Don’t take my devils away, because my angels may flee too – Rainer Maria Rilke
The place where we truly build ourselves looks far less dramatic than we may imagine in Slaying The Devils. The deepest work we can ever do isn’t in a perfect space. But in a quiet simple space. If not in nature, then it may be in the room with a few comfortable chairs, a meditation cushion or a soothing blanket. There are no actual demons, dragons or devils in a therapy room, except the ones in our minds. Some of the hardest work that anyone ever does is in this room, yet there is nothing there except the opportunity to feel feelings in a safe place.
There are many life situations where unpleasant feelings can make life difficult (the metaphorical devils, dragons and demons that chase us). Feelings like severe fear, grief, sadness, guilt, regret, anger and remorse can fill our body with sensations of pain. Or we can learn how to process them so that we learn to free of such feelings that give pain to our body and our mind. But first, we have to learn to become aware of them, instead of avoiding them.
One powerful way to soothe our dragons is to learn mindfulness meditation. Instead of fighting the feeling, which may make things worse, we teach ourselves to witness them in a neutral way. Mindfulness is best learned in an undisturbed, simple space and it is a skill that can give great benefit in our lives and heal our soul.
For example, instead of reacting to our feelings of grief, sorrow, guilt and regret in front of loss, we can learn to witness those powerful feelings. Mindfulness teaches us to trust in life itself, making it perhaps the most powerful method for our self-development.
The next possibility for learning about how to overcome unpleasant feelings is within a relationship with another human/s.
The first such place is our family home Slaying The Devils.
If our loved ones and family members react with great emotion to our emotions or model the same towards their own emotions, it becomes difficult to learn trust. We may struggle to trust them and ourselves. If they judge our vulnerability, we learn to judge it. If they react with comfort and care we seek their wise counsel. Without self-trust, we can develop many mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The great benefit of mindfulness methods is the rapid shift in our self trust, because it helps us create a safe relationship with ourselves and stay present with it.
In a counseling relationship, our therapist acts as a safe person to talk to about our feelings. If our therapist reacts to our feelings and has huge feelings of their own in reaction to our own, it will halt our attempt to process our reactions to life. Processing feelings requires patience and non-judgment that our therapist models for us.
Unfortunately, we live in a world with a huge lack of awareness about mental health and thus there is a great stigma around it, leading to a severe shortage of clarity around slaying our metaphorical Slaying The Devils dragons, demons and devils or even soothing them enough to catch a breath, as it were.
For every person that seeks professional help, there are possibly a dozen people in their lives who will never see the inside of a therapist’s room or they may run very quickly from such spaces. In complicated family situations where a family member has mental health issues but will not seek therapy, the family as a whole grieves often trying to hold on to the love that bonds them while being tossed in the sea of unpleasant emotions. There are a lot of reasons why people avoid taking charge of their emotional well being and there are many avoidance tactics that people employ because of ego attachment. These are the dragons, demons and devils of our minds.
1. Affordability. This is a common excuse. In fact, Therapy costs a lot less than any addiction from shopping to drugs. Therapy costs far less than the negative consequences of trauma, such as sleepless nights, rage fits, depression, anxiety and miserable family interactions.
2. Secondary gain. This is the situation where there is a hidden benefit to mental health issues. Perhaps the person with mental health issues gets special treatment because of how everyone else walks on eggshells to avoid triggering them.
3. Extreme mental health stigma. Prejudice against mental health services or therapists themselves, fear of a certain culture or fear of mental health diagnosis can prevent many people from getting help. Deep hurt can often manifest as feelings of hatred.
4. Fear of loss. Change requires a sort of ego death, a willingness to let go. Everything that the person may have internalized as their sense of who they are, maybe threatened by looking at their real feelings. For example, high achievers can have high-functioning anxiety and depression that is used as a motivation to do better in life. Therefore, therapy may be perceived as threatening to their sense of existing self-worth, because it requires vulnerability.
5. Fear of severity of the issues. As Brene Brown talked about in her famous Tedx talk about therapy, when she went into therapy, she wanted to avoid certain topics like childhood and her feelings. Her therapist responded to it by saying, “It is what it is.” Perhaps the thing to remember is that it can’t be as bad as you think it is. It is, in fact, what it is. From acceptance comes freedom and the opportunity to take control or integrate.
6. The Know It All. Using another form of compensation, the know it avoids feeling vulnerable. Terrified of not knowing and not having control, a know it will fake it i.e., practice self-deception to have control and avoid examining their ego. Many highly intelligent people figure out shortcuts to therapy.
7. Doubt if it can help. People doubt their own ability to get better and to take charge of their lives. This is often projected on the therapist. “Therapy Can’t Help Me….Because I am…” is a familiar refrain from people who deep down do not trust themselves or the process of life itself.
8. Drama King/Queen. The drama may have helped a person avoid responsibility in the past and it can become a style of interaction with the world. Drama requires a sense of victimization and blaming others helps a person to avoid taking charge of their own role in why things are the way they are.
How can we know if we are suffering needlessly because of avoidance tactics?
I think the most accurate test of whether we are suffering because of avoidance is territorial behaviors, hoarding, anxiety issues, sleeplessness and overall difficulty trusting ourselves and our loved ones.
The truth however is that nothing is as awful as fear itself. The one thing that most frighten us– our deep wound is also the place where we can witness how resourceful and strong we really are. It is possible to learn much on our own, but unless we test it out in the world, we won’t know if it is really working…or if it can work. Trust is the currency of the world. And if there was an alternative word for abundance or success it would be Trust.
The great lesson of life is that if we don’t trust, we perish. A helpless baby has no choice but to trust its caregivers. We, on the other hand, can figure out our own more complicated relationship with trust and learn that it is safe to not trust as well.
Life deserves nothing less than our courage to show up to learn trust and faith for ourselves. We must drink from the holy grail of trust to find our way through unpleasant feelings and difficult life circumstances. There is perhaps no other way if we are to overcome our demons, dragons, and devils. Drink deeply as it has to last a while.
Ps: Sending my love and blessings to all of you this Winter Solstice.