…to Kill Our Monsters

 
 

Key: We have the power to “kill” the barriers to our enjoyable life.
 
Living it: Limiting energy drains, practicing realistic thoughts and releasing the emotions that chain us to memories.
 
Clinical Concept: Synergistic self-application of energy prioritization, Automatic Negative Thinking disputation and cathartic emotional release.

 
 

It’s said that All Hallows’ Eve is one of the nights when the veil between the worlds is thin – and whether you believe in such things or not, those roaming spirits probably believe in you…

– Erin Morgenstern Artist and Author

 

The air is crisp, the sun grows dark, and Halloween has arrived. The shadows and spooks that plague us are welcomed into the wider world; to trick, to treat—and maybe to be banished for good. This Halloween, I thought I’d take the liberty of dressing up three of the most common barriers to enjoyable living in costumes that fit the season, in the hopes that these undead analogies might inspire us to see our own challenges more clearly. Then I offer some tricks for how to kill vampires, zombies and ghosts, just like in the horror movies which I adore.

Read on, for a treat, if you dare…

Staking the Vampire

 

The vampire is something that “sucks the life right out of you.” Rather than the classic blood sucking fiends, these Energy Drains—as they are termed in the psychological community—are not as obvious and can’t be warded off by garlic. Energy Drains can be different for everyone but generally they indicate a heart-issue. “Many people unnecessarily lose energy in ways they are not aware of that are actually changeable,” according to Dr. Randi Gunther. “If you can stop that depletion, you can find the strength to change your situation” (2005).

Dr. Gunter highlights eight energy drains in her article, such as the exhausting Non-Resolveable Conflicts, the Improbable Expectations and Procrastination. She also urges readers to “Give up stressing about stress.” To that list I would add the energy drains of over-commitment, addiction (even to phones, Facebook, TV or food) and negatively-focused people, which Dr. Gunter touches on in her advice to Balance Relationships.

How to Kill it: A stake through the heart will take out any vampire. As I said, our vampires may indicate a personal heart-issue that we must take a direct, clear look at, shining sunlight the potential vampire in front of us. Heart-issues are often caused by personal motivations or desires which put our “heart in the right place” but our energy in a bad position. For example, the over-commitment may come from a desire to be productive but on a deeper level it’s based in a fear that we will be without value. The relationship with the negatively-focused person that exhausts us after every phone call may continue because we “don’t want to be mean” but they can sense that they’re just being “Uh-huh’ed” off the call and we’re not genuine because we’re trying to reserve our energy. We shine light on those energy drains then jab ‘em in the heart by making healthy changes. “Stand back and observe yourself from a place of compassion and objectivity,” Dr. Gunther tells those who struggle at killing their vampires. “Look at the bigger picture. If you stay exhausted and running on an empty tank, you will eventually doom yourself…If you, on the other hand, actively and intentionally do whatever you need to do to renew your resources, you will once again be able to face your challenges with a much greater chance of an exciting outcome.”

Decapitating the Zombie

 

The zombie never dies. We think we’ve killed it and it just comes back. These zombies are also called Automatic Negative Thoughts and have been studied clinically for over sixty years. They trudge around, sapping our hope, our joy or our confidence by their mere presence. They moan “Nobody really likes you” about old friends, they mumble that the new business deal will never work out, they hiss “you’re no good” at every honest mistake.  Amen and Routh (2003) identify nine of the most common in their article (with worksheets!) such as “Always/Never Thinking, Focusing on the Negative, Predicting the Worst” or one of my favorites “Thinking with your Feelings.” I really encourage you to check out and try the worksheets. I’ve been using versions of them for decades.

How to Kill it: There are many ways to kill automatic negative thinking, and just like a zombie, they all involve cutting off the head. We take that automatic negative thought and we say “Oh, yeah? I may not be good at everything, but I can do this!” or “that business deal will be challenging, but I have the skills and team to do it!” We dispute the automatic negative with the chop of a practiced realistic thought. “Only we have the power to change our own negative thoughts,” Amen and Routh encourage, “and we do that by talking back to them.”

Banishing the Ghost

 

The ghost of the inescapable memory haunts us and the past focus just won’t fade away no matter how much we try. University of North Carolina psychologists B. Keith Payne, Phd and Elizabeth Corrigan studied the reason why some memories linger and others fade. What they discovered was that certain memories are emotion-rich and thus, they continue to stick with us. “Emotional memories were persistent, loitering even when they were asked to leave. The painful or unhappy memories people would most like to leave behind may be the ones that are the most difficult to dislodge,” they concluded (DeNoon, 2017).

How to Kill it: Ghosts must be laid to rest. Payne and Corrigan’s recent research has been applied in counseling for generations. They noted that “even a relatively mild emotional reaction” could make a memory difficult to forget, and I believe that much depends on the person and context of the memory. Still, we can lay our ghosts to rest. Sometimes it’s through ritual, like writing a letter, having a ceremony or many more personal ways to say a formal farewell. Sometimes it’s through memorializing in art, music or establishing a trust or foundation. Sometimes it’s through direct counseling. Regardless of the method, the goal is the same. We release the emotion that is tied to the memory and then that memory, and we, can finally rest.

I have friends who believe that Halloween has its roots in much older holidays which focus on remembrance, release and the honoring of the presence of the darker side of life because “the veil between worlds is thinner” during the season of harvest. This Halloween I encourage you to welcome your vampires, zombies and ghosts, accepting them for what they are, and then bid them an honoring farewell.

 

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Amen, D.G., and Routh, L.C. (2003). ANTS and ANTeaters. Healing anxiety and depression. New York: Berkeley Books. Retrieved from: http://satsanga.buffalo.edu/docs/ANTS.pdf

DeNoon (2017) Why Memories Haunt Us. Journal of Experimential Social Psychology via WebMd. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20070817/why-memories-haunt-us#1

Gunther, R. (2005) Tired of Being Tired?: Stop Your Energy Drains. Psychology Today.com. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rediscovering-love/201502/tired-being-tired-stop-your-energy-drains

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