Look Who’s Talking

 

Everyone is familiar with that “voice in the head.” By this, I mean the negative voice. It is mean, judgmental, angry, jealous, envious, salacious, just bad. Sometimes it goes quiet. Sometimes it is so overwhelming that it drowns everything else out. One simple question we can ask: “Who’s doing the talking?”

This voice is not the product of reasoning. We have not weighed, measured, compared and reached a conclusion that “he deserves to suffer and die!” The words form in our head, often with no warning and without forethought. We may very well be embarrassed that such thoughts even occur. But the truth is you did not think such a thing. Therapists have dubbed this negative voice, “Self-talk.” And it is interesting to note this conclusion: Self-talk is not thought.1

The tradition names this voice “logismoi,” which is something of a diminutive form of the word for thought. But it is clear that the logismoi do not rise to the level of true thought. They are not reason, nor are they the product of reason.

In some traditional treatments, it is hard to tell whether the author thinks that logismoi differ in any way from the promptings of demons. In the service of Holy Baptism, there is an obligatory exorcism (even of an infant). It does not presume that the person is possessed. Rather, it presumes that the dark voice within us has demonic allies. In the prayer, the priest names these forces:

…the spirit of deceit, the spirit of evil, the spirit of idolatry and of every covetousness; the spirit of falsehood and of every uncleanness which operates through the prompting of the devil.

These are not described as demons, but rather “the spirit of,” which “operates through the prompting of the devil.” The voice in our head, the self-talk, is not the voice of a demon. However, it has a very dark origin and is utterly contrary to our well-being. It is the voice of the deepest wound in our soul and body, with origins that are sometimes older than our ability to speak.

In terms of psychology and neurobiology, this wound is seen as the imprint of trauma and abuse (strong in some, weak in others). At its heart, it is a wound to the self, the sense of abandonment and fearful exposure. In time, it gains its own voice. One researcher describes it as our “nemesis.”

We do not have to think about negative self-talk for it to exist—it seems to have a life of its own. The content of that life was born early in our development and experiences. The focus of this self-talk is directed specifically at and is only about one thing: the self. Its exact age is unknown. We can never remember when it began. How could we? It’s always been with us as an affective imprint, stored from the abuses and neglect experienced when we were helpless and needing protection and love. It existed before we were aware of it….. People can attempt an escape from this pattern of events [represented in the voice], but typical escape behaviors (drinking, taking drugs, and other compulsive behaviors) usually only exacerbate their sense of shame. Their inner voice simply screams its disapproval of them. When they listen closely to the self-denigrating messages, they see self-loathing, disgust, and inadequacy coupled with feelings of mortification, exposure, and helplessness. The voice that has formed within them is very young, very scared, and very vulnerable indeed. It doesn’t reason or stop to reflect; it just is.2

I have been reading and digesting studies on the phenomenon of shame, reflecting on my own inner life and what I hear in the lives of others. The insights are useful in and of themselves. However, when coupled with the Tradition, they are more than useful, they become pastoral tools for the treatment of the soul.

I was particularly struck when a researcher described this voice as the “nemesis.” For that is how it behaves. It is like a wounded animal within us, criticizing, judging, negative, destructive, never rejoicing. It offers no wisdom. It builds nothing up. It lives like the enemy within, truly a nemesis of the soul.

This nemesis is a wounded, scared, vulnerable child, unable to comfort itself, unable to reason. Its voice is a voice of pain, but it speaks destruction towards the self, and towards the world around.

When you reflect on the “spirits” addressed in Baptism (deceit, evil, idolatry, covetousness, falsehood, uncleanness), they are indeed expressed in just such a voice. And within the soul, this wound is the most accessible aspect to darkness, most easily manipulated and managed by the demons. It resembles them.

It is also the voice of shame. Shame seems to be the oldest place within the soul’s brokenness, the residence of darkness. Think about the story of the Fall. Eve’s eating of the fruit comes in the course of a conversation. Only, the voice is truly the voice of evil, and not a mere echo in the human psyche:

“Has God indeed said,’You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; “but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said,`You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1-5)

The dark voice accuses God. Everything is colored by its resentment and mistrust. “God just doesn’t want you to be like Him…” Imagine that statement coming from a very lonely, very hurt, very suspicious child. And in this case, the voice is being planted and exploited by our true nemesis.

