“Hell is Empty and All The Devils Are Here”

 The title is a quote from William Shakespeare, The Tempest.

The following from The People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, a look at malignant narcissism as described by Dr. M. Scott Peck. (Emphasis mine)

Malignant Narcissism:

Refusal to acknowledge sin
Self image of perfection
Excessive intolerance of criticism
Disguise and pretense
Intellectual Deviousness
Unsubmitted will
Coercion and control of others
Lack of Empathy
Symbiotic relationships
Evil in families

Refusal to acknowledge sin

It is necessary that we first draw the distinction between evil and ordinary sin. It is not their sins per se that characterize evil people…The central defect of the evil is not the sin but the refusal to acknowledge it.(page 69)
If evil people cannot be defined by the illegality of their deeds or the magnitude of their sins, then how are we to define them? The answer is by the consistency of their sins. While usually subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistent. This is because those who have “crossed over the line” are characterized by their absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness.(page 71)
The evil hate the light–the light of goodness that shows them up, the light of scrutiny that exposes them, the light of truth that penetrates their deception.(page 179) Rather than blissfully lacking a sense of morality, like the sociopath, they are continually engaged in sweeping the evidence of their evil under the rug of their own consciousness.(page 76)
The poor in spirit do not commit evil. Evil is not committed by people who feel uncertain about their righteousness, who question their own motives, who worry about betraying themselves. The evil in this world is committed by the spiritual fat cats, by the Pharisees of our own day, the self-righteous who think they are without sin because they are unwilling to suffer the discomfort of significant self-examination.
Unpleasant though it may be, the sense of personal sin is precisely that which keeps our sin from getting out of hand. It is quite painful at times, but it is a very great blessing because it is our one and only effective safeguard against our own proclivity for evil. (pages 71-72)

Self Image of Perfection

Utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection, [the evil] are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. They worry about this a great deal. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what others might think of them. Outwardly [they] seem to live lives that are above reproach. The words “image.” “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil.(page 75)

Excessive intolerance of criticism

In Martin Buber’s words, the malignantly narcissistic insist upon “affirmation independent of all findings.” (page 80) Self-criticism is a call to personality change…The evil are pathologically attached to the status quo of their personalities, which in their narcissism they consciously regard as perfect. I think it is quite possible that the evil may perceive even a small degree of change in their beloved selves as representing total annihilation. (page 74 )


[Evil is] the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending and preserving the integrity of our own sick selves. In short, it is scapegoating. A predominant characteristic…of the behavior of those I call evil is scapegoating. Because in their hearts they consider themselves above reproach, they must lash out at any one who does reproach them. They sacrifice others to preserve their self-image of perfection. (page 73)
Since the evil, deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad.
They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil; on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others…Evil, then, is most often committed in order to scapegoat, and the people I label as evil are chronic scapegoaters….The evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. (pages 73-74)

Disguise and pretense

While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie. That is why they are the “people of the lie”. The wickedness of the evil is not committed directly, but indirectly as a part of this cover-up process. (page 76)
Those who are evil are masters of disguise; they are not apt to wittingly disclose their true colors–either to others or to themselves. (page 104) Because they are such experts at disguise, it is seldom possible to pinpoint the maliciousness of the evil. The disguise is usually impenetrable (page 76)….Naturally, since it is designed to hide its opposite, the pretense chosen by the evil is most commonly the pretense of love. (page 106)

Intellectual deviousness

[A] reaction that the evil frequently engender in us is confusion. Describing an encounter with an evil person, one woman wrote, it was “as if I’d suddenly lost my ability to think”….This reaction is quite appropriate. Lies confuse. The evil are “the people of the lie”, deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception.
I know now that one of the characteristics of evil is its desire to confuse. (page 179)


[The evil] are, in my experience, remarkably greedy people. Thus, they are cheap. (page 72)

