I first wrote about the demon in 1987 in the book, “The treatment of character”. In that I provide 4 case studies of this particular aspect of the personality. In recent times I have been working with a post anorexic woman who has a very active demon in her personality.
(NOTE: If any reader here identifies such an aspect of self I would be most interested to hear about it)
She describes her demon as so: (She wrote this and it is unedited).
“The e.d. monster
The part that is nice is the part that is trying to live, survive, be positive. In recovery this part of me is ‘winning’. I am successfully living, I am a functioning human.
If I wasn’t ‘winning’ the e.d. monster or anorexic part of self would be. In a sense I would be slowly killing myself e.g. not eating, purging, isolating, ruminating, obsessing, that is how I know it has control.
But then there is day to day living which is the e.d. voice constantly telling me ‘I am fat’ and everything that I eat I feel guilty about and I go through a conversation in my head with the e.d. about if I should or should not eat it.
My first clear memory of the e.d. voice is about 15/16 years of age. It would say, ‘You are fat’, ‘Life would be better if you were skinny’. It wants me to be skinny and it is always looking and comparing self with skinny girls.
It had a positive function. It helped me deal with life as a teenage girl and the distressing emotions, loneliness, feeling different and feeling not good enough.
At the moment it feels angry because it is not winning (haven’t purged for 3 months)
The e.d. voice is always there so it is very strong in that way. It is not threatened by therapy because it knows it will always be there with everything I eat.
I realise now that the ever present nature of the e.d. is less. When I was in the eating disorder clinic it was really there all the time. There is now some freedom from that when I wake up in the morning for example. In the clinic it was there every time I woke up in the morning, now some mornings it is not there.”
Eric Berne originally wrote about the demon in the book ‘What do you say after you say hello’.
He stated, “The demon is the jester in human existence and the joker in psychotherapy…. No matter how well the therapist plans his psychotherapy, the patient always has the upper hand. At the point when the therapist thinks he has the four aces, Jeder plays his joker, and the demon wins the pot. Then he skips merrily off, leaving the doctor to leaf through the deck trying to figure out what happened. Even if he is ready for it, there may be little he can do….. The demon first appears in the high chair, when Jeder scatters his food on the floor with a merry glint, waiting to see what his parents will do. If they make friends with it, it will go onto later mischief, and then perhaps into humorous fun and jokes. If they beat it down, it will lurk surly in the background, ready to leap out at an unguarded moment and scramble his life as it originally scrambled his food.” (Pp 122 – 123).
My comment: I certainly agree the demon can cause devastation in therapy and be very disruptive to the therapeutic process. Oddly enough the vast majority of those I have spoken to have never mentioned this before to any therapist.
Berne also states:
“The demon is the same as the original concept of the id. The situation seems to be this: the demon itself, the impulse, is an ‘id impulse’. But phenomenologically, the demon is experienced as a living voice. This is the voice of the actual parent (or more precisely, the voice of the demon in the parent) implanted in the child.” (P 135).
My comment: My observations certainly concur with it being experienced as a living voice inside the person. In most (but not all) instances it is not a dissociative state. It does not involve a split in the personality and thus is not experienced by the person as external to them as dissociative conditions are. It is usually experienced in the same way an ego state is. One part of the personality that can voice its views and communicate with other ego states or aspects of the personality.
However I disagree with Berne, as I would not see its gestation as being implanted by the parent into the child. Instead it is spontaneously created in childhood by the child as a survival mechanism. Having said that the demon is a paradox as it can say things like, “I am here to help us survive, even if it kills us”. This represents magical thinking, A1 type pre logical thinking, thus supporting the view that it is created by a the decision of the A1 ego state in childhood.
“Now we come to the key item, which not only makes the script possible, but gives it the decisive push. That is the demon who sends Jeder naked on roller skates down the hill to his destruction just when he is on the verge of success, before he even knows what is happening to him. But looking back, even if he has never heard the other voices in his head, he will usually remember that one, the voice of the demon prompting irresistibly: ‘Go ahead and do it!’. Which he does, in the face of all the other forces warning him against it and vainly trying to call him back….
This is the repetition compulsion which drives men to their doom, the power of death, according to Freud, or the power of the goddess Ananke. But he places it in some mysterious biological sphere, when after all it is only the voice of seduction. Ask the man (or woman) who owns one and knows the power of the demon…
The remedy against demons has always been cantrips and cantraps, and that is the case here. Every loser should carry it in wallet or purse, and whenever success looms in sight, that is the moment of danger. That is the time to pull it out and read it aloud again and again. Then when the demon whispers ‘Stretch out your arm – and put the whole wad on one last number, or have just one drink, or now is the time to pull your knife, or grab her (him) by the neck and pull her (him) toward you,’ or whatever the losing movement is, pull the arm back and say it loud and clear: ‘But mother, I’d rather do it my own way and win.’ (pp 275 – 276)
I agree with the childlike daring quality of its communications. Like the game of “I dare you to…” which young children play. Also his comment about its power is readily observable. In the therapeutic relationship the demon holds all the cards as he says and will play them when it sees fit. I disagree with his remedy against demons. One does not battle with the demon one develops a coexistence with it.
Back to the e.d. monster
Here we have a person who has identified a part of their personality. Assigned it a name and in this instance quite a dramatic name. The naming of it was not a result of any therapeutic work, but was spontaneously done by the individual many years ago. Not all people will have spontaneously named it but when asked they usually can do so quite quickly. The naming in itself gives an indication of the relevance and importance it plays for the person. One does not spontaneously name an aspect of the personality unless it is well known to them and important.
