We must receive the one who curses us as a messenger from God, rebuking our hidden evil thoughts, so that we, seeing our thoughts with exactness, might correct ourselves. For we do not know how many hidden evils we have; Only a perfect man can understand all of his own shortcomings.
There are different kinds of human suffering, templates you might say, hundreds of them, through which the soul learns the various higher order lessons throughout its lifetimes. Each one of us, in each lifetime, takes on particular kinds of suffering connected to the cultivation of particular kinds of growth. There are large themes, you might think of them as cycles or spheres, that taken together, over many lifetimes, culminate in ultimate levels of purity of the soul.
Crudely speaking, the seven deadly sins are conceptually related to those spheres, each one representing its own complicated area of work. Any given sin isn’t one solid thing, but is a huge collection of different threads, all centered around the same concept. Various external sets of thoughts, feelings, motives, and behaviors are identified as “sinful:” pride, wrath, vanity, greed, lust, etc. Those sets of conscious level manifestations are connected by threads to pain or wounds in the unconscious.
Each thread is connected to a specific pain, a specific wound, in the subtlest detail. If we trace each individual manifestation, following the thread all the way into the depth, we find the source pain which is creating the surface level materials. By working on excavating and digesting the source pain (feeling it fully), that pain ceases sending up the sinful set of thoughts, feelings, reactions, behaviors to the conscious mind. Sometimes the individual thread is thick and needs lots of time and energy to work through. Other times, the threads are thinner, and they are more easily brought out.
Typically, we cannot see most of those threads, unless they are triggered emotionally from the outside. Sometimes this is by direct engagement with another person, other times, it’s by a strong reaction to an event, upon which we have projected a story.
Associated with each kind of pain is a particular kind of demon. Think of them as complementary puzzle pieces; each bit of pain, with its manifested sin on the surface, and its associated demon fit together and seek the same ends – to be brought to consciousness and purified. The demons serve as conscious level alerts to the pain at depth. The demon arrives, jiggles at the thread, which touches and lights up the pain at depth.
Sometimes the demons are inside our consciousness, connected at the particular wound, manifesting havoc inside of us, trying to get us to pay attention to some large dysfunctional pattern. Other times, they come to us via others, poking at a particular pain or wound, activating it so that it might be seen, digested through, and healed. Still in other cases, they arrive externally in spirit form, carrying out some kind of triggering action, again so that it may be brought to consciousness and healed.
(I don’t want to get here into the subject of demons, I only mention them for a very broad kind of conceptual frame. In fact, I’d say that focusing on them as a standalone subject is a waste of time. It’s the wrong focus. The focus must always be only internal, in the inner world, and with respect to demons, only on the specific transactional nature of the experience.)
A narcissist is someone who gives voice and manifestation to demons. He/she is a vessel for them. While the narcissist himself is deeply disordered, what he is expressing to us is not random. It is vicious and shameless, unfiltered and sadistic, almost always without remorse or accountability, but it’s not random. It’s not just “their” demons, or “their” projections, or their rage; the things they are saying to us are relevant reflections for us of something inside ourselves. He/she speaks an awful triggering thing, or enacts an awful triggering behavior, giving us an opportunity to humbly and honestly explore what is arising within. We must set aside their awful character, and look instead at the message they are conveying to us.
The specific demon, in each specific interaction, is designed and delivered with pinpoint precision, touching exactly the right wound, in exactly the right place, with exactly the right magnitude, for maximum exposure of our inner material. That’s how they are such brilliant button-pushers!
The narcissist is not a genius mastermind. If you’ve met one, you’ve met them all. They are almost like clones of each other. But the energy they are expressing in any given interaction is chosen with incredible intelligence and precision, to serve us properly. It’s also the reason that two different people opposite the same narcissist will experience him differently, their subjective triggers will be different in response to what he says or does.
This is why fighting them with the intention to win, or attempting to dominate them, or avenging the awful thing they said or did, or trying to get rid of negative energies (by various means), or even just blocking, ignoring, or dissociating from the painful thing, is all a waste of precious time. Those wounds in us will be retriggered again and again, until they are fully seen and excavated. If not from the same narcissist messenger, then from another one.
