Drama as spiritual attack

July 12, 2010 | 15 comments

I was going to write about something else today, but I keep laughing about something I read recently, and I just had to share.

I recently finished the fascinating book The War of Art by bestselling author Steven Pressfield, which is a sort of field guide to spiritual warfare. He goes through practical tactics for defeating what he calls “Resistance, ” i.e. the malevolent force that works to prevent anything good from happening in the world (what a Christian might call “the devil” or “the enemy.”) In the section called Resistance and Self-Dramatization, Pressfield writes:

Creating soap opera in our lives is a symptom of Resistance…Sometimes entire families participate unconsciously in a culture of self-dramatization. The kids fuel the tanks, the grown-ups arm the phasers, the whole starship lurches from one spine-tingling episode to another. And the crew knows how to keep it going. If the level of drama drops below a certain threshold, someone jumps in to amp it up…It’s more fun than a movie. And it works: Nobody gets a damn thing done.

I laughed out loud when I read that, mainly because I realized that I’ve had my own Starship Resistance miniseries playing over here.

“I don’t even know why I bother to write at all!” I’d announce at the start of the day’s writing time when I was working on the book. “I just can’t get the words out! It’s all a waste! THIS ENTIRE PROJECT IS DOOMED!” And, with that opener, I’d drag my friend/husband/babysitter/UPS delivery man into a tedious, belabored conversation about my life as a tortured writer (hoping that nobody notices my liberal use of the label “writer”) while my cursor sat motionless on the screen, not one new word appearing on the page.

I seem to be most prone to this kind of silliness when I’m doing anything that could remotely be considered “art, ” but no area of life is immune: whether it’s planning homeschool curricula or organizing the house or writing thank-you notes, I’ve realized that getting swept up in theatrics over minutia is one of the main ways I let Resistance keep me from getting anything done. (The internet is a particularly rich source of drama-based Resistance for me — anyone else think of the blogosphere in that Pressfield quote above?)

Not all “drama” is bad, of course. I love how the Christian life makes everything so exciting; how every day is a great battle, and the truths of the faith are better than the best fairy tale. It’s also normal and healthy to have strong reactions to intense events (in other words, don’t expect me to lay off the caps lock key next time I see a scorpion). And then there are things like clinical depression, where you may have stronger reactions to situations due to serious medical issues.

But there’s also just drama: baseless, time-wasting, Resistance-fueled caterwauling that you need to learn to shut down in order to live a full life. So how do you recognize it when you’ve fallen into it? I’ve been pondering that for the past couple of weeks, and what I’ve come up with is this:

I think the primary difference is that Resistance drama is ego-focused, whereas the healthy ups and downs of the spiritual life are God-focused. When I get mired in bad drama I withdraw into a tiny solar system with my blazing ego at the center, where I fixate on who said what that offended me, whether people will think what I’m doing is great or terrible, whether what I do is good or bad in comparison to other people’s work…and I give nothing back to the world. I’m a black hole. Paralyzed by Resistance. Whereas on the occasions that I’m swept up in positive drama, I’m more focused on God than myself, more concerned with helping people than comparing myself to them, and, most tellingly, I’m still creating. I’m still giving something back to the world.

Now that I’ve recognized this tendency, I’ve been getting a lot more done, especially in writing/creative type endeavors. I’m learning to identify those moments when I’ve brought my life to a screeching standstill by turning it into another thrilling episode of Starship Resistance; to know when I’m faced with legitimate issues that I need to address, and when it’s time to stop the theatrics and get to work.

CAVEAT 1: I know there’s recently been a lot of discussion in the blog world about depression and the spiritual life, so I want to emphasize again that I’m not talking about that or other serious mental health issues here. I’m talking about good old-fashioned melodrama.

CAVEAT 2: Even though Pressfield is not a Christian, as a Catholic I found 90% of The War of Art to be dead-on accurate and life-changingly, put-down-the-book-in-mid-sentence-and-go-tell-everyone-you-know-to-buy-a-copy good. Since it deals with spiritual matters it’s one you’ll want to read “with discernment, ” as they say, but I do strongly recommend it.


  1. Claire

    This post certainly hit home with me. I smiled when I read that you will announce, "I don't know why I bother to write at all". My reason for smiling is because I throw up smoke and create drama when life isn't perfect.

    Jen, thank you for starting this blog. I truly believe/know that God sent me here. There are so many times I find myself in your writings. You continually remind me of things I have known, but forgot or haven't bothered to act on/change.

    Every time I read your writing I think that I am watching God mold a Saint for our times. I just purchased, and read, a really good book on spiritual warfare. The title is, "Interview with an Exorcist". I cannot remember the author, but the book was very eye-opening about evil and how even our good intentions can be turned if we do not pray and watch ourselves. I think I'll write a post about the book on my blog.

    Have a Blessed day.

  2. blog nerd

    Great post, Jen#1. Of course, I'm not surprised, when I pop over to check in on you, you are still writing lucid and insightful things. Natch.