The result is our shame. We hide ourselves. And now the hiding place is a dark wound within us, one that lives like a grumble. It is the shame-filled nemesis who now whispers a narrative for our day.

This voice is stronger in some than others, depending on the depth and severity of the wound. It can also grow stronger, if it is allowed to become the dominant sound in our heads. As Christians, we resist it (sometimes). It puzzles us and shakes any confidence we might have in our own faith. “How can I think such things?” we wonder. You didn’t think them. The words are the voice of something very old (and young) and unattended.

It is a place that, ironically, requires compassion. It is easy to identify such negative energy as an enemy, and nurture a kind of self-loathing. But self-loathing (of that sort), is easily nothing more than the sound of the voice you have come to loathe. It is a loathing that feeds on itself as a toxic rant rather than bringing about healing.

This, I believe, is among the reasons we hear such compassion for the souls in hell from many of the greatest spiritual fathers in the Church. I have become all too accustomed to hearing extreme statements of condemnation towards various persons, or classes of persons, those guilty of sins both real and imaginary. It is not just the statements themselves but the nature of the energy that speaks them. It is often nothing other than the public expression of that inner voice, and, as such, speaks nothing more than the shame of the one speaking.

The well-known conversation of St. Silouan with a brother monk can be applied across the board:

I remember a conversation between [Silouan] and a certain hermit who declared with evident satisfaction,‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.’

Obviously upset, [Silouan] said,‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there you looked down and saw someone burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy?’

‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,’ said the hermit.

[Silouan] answered him in a sorrowful countenance: ‘Love could not bear that,’ he said. ‘We must pray for all.’

I have encountered more than a few angry contradictions directed towards St. Silouan in this regard. “It can’t be helped…it would be their own fault…after all, they had it coming to them…”

But the darkness that lies within the wounds of our soul differs very little from the souls in hell. Indeed, we may think of those dark places as already speaking from hell. They require compassion. It is for their sake that Christ took flesh and endured death and Hades. It is in that frightful place of darkness that the light of Pascha shines most brightly. The healing of such wounds is nothing less than life from the dead.

Lazarus! Come forth!

Footnotes for this article

  1. For an excellent discussion of self-talk see Gerald Fishkin’s The Science of Shame and Its Treatment, 2016.
  2. Fiskin, The Science of Shame and Its Treatment, Kindle, 1063.

43 comments:

  1. The ultimate deceit from that inner voice is the temptation to suicide. All it’s tempting is self-destructive.

    The inner voice is me, but not quite me. It is the voice of the abyss tempting me to embrace nothingness because my shame is too great.

    Not me because it lacks the fullness of who I am. No joy, no thaksgiving, no compassion or care of others. And yet , I still listen.

    A Star Trek Next Generation episode: Skin of Evil created a visual representation of that inner voice-a dark creature who’s only motivation is hate.
    It cannot stand compassion. It can kill but not create or give life.

  2. When I participated in a group therapy back in the70’s ( a very, very productive experience for me!), these voices were mostly called “Parental Tapes”. They were characterized as being critical, scolding, and shaming in nature. When each of us were asked to speak the words they turned out to be exactly the words spoken to us by one or the other parent. Sadly, mothers tended to be the predominant culprit. Overcoming the power and influence of these voices was facilitated by identifying them and calling them out for what they were–much like that experienced when one names and calls out one’s sins in confession; they lose a lot of their powerful hold on us. Sadly, some individuals faced a secondary obstacle when the parent who spoke them was deceased. It seems that disobeying one’s dead parent is so compellingly believed to be “disrespectul” of a dead parent that “disobeying” them proves to be an enormous obstacle, even though the message is shown to be undeniably unfounded and destructive.
    Interestingly, one individual in our group had grown up in an entirely permissive family dynamic. He was hard-pressed to recall either parent speaking words of shame or guilt. Alas, this permissive rearing produced problems of its own. Having never had any sense of what someone once called “animating guilt” inculcated in them produced an entirely self-centered person.

  3. Just this week I had a lot of thoughts while sitting at my desk at work that sounded like, “I’m just not doing very well. I’m not strong or smart enough to do all this.” And it was unsettling, and I asked God to show me how to respond. And today I read this.

