When I was a little boy, I shared a room with my brother. At one stage, we argued a lot and so I persuaded my parents to let me sleep in the outside shed. The shed was just big enough to fit my bed once they helped me move the gardening tools, wood-working machinery and planks to one side.
A curious thing happened on the first night. When I switched off the light, moonlight streamed in through the window creating deep shadows. The jumble of tools and equipment changed into scary shapes. I was sure there were monsters hiding in the darkness and even under my bed. The harder I looked, the clearer they became!
Even as an adult, monsters still sometimes terrify me. These are the monsters of powerful negative emotions such as Fear, Envy, Anger and Grief.
Let me give you an example. A “hot button” for me is feeling bullied, which happens when I’m told I can’t be paid this month because the system is down, or if I have to take accountability for things that are not within my control. Then the monster of Anger morphs into a vampire that sucks happiness out of my life!
So how do you tame emotional monsters?
1. Hear the monster’s self-talk
Like a radio talk-show, we talk to ourselves all the time. When monsters are lurking, our self-talk is inevitably highly critical and negative. We usually don’t even question whether the self talk is accurate or appropriate, and thus it becomes our reality. So pause and hear what the monsters are saying in your head.
2. Identify what the monster really is.
Identifying the real monster helps strip away the emotion and clarify what you are really afraid of. Is it anger at feeling bullied like when you were little, or is it the fear that you may be blamed for something you didn’t do? Ask yourself questions like: “what is the real monster here?”, or “why is this getting to me?”
3. Separate the monster from the issue
Imagine two large glass bottles. Into the one bottle, put the monster with all its blown-up negative emotions. Into the other bottle, put the issue which has created the monster. In my example of having to take accountability for things not in my control, I put the monster of Anger and Frustration into one bottle, and into the other bottle, put the issue. With the emotional monster tightly bottled up, I was able to focus solely on the issue, and try to understand her point of view. I immediately felt the monster withering, and I was able to start tackling the issue using the next two steps.
4. Visualise yourself tackling the issue
With the emotional monster trapped in the glass bottle, visualise yourself dealing successfully with the issue. You are not affected by the monster because it’s no longer there. Visualise yourself dealing successfully with the issue, and enjoy the feeling of having conquered the situation.
5. Decide how you are going to tackle the issue
Don’t fall into the trap of becoming overwhelmed by how big this issue is. Break the process or conversation into the steps that you will take. Start your process by planning one small step. That will build your confidence to take further steps. I find it really empowering to ask myself what small step I can take to start the journey of dealing with the issue? Then what second small step I can take, and so on. Before I know it, the solution is laid out for me.
Beware of a myth about taming emotional monsters
There is however a myth that you can beat your emotional monsters by simply reciting positive affirmations. This is a myth because it takes a lot of work to make changes in your life, and simply wanting something or saying it does not equal achieving it (click here). So use these steps to defeat your monsters and make change stick!
Oh, the end of my story about sleeping in the shed? Well, I switched on the light and the monsters disappeared. I kept the light on all night, and with them tightly bottled up, I slept. The next day however, we moved my bed back into the room with my brother