Recently, someone remarked about the wonderful quality of a friend: “He’s always the same person, no matter who he’s with.”
I had to be a party pooper and say, “I doubt very seriously that he’s the same with everyone. Maybe he only lets people see one side of him, but he definitely has a lot of different parts of his personality. And I’ll bet he shows different aspects of himself when he’s with other people.”
Different Parts, Depending on the Relationship
For example, when I’m with my wife, I don’t act like I’m her pastor or social worker. If I do, she gently reminds me, “Don’t counsel me.” Or, when I’m with a female friend, I’d better not behave as if I’m with my wife! Each of us has different aspects to our personality that we let others see, depending on the role that we play in their lives, and the relationship they have to us.
Different Parts, Depending on the Need
We also have different parts, depending on the need that may arise. Having different parts is normal and healthy. Integrating these parts into a whole person can take finesse and diligence, and maybe a bit of therapy. Integrative Psychotherapy’s website describes these inner parts as:
…Not Multiple Personalities- Rather a “sum of one unified whole.” Most of us have parts, and it does not mean that you have different selves, rather that you are human. Working with your inner parts allows you to uncover the most beautiful elements of yourself, that often have been buried. When unleashed, you access a newfound ability to shine, connect and relate- to self, others and the world.
The Sum of My Parts
Some of these inner parts may be endearing, like my inner Five-Year-Old Toddy who loves his mama more than anyone else. Other parts, like my inner Eleven-Year-Old Greg, can be quite injured, shamed, and traumatized. When my inner Incredible Hulk has come out, he has startled me and those with me. But my wife says she loves my twelve-year-old Comedian. And when Pastor Greg emerges, he knows how to calm his own storm as well other people’s storms. These are not multiple personalities, but genuine aspects of who I am. You have parts, too—and if you think about it, I bet you can identify who they are.
In Parts Therapy, trained counselors speak to each of these parts, addressing their wants, needs, fears, and griefs. Instead of fighting “inner demons,” parts therapists speak to troubling or troubled aspects of a person’s personality to soothe, care for, or resolve conflict. Conservative Christians may feel uncomfortable at this point because it sounds like making friends with dark spiritual forces. But let me invite you to consider spiritual peace talks instead of spiritual warfare (Eccl 3.8; Matt 5.9)
Jesus Gave Grace to Demons
Whenever Jesus encountered someone with an unclean spirit, he set the person free while giving grace to the demon. That’s right–he gave grace, even to the thing that held the person in bondage. Not once in the Gospels do we read about Jesus destroying a demon or sending it to hell. In Matthew 8:29 NRSV, the demons said to Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” They assumed That Jesus had come to torment them when he was doing nothing of the kind. Jesus always spoke to this kind of spirit with tenderness and compassion. Even when the demonic storm tried to kill him and his disciples, Jesus simply said, “Peace! Be still (Mark 4:39)!” Jesus didn’t fight demons–Jesus had conversations with them.
Who is the Real Tempter?
Perhaps the best picture of this is Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, in Luke 4:1-13 NRSV.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
When we read this scripture, we think of Satan, AKA Lucifer, or the Devil (with a capital D). But Jesus’ brother James points out that this tempter is actually on the inside–as one of Jesus’ “parts.” James 1:14-15 NRSV says:
…Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Inviting the Devil to Peace Talks
Jesus was never tempted to do something that he didn’t want to do. Instead, he was tempted to do things that he secretly wanted, somewhere deep inside him. His Tempter-Part (called the Devil by Luke) invited him to compromise his mission in exchange for pleasure, power, and prestige. Jesus could have called a legion of angels to defend him, but instead, he invited the Devil to peace talks.
Jesus Even Loves His Tempter-Part
In these conversations, he spoke to his Tempter-Part, addressing the false sense of lack that allowed a notion to become a temptation. Jesus gently reminded his Tempter-Part that he had all he needed to survive. Jesus kindly told his Tempter-Part that he had all the power he needed without worshiping that which is non-Ultimate. Jesus graciously reminded his Tempter-Part that his self-esteem didn’t require the recognition of crowds who witnessed a miracle. He did all this tenderly, without declaring war on Satan. Jesus knew what it meant to embrace his troublesome parts. Yes, when he said, “Love your enemies,” he held himself to the same standard regarding his Tempter-part.
Make the Devil Meditate
Jesus didn’t only speak to the Devil; he invited him to meditate. Every time Satan spoke, Jesus kindly met the enticement with scripture. When he did this often enough, the inner inveigler quieted and left. G.I. Gurdjieff said, “If you meditate and the Devil comes, make the Devil meditate.” By inviting the Accuser to meditate, Jesus calmed the storm of temptation.
When your troubled or troublesome parts emerge, don’t fight against them as if they’re your enemy. Embrace all your parts, no matter how difficult they may be. Instead of hating and fighting against those aspects of yourself that cause pain, ask them why they’re hurting, violent, defensive, lustful, or ashamed. Care for the hurting parts as if they are a precious part of you—because they are.
Do Not Resist an Evildoer
Even if you find that one of those parts is a devil—don’t fight against it. Jesus said, “But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also (Matthew 5:39 NRSV).” Rather than fighting the evil inside you, love the Tempter-Part, the Angry-Part, the part of you that’s hurting and afraid and needs to act out and misbehave. Invite the devil to meditate.
Sit with your pain, your anger, your temptation, your shame, or whatever negative emotion you’re experiencing. But don’t let it have power over you. Have a conversation with it. Ask it, “Why are you so afraid?” “What’s making you feel vulnerable right now?” “How can I help with your insecurities?” When those damaged parts of your personality feel less threatened, they won’t be so violent or reactionary. When you make the devil meditate—when you invite your devil-parts to a conversation rather than fighting against them—it’s the same as telling the storm, “Peace, be still.”
How to Calm the Storm
Sometimes we label those negative parts of ourselves “evil,” rather than understanding that they are just hurting, scared, or defensive for good reason. Even those addicted parts of us that reach out inappropriately for comfort—these parts aren’t evil. They’re just trying to cope. For far too long, Evangelical Christianity has told us to “resist the devil and he will flee (Jas 4.7).” Yet, Jesus told us not to resist evil, but to love our enemies, pray for them, and enter into a redemptive relationship with them. Instead of trying to “bind and cast out” our negative parts, let’s do what Jesus did. Let’s sit with them. Because it’s through love and acceptance, not resistance, that we can calm the storm.
This article was written with the idea that many “inner demons” are actually mental health disorders. I believe that many, if not most, “demonic” experiences fall into the category of mental illness. However, I do believe in the existence of literal demons. Click here to read about my experience of a real demon first-hand.
Unfortunately, the modern charismatic movement has emphasized spiritual warfare to such an extent that it demonizes all mental illnesses. This is unfortunate in that many do not get the behavioral health assistance that they need. Instead, they try to exorcise “demons” that are in their mind. I advocate healthy skepticism whenever a person refers to demons in a literal way. My first inclination is to assume mental illness. Only when certain supernatural requisites are fulfilled, do I consider demonic possession.
Mental illness and demonism require vastly different approaches. Click here to read my article on how to tell the difference between mental illness and demonic possession.