Jesus’ life-story, crucifixion and resurrection can be seen as an analogy to the psychological process that a survivor experiences during and after an encounter with a psychopath or cluster B disordered. It is an interpretation which may help both religious and non-religious survivors to find solace.
My perspective of the New Testament, is not that of a biblical scholar. I am an atheist who does not believe in the existence of a god, nor an afterlife, not even a factual Jesus. For me the Bible is a compilation of myths. That said, I see great Jungian psychological and symbolical value in myths and fairy tales which contain reflective wisdom that resonate with our gut rather than the ratio. I do not claim this interpretation as the sole valid one, nor that the New Testament was written with this interpretation in mind. And surely, the editors of the Nicene Creed did not pick the gospels from the available ones to relay such an interpretation. But it made me, an atheist, connect to the story as I never could before my personal experience with a psychopath.
I was discarded by the psychopath during the Easter holidays, almost two years ago. When that season returned it signified a one year mark of learning about psychopathy as well as No Contact. During Passover I reflected back on the changes the healing process had wrought in me and how they had come about. For the first time, I could completely identify with the figure of Jesus. The New Testament reveals a change in Jesus about responsibilities, the nature of evil, and how to deal with it that is identical to the one that survivors of psychopaths tend to go through.
Commonly, Jesus’ crucifixion is a religious story to show how the best of humans, God himself, made the penultimate sacrifice for all of humanity so they could enter heaven. In a moral context his humanistic personality is set up as an example to attain. But the story has also been used to guilt-trip and shame humanity for 1600 years. Humanity of all times is blamed for the necessity of the sacrifice. How similar is this use to the slime tactics of a psychopath.
Before the psychopath, the story ripped my empathic heart out. I was angry and filled with disbelief. I felt sorry for Jesus. The guilt and shame I have always rejected. I respected the man’s forgiving, kind ways and arguments. I agreed with him. I wished he had lived. I disregarded the man he became after. Steeped in beliefs of afterlife it was not my atheistic concern. Now, I regard it as a complete story arch where the protagonist is someone we can sympathize with, but who will go through an ordeal that forever changes him. What he becomes and how he is changed reveals then what his initial flaws were. From it we can learn where he erred before the ordeal.
The psychopath experience taught me to ignore what is said and professed and focus on action instead. Psychopaths say the perfect thing that we want to hear and we wish with all our heart to believe. That is the mask. But actions betray the truth. They speak louder than words. Hence, I disregard what is said about Jesus by authors, editors, popes and priests, and instead focus on the action, events and progress of the story instead.
SETTING THE STAGE – JESUS THE IDEALIST
The adult Jesus believes that any person can grow to be loving and kind through understanding and love. He is an idealist, who preaches pacifism by turning the other cheek. He promotes non-judgment by reminding people that only those without flaws, sin and petty human feelings may throw the first accusative stone. He fixes, helps and pleases people with miracles: changing water into wine, feeding the hungry with fish and bread, healing the mental and physical patients, and resurrecting the dead. Like him, we believed that every human could be good if given the chance. We had a non-judgmental nature. We gave psychopaths chance after chance in the hope that they would eventually choose the good actions over the bad ones. We believed that by giving, providing, loving and taking on the responsibilities we could procure a miracle and heal them. But our own generosity and idealism was used by the psychopaths to keep on doing what they had always done: malice. How often did we save the psychopath from the consequences, paid for it ourselves and told them, “Go forth and sin no more”?
While the book tells us to aspire to a life and goodness such as that of Jesus, we can also see Jesus as having all the traits that would make him an unwitting enabler, especially when he works miracles. Mental illness and other illnesses were regarded as Godly punishments, though Jesus argued against this. Misfortune befalls good and bad alike. Still, to picture him as miraculously curing the sinners from their punishment, and even bring them back to life so they can learn God’s way, suggests a personality who saves the sinners from their punishment, not from their sins. If the same story was set in present time, Jesus would be opening the doors of prisons, jails and interned criminal mental patients.
