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.