Sunday, May 16, 2010

Confronting your personal demons

We all have our personal demons- addictions, self doubts, insecurities, and fears that depress, burden, and trouble us.  The negative self-talk of these demons is destructive.  Below I bring one of my demons out into the open, deal him a few jabs, and let him know there'll be more of that to come in the future.

I will entitle this the Authentic Intimacy Demon (Autin for short).  In sum, Autin claims that there is neither sense nor value to be found in my being authentic, which authenticity is prerequisite to meaningful emotional intimacy.  Autin bases his argument on the premise that one who seeks to embrace all truth can't banish him because he's made up of immutable truths.  He says that no one, including a potential spouse, would or can like me just for me.  How could she?  Why would she?  As a result of the realities of our world and our culture, potential spouses are married to valuing my performance rather than just me.  Do I listen to her?  Do I affirm her abundantly?  Am I romantically and sexually faithful to her?  Do I provide for the family?  Do I check the boxes in church that results in God protecting and unifying the family? Do I provide an example to the kids?  Am I sufficiently normal to avoid being an embarrassment in the community/public?  Am I a sufficiently managed risk to enable her otherwise impossible goal of bearing and mothering children optimally?  Am I a stable provider?  Do I meet her expectations and needs?  These are the questions she's concerned about- accepting me for me just isn't that important, and therefore will very likely always be trumped by priority concerns such as those just listed.  Thus, it is my performance in key areas that the potential spouse values/cares about rather than me.  If I cease performing, such priority disparity would quickly become apparent.  The conclusion is that the quirks, paradigms, cares, thoughts, insecurities, and uniquenesses that constitute a lot of my identity are largely irrelevant to a potential spouse.  If she could secure a higher performing model than me at the outset, she would certainly do so.   
   Similarly, friends often value the affirmation, help, and listening services I provide them.  Almost all of them would quickly forget about me were I to move or become quadriplegic (such that I couldn't act, speak, respond, work, or function).  Not that people are evil and calculating, but that they're shallow in a rational self-interested way and have needs that won't be met if they don't expend limited relational capital making and choosing friends with resources likely to benefit them such as affirmation, listening, fun, networking, and help when in trouble.  (see also my post about selfishness).  Autin calls this the "quadriplegic test" and he substantiates it by pointing out that even service provided with selfless intent benefits the giver.  Attending to children, for instance, is facilitated by neurochemically-based attraction to cute faces and an oxytocin-based reward for tending them.  Conformity to this biologically reinforced norm benefits everyone, since we all begin as children.  Thus, consciously or not, everyone is much too distracted by the WIIFM (What's In It For Me) question to care about the real you unless there's some way the real you directly benefits them. Almost everyone fails the quadriplegic test, according to Autin- thus my chances of someone accepting and valuing the real me are slim.
    Friends and potential spouses aren't the only ones who don't find much use for your authenticity.  In the workplace as well, it is more often expectation compliance that is valued than the individual.  Employers want performance: if they could get a cost-effective machine to replace the sum of your productive functions they would. 
    Often church leaders join the workplace, friends, and potential spouse crew of those who predominantly value performance.  Do you fulfill your calling?  Live the commandments enough to tick off yes's and no's appropriately in the temple interview?  Do you attend your meetings and home teach monthly?  I could care less about your feelings, happiness, misery, joys, etc.- my concern is that you do what you're supposed to and refrain from doing what you're supposed to avoid. 
   Lastly, God joins the bandwagon because He also wears the hat of justice enforcer.  His angels take scrupulous notes and there is some evidence that my body itself will also prove a witness against me at the judgment bar.  The universe is so arranged that all I ever do, think, and feel is perfectly recorded.  Even the light I've received (e.g. I know that I should reprove with sharpness and show an increase in love afterward- if I fail to do so, I'm guilty of breaching a known command- he who receives the greater light receives the greater condemnation) works against me.  The realities together result in the abundant ability to condemn me.  Even though God can accept me as a parent, His acceptance is not equivalent to my salvation.  Exaltation is at least partly performance based (not based just on God's grace), so there is a very literal loss if I fail to perform in correct ways and quantities.  God is not a come-as-you-are kind of lord.  A central message of the gospel is the need to repent - which is necessarily built on the fact that you aren't good enough as you are (else what need is there to repent?).  Your authentic self is dirty, sinful, undeveloped, inchoate, reprehensible, and reprobate in disposition, conduct, and constitution; only through your intense and persistent efforts, literally killing your authentic self (natural man), and the intervention of a deity on your sorry behalf is there any semblance of hope.  Why?  Because no unclean thing can dwell with God (Alma 11:37).  Even the easily offended Holy Ghost doesn't particularly like hanging out with you, bails at the slightest provocation, and to help him endure the sordid milieu of your tabernacle sanctifies you whenever he visits (picture an immaculate white South African lady-elite spraying lysol before she touches the doorknob or walks on the floor or sits on the chair during an unfortunate, obligatory visit to her native servant's filthy quarters).  Your authentic sincerity won't be enough unless you jump cleanly through the right hoops- "sincerely following false traditions prevents salvation." "sincerity is not enough for salvation: one must sincerely comply with God-given truth" (Bruce R. McConkie, quotes approximated, see Mormon Doctrine 2d ed. entries on "Sincerity" and "Truth".).  Even if your authentic self makes painstaking efforts to be righteous, you're probably too stupid to hit the mark and will likely be subsequently criticized and labeled a hypocrite by Jesus (e.g. the Pharisees, who despite the fastidious care they took to know and comply with God's commandments, which effort you'd think might earn you some righteousness points if anything would, ended up being categorically reviled and ridiculed to the present day by subsequent generations of followers of the condemning Christ, who first weighed their performance and found it wanting).

