This is Herman.
I drew him at my last Mastermind group meeting where I was asking for help yet again with my Eternal Quandary which one of the gals put succinctly as: I want to be famous but I don’t want to be famous. (And by famous, I mean internet famous — known amongst biz geeks for making cool things that help people).
I was lamenting finding myself in front of the same brick wall.
I wrote the problem down on my notepaper and randomly drew a circle around it.
I drew arrows and spears to represent all the angles of attack that had not worked to fix it. Therapy. Workshops. Morning pages. Etc.
Then, on a whim, I drew eyes on the top of the circle. And then arms and legs. And named the problem “Herman”.
With this simple drawing, something shifted inside me. I felt warmth for the little creature I had just given a name and a face.
Through this drawing, I had started to form a relationship with my “brick wall”. The problem was no longer a problem, it was a little being that wanted something.
The wall was its way of communicating. I was just unable to hear it.
As my perspective changed, I got curious about what this little guy wanted. What was his objection to fame? Why the big wall?
As the conversation continued, it turned out the “wall” was really a set of needs, wrapped up in a confusing jumble of beliefs about how those needs would not get met if I were famous.
For instance, if I were famous, I would have to be Eternally Productive, never play games, always be available, do interviews, enjoy schmoozing, etc. And I don’t want that, no sirree.
It turns out the resistance wasn’t about the idea of getting my work out to more people at all. It was about what happens next, and if I could maintain my boundaries.
It turns out that Herman is this amazing advocate for my self-care.
Herman wants to go to bed earlier. Herman wants time for me to think and process my feelings. Herman wants the freedom to attend to what I really need. Herman wants to stop working before I’m burned out and exhausted.
Herman may feel a little conservative and cautious. But he’s totally on my side.
Our demons are parts of ourselves we have miscast in the inner drama of our mind.
Herman was never a demon. But because I had never formed a relationship with him, I did not know his true face.
In fact, as I worked more with Herman, I found another demon — the part of myself who has a bundle of needs around contribution and purpose and thinks that if I don’t work constantly I won’t be proving that I’m enough. Another set of real needs mixed up in a tangle of unhelpful beliefs.
These two play tug-of-war in my subconscious, pushing and pulling on me. One yanks hard and I stay up all night working on a project. The other gives a good pull and I spend hours vegetating in front of the TV. Neither are happy and both are afraid of losing their grip on the only way they know of to meet their needs: by pulling me into their habitual strategies.
The wall turned out to be just a weapon in a larger inner battle that I’m working to resolve. (Other symptoms of an inner battle include: endless discontentment, fantasizing instead of doing, and never moving in any one direction for very long.)
Once I get these two parts of myself talking, I can get somewhere with what my whole system needs to move forward.
Maturing psychologically means learning to play the referee with our subconscious parts.
The drawing was an avenue to start humanizing this tangled knot of needs and beliefs, and get curious about them. This is the first step.
To do this work, you need some consistent way to get underneath the symptoms that appear to your conscious awareness. Writing, drawing, and talking with supportive people who ask good questions are what work for me. Experiment to collect your own toolset.
Keep a completely open and curious attitude about what you will find. It’s a wacky world inside our minds. Demons? Walls? Those are my metaphors; you’ll find your own. Whatever you discover, don’t judge it, or it won’t reveal its secrets to you.
Have patience and self-forgiveness too. There is no magic wand that will make issues instantly explicable. The mind is a labyrinth full of characters with different motivations and horribly inexplicable ways of communicating. It’s up to you to make a map and translate the hieroglyphics on the wall.
I’ve been watching Stargate SG-1. Every episode they jump into a swirling pool of light to find out what new world is on the other side. Inner work is kind of like that. It takes cojones.
The last element is to continually experiment with new, healthy, adult ways to meet your needs consciously and consistently. By “healthy”, I mean that you don’t meet one need at the expense of another. For example, eating two chocolate bars for dinner meets my need for comfort, but at the cost of my need for nourishment. Eating one square of chocolate, making myself a decent meal, and curling up with my cat meets many needs without cost.
Generally our demon strategies are costly and habitual. It’s up to us to investigate what they need, help them feel heard enough so they stop taking over, and develop the discipline of consistently choosing healthy strategies.