    I think I dialogue with these thoughts because I think they’re humility. But it seems that true humility isn’t really the same as my obsession with goodness or badness or worth. I think Olivier Clement said something like, “Humility is the ability to be awed by beauty.” It’s like it’s that pause where you wait for strength and guidance, where you depend on God’s will as something ever-present. I don’t know.

  4. Maybe we incur this negative voice at conception, sinners from our mother’s womb, as the Psalmist says.

  5. Gregory,
    Parents can easily be a primary source for this (especially early on). There are other sources as well. Recent neurobiological studies have located this stuff, in its earliest form, as being place in the basal ganglia of the brain, which is deeper than thought itself. I’m being somewhat literal as the “sound of a wound.” Those sounds become associated with the wound over the length of our experience and help give it voice(s).

  6. Michelle,
    Not quite that early. But, some trauma even in the womb can apparently effect the area where this stuff is stored on its most primal level. None of that means we’re stuck. There is healing. It’s just not easy.

  7. Dearest father,
    This post is so timely and so difficult for me.
    Your wrote:
    “Their inner voice simply screams its disapproval of them. When they listen closely to the self-denigrating messages, they see self-loathing, disgust, and inadequacy coupled with feelings of mortification, exposure, and helplessness”

    But, how this words differ from the prompting of a guilty conscience or unconfessed sin?

  8. Maria,
    Thank you for the question. Guilt is about something I have done. Shame (the nature of this voice) is about who I am. We can repent from things done wrong, and take them to confession. The things this voice says generally can’t be repented of – they are accusations of who we are, etc.

  9. Thank you Father for this illuminating post. There is much truth here and I could have used it 50 years ago but I had to walk the path of healing without much light until the Lord finally got my attention. By the Grace of our Lord that voice has been much stilled and I am the better for it. Thank you for tying all the loose ends together for me so I understand the past better and have much greater hope for the future.

  10. God bless you, Fr. Stephen, for writing this and exploring this topic. God is indeed good all the time.

  11. Hi Jessica, I really like the theme of the ‘pause’ that you mentioned. Years ago someone told me ‘hope is remembering’ such as remembering the loaves and fishes and remembering how God provides.

    I have also become suspicious of thoughts in my head that seem holy but may not be.

  12. I call it “the voice from the cellar,” and I have spent years figuring it out; first realising that is isn’t “me”, then learning where it comes from. In the end, answering those questions doesn’t make the voice go away; understanding might help toward healing but it isn’t the same thing as healing. I have found it doesn’t respond to reason, and positive self-talk is of small value. If the voice originates in the primordial wound of shame that is our broken relationship with God (and subsequently everything else), then only that relationship can heal it. The beauty of creation, the Jesus prayer, and the Eucharist have done wonders for me. And the songs and hymns of the Church!

  13. Father Stephen,
    so ultimately, sin is misdirected shame?
    We should embrace it and face God.
    That would make us holy?

    Thank you.

  14. Father, bless.

    This voice is exceedingly loud in my head and I have found much helpful wisdom in the Fathers and in the Scriotures.

    One note that has become helpful to me is that Job can be seen as an allegory for this. He receives a wound that is not his own doing, just as we receive the effects of our first parents’ fall into corruption. He is then surrounded by voices that call out contradictory, often brutal, accusations that he must resist. These voices are called “friends” much in the same way we believe these “thoughts” to arise from our God-given reason.

    It is only when we are face-to-face with God (theoria) that we can see clearly and be restored.

    The wound is exceedingly deep, and perpetually made raw by these thoughts — but the imprint of Christ, the image of God, is deeper still.

    Thanks for your words.

    RVW

  15. Father,
    You have explained what I have experienced my entire life. The voice never stops. It is truly a living hell. It dominates my life and is only absent during Divine Liturgy. I thought I was alone in this situation. It leaves me with a sense of despair and gloom.

  16. Thank you Father, thank you.

    I’m thinking it is like when a child understands that you (the parent) can see the truth in a bad situation they got themselves into. Moreover, they recognize that you always knew how it was going to unravel. Not in as an …”I told you so” kind of way, but rather, like the prodigal son. Where there are tears because everything becomes abundantly clear.

    The challenge to me, is how to remember. How to humble myself in the moments of shame, (and I can only speak for myself, but they are loud and constant), and pray that they become an offering that can bring me to Christ.

    Lord have mercy on us sinners.