Unsubmitted will

If the central defect of the evil is not one of conscience, then where does it reside? The essential psychological problem of human evil, I believe is a particular variety of narcissism….The particular brand of narcissism that characterizes evil people seems to be one that particularly afflicts the will. (page 80 )
Malignant narcissism is characterized by an unsubmitted will. All adults who are mentally healthy submit themselves one way or another to something higher than themselves, be it God or truth or love or some other ideal….They believe in what is true rather than what they would like to be true.
In summary, to a greater or lesser degree, all mentally healthy individuals submit themselves to the demands of their own conscience. Not so the evil, however….They are men and women of obviously strong will, determined to have their own way. (page 78) Such people literally live “in a world of their own” in which the self reigns supreme. (page 162)

Coercion and control of others

[Evil is] the exercise of political power–that is, the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion–in order to avoid…spiritual growth…Because their willfulness is so extraordinary–and always accompanied by a lust for power–I suspect that the evil are more likely than most to politically aggrandize themselves…..There is a remarkable power in the manner in which they attempt to control others. (page 78)
[In describing one of his patients, Peck says] Charlene’s desire to make a conquest of me….to utterly control our relationship, knew no bounds. It seemed to be a desire for power purely for its own sake. (page 176) She wanted the reigns in her hands every moment. (page 158)

Lack of empathy

Theirs is a brand of narcissism so total that they seem to lack, in whole or in part, the capacity for empathyTheir narcissism makes the evil dangerous not only because it motivates them to scapegoat others but also because it deprives them of the restraint that results from empathy and respect for others.
In addition to the fact that the evil need victims to sacrifice to their narcissism, their narcissism permits them to ignore the humanity of their victims as well….The blindness of the narcissist to others can extend even beyond a lack of empathy; narcissists may not “see” others at all.
There are boundaries to the individual soul. And in our dealings with each other we generally respect these boundaries. It is characteristic of–and prerequisite for–mental health both that our own ego boundaries should be clear and that we should clearly recognize the boundaries of others. We must know where we end and others begin. )pages 136-137)

Symbiotic relationship

Another form of devastation that narcissistic intrusiveness can create is the symbiotic relationship. “Symbiosis“–as we use the term in psychiatry–is not a mutually beneficial state of interdependence. Instead it refers to a mutually parasitic and destructive coupling. In the symbiotic relationship neither partner will separate from the other even though it would obviously be beneficial to each if they could. (page 137)
I doubt that it is possible for two utterly evil people to live together in the close quarters of a sustained marriage. They would be too destructive for the necessary cooperation….In every evil couple, if we could examine them closely enough, I image we would find one partner at least slightly in thrall to the other. (page 119) For adults to be the victims of evil, they too must be powerless to escape….They may be powerless by virtue of their own failure of courage….bound by chains of laziness and dependency. (pages 119-120)

Evil in families

It is my experience that evil seems to run in families. (page 80) If evil were easy to recognize, identify and manage, there would be no need for this book. But the fact of the matter is that it is the most difficult of all things with which to cope. (page 130) [Evil] will contaminate or otherwise destroy a person who remains too long in its presence. (page 65)
The evil deny the suffering of their guilt–the painful awareness of their sin, inadequacy, and imperfection–by casting their pain onto the other through projection and scapegoating. They themselves may not suffer, but those around them do. The evil cause suffering. The evil create for those under their dominion a miniature sick society. (page 123-124)
It happens then, that the children of evil parents enter adulthood with very significant psychiatric disturbances. ….It is doubtful that some can be wholly healed of their scars from having had to live in close quarters with evil without correctly naming the source of their problems.
To come to terms with evil in one’s parentage is perhaps the most difficult and painful psychological task a human being can be called on to face. Most fail and so remain its victims. Those who fully succeed in developing the necessary searing vision are those who are able to name it. (page 130)


For more information about evil and for some examples of evil acts see my previous post: Check Your Motives at the Door

 Added 6-8-2014:

Evil or Stupid?




One thought on ““Hell is Empty and All The Devils Are Here”

  1. Pingback: The love of money is NOT the route of all evil | Motivation to Succeed

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