The Seven Deadlies: Definitions and Remedies

This would be better in a diagram, but I'm still working on the details.  Think Hieronymous Bosch.

1.  Pride:  This is the vice of Grandiosity, with its companion Depression.  It feeds on the intolerance of strong negative feelings and is rooted in a weakened sense of self brought on by the denial of said feelings (often going back to childhood).  It wants at all costs not to feel worthless, but its sense of worth is dependent upon being the best and is therefore constantly at risk.  In particular, it masks feelings of shame and gives power to other people's opinions and judgments, especially over one's feelings.  It is triggered by excessive attention to self seen as constantly threatened with judgment and the corollary need to feel oneself in control ("be like gods").

Antidote: Watch for the temptation to believe that you are (or can, or should be) "in control," that you can save yourself if only you do or say exactly the right thing.  Also, watch for the temptation to believe that you can find yourself in others' response to you and/or that their response can somehow supply the validation (or absolution) you crave.

2.  Envy: This vice is closely related to Jealousy, but it depends more on the sense of someone else's having something one feels one deserves than (as does Jealousy) on fears of not being loved (although it does that, too).  It feeds on insecurity and feelings of inferiority and is rooted in ingratitude.  Like Pride, it is desperate at all costs to avoid feelings of worthlessness, which it seeks to mask through comparisons with others.  It is triggered by comparisons that it feels as a threat to its identity and gives power above all to the way in which others respond.   

Antidote: Admit to yourself when you feel envious of someone else.  Conversely, practice avoiding doing or saying things calculated to make other people envious of you.  Remind yourself that it is wicked knowingly to make another person feel envious or to set him or her up to feel envious.  Practice humility (i.e. not making others envy you).

3.  Anger:  This is the vice of Overreaction.  It feeds on feelings of being threatened, sometimes to the extent of seeing threats where there are none.  It gives power to other people's responses and masks fears of being attacked.  Like Pride, it is grounded in a lack of sense of self and in an exaggerated need to feel safe (again, often going back to childhood).  It is triggered by feelings of vulnerability and injustice (being "got at") and exacerbated by the conviction that one is (necessarily) in the wrong for feeling this way. 

Antidote: Respond to what others say with "equal heat," proportional to what has actually been said.  Listen to what is being said, watching for ways in which it triggers one's fears.  Respond in the present, without dragging in the past.  Know that you have the right to respond, that you are not obliged to accept what the other person is saying (particularly if it feels like an attack), but recognize that it is possible that there is no attack, only your fear that there might be. 

4.  Gluttony:  This is the vice of using food to suppress uncomfortable feelings and of relying on food as a substitute for feeling loved.  It typically manifests as overeating, above all, depending on carbohydrates for comfort; but it also hides in efforts to control one's eating through restrictive dieting (or worse).  Above all, it masks feelings of impatience and perfectionism by making food the problem (and the threat).  Again, like Pride, it is most often triggered by feelings of worthlessness; thus its shadowside of believing that the answer is control.

Antidote:  Sit with the uncomfortable feelings.  Allow yourself to feel them.  Recognize carbohydrates as something you use to avoid feeling certain feelings, rather than as something over which you have no control.  Notice the times when you feel most triggered to eat when not hungry and think about what you are feeling and why.

5.  Lust: Just as Gluttony invests food with the power to comfort (or threaten) the soul, so Lust invests one's own body and the bodies of others with the power to satisfy one's cravings for power, approval, comfort, and security.  It defines one's self worth through the body and through others' response to the body, particularly (for women) as beautiful (or not).  For women, it masks feelings of narcissism, needing to see one's worth reflected in another's response.  It is triggered by the fantasy that if the other responds, one's life is meaningful.

Antidote:  I could be deceiving myself, but I do not (at the moment) have as much struggle with this one, so would welcome suggestions as to appropriate remedies.  Or perhaps I am suffering from a deficiency of desire?  My sense is that much of my own lust (if it was that) when I was younger was triggered by the desire for a child.  Perhaps it is better to think about Lust as something other than simply sexual?  But I am fairly sure that it has to do with bodies and our responses to bodies, although it shares triggers with Gluttony, Envy, and Greed.

6.  Greed:  This vice manifests most clearly in hoarding.  It gives things (including money) the power to satisfy one's cravings for comfort and love.  It promises (with the help of advertisers the world over) that having this or that thing will make one's life fulfilling and meaningful and/or give one power over others (particularly by exciting their Envy).  It masks cravings for love and feelings of inadequacy and uses things to protect against feelings of emptiness and fears of the future.  Like almost all the other vices, it is most often triggered by feelings of inadequacy and impatience, looking to things to provide an escape.

Antidote: Declutter regularly.  Keep only those things that you actually use or enjoy.  Watch for arguments that you make about how something might be useful in the future (but that you haven't used in years) or be worth something (but very likely isn't).  When contemplating buying something new, think about what you will get rid of in order to make space for it in your life.  If you don't want it enough to get rid of something else, don't buy it.

7.  Sloth: This is the vice of Procrastination, often accompanied by her sister Busyness.  It is triggered above all by impatience and a low tolerance for frustration.  In its extreme form, it manifests as perfectionism and self-downing, with the conviction that nothing one can do will ever be good enough, so why start anyway?  Spiritually, it manifests as "the noon-day demon," Acedia, characterized by distractibility, lack of perseverance, and despair.  Of all of the vices, Sloth is arguably the deadliest in its ability to rationalize itself, make its delays (or busyness) seem necessary or unavoidable.  It is always easier to talk oneself out of taking risks than to sit down and do the work now.

Antidote: Work in brief, daily sessions at whatever you want to achieve, be it writing or wrestling with your spiritual demons.  Use rational emotive therapy to dispute your irrational thoughts (particularly about your worthlessness, your need to be perfect in order to succeed, your need to succeed in order to be loved). Resist the temptation to flee when things get uncomfortable; likewise, resist the temptation to binge with overwork in order to get finished more quickly.  Start before you feel ready; stop when you are tired.  Trust God to take care of the rest.


Popular posts from this blog

Would you sign a letter in my support?

Talking Points: Three Cheers for White Men

Mary and Martha, or What I Did in My Summer Vacation

“Piss Christ” and the Son of Allah

The Old Voice of Glad and Angry Faith