  17. Thank you again Father,
    As I continue learn about this, it occurs to me that I’ve had an unhealthy view of God due to my trust and investment into the negative voice. As I remarked to my wife on the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross (my first time at Liturgy), I really never believed that God loved me. I saw the cross as God’s begrudging attempt to “clean up my mess.” Even the cross was an act of shame for me. Shame isolates us from the help of the Savior and the Church. So much of this is aided by the error of thought that the cross is ultimately a ransom paid for my sins. Like a tired, frustrated parent God shows up and once again pays the cost for my inability to be as good or moral as Him. Oddly enough this is exactly the way I see any benevolent action by my earthly parent. You are correct in that this dysfunction is deep, old, and effective to our destruction. Healing, therefore, should be expected to be slow, yet effective.
    It is amazing to now see the cross and feel joy and grace.

  18. Thank you, Father Stephen!
    “If you have a heart, you could be saved. You can’t preach the Gospel to people without a heart, they don’t have antennas to receive it.
    “We have to make sure we remain humans, we have to make sure we remain sane.”
    I found this lecture of Fr. Thomas Hopko very enlightening:

  19. Thank you, father.
    Please, how all this get worse in people suffering from mental troubles?
    Can someone feel guilty about something they cannot possibly control?
    Are the people subjeted to physical/emotional torture (mental bizarre symptoms are felt this way) in danger of inner disintegration because of these dark voices being mixed with authentic conscience’s voices?
    Forgive me.

  20. Larry, your “first time at Liturgy”!!!
    “Out of the mouths of babes” would seem to fit here.
    Thank you Father! This is most helpful and encouraging. All you commenters too! Incredibly helpful and timely!
    Any suggestions as how to confront and halt the attacks of the “brain weasels”?
    I find making the sign of the cross is immediate relief. Runnng to Him for protection, then the Jesus Prayer and the Trisagion Prayer. Over time this has built a watchtower of awareness and wall of truth that provides protection and even calms the spirit. “The truth shall indeed set us free…
    Thank you again. Now on to put into practice…

  21. Dennis, awesome reminder about the spiritual weapons in our Orthodox arsenal for batting those nasty accusations away. Sometimes all I can manage is repeating the Jesus Prayer in the spirit of “Lord, help me!!” over and over. I’m ashamed (there it is again) to admit how many times I spend hours and days instead mostly arguing with these voices in my head, especially when they are given fresh force from the words (sometimes even those spoken innocently enough) someone else speaks to me or someone with whom I identify and empathize in my presence that sounds like a bit of self-righteous bullying. When this is done in the name of correcting Christian behavior and defending the faith, it can be especially toxic to me. I need to learn to better recuse myself when I find myself in venues where this sort of thing seems to be a bit of a pattern with some and keeps hitting me in that wounded place reinforcing the injury.

  22. In or blame-seeking culture it makes me very uncomfortable to hear talk of parents being a source of these wounds. Not that they cannot be – only that it doesn’t seem very helpful to our healing. Our wounds simply are (for whatever reason), and even the healthiest among us has them. It is good and helpful to understand them for WHAT they are, but seeking to understand WHY they are strikes me as a being mostly a temptation to distraction.

  23. Thank you, Father, from my heart for this. This post is illuminating and revelatory for me. I have been dealing with a strong negative voice all my life for various reasons (some of which I’m aware, others of which I’m not), and this voice, this nemesis, has profoundly affected my life in so many ways, manifesting in significant difficulties with timidity and a fear of having faith (in anything or anyone). Thank God I finally felt the call of the Lord and the Church. And your wise and inspiring words are a lamp on the road to healing for us all. Lord help and guide me on my journey to the Church, and may He have mercy on us all.

  24. Fr. Bless,
    Thank you for all of your posts. Your blog continually encourages me so much. I am a mental health counselor and just thought I’d comment whether you are familiar with a type of therapy called Internal Family Systems? I feel it fits well with Christian anthropology and it has a bit in common with what you are describing above.

  25. Brian,
    It all depends. Sometimes, particularly when the damage done by parent(s) is substantial, it is extremely important to identify the source. This is not to affix blame, but in order to discern important things for moving forward. Eventually, it should include the forgiveness of those who have wounded us. If we know anything, it is that those who wound do so because they themselves were wounded.

    It is not a distraction.

