As a little kid I had a constantly running inner voice vying for my attention. It was soft spoken just like me—barely audible. I just wanted to be seen, understood and trusted. I wanted to be able to be myself but that’s not how things turned out.
That inner voice grew up with me, telling me what not to do or say. Telling me I needed to fit in and be accepted. I lived a life of selective exclusion like we all do. I had been told too many times that some parts of me were wrong, bad, disgusting, scary. So I showed people what they wanted to see instead.
My self-esteem had taken a vacation. Being told I was weird, nerdy, too dark, and “not as smart as you think you are” made me very cautious about other people. Not because I thought they were bad but because I didn’t want them to see me as those things. It pushed me to always be a people pleaser, even when it came at my own expense.
We all have some parts of ourselves that we suppress—parts of ourselves that sometimes we push so far down that we don’t even acknowledge they are there—parts of ourselves that cause us to act out in unhealthy ways. They grow a hardened shell, wear terrifying masks, lurk in the shadows and whisper in our ear. These are our demons and guess what? We all have them.
We don’t want other people to see our demons though, let alone know they are there. We’re told they’re bad and we certainly don’t want to look bad. So we hide them away, push them down, try to ignore them, pretending they aren’t there. But here’s the thing;
The harder we try to suppress our demons, the stronger they get and the more they fuck up our lives.
So instead we start avoiding them. We distract ourselves—twelve hour work days, competition with our neighbors, playing video games all day. We get drunk or high to forget about them. We do whatever we can to keep them out of sight, out of mind. Even if it means getting other people wrapped up in our drama.
We feel weak and powerless against the ghastly demons. I mean they’re pretty scary right? They are demons after all. But eventually, many of us get sick of it and want to take back control.
You’ve probably gone to war with them at some point or at the very least fought a ferocious battle. You tried not to feel angry, guilty, jealous. You tried not to feel down on yourself but you hated yourself for what you did or didn’t do.
You tell yourself that you’re going to change. You’re really going to do it this time.
You promise yourself you’re finally going to put away the bottle, you’re going to work less and spend more time with your girlfriend, maybe lay off the weed for a while, you’re going to get out of the house and make new friends, you’re going to go out and find that perfect someone. You tell yourself to stop listening to that little menacing voice inside your head and so things can finally be better.
Of course, if you’re reading this, things probably didn’t work out, did they?
MY DEMONS ARE YOUR DEMONS
I’ve struggled with a lot of demons. Through self-awareness and changes to some of the patterns of thinking and behavior behind my difficulties, I’ve been able to make some amazing progress.
People who know me now would probably be surprised that younger me was a super introverted, socially anxious, procrastinator with low self-esteem, who smoked way too much weed and had an unhealthy relationship with cheap whiskey. Life was a dark and lonely place, even when others were around.
One of the demons I still struggle with is called imposter syndrome—a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a, well… imposter.
The simplest task could keep me up all night, worrying about what had to be done the next day. Worrying about making a mistake or failing, I’d run over possible scenarios in my head over and over again, constantly over-preparing.
I’m naturally a pretty smart guy who picks things up quickly. I’ve seen my fair share of success and have a wide range of knowledge. Some would call me a polymath—a person who studies and knows a lot about many different subjects. But there were a number of things in my youth that caused me to doubt my capabilities.
Eventually I had a very self-destructive thought that would stick around for many years.
What if I’m mentally challenged and everyone around me is just being really cool about it?
That’s some high-level paranoia shit right there.
Luckily, in my early 20’s I confronted that demon—on psychedelics—and determined it would be totally okay if that were true. It was a lesson about perspectives, beliefs and how we shape our own reality. Since then, my imposter syndrome rarely shows up and when it does, I identify it quickly and let it go as just another thought.
All demons start out as self-judgment. I’m not attractive, I’m too lazy, I’m not good enough, I’m messy, no one is ever going to love me. Pretty much everything we don’t like about ourselves.
We start out by trying to fight back. Designer clothes, makeup and perfectly styled hair. 60 hour work weeks. Always competing to win. Keeping a super clean house. We don’t want to feel inadequate so we end up avoiding the demon altogether, sneaking down alleyways or taking the scenic route.
But the demons have been working out and are benching mad weight. They’re motivated to find you and they just keep getting bigger and stronger. Eventually things inevitably get out of hand.
You’re working 12 hours every day of the week. You’re the angry, competitive person that nobody wants to play with. You develop mysophobia—a pathological fear of contamination and germs. And you just avoid intimate relationships altogether because you’re unlovable, so what’s the point?
One of the most important steps is to realize that you are not alone.
Whatever that weird thing you do or think is, there’s always someone else out there who’s doing or thinking the same weird thing. You don’t have to bear this burden alone. You don’t have to hide it from everyone. You can take a deep breath in knowing that the fight just got way easier.
