone's first lesson with a snow thrower is that you have to pay attention to where you are throwing the snow and keep adjusting the chute to aim it where it does no harm. But obviously this guy was paying no attention to the consequences of what he was doing, because a couple seconds later -- WHAMP -- again as he blasted a wall of snow at the other living room window!

I was helpless. The snow was drifted against the front door so that I couldn't open it. And there was no way I could get shoes and outdoor clothing on in time to wade through hip-deep snow from the back door and head him off.

With great relief I was saw that the windows were intact. Whew, dodged a bullet. I found a little peephole through the snow and watched my helpful neighbor through it as he came back to take his second run. I saw him pause and give a little start as he noticed the wall of snow he thrown up against my part of the house. His mouth dropped open as he took off his hat and scratched his head gaping at what he'd done, as if wondering how that happened.

Then you could just see something click in his mind as he abruptly put his hat on, his head down, and started to take another run...doing this stupid thing again just to prove it wasn't stupid the first time he did it!

Or just to prove he didn't know it was stupid.

This was a nice man being utterly reckless and rude just to protect his delicate ego from knowledge that he'd goofed and was doing something at least terribly inconsiderate and likely to cause great damage. (We would have had to evacuate the place and bust our butts to fix those windows in these terrible weather conditions, before the water pipes froze and burst, water-blasting holes through the walls inside.) If you're observant of people, you'll notice that they often do this. Nothing matters but their fragile ego.

The little pang of embarrassment he would have had to feel was the demon at the door for him. He couldn't take it. So, instead of "repenting" (adjusting the chute), he just unknew that he had done it wrong the first time. And to prove that, he just had to proudly go and do it again.

Now if people are that loathe to admit error, even to themselves, imagine how loathe they are to face the truth about what they've done when it's seriously morally wrong and when coming clean will expose their guilt or shame to others.

In fact, I think that when narcissists suddenly up and abandon a pathological space, it may be partly because they wish to get a fresh start in some new place. A new place where they can go straight without the consequences of paying for their past misdeeds.

But it takes more than a fresh start.

Even in a new place turning his life around requires that the narcissist must admit at least to himself what he has done so that he can amend those wicked ways. You can't change what you don't face.

But I think that a narcissist just cannot bear to look within and see the real him - that is, see what his choices along the way of life have made of the real him.

Hey, even a seven-year-old who tortures an animal crosses that line. He is never going to face what he's done. Indeed, he knew what he was doing, or he'd have had no interest in doing it.

When people cross that line into the realm of deeds that people just do not repent, they must repress awareness of what they've done. Which is why Dante put the souls of such in hell from the moment they did the deed, while yet their bodies roamed the world as living persons.

Is this judgement of religion unforgiving? No, it's just a fact. He does not repent, so he cannot be saved from his sin. It compels him onward, on a runaway freight-train ride. So, he DOES pay the price. And he inflicts it upon himself.

Which is why theologians say that the only unforgivable sin is the unrepented one. His victims may manage to feel all sorts of warm fuzzy sentiments for him, but he has not been forgiven. He hasn't been forgiven one penny of his debt. Because forgiveness is real, a powerful and saving thing. Not a mere warm fuzzy sentiment that people can lie about having.

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At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,

Pride goes before a fall and pride can also keep you down on the ground.

What you've written gives me a lot to consider in my N's who demand I forgive them for what they refuse to name or repent of. I tell them that I have forgiven them but they can't apply my forgiveness without repentance and I can't trust them until they repent.

There are many ways of looking at things but I think in the case of personality disorders or character disorders both religious and secular thinkers would have to agree that they are formed by choices and the only way out is to face the demon at the door and begin to make other choices.


At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The demon at the door exists for all people just the same. We all face the same mechanism of sin leading to guilt leading to shame leading to covering up the sin. This is normal and entirely human.

We all have examples of this in our own life. Your example of the snowblower is good in that it illustrates the length someone will go to cover up a mistake. But the keyword here is mistake. The narcissist and the psychopath are able to admit to "honest mistakes" (often as a fall back position when they are caught in the act of lying).

Your snowblower made a mistake, he did not sin, but then he chose to ignore what he had done and in that he does sin. He does not correct the mistake. Like a hit and run driver who did not kill someone with his truck intentially but fled the accident for fear of being discovered.

The N does not slander someone accidentally but intentionally. She does not put out incorrect information about someone (about something harmless like so and so eats sugar cereal every morning) but instead puts out information to inflict harm. The content of the lie is carefully selected to cause harm. (In this case the hit and run is really attempted murder) It is not the act of lying that is the real concern but instead the malicious peron behind the lie (and the previous lies and the future lies).

Also, the N. doesn't just get caught up in the lie and cover-up cycle which leads to a life-long pattern of lying. If a person lies about his educational background on his resume he will be forced to lie again and again to cover up the original lie. Unless, of course, he comes clean and corrects the record. But this series of lies would not compel that same person to start other lie cycles. Instead they would tend to learn from the emotional discomfort of the resume lies and seek to stay clear of it in other areas. And once again I point out that the original resume lie does not harm another person's well being. It does not inflict pain and wounds.

We most often lie to make ourselves look better than we really are. Most of the time these lies are not at another person's expense. We don't make someone else out to be worthless so we appear to have value.

You cannot apply the conditions of the everyman to the N. These people are not the same as the rest of us.

I often wonder if an N is capable of physical violence. I ponder this because I am aware of the malice and hate that the N operates with. The lies and slander feel like violence to the victim. The jump from slander to murder seems a short one when you are staring at the N predator in all her malicious glory.


At 6:55 PM, Blogger Kathy said...

anonymous2, I couldn't agree with you more. When we consider how loathe normal people are to admit a mere mistake, we can see how impossible it would be for a narcissist to admit the MALICIOUS things he or she does. It is just naive to think that they ever will.

As for violence, the ones I have known certainly were capable of it. They convinced me that the only rein on their behavior is what they think they can get away with. So I suspect that those who can get away with (mostly domestic) violence, do. Though I bet they prefer mental cruelty as more hurtful. Those who can't get away with violence, won't unless they're desperate (Lee Harvey Oswald or the abanoned lover who can't find a new mommy). But that's just my guess from what I've seen and from applying logic to facts.

Malice is pure, so why should they stop at physical violence if the N can get away with it and it works to get him or her what they want? Some, criminal types, may even do it because they think they are geniuses and want to lead police detectives on a merry chase to get attention and show off how smart they are.

Do they then become psychopaths just because they broke the law? I don't think so. On that I sense that Vaknin is right: psychopaths are UNINHIBITED narcissists = no reins.


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