  26. Patrick,
    Find someone to work on this with. A wise priest, or a therapist. A good therapist can help with things like shame issues – then take stuff to confession. It can be healed – with time. Christ came to get us out of hell.

  27. Brian,
    One big way that being involved in 12-Step programs, mostly when I was in my 30s, helped me was to show me how to *not* blame my parents for what I was discovering about myself. Through this (years before I came to Orthodoxy), the Lord opened up some insight into how my childish mind & “innards” dealt with the things my parents did that wounded me – and they were really good parents, as I came to appreciate when I got to college and was talking with my peers about how we all were raised. There was no intent on my parents’ part to wound me; they believed that the way they were doing the specific thing that wounded me most deeply was going to help me in the long run. I saw how my childish way of explaining my parents’ actions & attitudes to myself carried over into my teenage and adult years and affected my relationships. Because I continued to follow the script I had written for myself based on my experiences as a child (probably helped along by the logismoi) that said “Nobody can love you unless you’re perfect,” I could do nothing *but* blame others, either in my mind or out loud, in order to avoid being seen as less than perfect, so that I could be worthy of being loved. There were notable instances when I tried to force love from others, in order to block the notion that there must be something wrong with me (shame). Paradoxically, once I could see the original wound and admit how much it hurt – simply telling the truth about things, I was able to begin to quit blaming everyone else, including my parents. Part of that painful truth-telling for me was that, even as well as my parents had loved me overall, they had made some serious mistakes, even though unwittingly, and that their own wounding was behind the sin in their lives that I knew about (and most likely engendered shame which *they* were trying to keep at bay). The Holy Spirit granted me the ability to forgive them pretty much immediately, and granted me some insight into their lives; I ended up feeling a lot of compassion for my parents.

    For me, this all is about being truthful. It’s difficult to forgive, and seek healing, if one can’t admit that there is a wound, and identify at least the general nature of it. I can’t always understand why a person has wounded me, but I can ask God for help figuring out why *I* have reacted the way I did. I find this opens up the connection between the shame I feel and the wounding; whatever understanding I am given about that connection makes it possible for me to bear the shame to the degree I am able in any given moment, and move toward forgiveness. This is how it has worked for me; maybe the Lord knows something different will work better for you. I do believe healing is strongly connected to being willing to tell the truth.

    Dana

  28. Thank you. Your blog today was a poignant reminder of the dysfunction in my childhood. Fear of abandonment. Fear and mistrust. Freezing when I feel threatened. But I’ve also been reminded today that God loves me perfectly and He will see me through.

  29. I appreciate this article (and your blog in general) more than you know. Apparently I wrote poorly. It is not the truth that makes me uncomfortable with going down that road. It is going down that road for the purpose of assigning of blame. “I am wounded as I am because he/she…” It becomes a distraction, I think, and a dead end if this road is traveled for the sake of identification and blame. It is confusing a diagnosis or understanding of the etiology of one’s disease for its treatment.

  30. Brian,
    I understand. My own issues identified some parenting stuff (there were alcohol problems). It was a confused time in my childhood. At certain points, I think I nurtured some sense of blame. It’s possible to get quite stuck there, thinking that because there’s someone else to blame you actually know something. But, you know very little at that point. Fr. Tom Hopko once saw one of his daughters sporting a button that read, “It’s my parents’ fault.” He said, “Well, now that you that, it’s your problem!”

    And, of course, the wounded soul, the negative voice (logismoi) is not my parents’ problem…it’s mine. My father, for example was picking cotton in the fields by age 4. God knows the wounds he carried in his soul – and I know some of my mother’s as well. And this would be true for any of us. We are all “fractals” of one another. I wrote an article awhile back entitled “My Daddy’s Demons.” There was more truth in that than I what I said in the article. I know some of his demons…I suspect they’ve been in my family for generations.

    But things have been changing in mine (as they did even within my Father’s lifetime). My parents became Orthodox at age 79 – which really did represent the fact that they were far more serious in their faith as their years went on. My grandfather wept when he saw me with a priestly collar (tears of tenderness).

    I think there is this deep, deep connection. My healing (even now), I think, somehow reaches back and makes a difference in my parents’ healing. And I think that what they found in their later years was (and is) making a difference in me now. Salvation is corporate. We are saving one another. I do not need to know whom to blame. It is useful, however, to know who I am saving along with myself.