That's Autin's barrage.  Here are six counter-jabs:
1)   Yes, relational capital is scarce and most friendships follow the natural selection pattern you posit.  However, many people, including some of my friends, probably humanize rather than instrumentalize me.  Many women especially see me as a person and value me just as they do people they serve, e.g. through legal services, that have little or nothing to offer them. My friends Emily and Jana, for instance, would still love me if I turned into an incapacitate blob tomorrow.  Thus, not everyone fails your quadriplegic test.
2)  My mom loves and accepts the authentic me.  Sure, she appreciates if I walk in the truth and express my gratitude to her, but she has enlarged the parental virtue of acceptingness enough and knows my identity enough that she would also likely pass the quadriplegic test.
3)  Folks such as friends and a potential spouse can be BOTH self interested AND care about the real me-  especially when their needs are met.  There's no particularly reason that I can't acknowledge relational self-interest and still maintain the possibility of abundant emotional intimacy.
4)  There are personal benefits that come from accepting an authentic other, such as increased self-acceptance and "the joy of human love."  Thus, even if Autin succeeds in establishing that my performances are valued because of another's self-interest, emotional intimacy and accepting the real me could also benefit another.
5)  Arbinger Institute's Anatomy of Peace or Leadership and Self-Deception argues that independent of behavior (including rationally self-interested behavior), person A's orientation toward person B may either be in or out of the box.  Out of the box, person A's way of being toward B acknowledges the humanity/hopes/dreams/fears/insecurities/personhood of B.  For those who choose to be out of the box toward me, this way of being is similar if not equivalent to the authenticity acceptance Autin argues against. 
6)   God might adopt a virtue ethics approach, in which case He knows I need some less-observed space, and for the sake of eudaimonia will apply the atonement so as to "remember no more" my deleterious performance.  Plus, I'm an ignorant, weak mortal and literally can't run faster than my own strength on my own.  Thus, it is not the gap between my and perfect performance, but between my and a reasonable expectation of my performance commensurate to what I know and am capable of against which I am justly measured.  Given how hard I try and how weak I am mentally, rationally, and energetically, that gap probably isn't that big.  Plus, there is provision made for my poor performance perhaps in other ways through the Atonement.  Utilitarian and virtue ethics approaches would say I need to shed that burden anyway to progress rapidly, as accelerated advancement and ultimate achievement is more likely under the "I feel accepted/safe and therefore am not distracted from pursuing self-improvement by the need to protect myself from condemnation/punishment/harm" than the "avoid condemnation, my performance is always insufficient and likely to incur wrath, direct attempts to be perfect, fearful of failure" approach.
7)  John 3:17 For God asent not his Son into the world to bcondemn the world; but that the world through him might be csaved.  Samuel Medley, who wrote the text of “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” in 1775, was born in Cheshunt, England, just north of London, in 1738. He practiced sinful and profane ways until his leg was wounded in a naval battle in 1759. The possibility of amputation led Samuel to pray, asking that he might keep his leg. The prayer was answered.  Check out these lyrics and weep, Autin-
I know that my redeemer lives
What comfort this sweet sentence gives
He lives! He lives who once was dead
He lives! my ever-living friend

