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On Self-Reflection (An Email from Hell)

April 6, 2023

K.C. Ireton

Dear Absinthia,

Despite the obfuscating language in which you attempted to couch your email, it was evident to me that your patient has taken a most unfortunate step. It is unclear how drastic this step actually is at present. Still, it remains axiomatic that self-reflection of any kind among the humans is to be avoided if at all possible. I believe the word you used was “assessing.” It amounts to the same thing. We do not want the humans to step outside themselves in any way. Cave them in on themselves, that’s the ticket to bringing them safely into the house of Our Father Below.

Self-reflection of the sort that you seem to indicate is the first step toward repentance, and you know how monstrously unjust our Enemy is when the hairless little bipeds get all wide-eyed and weepy over their sins. It’s disgusting the way He sweeps in like a knight on a white horse and lifts them out of the mire and sets them on a high rock and dresses them in clean new clothes. Crowning them with glory and honor, as if they’re some sort of royalty. And all because in a moment of self-recognition, they realize they are pitiable, blind, naked, and poor, and they cast themselves on His mercy.

And to think your patient is beginning this lamentable process! Assessing herself. Gah! It’s appalling the way the humans have the ability to stand or sit outside, or beside, themselves, and then turn a critical eye on their own actions, thoughts, and emotions. It’s the reason they are able to slip through our fingers. So, my dear, if you would like to avoid that deplorable outcome, you will need to short-circuit this assessment project she’s started.

There are a couple of things you can do.

First, given that she’s “self-assessing,” you can keep the focus on “self.” That’s generally not difficult. The humans, especially the American ones, think they’re the center of the universe already. Yes, I know. Your patient tends to see herself as a black hole of need. But note the implications: black holes suck everything toward and into themselves. So even her recognition of need is deeply self-focused. Keep that self-focus as she proceeds to assess herself, and you will triumph in the end.

It does not ultimately matter whether the self-focus is laudatory or loathsome. Self-hatred in the humans is of course more delightful to watch, and easier to feed. Once she starts down the path of self-flagellation or self-condemnation, all you have to do is whisper hazy reminders of half-remembered words or deeds that stir up feelings of guilt or shame. It doesn’t matter if the guilt is justified by conscience or purely manufactured by playing on her emotions.

So long as it keeps her focus on herself, on how horrible she is, she’s halfway to Hell.

Or you might try stirring up self-pity. You know the drill, right? Breathe a hazy sense of how unfair it is that so-and-so has such-and-such, while your patient is stuck here (make “here” seem worse than it is) doing this (ditto). “Poor sad tired tired sad sad me” is a salutary antidote to the sort of genuine self-reflection that might lead to repentance or reclamation of her status in our Enemy’s Kingdom. Besides, it’s always amusing to see the way the humans can simultaneously feel they are the most wretched of sinners and that they are mistreated, misused, overlooked, or otherwise not given their due.

Of course, self-loathing and self-pity are not the only amusements to be had. Self-adulation is pleasant, too. I realize your patient may not be quite the self-glorifying type, but no human is completely immune to the allure of self-aggrandizement. Fantasies in which so-and-so gets his comeuppance and your patient gets her due fall in this category. As do delusions of grandeur—fantasies in which she is receiving an award or being interviewed by a top podcaster. Hell’s bells, an interview with the president of her university will do, just so long as she’s being acclaimed and approved and smiled upon by people she admires. If you can work in the discomposure of people she despises as they watch her achieve success and acclaim, so much the better. It’s ridiculous how easily pleased the humans are, how little it takes to get them preening and strutting, at least in their imaginations.

Just be sure in all these attempts to keep her focused on herself that you do in fact keep the focus there.

The Enemy will be at work, too. Never forget that.

He will be trying to distract her from herself, showing her how beautiful the emerging plum blossoms are, or how adorable her cat is, or how good it feels to go for a walk in the bracing cold air of late winter.

Do not let her thoughts wander that way. Next thing you know, she’ll be saying, or worse, singing thanks to the Enemy, and then where will you be? No, the trick is to keep her blinkered. Keep the “self” in self-assessment and self-reflection front and center.

Of course, if you can get her to abandon this self-assessment project altogether, that would be ideal. It’s risky business, Absinthia, best left alone. The Enemy is at her elbow, ready to steal her away from you at the merest hint of genuine self-recognition, so you had better be at her shoulder, in her ears and eyes and brain, and cut Him off.

Your affectionate aunt,


The featured image, “Four Iron Birdies,” is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and used with her glad permission for Cultivating.


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