    I have written about this when doing my series on writing. There seems to be people who pop up when you are trying to get things done creatively that create little dramas to distract you.

    On the one hand–these types of people can be legitimately threatened and jealous of your productivity and be unconsciously sabotaging you. Or there can be people in your life who are jealous of the time you spend in your creative work and will do the same.

    On the OTHER hand–they are only successful to the extent that you COLLABORATE with them in your little sabotaging melodrama. Part of you has to be afraid of getting things done, or feel lazy about getting things done, or feel GUILTY about getting things done, in order for the drama to unfold.

    The person delivers the opening salvo, and you can go to black out and pull the curtain, or you can let the scene unfold in a special. Which you do depends on how clear you are in your objective, and how willing you are to let your work be sabotaged.

    Cool stuff, lady. Hope you and yours are well.


  3. Elizabeth

    I SO enjoy your insights…this sounds like a great book. I know a little about "drama" in life and I think you have hit the nail on the head about ego centrism vs God focused living. Yup the "not getting a thing done" quote was definitely LOL funny….guess I'd better go get the bathrooms cleaned 🙂

  4. Kim

    Fabulous post. You have a way writing what I didn't even realize I was thinking!

  5. Catherine

    Well, despite the Resistance, you wrote an excellent post!! Of course, you were outward-focused at the time. And, I needed to be reminded yet once again about it. I have chronic headaches and frequent migraines. I can be somewhat productive despite them – usually knitting – but I have to quit focusing on my pain and start focusing on who I'm knitting for (although I do make a few projects for myself).

    One of the ways that I know I'm getting a migraine is that I get irritable and "dramatic". I'm pretty sure that there is a brain chemical explanation (yes, that's the M.D. in me coming out), but I also know that Satan uses it to tempt me to be my worst self.

    I woke up with a headache this morning, so I am once again reminded to not focus in on my pain and to focus outward on to my projects.

    Thanks for your post – it was well-written (as usual) and timely.


  6. Kathryn

    Oh my gosh, were you in my head this morning? You must have been in my head! I was observing myself doing the exact same thing this morning and you have TOTALLY clarified what was going on. Thank you so much, your blog is a real life-saver for people trying to live by faith.

  7. Julianne Douglas

    Thank you so much for this post, Jen! Talk about timing. Just this morning I got another rejection on my ms, and I've been trying all day not to fall into a pity pit. I know God has a plan for all this and that the book will be published when and if He sees fit, but it's hard to resist the temptation to overdramatize the waiting. Thanks for reminding the only way to get ahead is to keep working.

    (PS I cannot WAIT to read your book!)

  8. Anonymous

    Great post, Jen. I am reading a book right now that I highly recommend, that sort of fits in with the theme of finding relief from spiritual attack. I've put it on my "buy a copy for everyone I know" list (it's only about $8). It's "Searching for and Maintaining Peace" by Father Jacques Phillipe.

    I've probably only read a third of it, but so far it's been a very practical guide to recognizing the things that cause us to lose our peace, and how to go about maintaining it.

    Best of wishes,

    Jen G

  9. truthfinder

    Just finished saying to someone recently, "I'm SO tired of the drama!" Wow, is this post ever right on target for me! I need to read that book. Whatever other "actors" do to me, I must remember to focus on God and His "script". It really is NOT "all about me"! Thank you, Jen, for posting this.

  10. Dorian Speed

    You have a way of writing what I didn't even realize I was thinking!

    Totally agree! Thanks for this post.

  11. Anonymous

    The first thing we have to be aware of is that we are no different than anyone else. We live, we are called to live the faith in the same circumstances as everyone else, and for us too, the struggle is against nothingness. We are not safe and sound, we are spared nothing. So if Christianity does not happen as an event once again among us, and for all those who meet us, then sooner or later we will lose interest in belonging to Christ, and nihilism will win. (Carron / La Thuile)

  12. Sheba

    Thank you, thank you and thank you!!! I had almost abandoned by tasks today because of a "war" going on in my family.. May God bless you for your timely post.

  13. Tami

    Did the book give suggestions on how to help people stop creating this drama? Or do you just buy them the book, and ask them to read it?

  14. Anonymous

    Outstanding post, Jen. You are on the money.

    Incidentally, this issue is why I retired from the theater business at the ripe old age of 23 (I'd been at it since I was 5.) Once I was an adult, I discovered that Satan was fighting his way into my life, and wearing me down, using all the "drama" and self-involvement that came with being in show business.

    (Off-topic – I'm sure there are those who CAN live a true, humble Catholic life while working in said business, but I couldn't figure out how to be one of those people. Hence, I am grateful that I was able to discern the Lord calling me out of it, despite my success at the time. Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!)

  15. Julianne Douglas

    At your suggestion, I read The War of Art. What a marvelous book! I couldn't put it down. Just what I needed to read. I blogged about it here: http://writingren.blogspot.com/2010/07/write-like-pro.html

    Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention.

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