This takes a lot of practice. Again with the patience. Be good to yourself.
I wrote up the drawing exercise and some of the questions I asked myself. Enjoy (and let me know in the comments how it works for you).
Awesomesauce! I kinda have a similar struggle with respect to wanting to shine my woo-woo light via blogging but worrying that in my current career I have to be all “professional.” thanks for sharing your worksheet!
This is fantastic! I love reading the story about your creation and how it serves…you’ve created an excellent and engaging exercise, not to mention productive.
Thanks for sharing.
Maila Davenport says
I just did a similar “introduction” myself this morning! I do not draw, I collage. I made a collage on “My Leadership Personalities” and let all “the girls” in the room- depression maeve, anxiety troll etc. Once I put a face to each I could hear her clearly, she didn’t have to “act out” to get my attention. Just as you said, they are all really trying to be helpful! It has helped me all day here in my office (and my head) because when the negative voice starts now I see who is speaking and can make positive choices. The synchronicity was very validating so I shared – this is my first visit here
Sue T says
I like what you wrote! Thanks, Emma (and Herman)!
But I can’t get the Making Friends exercise to open or download. 🙁
Great post! Can’t wait to try out the worksheet. I feel my own demons popping up, I’m going through a huge change of life with a new daughter. Trying to figure out how to integrate her into my life is challenging, but the more I understand myself, the easier it seems to get!
Thanks so much for the comments! They make me and Herman happy. =)
@Sue Hmm…after investigating it looks like you have to have a Google Docs account to view that version. So here is a PDF version via Scribd.
Sue T says
Thank you Emma! That worked (downloaded from Scribd as 2 separate .jpg pages).
@Sue On Scribd, if you click the “Download” button on the side of the screen (under the title of the document) you should be able to download it as a PDF.
Sue T says
P.S. Are you familiar with “Feeding Your Demons,” by Tsultrim Allione? It’s based on a practice of Tibetan Buddhism, adapted for Westerners, and emphasizes dealing with the nasty non-cuddly demons like PTSD, child abuse, depression, serious illness, etc. But it still uses an approach which results in speaking to the demon about what it wants and needs (may be different things). Lots of case information. I get something new out of it every time I read it (3 times so far).
But since I learned about it I find it’s a lot easier to deal with my demons and monsters while they can still be personified as cuddly. Easier to understand how a cuddly demon could be acting in my best interest, just not in as productive a way as would be useful, as you so well described, Emma. Thanks again!
@Sue Thanks for the suggestion! No, I haven’t seen that book before. (Here’s the link, if others are interested.) It looks good, I will check it out.
IFS (Internal Family Systems) is another methodology based on the idea of working with parts of ourselves.
But the foundation for me is Non-Violent Communication, directed inward. A core tenent is that every “jackal” message (a need expressed in hurtful/violent way) is really a “giraffe” (need expressed in clear, connected way) in tragic disguise. It’s only because the need was so unmet and unheard for so long that the voice speaking up for it got so harsh and desperate. There is nothing at all harsh about the need itself, and if you can listen for it and validate it, then the voice melts and is cuddly again. And over time you can create a skillful dialog with yourself and then the voices get more reasonable overall.
My understanding of PTSD and trauma in general is that there is some somatic (body/neurological) stuff going on that needs specific attention at that level. Overwhelming emotions get trapped in the limbic system and the emotional memory needs to be “resolved”–re-felt with mindfulness, giving the emotions a chance to move through the body. Here is an excellent video on it. This work could be a supplement though.
Sue T says
I’ll be interested in your response to “Feeding Your Demons” … and I plan to get “Non-Violent Communication” next time I do a book order, although I have read Elgin (“The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense” and other titles).
Were “jackals” the specific negative example mentioned? I kind of like them! I do see the distinction that’s being made. Also, I like the idea of the giraffe as the positive need — it implies seeing the landscape from an elevated perspective, i.e. detached from the negative.
What a good idea! I love this and will try this out… I’ve got a couple of these sorts of as-yet unresolved issues, too… don’t we all! But, this will be a really wonderful way to access this information and transform it! Might even end up making a piece of artwork for the little demon/s, too!