Despair of Self)
But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.- Alma 36:12-13
Yesterday I spoke about perpetrators of abuse who try to avoid any questions about the state of their soul. Deep down they know that they have done wrong, but they go to incredible length to avoid giving an answer for their behavior because they know all the answers condemn them. Obviously, a person in this state is living apart from reality, and will never be able to achieve real change until they stop running from the truth.
But it is not as if these people are only living at one extreme. They only work so hard to avoid introspection because at their core they are already convinced that they are irredeemably evil. If they weren’t already convinced of that, they wouldn’t need to dodge conversations about it. Thus, they are divided against themselves, utterly loathing themselves even while maintaining that they are totally blameless.
This is an exhausting way to live, and now and again a perpetrator will give up on this divided self-perception. Typically they have first tried to give up on guilt, to say they just don’t care what they do, but the heart refuses to comply. Their conscience betrays them, and refuses to be beat into submission. So eventually they go the other way and wholeheartedly confess that they are bad and guilty.
The reason we put off this confession for as long as we can is that we instinctively know it will bring with it all manner of anguish and torment. Truly owning one’s serious mistakes can invoke the most pronounced and painful suffering we will ever know. We can become lost in a labyrinth of despair, with many paths leading to a variety of unfortunate ends, especially when we discover that not even making our confession is necessarily enough for us to stop doing evil.
Convinced of the Evil, But Continuing in It)
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.- Romans 7:15
There is a portion of addicts who discover that making confession unlocks their previously-uncontrollable behavior. Just by brining their secret shame into the light it loses its power over them. They are able to live with a freedom that they never knew before.
But this only a portion of the addicts. Many others find that making their confession does help, but the problem still isn’t entirely removed. They continue to slip, continue to do the very thing that they confess is wrong. Thus they are still divided against themselves, truthfully admitting to what is right, but deceiving themselves with their actions.
Having taken this step and still not finding relief often brings a second crushing realization. The addict realizes that he is incapable of redeeming himself. Even if he could atone for all his past wrongs, which frankly he probably can’t do, it wouldn’t matter, because he’s going to keep doing new wrong things. All along there has been a secret desire that he would be able to pull himself up by his bootstraps and come into a way of life where conviction and behavior were one and the same. But now he realizes that he is irredeemable, at least by his own power.
If the addict didn’t give up before, he certainly might now. He has realized that he is not just guilty, he is fundamentally broken. He knew that he was bad, but now he realizes that he can never be good. Trial has been held and he has been convicted and condemned. This is what it means to be damned. This is what it means to be in hell.
True, but Incomplete)
Unlike when the perpetrator was in denial of even doing wrong, this appraisal of his life is completely valid. The abuser has finally centered himself on a foundation of truth, but it has come too late.
While he has come to a truth, though, it is not the only truth. It is true that man cannot redeem himself, but it is also true that man does not only have to rely upon himself to be redeemed. There is a God, there is a Savior, and there is a redemption.
Before the perpetrator can have access to the redemptive power of Christ, though, he typically has to first reach this place of appreciating his own damnation. This low point is a necessary prerequisite before true healing can commence.
So this despair is a good place to come to, but it needs to not be the end of the journey. It must only be a checkpoint along the way. The perpetrator must pivot his self-perception twice. First to shift from self-justification to accepting the reality of his crimes, then again to shift from self-condemnation to seeing himself as a son of God. Core paradigm shifts like these do not come easily. There is a reason this is a process, not an event.
But difficult as the perpetrator’s journey is, so too is that of the victim. Tomorrow we will begin examining those that have been on the receiving end of abuse, and the various disconnects from reality that they can experience as well. I’ll see you there.