How to Love Yourself When Facing Your (Chronic) Demons
These 5 tried-and-true ways make it sucks less
It is the 4th day of traveling across the US; from North Carolina to California. My boyfriend and I are in a packed SUV. A lone shoe swims in the pile of dirty clothes, protein bars pop up in the least expected places, baby wipes are in deep trenches under the heavy surfboard. I am overwhelmed by the mess but still trying to focus on the excitement of the trip.
We are doing a cross country trip because the pandemic interrupted our plans to travel internationally after we quit our jobs and packed our lives into a storage unit.
We are doing a good job so far handling uncertainty and disappointment, but I can feel that our tolerance reservoir is running low. It isn’t just because of the canceled trip, but also 5 months of mobile living with no income, being with each other in tiny spaces 24/7, and no clue about when we can resume our plans.
Nevertheless, we’ve been having a lot of fun together because we’ve been working on taming our egos and making the most of our conditions. We’ve made a tremendous effort to maintain our mental hygiene by meditating and journaling.
But on the 4th day of our trip, I don’t feel mentally hygienic. Rather, I feel like my blood is slowly boiling, my face is tense, my belly is ready to fire.
Then, it happens. I lost a water bottle in the car and I can’t find it. Every cell in my body screams “it is his fault!” in unison. I blame my boyfriend for not being organized and putting me in a position to tend the details “all the time”. The Ego monster (aka the demons) in me comes out full force as if it is rebelling to all personal growth efforts. As I snap at my boyfriend, I watch the Ego seize my body and mind and turn me into the ugliest version of myself.
By the time we arrive in California, the demons have come out a few times. I feel defeated.
Didn’t I know better? How many times did I have to deal with the same negative patterns? Didn’t I already let go of these parts of myself?
I feel the shame creep in.
Thankfully, shame is a strong enough emotion to shake me up; like a smoke signal to help me snap out of self misery. As the emotions clear out like heavy clouds, I remember how to stay centered amidst my recurring demons.
Here are the 5 ways that help me find self-love even when the worst part of me comes out:
Don’t suppress your demons, in fact, invite them for a cup of tea.
Sometimes, we forget that being human is being imperfect. We all have the good, the bad, and the ugly. Those sides surface to be expressed. If we suppress them, they tend to get toxic.
If we label those parts as “shouldn’t happen”, they create shame. Instead, we can give them some air time so that the energy they encompass can be released.
As Buddha said, inviting your demons for a cup of tea instead of fighting them can be a powerful experience. Acceptance and invitation take away the dominant power of the demon and replaces it with a message or teaching.
Often the demons are here to shed a light on unaddressed pain or a part waiting to be integrated. So, if we open up to the message the demon is carrying, we can create an opportunity to heal.
Separate your identity from your demons
When the worst aspects of ourselves emerge, it becomes hard to remember who we are. Instead of recognizing these aspects as the human Ego, we may mistakenly generalize the situation and feel like we are “bad” (hello shame!)
The truth is we all have an Ego –collective human conditioning and pain (unless you are enlightened)– and it doesn’t fully represent who we are.
As Eckhart Tolle says, our true self is the awareness recognizing the Ego/the demons. Our worth is inherent and unchanging. The more we recognize ourselves as the awareness, the less we identify with the Ego.
When we don’t identify with the Ego, it has no power, it is just like a passing cloud. This helps with eliminating shame and creating resilience in the face of repetitive negative patterns
Create time and space for replenishing/self-care
It is hard on the body and mind to face the demons. It is ceaseless labor to stay awake and manage emotions. Finding time to reset, reaching for compassion, and resting in silence are the keys to self-love.
Practicing your act of self-care, even if it is 5 minutes goes a long way. Taking a walk, looking in the mirror with compassion, eating something nutritious, talking to someone who loves you, journaling, stretching, crying, etc. are all good ways to feel connected within. For me, it is meditation. It grounds me and gives me perspective on truth and what’s important.
See yourself from the eyes of someone who loves you
If you ever listened to your inner dialog when you are down or mad, you probably recognize that we are our harshest critics. This is again a symptom of being overtaken by the Ego. Not only do we repeat a negative pattern, but we also get frustrated at repeating that pattern — which ultimately reinforces the Ego. It is because the Ego thrives on the pain; anger, criticism, judgment, hopelessness, etc…
Instead of falling into the trap of criticism, try seeing yourself from the eyes of someone who truly loves you. This person can be your parent, friend, child, or partner.
What would they say if they see you struggle?
How would they help you get out of your funk?
This perspective helps to find compassion towards ourselves and subdue the inner judgment.
Focus on the progress
When a negative pattern you thought you resolved surfaces over and over again, it is so easy to feel hopeless to make any lasting change.
Chronic emotional pain/dissonance creates the illusion that you are doomed to repeat the same sh*t.
This can’t be further than the truth though. Our brains are negatively biased; noticing negative patterns and events more often than positive ones. Indeed, we frequently repeat some negative behaviors, especially if they are ingrained in us when we were young or if we’ve repeated them for a long time. However, our brain is also plastic. We can literally rewire our brain to create new patterns, shattering the old, given enough focus and repetition.
When going through rough patches and thinking it will not end/change, focus on the things you have changed so far. I always reflect on how I was 5 years ago and what behaviors/patterns transformed in time. Seeing that I am not the same person as 5 years ago reassures me that “this too shall pass.”
Most importantly, remember that it is normal and ok to have challenging or even ugly parts because you are a human. Your work isn’t trying to be perfect but to heal the pain, integrate your edges, and feel love as you do that.