I am going to start off with some ideas that sound strange put together. I am sure you would never put children and the demonic in the same category unless you know of a certain child in your life that gives you quite the workout in parenting.
One might wonder how these two even can be related, so hold tight, because I will explain.
If you grew up in the church or had some religious background in your personal narrative, you might have encountered conversations about the Devil, Satan or the demonic.
Depending on what your religious community, these names are not uncommon when it comes to issues we wrestle with in ourselves.
But what if what we call the demonic or Satan is really something we created throughout humanity, as a way to understand what we have had difficulty understanding in our own selves? Could it be that these “forces” are really a projection of our own shame and judgment?
When We Don’t Know Our Own Selves
When we are young we have no idea who we are. In our formative years we develop into these conscious, self-aware, social beings who move, function, care, process, calculate, reason, survive and thrive in the world.
But when we start out, all of this is lacking and for a time, nonexistent. Which generates the question, how do we become aware, conscious of ourselves, others and the world with whom we come into contact?
It all begins with the experiences we have with our parents. Under their care and guidance this is how we come to learn and interpret the world we encounter and how we understand our own selves.These interpretations develop directly and indirectly in their modeling of love, care, correction, responses to us, to their own selves and to one another.
And often these experiences reside in our unconscious, that which is out of grasp of our conscious awareness, but nonetheless impacts the way see and react towards the various facets of life.
Now, because we are first emotional/sensory beings, our initial reactions are first felt and then thought about. How we understand something lies in the emotional stirring that kicks up in us. In other words our emotions tell us a lot about what is happening in us and around us.
In various ways it has been communicated that our emotions cannot be trusted; however, they are the unadulterated truth. They are the purest, most honest part of us and it is imperative we listen to them, for they are the greatest teachers.
These feelings teach us about the problems in the world, the unexplored hurts inside of us, when something seems off or whether an experience was enjoyable or dissatisfying, and whether we are ready to make a change or not.
This kind of understanding first starts within the realms of our early attachment relationships. Ideally our parents pick up on the emotion, which is often communicated through our behaviors and imbued with care and compassion they name what it is that is stirring inside of us.
So, first they see and then they acknowledge and help their child understand and know their own self, giving voice to the emotion and the need partnered with it. What first begins as an undefined void, now encounters definition. Such a loving act activates this ability in the child, aiding in their development, so in the future they can listen and respond to their emotional compass.
In the beginning of a child’s life, their internal world is articulated through externalizing practices. Because they cannot understand, nor name what is happening inside, it pours out through behaviors, particularly play, where upon this canvas, they can express what cannot yet be verbalized nor understood.
Eventually the goal is for the child to no longer externalize their inner world, but can listen, attune, express or act and understand.
Something that can inhibit or prevent this is when they lack the proper caregiving in which their attachment figures interact in such a way that brings this kind of understanding. Manipulation, abuse, neglect, shaming, role reversal where the child becomes the parent, etc. all become an obstruction of the child developing ability to know and operate out of the self.
When this happens, the child can not distinguish what is inside vs. outside. Everything blurs together, believing that another’s emotions is their own or if they feel something they may see it as occurring in another.
Added to this obstruction is when a parent in various ways shames certain emotions that a child feels, particularly the more intense and challenging ones, such as sadness, anger, hate, loneliness, etc. Because the child first learns to frame certain experiences and behaviors in two categories, good/bad or right/wrong, they will reflexively judge their own emotions, typically based on the parent’s response.
As children we often categorize people and other things as either good or bad. And as we age, we can get stuck in this way of evaluating others, life and ourselves, good vs. bad
So fast forward to adulthood where this way of engaging and evaluating our feelings has remained underdeveloped, externalized and sorted through dualistic categorization. Imagine what we might create to grasp what is difficult and uncomfortable to process in our own selves.
Satan: The Enemy of Our Soul or is it Our Own Self-Judgment?
What if Satan is really an external projection of an internal battle?