Of course the majority that Jesus saved would have done something better with their lives, just like the majority of those we helped did something with the opportunity we gave them. Jesus does argue that those who are cured, could not be cured without having faith in the first place: the cure comes from within. Most people have a conscious and an ability to learn from their mistakes. The guilt of having made a mistake is actually often punishment enough to change our ways. We learn because the cure comes from within. But a minority will learn nothing: the people without a conscious who do not regard their mistakes as a mistake. Punishment and consequences of our actions can be a tool to learn, but only to those willing and able to learn. They are also a type of justice. Learning from a grievous mistake is not enough to absolve a punishment. And this was something that went unrecognized by Jesus who forgave and saved people from their punishments.
Some may argue that Jesus could see in people’s hearts and only the deserving received a miracle. But it was based on him ‘feeling’ it. We never truly learn what becomes of these people. Not even Jesus knows it. We do know that none of them speak for him at his trial. And he was betrayed into trusting Judas to be one of his apostles and treasurer. Jesus could have been ‘fooled’ by how a mask made him ‘feel’ and so his goodness and his idealism could be abused by malicious people.
The debates with the Pharisees serve as a philosophical reflection whether his ways are truly helpful. They argue he wastes his goodness. They show their disapproval of him keeping company with the outcasts and the sinners. This enrages him. He regards them as black-and-white thinkers without a heart. He accuses them of not accepting his authority on how to save the sinners best. And he quite arrogantly believes he knows better than them. The psychopath I was involved with was the outcast of his village. When I became his champion, the one who would help him reach his ‘true’ potential as a human being – I had ‘seen’ a glimpse of his ‘golden heart’ – the whole village warned me, told me I was wasting my goodness. This made me angry with the villagers. They were heartless, prejudiced, unforgiving, envious and actively preventing someone from attaining a better life. I felt a better human than I thought they were. And yet now, I see they had perfect grounds to warn me and every reason to shun him.
Jesus argues that only the sinners are in true need of him, just like only the sick need a doctor. The good, the righteous do not need saving. But can the good and righteous not be abused and be in need of support, kindness and generosity themselves? As a teacher I could easily slip into a dynamic where solely the disruptive, the rebellious pupils and those with difficulties to learn get all the attention, while the attentive and bright kids who learn easily end up being neglected. Even the healthy strong seeds in fertile soil need watering, sun and care. They would wither without nurturing, support, attention as well as challenges. It would be a gross waste to ignore them.
For Christians it may sound blasphemous to call the forgiving, miracle working Jesus an enabler, especially since this pre-procession Jesus is put forward as an example to strive towards. And yet, when you have come through the other side of the psychopathic process of shame and slime and recognize how the psychopath abused your empathy, forgiveness and feelings of responsibility, you may see how in a certain light Jesus ‘erred’ in this as much as we did and see some wisdom in the Pharisees’ disapproval of it. As the story develops it becomes clear that indeed his original idealistic ways are not God’s wishes of him.
THE LOVE BOMB, DEVALUE AND DISCARD PROCESS
With the idealistic character of Jesus revealed to us, the stage for the psychopathic process is set.
When Jesus visits Jerusalem, he is love-bombed as the Messiah with palm leafs. He is everybody’s favourite, put on a pedestal, the rock star of his time. We too were hailed for coming in the psychopath’s life as a long awaited savior.
When Jesus enters the temple though, he is shocked to see the most sacred site being used for superficial materialism – money. His ethical values revolt. Quite dramatically he kicks about himself, disrupting the commerce. With the risk of being exposed of adhering to religion by the hollow letter, and envious of Jesus’ popularity, the Pharisees try to make him their own. When this fails, they start the devalue process. Similarly, the psychopath(s) started to devalue us because we are not and refuse to be like them. We showed our disapproval of their lies, treatment of others, and we expressed a wish for them to become better humans.
The devalue process occurs on several levels. First there is the betrayal by the one we love and trust the most: they cheated on us, stole from us, or raped us, physically harmed us or even attempted to murder us. This type of betrayal is reflected in the New Testament in Judas. He traveled and followed Jesus for years as an apostle and was his treasurer. He witnessed miracles and heard every wisdom Jesus shared. Still, he betrayed him, with a kiss, for a bag of 30 silver pieces.