He lives! To bless me with his love
He lives! To plead for me above
He lives! My hungry soul to feed
He lives! To bless in time of need

He lives! To grant me
He lives! To guide me with his light
He lives! To comfort me went faint
He lives! To hear my soul's complaint

He lives! To silence all my fears
He lives! To wipe away my tears
He lives! To calm my troubled heart
He lives! With blessings to impart

He lives, my kind, wise heav’nly friend; He lives and loves me to the end.
He lives, and while he lives I’ll sing; He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King.
He lives and grants me daily breath; He lives, and I shall conquer death.
He lives my mansion to prepare; He lives to bring me safely there.


  1. I will have to adopt this into my life! THANKS!

  2. My favorite part is under counter attack 6 when you say that the gap that needs to be bridged is between ourselves now and our best self... not our perfect self.

    And a quote I wish I had found sooner when I met up with Autin one day:

    from Elder Bruce C. Hafen 1996
    "The adversary has long cultivated this over emphasis on personal autonomy, and now he feverishly exploits it. Our deepest God-given instinct is to run to the arms of those who need us and sustain us. But he drives us away from each other today with wedges of distrust and suspicion. He exaggerates the need for having space, getting out, and being left alone. Some people believe him - then they wonder why they feel left alone."

  3. I love love love this post! This was my first Brad-post ever and favorite so far! I happened upon it in the middle of a scripture study (don’t know why I was on facebook during scripture time), but it totally enhanced my study and I was impressed with your willingness to share such personal epiphanies openly and eloquently. It was so timely and helpful! So I want to share 2 thoughts:

    First, I loved that you named him! Brilliant! So much easier to fight things with a name (at least Dumbledore and Lloyd Alexander thought so)! Good ole Autin--I think everybody has felt some version (although maybe for females it should be Auten, for reasons only Jane knows :)).

    Second, I like this proactive approach for fighting demons. Repeated wrestling with the typical human thoughts/feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, fear, despair could tempt us at some points to stop fighting and just huddle in fetal position waiting helplessly for some outsider to save us from Autin/en's ‘barrage’ (love your vocab as always!) and to pull us out of the fight, convince us of our worth, and give us the hope we lack. While relying on our supportive friends and family can be essential in the ongoing fight, I think we all are going to have to deal with these types of battles through much of our lives. So this head-on, fighting back is empowering. You provided some great tools and arguments that can apply to a variety of demons and you ended perfectly with the Vanquisher of demons! So good. Thoughts of a glowing Gandolf riding into a sea of Orcs comes to mind.This is just a great post! I’m going to stop typing and just go read it again. Excellent! Makes me happy!

    Oh, and based on discussions with single and married friends, I think a lot of us singles erroneously think that marriage will end our battle with Autin. I've been informed that he returns with a new name/blame. All the more reason to practice reliance on the Savior in the current battle.

  4. Aye The che, strong points! James "for real" Nickerson had a response similar to yours.

  5. "Thus, it is not the gap between my and perfect performance, but between me and a reasonable expectation of my performance commensurate to what I know and am capable of against which I am justly measured." Good stuff. Great post.


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