When asked they can answer questions about it, its actions and motives succinctly and readily. It does not require deep thought or mechanisms to assist the person to access the information from their unconscious. Clearly the person is quite aware of their demon and communicates with that aspect of the personality usually on a daily basis, often multiple times.
This individual has been in therapy a number of times before but as is so often the case it has never been discussed or raised before. This is most counter productive, as we can see from Berne’s quote it can cause havoc in therapy and indeed does at times. It needs to be identified and actively brought out into the intersubjective space or the relational contact with the therapist. The therapist needs to build a special kind of relational contract with it over a period of time, and regularly maintain that contact in the therapeutic process. One has to go along with its destructiveness at times which can require some very wily and shrewd therapeutic interventions.
Here is one of the case examples I use in my book in 1987. I posed a series of questions and she answered as is written.
What does she look like
She is small and ugly in a demanding sort of way. She has her hair down over her eyes – peeping out from under and shaking it all over when she wants to hide or tease. The body is not significant, it is just small. The biggest bit is the head. She watches out from under her hair with a sneaky, teasing look and then shakes her hair over her face and backs off when she needs to.
Where does she hang out
She lives way down in the bottom in the pit of my stomach. Lying in wait to spring out at any time – and often I am not sure if she is going to or not. She sits right down in the bottomest corner on her knees by herself
What does she think, feel, do and want?
She reacts or just acts, rather than thinks about things, but how she chooses what and where to, I do not understand. I know she must think, but it seems more like she just is. She knows people are not to be trusted, and she proves it. She knows she hates being touched. She knows things without thinking. She just leaps out and I often do not know when it happens. I do not know the why of things, just what is.
What she feels
She hates to be called a ‘woman’, she reacts to that. When touched she feels burnt – the feelings are intense. This is a hard question – when thinking about what she feels I am confused or blank. I see a lot of screaming and screaming, jumping up and down and head shaking – a lot of triumphant laughter and glee. A feeling of enormous energy and strength of will. She feels intense hatred and a terror which results in screaming and screaming with head shaking. She feels triumphant and gleeful; “Ha, Ha”. She feels wary
What does she do and say?
This is the bit that is the problem – what she does or says. She lies quiet in the pit of my stomach, then leaps out and shatters the peace, and I can not control it. She screams and screams and jumps up and down shaking its head, until I feel like I will explode if I do not take notice. She’s unpredictable, sometimes when I expect her she lies still. I know she is there ever watchful and wary. And then later when I start to trust, believe and relax a little, she leaps out twice as bad. She says, “Watch out kid, you’ll go – he will get you – go on be a pain – he does not really care – listen to me – do not let him touch you – you do not need him – just get up and go”. She starts shaking her head when anyone gets near, just to keep them at a distance. Even when still, I know she’s just waiting for a chance to break something into pieces.
She repeats herself over and over – demanding but persuasive: “Come on just turn the wheel a little, just see what it is like to drive into the bridge, it will only take a slight turn of the wheel, and, Pow!. Go on, I dare you. Come on we don’t need anyone – go on, it will feel really good – its the only way – do it and see what happens – it wont take long”.
She is very hard to resist. She does this in many ways. All the time changing from peering out from underneath her hair, to jumping up and down with frenzied glee. “Keep him away, keep him away, you do not need him, do not touch me, he cannot help you, I will show you that”. It’s hard not to listen and believe. It has got away from me before. I know I have even started to go. I am not aware sometimes, I just turn-off and suddenly there is laughter and screaming. It is like it controls me.
I have to keep moving sometimes to keep her from taking over or exploding. I sometimes get lost and all I feel and hear is this screaming and shaking. She pushes me all the time. Gives me a shove – “go on”.
What does she want?
She wants to be left alone, not to be stroked or touched – to either survive or not on her own. She wants to be triumphant and have excitement. She wants people to keep away unless she can manage them, so they do not get anywhere near her. She is desperate to win. I don’t know why, its just an intense feeling of, “keep away and stay in front”.
What does she think about therapy and therapists?
Therapists are fair game and fun, until they are smart, and then their is trouble. They are something to pit your wits against, to win over, even if they ever know. She has a grudging respect when they are quick to spot her moves, and when they think fast and are smart. She reacts with glee, sometimes with triumph and has a fine old time. Other times, when he gets too near, she gets desperate and resorts to other stuff – either then or later. She then feels bad.
Therapy is a game – some stuff to do with the therapist, it is an intense way to sharpen you up. Sometimes it’s a threat now and she explodes with avengence just when I am starting to trust or believe. If things go wrong she is absolutely gleeful. She jumps up and down, and says, “Told you so kid, now what you going to do, huh?”. Physical type therapy, such as holding, she hates. Sometimes she lies quiet but at other times she forces me to keep moving. She leaps out sometimes and screams and screams until I feel as if I have been bashed.
What does she think about answering these questions?
She loves it and hates it. She loves talking about herself. But she did not like it at all when you gave her someone else’s information. That was a real insult. So she’s wary about how you are going to treat this. Because you can take it or leave it, she does not give a damn. But she likes the fact that she is recognised.
I think she does not like some of the things I have said because I get confused. I cannot spell or write legibly every now and again. And she wants to scribble over some bits.
She is most active when I have been vulnerable.
She wants you to know she does not want anything or need anything.