“The first step to casting out mental demons is to understand why you keep letting them in.” Now, for those plagued by mental demons, I think I can predict the response —
“What do you mean, I keep letting them in???!!! Are you saying I like feeling like this? Are you saying I have a choice?”
Well, yes and no. Is it a conscious choice? Rarely. Do you like feeling this way? I’m sure you don’t. However, one thing is true in life. Our thoughts and behaviours, good or bad, conscious or unconscious, are there to serve our needs. When you understand this, you’re well on your way to reclaiming power over your emotions and greater control of your life.
Now to preface this post, let’s be clear. There are some intangibles here. Different people and personalities have different dispositions to mental challenges, and there are serious pathological and genetic conditions which always require medical intervention. But, even for those that can’t necessarily ‘cast out’ their mental demons, perhaps the following ideas can help to keep them at bay. So, with that in mind, let’s begin.
Mental demons are like toxic friends
Mental demons, whether they take the form of anxiety, depression, addictions, mental roadblocks, disorders, are a lot like toxic friends. They tend to enter your life when you’re vulnerable, give you what you need, and then keep you hooked while constantly dragging you down. In other words, they service your needs at a cost to your happiness and wellbeing. And yet, we keep them around. Why? Because, they feed us when we need to be fed. And this is exactly what our ‘mental demons’ do.
Let’s take an example.
You suffer a terrible loss, perhaps the loss of a close family member or friend. Part of the natural recovery process of grief is sorrow. It’s a vulnerable emotion that draws people to your side, allowing you to feel connected, significant and comforted. As you should. These are three of our daily needs to function effectively as a human being.
However, the ‘demons’ arise if you don’t fully move through the grief process. You get stuck, perhaps because you have other negative things going on in your life. And now your temporary sorrow shifts to, let’s say, depression. And you now feel like you’re at the mercy of your emotions. It doesn’t feel good. You’re not growing. You’re miserable. Your life conditions don’t match how you see yourself or the world. And yet it persists. Why? Because, it satiates your human needs for connection and significance, not only within yourself but from those around you. Furthermore, it’s familiar and dependable, you can count on it when you’re feeling down and uncertain. It’s an unhealthy but dependable addiction.
Okay, but what about the days you feel better? The times you manage to kick those ‘mental demons’ out the door. Why do you then let them back in? Well again, like the toxic friend, they’ll return when you’re at your most vulnerable. And as with any addiction, they gain more significance and power each and every time you invite them back. It’s almost like you owe them something. And now you’re not only depressed, but you feel guilty and ashamed as well. Sound familiar?
So, how can you turn this around? What tools can you use?
Awareness is key. And it starts with the questions we ask ourselves. Our days are filled with internal questions, and these questions can be empowering or disempowering. For example, let’s say you have your third little car bingle in as many months. You can ask yourself one of two questions —
“Why does this always happen to me?” (disempowering) — or — “How can I prevent this from happening again?” (empowering)
Now, guess which question your little mind ’demons’ will show up to answer? Ask yourself, “Why does this always happen to me?” and the demons reply, “Because, you’re an idiot. But, it’s okay, I’m here. I’ll meet your needs.” — And now you’ve invited those opportunistic little critters back in to your life.
So, next time a negative event happens for you (‘for you’ because it’s a chance to learn and grow), be aware of the internal question you ask yourself. If it starts with a “Why?”, change it to a “How?”. Make it empowering, not disempowering, such that it elicits a constructive and helpful response. And then there’s one more question you need to ask yourself —
“How can I meet my needs for connection, significance and certainty in a constructive way?”
For example, your need for connection and significance can be met by calling upon the sympathy of a close friend concerned about your depressed condition, or it can be met by expressing to that same friend how important they are in your life and contributing to their world. This will also satisfy your spiritual needs for growth and contribution, which are the keys to a happy and fulfilling life. And by trading expectation for appreciation, you no longer set yourself up for disappointment if your needs aren’t met. You’re back in control.
Now, let’s be very clear.
This won’t come easy at first. You have to break a habit. It requires discipline and perseverance. You’ll fall down plenty of times and need to pick yourself back up again.
But remember, you can’t fix what you don’t understand. So, with this new-found awareness, you can catch yourself in moments of decision and make better choices. Demons simply offer temptations. They can’t force you to do something. Only you can make that choice. So, arm yourself with understanding and knowledge and make wiser choices moving forward. Ask better questions. Choose better actions. It’s time to reclaim power over your life and emotions, and rediscover your happiness, for both you and the those around you.