    The level on which this is true is so profound, I believe, that we would be staggered (even scandalized) were we to know it too soon. But I pray that we all know it while we can make some use of it, and give thanks for it. I wonder at what those yet unborn are doing for me, even now.

  31. And then there is this not so easy quote from St. John Chrysostom:

    “For confusion arises within us. It does not come from the nature of circumstances, but from the infirmity of our minds. If we were disturbed because of what befalls us, then all people would have to be troubled. For we all sail the same sea; it is impossible to escape the waves and the spray.

    But if there are some who stand beyond the influence of the storm and the raging sea, then it is clear that it is not the outward circumstances which make the storm within us. Rather, it is the disposition or condition of our own minds. Therefore, we should so order the mind that it may bear all things contentedly in Christ. Then we shall have no storm, nor even a ripple, within us, but always a clear and steady calm.” St. John would go on to say: “None can harm (the person) who will not harm (one’s self).” –taken from: Dee Pennock’s God’s Path to Sanity.

    Is content the issue or contentment? Acceptance? Can one really know a becalmed stirring without the terror of storms? Have you ever looked into the eyes of one who has been through hell? …those wounded eyes made soft and piercingly understanding. They know how to take and hold our scars in the caress of myrrh, wine and water. Hell is not an antidote, it is as you imagine: the “inseperable separation” as one Father put it. St. Gregory Palamas perhaps?

  32. I am a bit confused when you write “The voice in our head, the self-talk, is not the voice of a demon.”. I know that you’ve pointed out there can almost be a conflation of logismoi and demonic voices, but I have always read and understood the teachings where they’re described as logismoi to be more of a simplification, especially because it is humbling and can keep us from forming some weird mock-adversarial relationship with the demons that many saints, including Fr. Seraphim Rose very recently, warn us strongly against but is popular in some “Christian” circles. Are you suggesting that, in addition to what I would call the “normal” [thought it is abnormal in the grand scheme of things] fragmentation of (or failure to live up to) the will and instability of the nous that has us jump between good and evil continually (and thus jump from conversation to conversation between demons almost continually), there is also some near-universal active fragmentation of the logos that creates multiple voices and personalities within us? If so, I would be very interested to hear more about that as, as I’ve noted, I’ve not read things that way and am having a great deal of difficulty understanding that.

  33. Joseph,
    I’m not sure what you’ve read or how much. It has been years since I’ve read Seraphim Rose. It is very easy to misunderstand the patristic portrayal of the mind/soul. It is not our language, and many of the words have subtleties that we miss. The logos is not the mind. The logos of our selves is mind, in the sense of reason (dianoia is the word for rational thought). It is also synonymous with the whole of who we are in terms of our eternal purpose in God (everything thus has a “logos”). The nous is not reason, either, but something higher (it is the faculty by which we may discern truth and know God). The logismoi are not “reason” either. They are the sound of something much more fragmented and deeper. I’m not entirely sure how to describe it in patristic terms. As I noted, it is often difficult in patristic writings to tell the difference between this and demonic promptings/suggestions. But one must not always leap to a very literal understanding of that language.

    It’s always difficult to work with both patristic language as well as the language of modern neuro-biology. The latter should not be scorned or dismissed (the fathers would never have done that). It’s good to read, to reflect, and to learn. Reading and reflecting by looking within is useful. Dee Pennock’s book is probably a good start on the fathers and the passions, and their description of the mind/soul, also some of D. Staniloae’s works. But, in my experience, people tend to learn some sort of Patristic scheme (there’s more than one), cite it and talk about it as if they know what they mean and they rarely do. Worse still, they wind up with a sort of bifurcated world-view. One that speaks some sort of ersatz patristic stuff and another that uses modern biological terms without ever engaging both.

    Really good thought engages everything. Orthodoxy engages everything, including neurobiology and such stuff. The Fathers used the best such knowledge of their time and advocated that as a method (while engaging it with the tradition). There is a good book by Fr. Alexis Trader, a monk of the Holy Mountain, and a well regarded spiritual father, on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the Philokalia. It’s quite good, though thick reading. When you read patristic material, struggle to understand, and to understand it in your own life and in the language of your life. Only in such a fashion can it become yours and be something to share.

    What I have offered here, is, essentially, an analysis of the origin and function of the logismoi, in light of the teaching of the Elder Sophrony, etc.

