October 12, 2018:
I am starting to see the symbiotic (and sympathogenic) relationship between a religion and the psychologies of its adherents. It’s interesting that the more I learn about narcissism, the more narcissistic elements I see in Christianity.
Narcissism may emerge as a defense strategy in a person when a harshly judgemental, conditionally-approving SUPEREGO hurts an innocent, sensitive TRUE EGO (T-EGO), inducing it to construct a FALSE EGO (F-EGO) to protect itself from further pain and extract the love and approval its needs from the SUPEREGO. Depending on the severity of the case, over time the T-EGO may get totally lost and forgotten behind the F-EGO mask, leading to the truly horrific condition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). In other cases, however, the person more or less stays in touch with their T-EGO all the while hiding behind the F-EGO facade. The person behaving narcissistically projects only the personality traits portrayed by the F-EGO, and these are mirrored back by the adjudicating, approving SUPEREGO.
In the kind of religion I grew up in, the SUPEREGO was a complex entity consisting of various authority figures: God, parents, elders, teachers, etc. These figures are internalized as a unit and eventually become part of the child’s interpersonal psychology and personality. The SUPEREGO establishes the law and order for life according to biblical teachings and cultural standards. It enforces this law and order through emotional, psychological, physical, and social policing. Whenever this program oversteps into abuse – as a result of the unresolved issues of authority figures – the child, without recourse, gets the message that there is something dreadfully wrong with its T-EGO as a whole. Through experiences of punishment and shame, it absorbs in its nervous system the painful feeling that it is not safe to be certain ways in the world. This feeling becomes a somatic memory that can remain throughout the person’s life, and this experience is then neatly tied to the teaching that the person is inherently sinful. So shamed and guilted, the T-EGO retracts in horror and goes underground and out of sight in the worst cases, while in others less severe, it encases itself in psychic armor.
The original natal soul of a human being is potentially expressive of the full range of humanness. It is expressive of all that we call good or evil, godly or satanic, virtuous or sinful. This truly awesome potential is too much for any society to accommodate, so it is divided, categorized, and its divisions treated differently from culture to culture. The unacceptable facets of the soul are shamed, punished, repressed, controlled, etc. and in Christian societies are described biblically as the ‘sinful nature’ and the ‘old man’ that must pass away. The ‘new man’ comprises those facets of the soul that the society – in this case, Christian – deems appropriate. Because a young child cannot comprehend this process of judgement – let alone defend itself from it – it inadvertently cooperates with the SUPEREGO by fragmenting its own soul into T-EGO and F-EGO. The attention, acceptance, approval, and affection the child gets for suppressing its T-EGO and identifying with its F-EGO releases loads of feel-good brain chemicals, which in subjective experience feels like undeniable, self-evident confirmation of the truth and goodness of the SUPEREGO’s conditioning – an extremely effective means of social control.
The young Christian – either child or new convert – is told which elements of their human nature are wrong and which are right and are promised that the communally constructed and endorsed F-EGO will eventually be victorious over the T-EGO. This is the putative Christian maturity, the achievement of ‘Christlikeness’: when the F-EGO and the SUPEREGO attain their ultimate dominance over the unruly, non-conforming, and feral elements latent in the T-EGO. When complete, this program amounts not to the mastery of psychic drives and impulses but rather the repudiation, sublimation, and suppression of some of them. Those drives and impulses so suppressed are usually denied and/or misdirected, thereby creating dangerously imbalanced persons and societies made up by them.
To evangelize a child or convert is first of all to persuade them that their True Egos are sinful, wrong, and destined for eternal punishment. The evangelized respond appropriately when they start to feel great remorse, not only for specific ‘sins’ they have committed but more importantly, for their innate ‘sin nature’. They are to understand that their essential wrongness is at the very core of their human nature. Children, especially, experience this message with deep shame and humiliation as it is often conveyed with emotional or physical pain against which their only defense is self-fragmentation.
Once the evangelized and indoctrinated are sufficiently shamed and self-loathing, a savior is supplied: Jesus Christ. Christ is presented and upheld as the model of what every human being should strive to become. In effect, Christ is the SUPEREGO’s blueprint for personality and society, the ultimate F-EGO each member of the group is to strive to conform to. The nature of the Christian F-EGO is determined by the specific group’s interpretation of the Bible, and if the child or convert commits to it, they win the reward of belonging in the group. And if they master it they attain to the ultimate narcissistic self-image: Christlikeness. The pressure that builds in a person from the collective shaming, guilt-tripping and gaslighting is cathartically released when they finally get the love and approval from the SUPEREGO:
“Come to us all who are weary and heavy-laden,” says the SUPEREGO, “and we will give you rest!”
“I am loved,” sighs the convert, “just as I am!”
No, not just as you are. Just as you are supposed to be.
Thus the convert settles into communal and divine love, enjoying the benefits thereof, all the while a swath of their human nature simmers in the shadow.