Discernment Of Spirits And Mental Health: The 3 Spirits At Work In Our Lives

by Faith & Life, Spiritual Warfare

I want to introduce two things to you- discernment of spirits as taught by St. Ignatius and Satan as the great accuser.  St. Ignatius taught that there are three spirits at work in our lives. The first is the spirit of God. The idea is that we can tell which spirit is at work by the fruit of our interior movements. If we are moved to love others more fully, pray with greater diligence, or direct all things towards God, we can rightly say that these desires have been inspired by the Holy Spirit and will bring us greater peace and joy. 

Compare this to the spirit of the evil one, the second spirit, that directs us towards evil things such as selfishness, lust, and greed. When we pursue the ideas brought up by the evil one, we are left feeling empty, restless, hopeless, and in great turmoil. 

The third spirit is within us and arises from our own power of mind and affection.  The spirit of self could be described as the voice inside our head or the part of us that reasons and feels. The spirit of self is often the most difficult to discern because it can be confusing to tell if what we are hearing is our inner spirit versus the spirits of the evil one or God. This often becomes easier over time with practice and with the guidance and wisdom of others.  If you have not already, I highly recommend reading about the work of St. Ignatius.  Some of the most helpful resources I have found are at www.ignatianspirituality.com

Satan The Accuser

Did you know that the name Satan comes from the Hebrew noun meaning “accuser”? In my experience, this seems like the most accurate way to describe the evil one. Just as God knows our hearts, Satan knows us and knows exactly what thoughts to put on our minds to cause us grief, suffering, and turmoil. Compare this to our God who is constantly drawing us to himself through inspiration, love, peace, and joy.

Satan, also called “Father of Lies,” accuses us constantly of not being good enough or strong enough to overcome sin, and that we always have been and always will be terrible individuals. If you are prone to greed, Satan will tempt you to cheat on your taxes and then accuse you of being a thief. If you are easily tempted into lust, Satan will lead you to sin and then accuse you of being perverse.

If we do not ask God continuously to see ourselves as He sees us and listen for His Spirit that leads us to Him, the inner voice of self will become indistinguishable from the evil one, and we will become self-accusing and self-defeating individuals. The evil one will put us on a treadmill of self-hate to the point that he will not even need to do the convincing anymore- we will do the work ourselves. Consider praying for the clarity of heart to recognize and reject the lies of the evil one.

How Discernment Of Spirits Influences Mental Health

When I am assisting people through mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, I often see people’s symptoms begin to spiral out of control because of a negative interaction with another person, a mistake they made, etc. 

For example, the accusatory voice, whether it be from Satan or ourselves, starts small with, “You failed.” Then it becomes, “You failed again.  You always fail.  Why can’t you stop failing?  What is wrong with you?  No one fails as much as you do.  You’re always going to fail!”  Before they know it, their symptoms are unbearable, and they find themselves in a dark place. 

Does this sound like God’s encouragement for us to become holier individuals? No. This is the work of the evil one. 

The goals of God and Satan are exactly the opposite. One is hope, the other is despair. One is love, the other is solitude.  Satan does such a good job of this however that we often feel like we are the only ones struggling and suffering. 

When you pray, pay close attention to the movements of your heart. If you are scared, feel hopeless, or despair, it is likely not from God and is coming from the accuser himself. If you are filled with hope, confidence, joy, peace, and love, it is likely from God and can be trusted. It takes great practice and possibly a spiritual director to learn the discernment of spirits.  Keep in mind, we are barely scratching the surface right now when it comes to the teachings of St. Ignatius.  If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend “The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living” by Fr. Timothy Gallagher.  I pray that you will find ways to silence the voice of the accuser in your life and better hear and understand the Spirit of God.


This article was sent as a three part email series and originally appeared HERE.

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