Idols, Pacifiers, and Demons

In a post entitled Out of Depression I proposed a kind of psychospiritual developmental map, composed on the foundational theory of human intelligence as comprised of four distinct “threads” – visceral (VQ), emotional (EQ), rational (RQ), and spiritual (SQ). This “quadratic” (fourfold or four-dimensional) intelligence is complex in nature, with each thread engaged with its own domain.

Visceral intelligence is engaged with the living organism of our body and the urgency of staying alive. Emotional intelligence manages our embodied experience across the changing circumstances and situations of life. Rational intelligence uses language to construct a world around ourselves and tell the story of who we are. Finally, in, through, and beyond these other three, spiritual intelligence grounds us in being and unites us with all things.

Altogether, this quadratic intelligence focuses our energy and attention on five principal concerns: security (VQ), happiness (EQ), meaning (RQ), wellbeing and fulfillment (SQ).

For our psychospiritual development to go well, we were especially dependent upon the provident care of a community of enlightened taller powers (parents and other adults) who took the responsibility as a sacred charge. Under their wise and loving devotion, our nervous system (VQ) was coaxed into a calm resting state of basic trust, which in turn served the formation of healthy bonds (EQ) that supported us in the shared project of constructing a world (RQ) large enough for everyone.

From this psychological position as a centered self inside a constructed world, the conditions were right for our spiritual breakthrough (SQ) – seeing at last the shining truth that All is One and We Are All In This Together. These two correlative insights are the supreme principles informing Sophia Perennis, the ancient yet ever relevant transcultural wisdom tradition of our species. By the incarnation and enactment of this wisdom in the way we live and care for one another, as I explain in Full-Circle Spirituality, our psychospiritual development reaches completion.

Or else it doesn’t.

It’s not only possible but all too common for us never to make it that far. Our spiritual awakening and its unitive vision can be delayed and even tragically foreclosed due to complications earlier on our developmental path. Instead of progressing along its various stages to the final threshold, we get pulled off course into damaging spirals of neurosis and psychosis.

These show up early and often in the great myths of religion, which all together comprise a long-running archetypal narrative (and cultural therapy) of the human psychospiritual journey.

The above diagram will serve as our map for understanding how and when progress gets hung up, sending the precious flow of psychic energy into self-destructive spirals. My chart is built on the two axes of spiritual intelligence (SQ): a vertical axis of “self-transcendence” and a horizontal axis of “self-actualization.” Respectively, these can be regarded as the expansion of identity across larger and more inclusive horizons of space, and the advancement of maturity over the longer course of our life in time. Our story begins, then, where the two axes are joined and start their separate trajectories.


When the primal holding environments of our mother’s womb and family circle are not provident, meaning that they don’t provide a safe and nurturing place for us to relax and surrender in trust to reality, our nervous system is “programmed” to be anxious – tense, over-reactive, hypervigilant, chronically “on edge.”

As the opposite (or absence) of security, anxiety is how our preconscious ego registers a profound lack of assurance, of being without a stable ground but instead dangling and about to fall headlong, as it were, into a dark bottomless abyss.

This experience of being in the grips of a self-destructive energy that is threatening to drop us into the abyss if we don’t Do Something NOW! is an apt metaphor of a panic attack. Because it seems to invade us from outside, insofar as its cues or “triggers” are in our threatening environment (or simply imagined as being there), this malevolent force is depicted in the myths (and in mythological thinking) as demonic possession.

Such profound insecurity, or what is also called existential dread, is not just about being afraid of something or other. This “demon” is the anxiety of being itself.

Most of the time, our demon of anxiety does not destroy us outright, but instead drives us to find relief in our relationships with others. We reach out with a desperate need for them to calm our nerves and make us feel secure. Being in the grips of our demon, we convert its anxiety into attempts at controlling and manipulating others, tying them up with impossible expectations of pacifying us, that they will always stay with us and never change or let us down.

When this dynamic continues long after infancy, such desperate emotional attachment is properly labeled “neurotic,” with the same infantile need for soothing from a “pacifier.” Soon enough, our craving for the pacifier becomes an addiction: the brain and blood chemistry of how we feel gets hooked on it, and we are sure we cannot function or even live without it.

But this horror story isn’t over yet.

With our demon inside us and an unhappy collection of pacifiers round about, we proceed to use our newly waking rational intelligence (RQ) to forge the beliefs out of which we construct our world. In our case, however, these beliefs are not drawn from objective evidence, logical reason, or common sense, as much as they are projected from how we feel inside and in agreement with our codependent partners (i.e., our pacifiers).

Because insecurity (existential dread) is still unresolved deep within us, our beliefs need to be fixed and inflexible, and the world we construct out of them manageably small and closed. They are technically called convictions, for the way they hold our mind captive, and the absolute truth we assign to them makes them “idols.”

The demons possessing us drive our addiction to pacifiers that soothe us, leading eventually to our captivity under the idols that obsess (“sit over”) us and demand our worship. Tragically too many of us are ready to die, and to kill, in their name.

We can close our meditation by noting where all of this neurotic, spiraling energy ultimately leaves us – in depression, which, referring one more time to my diagram, lies in inertial opposition to the wellbeing and fulfillment we long for most deeply.

If we don’t wake up before tomorrow morning, we’ll do it all over again.

Published by tractsofrevolution

Thanks for stopping by! My formal training and experience are in the fields of philosophy (B.A.), spirituality (M.Div.), and counseling (M.Ed.), but my passionate interest is in what Abraham Maslow called "the farther reaches of our human nature." Tracts of Revolution is an ongoing conversation about this adventure we are all on -- together: becoming more fully human, more fully alive. I'd love for you to join in!

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