In the Bible we read, at times, about the demonic; demons inhabiting someone, Jesus casting out demons, some mentioning of Satan (usually politically). Satan also mean “accuser”. But remember, when the Bible was written, humanity was in the beginning stages of developing and deepening understanding of what it means to be human. So it would make sense that the problems they did not understand in themselves became externalized as an outside, unseen “force”, instead of a very real internal battle and familial/societal issue.
We place God as good and Satan as bad. This seems to fit into dualistic thinking, which is how many of us tend to perceive and critique the world around us. Growing up in the church, if something good were to happen, people would emphatically and demonstratively praise God and announce their excitements to everyone around. But if something bad were to happen, I would notice in the conversation that these “bad” experiences would be attributed to Satan or interestingly, sometimes to God, who seemed to be “testing” us.
The other interesting observation was that when someone had a tormenting inner struggle, or anger, or any other emotion that one felt shame about, or some compulsive habit, they would put responsibility on Satan, claiming it was a “spiritual attack” and possibly default to an intervention of confronting the demonic in the hopes that one would feel relief.
Sometimes I would utilize such methods to address my own internal battles, but it never was “successful” in the sense that the struggle would leave. I would even address my own self-judgments and criticisms as the act of the demonic, which acquired this diagnosis by those around me labeling it as so.
But this always felt off to me and I was never sure why, especially since those in my spiritual community had confidently claimed they had interactions with evil forces and successful interventions with people suffering from demonic influence.
However, as these shifts began to happen in my life, in my own heart, in my faith, and with the church, I began to see why it all felt so off.
I notice that as humans our tendency is to keep away from our inner world and doing the scary and uncomfortable deep soul work. In other words, we don’t want to look inside at our own sadness, emptiness, loneliness, hate, anger, sexuality, etc.
And the ways we keep ourselves guarded from this kind of honest exploration is to keep everything externalized.
We control others, we may obsessively collect things, use substances, look for ways to keep life thrilling and exciting, always hang out with people, judge others, target someone else as responsible for our own pain, choices that lead to disappointment, and misfortunes and project onto others what is inside of us, believing it is their problem.
I must admit, it feels far less painful and gives the illusion that I am in control to keep the focus off of me onto whoever or whatever.
Remember, when we are children, we are not yet attuned to our inner world and understanding it (which is our parents role) and so we find things (through play) to externalize what is happening inside. Through safe relationships, the hope is that our parents begin to help us know our own selves and the stirring inside of us. They guide us, with compassion, to connect to our own selves, without judgment.
But more often we do not have these kinds of experiences and grow up not knowing our own selves.
Now the other thing we tend to do is then judge the pain and discomfort, categorizing it as bad or evil, while labeling all the pleasant feelings and experiences as good. This is what we call dualistic thinking, which is to polarize people, political leanings, behaviors, events, circumstances, experiences, feelings, etc. into two categories.
The problem is that eventually this begins to not work and what was categorized so neatly into these “boxes” dissolves into an ocean of gray. The way we had distinguished our encounters in life reaches an ineffective result, or to say it another way, life becomes a square peg in a round hole. Things just don’t fit anymore through such a frame.
But some of us may ignore or deny the futility of dualistically organizing the world and continue to filter everything thought these binary distinctions. It seems easier and more secure.
Keep Out: Project! Project! Project!
So let me take this back to the attribution of the demonic.
I had often wondered why we label our behavioral struggles and inner pain as something demonic...
...Until I sought therapy and began to see the way I evaluated my own problems, struggles and disappointing circumstances.
It was brought to my attention how much I judged myself, quite harshly, ruminating on what I had done, often brought about by the way someone reacted to me or how I perceived their reaction towards me.
I had never seen how angry I would be at myself and could judge myself so critically and cruelly. The vicious thoughts and inner dialogue would hardly ever turn off and again, they would always come about in the context of relationship (someone getting hurt or angry towards me, seemingly disappointed, bullying and being cruel to me). I would always turn on myself.
And this is what I notice is the common thread in most of our problems, which are often some form of self-harm or harming another (which is just a reflection of the hate we feel inside). Either way, within us is this inner struggle of our own pain, emotional self and our behavior. We carry this shame, judgment and hate of ourselves and no one truly wants to hold all of this in. We must extinguish it or expel of it in some way.