  34. Fr. Seraphim of blessed memory is quite difficult because he tries to subject the existential reality of the modern American experiment to a Patristic treatment without being as throughly grounded in Patristic understanding as he thought plus he was one of the first to even attempt it. There is a sense in which Fr. Stephen is doing the same thing but more intelligibly. At least for me.

    As one who holds Fr.Seraphim in high regard he must be read with caution. He was breaking ground in a difficult wilderness and coming from a dark place himself. Still, by the grace of God he reached many and directed us all into the Church. While the influence of his written works seems to be waning. I have no doubt he is still struggling with us.

    In the past with many such e fort’s it was always possible to find some foundation for the Church in the cultures we have encounteted. I don’t know that such is possible in our case. We are too proud. There is so much that is of death and shame and destruction there is little to build on IMO. The foundation for the Church are here but only in the poor, the marginal and the discarded places such as the Native Americans, the slaves and perhaps the Appalachian but even these are fading.

  35. Dear Father Stephen,
    Thank you so much for all your work on shame. It has truly been a key for me, unlocking so much. You have been a companion on the Way, along with others God has placed in my life, leading me toward repentance. This voice you describe–for many years I attributed it to God–thought it was his judgment, the fitting assessment of my failures. It was a very dark time. It was hell, really. Everything is different now–I truly feel I have a new life. I can’t really find more words at present, except Glory to God.
    -Erika

  36. Erika, I believe you speak for a vast incalculable multitude. I feel exactly the same way.

    From my experience and observation of the experience of others, this (mostly unwitting) reduction of Christian faith in our modern era to one of many varied systems of moralism using Christian terms among “orthodox” Christians, often with the threat of “hell” featuring heavily as a goad, especially for a certain species of “evangelism” in conservative Christian circles, has very often left modern Christians in a place where they do, in fact, often come to the point where they hear or use the term “moral” and by it mean “merely moral”, or more accurately “moralist” or “moralistic” in terms of the operational definition they have of a “moral” person. This moralistic hearing of the traditional language of Christian faith results in this wound of shame continually taking a frightful beating in conservative Christian circles!

  37. What is the answer to dealing with the self-talk or “voice from the cellar”? These are the things I’ve found:

    1. Spending time learning where it/they come from. As Fr. Stephen said blame is not the goal, but rather understanding. I find you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.

    2. Turning to God like a child, asking Him for help – sometimes relief but also just be with me in this hard struggle. This way I don’t try to justify myself to the voice or attempt logic with it. I talk to God instead.

    3. Doing the work of shame (cf. Fr. Stephen’s many articles on the topic). By this I mean sitting with the pain, shedding the tears and working through it rather than running away or medicating it as I really want to do.

  38. Bless me, Father

    I just now understood what you meant when you referred to my inability to pray, due to my concerns for those less fortunate than myself, as temptation.
    I dismissed your counsel, believing once again, I have not been understood; I have not been able to clearly articulate what transpires within me.
    The words though stayed with me and my mind which operates from a rational, legal and justice oriented, approach could not give credence to a notion that I could possibly be under the sway of forces that are seeking to build walls between my soul and it’s obvious need to pray.
    And in this very moment as I’m at my desk my thought went to my desire to connect with God and I felt, a physical almost, that’s how real it felt, push. I felt as if someone inside me was pushing out of this feeling.
    I’m stunned.
    Did I imagine this?
    Forces out to destroy, of course I’ve read and heard our theologians discuss this in depth. (It’s so ironic for me. The farther I go from my faith the more literature I read on it. From the desert fathers, to lives of the saints, to the difficult and the simple. The more I shake my head at the ‘nonsense’ of Christianity when it proclaims it’s not a continuation of ancient mystery cults, the more podcasts and ‘sermons’ from the Church of Greece and Perieki Ekklesia, radio do I listen to.)
    To continue, demons exist our faith tells us and though I understood this fact, I had not fully imbibed it.
    In other words, I’m too rational to believe such things.
    And yet, I felt something, alien, strong, forceful within me.
    I can and I can’t make sense of it.

    I’ve gone through your entire blog. You write in a manner that reaches me across the chasm.
    Thank you

  39. The article you wrote describes me to a t. I do have that voice note n my head telling me to give up. Not to be an Orthodox Christian. Thanks you!

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