After the betrayal, psychopaths blame us for what they did. They argue that we caused the abuse they inflict on us. They feel entitled, because we did not stop them. We deserved it. Pilate blames everyone but himself for convicting Jesus: the priests for accusing him, the people for choosing to have Barabbas freed over Jesus, and finally Jesus for refusing to defend himself. He washes his bloody hands in innocence after the conviction and flogging. But there was only one who could order a crucifixion: the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate.
Lastly we must be exposed, stripped and publicly flogged through smear campaigning. We are accused of having committed their crimes. We are the cheaters, the crazy ones, the stalkers, the abusers, the selfish, the narcissistic, the resentful, the envious.
Our whole social credibility gets ripped to shreds.
Jesus is publicly flogged, harmed, humiliated, put out on the street naked, forced to carry his own cross. The thorny crown mocks him as a megalomaniac who believes he is a king or god. He is put to death like a common thief next to thieves, worse than the murderer Barabbas who was freed on popular demand.
Psychopaths often get away with their smear campaign. People turn on the survivor. The minions and mob jump at the chance of kicking a dog that is down already – colleagues, a boss, neighbours, members of the community or church. They smell blood and want a piece of the drama. Though no love is lost between the victim and the mob, it still hurts, shocks, weakens us. They used to treat us with respect, perhaps even admiration. We may have helped them out in the past. We certainly never harmed them. But when we are most in need of support, they pounce on us with a vengeance for all the good we may have done for them. Jesus cured, fed and feasted with the rabble, and that same mob cannot wait to see him hang from the cross. They hailed him at his entrance of Jerusalem, but kick, spit and laugh at him. They are many with the power to stop the injustice. Instead they participate.
The psychopathic devaluing also has an intimate hurtful effect. Friends and family turn away from us, fearful to be be tainted through association; that we will drag them down in our downfall. Peter denies Jesus three times, and almost all his apostles flee. Jesus should be able to count on those who followed him for years, his pupils who knew his character most intimately. At the very least they should support him through his ordeal. Judas is not the sole intimate friend who betrays him then. And so, Jesus ends up being crucified, nailed to a cross, next to thieves, left to suffer and die. The sole humans who openly dare to mourn him are his mother, Magdalene and John the Beloved.
HOPE AND DESPAIR
You may argue there is a difference: Jesus knew what was going to happen. He held a last supper, predicted Judas’ betrayal as well as Peter’s denial. He knew that every psychopath and mob would have to play their role and that he could not, should not prevent it. Perhaps you believe you did not foresee what happened to you, and would have prevented it had you known. But is that true?
The majority of survivors will admit that at some level their intuition knew the psychopath for what he or she was from the start. I had foretelling dreams before I even got involved with the psychopath. We all saw the signs on the wall, warning us this would not have a good ending. We all knew and feared it was too good to be true. So, on certain levels we knew what was happening and going to happen, certainly by the time the psychopath started to devalue us.
We knew it, but did not believe it. We clung to hope that the psychopath would end up choosing to do the right thing, that our friends would stand by us nevertheless, and that the mob may choose our side after all. We gave them all a chance to be the better man or woman. Jesus gives every character in this cruel plot the opportunity and the rope to prove themselves to be better, stronger and wiser than he knows they inevitably are. And for someone so all knowing, a god incarnated, he was most human in his despair at the cross when he cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It reveals not only how hurt he was by betrayal after betrayal, but also that he lost his faith in God. To lose such faith, if only for a moment, implies to have had hope. David’s Psalm 22 (to which Jesus’ outcry of abandonment references) talks of abandonment, shame, ridicule and hope all intertwined.
This most poignant moment of pain in the series of events is one that any victim starting their recovery from the psychopath encounter can completely identify with: a feeling of complete abandonment. And not even Jesus, who foretold and knew how thoroughly and deeply he would be betrayed, could foresee how abandoned he would feel.
As he hangs from the cross, suffering, without immediate death releasing him, we witness a change. First he says, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His first instinctive reflex when in pain is to reach for forgiveness and extend understanding. I recognize this. It seemed to be more hurtful to become wrathful, than to reach above my self-pity and find understanding for the psychopath. But it was a flight from the pain, to keep it at bay, and not coming from a true recognition of what had been done to me. I wanted to reach some state of peace as fast as possible, through generosity.