You now have someone to compare notes with. You can share, teach and learn. You can bring your demons out of the darkness and into the light.
OVERCOMING YOUR DEMONS
Some say that no matter how hard you try to get rid of them, you have to live with your demons. For pretty much all of us, that’s just not true. Our demons don’t have to haunt us for a lifetime.
We don’t have to fight but we don’t have to give in either.
Demons are just misunderstood. They’re actually pretty cool to hang out with—don’t leave!—I’m not hanging out with demons, I promise. The thing is, demons aren’t actually demons… They’re you.
At least a part of you. A part of you that you separated from yourself, gave a name and then banished to the basement of your subconscious. After all these years, it’s finally time for a reunion.
#1. DEFINING THE WORK
Overcoming our demons involves embracing them—taking a brutally honest look within and accepting what we find. It’s challenging work but it always leads to a more joyful and fulfilling life.
These demons take on two forms. One screams, “I am legion, for we are many!” The other stands alone, as if it’s a shadowy reflection of one’s self. Either way, the work remains the same, it’s just the order in which you confront them.
The work is to cultivate self-awareness.
Locate and examine the psychological processes that lead to your reactive or self-destructive behavior. If we understand and embrace those processes, we can integrate them into a unified and undivided self.
We’ve made demons out of our own reflections.
Our cautiousness is the reflection of our curiosity. Our detachment is a reflection of our compassion. Our feeling that we will never be loved is our need to love.
Through integration, these personality characteristics can be centered. We can be both cautiously curious. We can cultivate loving detachment. We can love others and receive love. We can find balance—or at the very least get a little bit closer to the center.
#2. IMAGINE ALL YOUR DEMONS COMBINED INTO ONE DEMON
Give it a name, I’m going to call mine Jennifer. Now make friends with her. Get to know her better. Give her a hug, demons need hugs too. Take her out to dinner, have a nice conversation over a glass of wine—or not if that’s one of your little demons.
If it works for you, talk to your new demon friend. Ask them questions as if they were a person right there with you. Imagine their responses to your questions and write them down. Be honest with yourself and write down the first thing that comes to mind. Then delve a little deeper and try to unwrap it.
Ask your new demon buddy to share some insider knowledge.
First figure out what you want to work on. It could be a fear, a kink you’re embarrassed for liking, a thought you were told is bad to have but you still have it anyway, or something that you’re just way too obsessed with. Maybe it’s a particular person that always makes you angry or you always feel awful and depressed after seeing.
Hey Jen, why do you keep trying to tie me up and tickle me?
What are you trying to show me about myself?
Why do you think I wasn’t listening and pretended I didn’t want to be tickled?
Where do you think this insatiable desire to be tickled came from?
When in my life did I decide tickling was my jam?
What’s the lesson here, wanna know what I think?
Wow Jen, what am I going to do with all this new tickling knowledge?!
That’s a pretty innocent example and a harmless kink. If that’s what you want to do and your partner is into it, you’re really just avoiding something you already know would be great. Pay attention to your emotions as you ask your questions. Release your shame and guilt. Embrace your truth.
Know that you don’t always have to agree with your demon.
Acceptance is not the same thing as indulgence. It’s important to accept what is because it’s true—it’s what you do about it that matters.
An alcoholic shouldn’t go out and drink more because they’ve accepted they are an alcoholic. In the 4th edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Paul Ohliger speaks to the importance of acceptance.
“Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
But if you have a fantasy of getting tied up and tickled, go ahead and ask your partner if they want to be your personal tickle monster. As long as there’s consent and it’s not interfering with your life, indulging your kinks is a healthy thing to do.
One more thing though—Although it’s not wrong to have a thought or a feeling, if it is endangering yourself or others, please reach out to a mental health professional.
It’s one thing to imagine killing your neighbor with their totally ancient, loud as shit lawnmower, because it’s fucking 7am and you only went to bed like 5 hours ago. It’s a whole other thing if you’re planning on actually doing it. Don’t do that. There are people out there that can help you.
#3. TACKLE ONE DEMON AT A TIME (OR A FEW IF THEY HANG OUT TOGETHER)
Just in case you have trouble getting started with that last step, you can switch it up with this one. Different approaches might work better for different personalities.
It’s actually pretty easy to figure out. Do you typically see the big picture first and then move in closer to take a look at the details or do you see the details and then take a step back to look at the big picture?
Now do the opposite of what you usually do. Chances are, if you’re a details person you need to work to see the big picture so you know how the pieces fit before you can get started. If you’re a big picture person, you need to break things down first because the big picture is just too much to handle this time.
