Face your demons

I have many years’ experience of working with people struggling with anxiety, depression, self-doubt and related emotional challenges. In general, most of them would be thinking that there was something wrong with them, that they were deficient in some way, or even ill. They would be surprised, and generally relieved, to learn that having demons – that is, emotional challenges – is quite a normal part of being human.

We all have them, but what distinguishes those people who don’t appear to have any such demons from those who appear to be struggling with them is mainly how well we are managing them – not whether or not we have them.

At root, life is fragile, vulnerable and insecure, but for the most part we tend to be very skilled at managing the challenges all this brings and very good at supporting one another through the difficulties. At times, life will be more challenging than is generally the case – for example, when we experience a major loss and we are flooded with feelings of grief. The next major loss may be a long way off or it may be just round the corner.

Some of us have us face emotional challenges more often than others; some of us struggle more with dealing with them when they do arise (often due to their severity and their frequency); and some of us have less support and understanding from the people around us than others do. So, it is certainly not simply a case of there being people who have demons to face and others who don’t. Demons, in the sense I am using them here, come with the territory – the territory of being human.

Where problems can become quite serious is where there are significant challenges to address, but our response is to bury our heads in the sand and just hope they will go away – the grieving person who tries to live as if their life has just gone through a major change; the person in an abusive relationship who hopes against hope that the violence will stop; the person who is struggling to find any sort of happiness who ‘just presses on’, as if there cannot be an alternative.

So, the first step is to recognise that we all have our emotional challenges, we all have demons that can haunt us, short or long term. That we have demons is therefore not necessarily a problem or anything to worry about. The second step is to recognise that we need to face them. The more we try to run away from them (or just ignore them), the larger they can loom and the more frightening they can become. By contrast, facing up to them can help us get them in perspective (especially if we don’t face them alone, if we have the support of trusted others, or at least a trusted other).

We can avoid the vicious circle of the demons getting bigger the more we turn our backs on them, and, instead, create a virtuous circle where facing them takes away a lot of their power, makes us feel more confident in dealing with them and sets us on a more positive route.

Demons flourish in the darkness. Turn the lights on, focus clearly on what you need to do, and those demons don’t seem to be anywhere near as threatening as they did before, especially if you are tackling them with support (and perhaps giving support to others who have their own demons to face).