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The Worst Demon

I heard a sermon years ago about the one demon that opens the door of our heart for all the others. The preacher wasn’t talking about literal evil spirits as much as attitudes. So which bad attitude welcomes all the other ones? He was talking about self pity. 

I see it in my life. When I feel sorry for myself it's much easier to rationalize bad behavior. This could apply to probably all self destructive tendencies, from eating too much, to indulging in rage or lust, or ventilating anger. What I play on the inner screen of my mind alters most of my decisions, from the way I drive on the freeway to the things I say to my loved ones. And self pity usually helps me justify bad behavior. “They had it coming,” I reason, or “It’s been a rough day, eat a second helping of dessert.”

So what can we do about it? Being conscious of the tendencies is the first step. Once I realize how often self pity has sabotaged me in the past I can be more aware of my inner dialogue and change it, resisting the negative behavior that subtly screaming at me in my thought life.

It also helps to become more conscious of the feelings that drive us. The healing work I’ve done in my retreats made me much more conscious of negative emotions. This comes easier for women than for men. The male embryo is bathed in testosterone early in its development. This makes us so much less aware of our feelings that one writer quipped that men are born brain dead. Perhaps this explains why we often think with our smaller head. If we had a greater sensitivity to our emotional life we would probably make better decisions when tempted.

This feeling stuff is tricky though. Conservative Christianity, especially in the western world, is paranoid of emotions. Greek thoughts forms and an Anglo Saxon mind set reinforce the perception that emotions can't be trusted. We've all been encouraged to hide our emotions and keep a stiff upper lip. Such stoicism has fueled a plethora in our modern age of addictions. We do anything to numb out, from eating and drinking too much to sex addiction and the even more insidious work addiction, which I call the acceptable addiction. (We’d never praise an alcoholic for being the best drunk in town but we happily laud the work addict.) All addictions keep us from feeling our pain, loneliness, anger, emptiness, disappointment, anxiety or any other negative emotion.

The old evangelical model for explaining the “proper” role of our emotions uses the image of a train, with facts being the engine that drives us followed by faith, and emotion being the caboose. The goal is to keep our lives on track based first on rational evidence and biblical standards. Emotions, we are told, should follow and serve us. The problem is that in our effort to avoid be driven by emotions, we so resist their use or leading that we give them hardly any role at all. Like modern day trains that no longer need cabooses we try to cut off any emotional factor from our decisions. It’s no wonder that in some churches half the women are on antidepressants!

To be sure, our emotions should serve us. But they can’t do that if we cut them off or simply stop feeling. Our emotions best assist us when we feel them then examine them rationally. When I was in college this was known as RET – Rational Emotive Therapy. Patients were encouraged to feel the emotions but not let them rule them. Once the feelings are fully felt, we can examine where they came from and make reasonable decisions. 

When I do this I can breathe out my anxiety over the guy who cut me off on the freeway and slow down and even pray a blessing on him instead of cursing. I see my temptation for a second glass of wine with dinner for what it is and realize that my real need can be better served by a short walk to help me sort things out. It’s been suggested that a brisk daily walk would eliminate the need for antidepressants. I believe it. Like Thoreau I would have to say that I’ve never had a problem that along walk didn’t help me solve.

So exorcise those demons. Be aware of the role of self pity, feel what you are feeling and rationally decide what you really need. Stop treating symptoms and resolve the real issues. If you begin doing this, everything in your life will improve, I guarantee it.



Ken Unger is President of and founder of, where you can learn more about him and his transformative ministry. click here ,
 "Ken's new book, The Ultimate Breakthrough, goes beyond self help to self healing. You can preview it at The Ultimate Breakthrough "
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