So what are we doing here? Well, remember all those little demons—they are kind of like personality traits or different facets of your own version of Jennifer. It’s time for a little self-reflection of your reflection.The key to overcoming your demons is not fighting them.
The key to overcoming your demons is not fighting them.
You can take the same approach but instead of talking to your big demon, treat each little demon as an individual and talk to them. Sometimes they congregate in groups if they share similar interests. It’s totally okay to hang out with the clique but know that they might gang up on you.
The reason for talking to both your Jenny and her little cohorts is to get different perspectives.
It can be easier to work on small parts than trying to tackle the whole thing at once.
It’s an approach I sometimes take with large puzzles. I know what the whole thing looks like but I can’t just pick up any random piece and know where to put it. One of my strategies is to separate the puzzle into six sections and focus on one section at a time, until there’s enough there that I can look at it as a whole again.
It’s also why, when I’m consulting for a business, I don’t just interview management and the owners. I also interview all employees. They’re performing these tasks everyday and often have ideas or insights that management can’t see.
The majority of the time it’s not that they don’t care or think they know best. Usually, it’s literally not possible for them because they don’t have a good enough vantage point to see things, have no first-hand experience or just haven’t asked.
It’s not uncommon for an employee to save a company tens of thousands of dollars a year just by saying something like, “Well, you could stack the boxes like this instead of that. Then it takes us half the time to stack them and takes the next shift half the time to load them onto the truck later.” And I’m being called in to evaluate workflow and worker safety for a new $100k loading dock or something.
So that’s why you talk to both Jenny and her minions.
#4. REINTEGRATE YOUR DEMONS BACK INTO YOURSELF
This can be and probably is a lifelong process for most people and that’s totally okay. If you made it to this step, you’re doing great. Overall, you’re killing it at life and enjoying almost all of it.
Some things are hard to figure out though, maybe they are so far in the past that you have no way of finding out where they came from. Life also presents us with new challenges as we go and sometimes new demons show up. Now that we know how to keep an eye out for them, they are easier to manage.
Identifying, understanding, and accepting wasn’t that hard to write about, but what in the hell is reintegration? Remember that all those demons use to be a part of you.
Reintegration is the work necessary to become your unified and undivided self.
Integration is the process of discovering your autonomous, authentic self—It’s the self-actualization that prepares you for what comes next. After integration you emerge with love and power. Out of love you shape the world around you and with power you shape the energy you use to do it.
In the last step you were working to accept different parts of yourself that you had pushed away. In this step you are working to incorporate those parts into your personality. At the end there are no longer parts—it’s just you and your newfound, individualistic discovery of a unique subjective reality.
So what’s the process of integration and how do you get integrated?
Let’s make some soup. I love soup. You have all these little bits and pieces prepped on the cutting board. You got your very own recipe and you know how it’s all going to come together. Your pot is on the stove and ready to go.
Maybe you took a cooking class or watched a bunch of videos on YouTube. Maybe you found an awesome mentor. Maybe you just have a ton of experience cooking other people’s soup recipes and you’re ready to create your own.
Trust yourself, you can make the soup. Surrender your desire to know what your soup is going to taste like. You can’t know, it’s your first time making it after all. Have confidence in your knowledge of soup and the skills you learned so that you could make the soup.
You know the whole process and you know that process is not you.
I mean, you’re not a recipe are you? Now you can look at everything you’ve done from an outside perspective. You don’t have Jennifer and a bunch of little demons hanging around with you. It’s all just one soup now. I call it the delicious Bennifer soup.
When you’ve completed enough of the work, your soup recipe will just come to you. You’ll take a step back and see that none of that was you. Now all of that combined is a part of the new you and you can’t wait to figure out what the other parts are.
#5. CHECK YOUR WORK
Two major reasons for delayed integration are pride and fear of the unknown. You’ve just done something amazing that only a small portion of people accomplish in their lifetime.
You are of your own creation. You are your own artwork.
But we use pride as an excuse to avoid exploring what’s next because there aren’t many clues and the uncertainty is kind of scary. There’s a dark chasm, an abyss between here and there—a desert separating dualistic reality from non-dual awareness. It’s a place of death and rebirth—of recursion. But that’s a story for another time.
That’s exactly why you need to check your work. It can be a treacherous journey and if your preparation isn’t complete, it’s going to get rough. Plus you’ll probably just end up right back where you entered and have to start again.
Most people don’t nail their soup recipe on the first try. You end up sharing it with your family, testing it out on your girlfriend (or boyfriend) and revising it a little here and there. Like I said, sometimes things are just hard to figure out. But that’s why we have each other. If you don’t know what to do, just ask.
Digital Art by Mandie Savard – See more of her work on Instagram @MandieDarko