One of those actions is scapegoating, which is to put the blame of our inner battles onto something else to alleviate the weight, burden and torment of our problems. Now I do believe that our emotional pain is attributed to others, but it is far safer and comfortable to find another unrelated victim to dispel these responsibilities onto.
This is where Satan and the demonic come in. I have seen and heard people, in certain denominations, judge their own behaviors, anger and other more uncomfortable emotions onto these forces. Lifelong problems, shame about their sexual behavior, addictions, etc. all heaped onto the evil tenants of the spiritual dimension.
However, when I really listen to these statements, I hear something imbued in their words of anguish, confusion and defeat. What I really pick up on is the self-judgment and shame. I know, because I am no foreigner to feeling this way about my own self. Coated and filled within these statements is the soul mired with self-hatred and despair.
For so long they have hated who they are, imprisoned by these evaluative “forces” and exhausted by countless attempts to rid themselves of whatever haunts them. Addictions they cannot escape, sexuality they cannot outrun, anger that won’t go away, longings and desires that create incredible discomfort.
It is also not a coincidence that Satan, which means accuser, is what would torment us inside, this vicious voice of criticism and attack (actually the imprint of what was communicated to us by our loved ones).
This is permeated throughout the religious community, deeply rooted hate towards their own humanity and the manifestations of pain and desire.
And it is understandable, that in order to alleviate the haunting, we must find something or someone responsible for it, who is not actually responsible (anyone, except those that really did hurt us).
Satan and his forces become the target or the enemy of the soul, which means we must acquire interventions to destroy the powers that create so much torment in our own lives.
But what I believe is happening is that the individual, because of the pain, torment, discomfort, and dis-ease, has labeled this within himself as evil, bad or wrong, which must get projected onto something external, rather than seeing that it exists within himself.
Also, this labeling is something called splitting, which is to push all the unwanted, judged and shamed parts of ourselves away.
Judgment’s Mirror/Moving From the External to the Internal
However, in order to heal, one must accept everything that is within and take an honest and courageous look inside without judgment or criticism (which is quite hard in the beginning).
That’s why I believe, when Jesus said, to look at our own “log” before judging another’s, this kind of examination reveals how much judgment we carry towards ourselves. The judgment we put on another is really an internal projection of our own inner criticism. For if we change our ways of looking at ourselves, inevitably we would no longer judge another through our own harsh standards.
Jesus’s words, as I see it, were not conveyed in harshness, as we usually react towards someone judging us. His point was to actually experience freedom from judgment by going into our own caves and valleys of our soul with care and love.
This is the prerequisite to living freely and joyfully through the painful, mysterious, wondrous ebb and flow of life, of connecting, of being.
The initiative or entry way to becoming truly alive and embracing the range and vastness of life starts within us. And where it begins is when we switch from living externally, driven by the attempt to satisfy the desires of others or to project our personal struggles towards everyone else, to living and moving from an internal connection.
What does that mean? When we are connected to our own selves, knowing and accepting that which stirs within us and the significance of this stirring, that our emotions are communicative signals as we interact with our world and are moving us towards something greater, we are driven by the internal.
However, to reach this kind of connection and “being” requires us to no longer push away anything that stirs inside of us. We listen to it, care for it, move towards it and allow it to move us. Ignoring it, denying it, continually protecting ourselves from our own pains, griefs, desires, fantasies, longings and emotions will only breed disconnect.
The beautiful opportunity we have been given is an invitation to compassionately accept all that is within ourselves.
The path is one of discomfort and unease, facing the things we feel terrified of. We may feel our heart’s race and in the beginning, mentally or physically reach for something to distract from seeing the inner self; but what we may find, through this bold commitment, is a deeper understanding and truth that was heavily obstructed by our own self-constructed detours; something richer, life-changing, and compelling enough to share (the opposite of what we do when we feel shame).
May you embark on embracing all that moves and stirs within you, allowing it to teach you, guide you and become a light for others.