[I want to repeat my earlier warning here. If you are new to the recovery work of narcissistic abuse, all of what I’m offering here is not helpful for you. It is a contradiction to all of the therapeutic instructions, and will create lots of confusion. Please exercise responsible caution in adopting these perspectives.].
I want to look at a particular common example of this, to make the dynamics more clear.
Much of our cultural value systems, I mean human-kind’s not any particular culture, misunderstand higher order values. We are taught to focus on worldly things – success, achievement, security, relationships, physical health and material wealth – failing to admit not just the vain and illusory nature of those things, not just their impermanence, but how the loss of those things, the pain, and grief, and fear, and suffering created by their loss is the path of soul purification and growth. It is suffering, digested correctly, that confers wisdom, not wordly success.
Take for instance something like reputation. Mature mystical traditions teach us to let go of attaching our self-worth to our reputation – to disconnect our inherent value (our deserving of love) from the positive regard of others about our character. If you put great stock in your reputation, caring deeply about how you appear to others, becoming very invested in your image and reputation, that would be considered sinful; it could be called vanity or pride, or both. But why?
Because the source of the mechanism is pain and wounding. Deep in the unconscious, we all carry within us a sense of badness. In our belief system, that badness can’t possibly be loved. Unable to love itself in its badness, the ego creates a lie – a mask of goodness, a reputation of goodness – so that other people love us on that basis. The ego focuses a great deal of its efforts on being liked and approved of by others, earning love from others through good deeds, to compensate for those opposite feelings in the unconscious. The ego marshals all of its resources, objectifies and ropes in all kinds of others, into its scheme of “appearing good,” connecting its worth, and value, and loveability to that reputation, in order to counter this deeper inner sense of “badness.”
The greater the inner sense of badness, the more robust the ego’s operation. But the pursuit of worthiness through the eyes of others isn’t just an impossible endeavor; it doesn’t do anything to heal the source pain. Other people can’t fill the void of unworthiness, and no amount of acclaim from others heals the sense of badness in the unconscious.
So that badness has to be brought to the surface…
It is generally quite difficult to see just how attached most of us are to our reputations. So how are those deep attachments to be seen and purified? How is that inner pain, the inner sense of badness, and all of its egoic threads to be seen? Well, in comes the narcissist with his smear campaign, aimed precisely and very directly (and successfully) at reputation destruction.
By lying, misrepresenting, distorting, discrediting, every single “good” reputational thing we’ve tried so hard to build, his demons show us how deeply we care about our reputation and how very attached to it we are. It is very very painful to have a lifetime of good actions, a reputation so painstakingly built, destroyed so quickly and ruthlessly. It turns out that other people’s views of us aren’t as solid as we thought.
When this happens, we try very hard, often unsuccessfully, to get our reputations back, to restore our good image in the eyes of others. But if you allow all of the pain of that smear campaign to emerge and digest through, you will come to the ground of this deeply mystical realization. The point is not to restore the reputation. The point is to heal whatever is attached to it. And the only way to resolve that then is to go back into all the original wounding in the depth of the unconscious, and begin working on that stuff; all the stuff that is seeking compensatory validation.
When it is done correctly and completely, a detachment occurs between one’s sense of self-worth and one’s reputation. The two things that were improperly hinged together come undone. The next time the ego habitually pulls toward a reputation building activity, something not done for its own sake but for appearance sake, there will be a natural pause, and a hesitation to proceed. The irresistible pull of the thing extinguished, the activity becomes fruitless and undesirable. There is no wound to be covered up, no egoic charge, no supply to be gained, and that particular habit is easily broken and released. This is a lot more complicated than it sounds; the threads here are very thick and it takes signigicant work to get them all out. But I’m simplifying it to explain how it works.
This is a huge incredible relief inside the emotional body; it stops the needless waste of life force energy, allowing for greater peace and authenticity, less concern with chasing the approval of others, less concern with how one appears to others, more time and energy focused on intrinsically enjoyable activities, and a purification of that tiny portion in the soul.
This is what restores actual mystical balance, step by tiny step, in alignment with higher order truths, which is the real meaning of virtue. This is how something horrible, like a seemingly vicious smear campaign, actually works in our greater favor, and how narcissists (in their horrific manifestations) serve our highest good.