And yet, the psychopathic process already wrought an important change within: he does not actually forgive. Instead he asks God to forgive. This is the same man who used to pride himself on having the right, power and ability to forgive. But after experiencing such shaming cruelty, he is humbled and realizes it is not right to forgive people so quickly without first having been healed from the trauma. What is forgiveness worth if it has not been preceded by complete understanding of the damage done? Can one forgive another without first judging them? And even when one forgives, should it then follow that the repenting should go unpunished?
His second instinctive reflex is to feel sympathy for the thief beside him. When the thief declares Jesus an innocent and expresses belief in him, it soothes Jesus’ pain and, grateful, he finds the thief deserving: “Truly, I say to you today you will be with me in paradise”. It is the same empathy he felt for others before, and yet again there is a difference of light years. This thief was not asking for sympathy from Jesus; he GAVE sympathy and support to Jesus. And while Jesus judged the thief deserving of paradise, Jesus did not save the thief’s life.
When Jesus faces the full pain of it all – the feeling of abandonment, the actual physical suffering, the thirst – it nearly destroys his own faith in God. The few there to support him makes him cherish them even more. He experienced that the good and innocent may be abused and neglected and finally understands that to ignore the righteous and assume they will remain strong and faithful while left to their own devices may actually weaken them and destroy them, just like it nearly destroyed his faith. They too are deserving of attention, teaching and caring. It is not solely the sick who are in need of a doctor. A doctor’s work can also encompass prevention through teachings of diet, hygiene, exercise, check ups, and vaccines.
Finally, peace and acceptance can only be reached after allowing yourself to feel all the pain. Hence, Jesus finds his triumph and his acceptance on the cross only after the despair.
The greatest change in Jesus is witnessed after his resurrection. The inner man may have not changed, but his choices and his actions oppose the start. The forgiving non-judgmental man has become a judge at the right hand of God who leaves the forgiving forever after up to God. The miraculous savior intervenes no more. The man who sought the company of sinners, wants no more of them in Heaven. This ‘new’ Jesus is hardly comparable with the idealist at the start.
The experience of the psychopathic procession changed him like nothing else ever could. Before, he was warned that he might be mistaken. He did not want to consider it. When he learns what God wants him to experience, he begs Him for another way. But no one can ever truly comprehend psychopathy, what psychopaths are, how they operate, how they affect society and see through their mask, without having experienced it first hand. Not even Jesus could. No book, no lecture, no studies in psychology could make us recognize evil and make us question our unwitting enabling ways when malice waved dozens red flags in front of us. Only the experience taught us. Jesus had to experience the slimy, shame process to judge people objectively by their actions, to see through masks of deception, to disregard claims and words. He knows that evil does evil, no matter how kind or pitiful their words are.
Survivors change similarly. We observe for the cues typical of malicious people, before trusting someone. We are humbled about our previous beliefs and ways, but strengthened in our values and morals. We turn away, without cruelty, from those we find unworthy, even though we wish it could be otherwise. We welcome only those who are empathic and of sound character. We do not think it our responsibility anymore to save or to forgive people. We know it is their responsibility to save and forgive themselves, just like it is our responsibility to save and forgive ourselves.
The end does not negate the wisdom of the starting character. We DO make mistakes and who are we to condemn someone to death? But we must not forgive malice and allow it to be done to us over and over again. We do have the right to judge evil. No, we should not neglect the pitiful or those on a wrong path. We can show them a better way, but it is their responsibility to do something with it, not ours. Meanwhile we cannot neglect those who are good and kind. They might wither away and be destroyed. WE might wither away and be destroyed without surrounding us with people who are kind and giving.
As a survivor of a psychopath you can find solace in the story and character of Jesus, who like you, was an empathic humanist who believed that everyone ought to have a chance, who hoped to fix and save humanity with miracles and learned in the cruelest manner that some people are not salvageable, but malicious. More, God taught him that he was not supposed to fix humanity, or even to forgive them. God wanted him to become his right hand in judging who is good and who is bad. Jesus’ cruel ordeal taught him exactly how to do that. If you are a Christian you can wonder what it is that the God you believe in would want of you? If you are a non-Christian you can wonder how you could be most effective? Is it by attempting to accomplish the miraculous, or by healing and discovering your power to discern evil from good and disengaging from it, with neither forgiveness nor cruelty.