What Horror Movies Taught Me About Self Care

How the archetype of demons is helping me learn to conquer my own

Jonah Green
5 min readAug 8, 2020
Photo by Gabriel on Unsplash

I love scary movies. The horror movie genre has this extremely charming way of allowing us to get within close proximity to the things that scare us, while also creating enough distance to remind us there is nothing to be afraid of. Scary movies both show us our monsters and pull their masks off right in front of us, disarming them from the outside in. For me, the magic in fantasy novels that enchanted me as a kid fully matured in horror lore, because if you can peel back the rough, creepy exterior, you’re left with stories about fantastical creatures and extraordinary events; stories of real people encountering the unimaginable and living to tell the tale. I loved fantasy as a child because it made my outer world more mysterious, but I love horror as an adult because its lessons — when properly understood — have helped me navigate my inner world in a profound way.

Let’s talk about demons, massage therapy, computer programming, and mental health… bear with me.

“I have named you, therefore I define you!” — Anonymous

In horror movies when the exorcist is able to name the demon, she gains power over it. It’s a classic trope found all over the sub-genre of horror focused on hauntings. The possessed person, over the course of months, slowly deteriorates as the demon takes full control of their body. They become entrenched in darkness and transform into a walking ball of suffering, causing destruction wherever they go, hurting their family members, plotting against their loved ones, and wrecking their lives. The film reaches its fever pitch when the possessed person is so consumed by evil that they float in the air, somehow materializing a swarm of circling inverted crucifixes around them, while bugs fly out of their mouth. It’s pretty metal. They do this for a while, freaking out everyone in their family, until at the last minute the exorcist realizes the demon’s name, calls it out, and the demon just goes back to wherever demons go, I guess. Two minutes later the cast shares hot cocoa in the back of a parked ambulance. The formerly possessed hero is a little worse for wear, but ultimately happy, and will live to fight another day.

Birds chirp. The sun shines. Ukulele music. Cut to black.

Simple enough, right? But what if the archetype of the demon is not meant to be understood literally, but instead as a metaphorical representation of trauma? What if demonic possessions are just what happen when we engage with negative thought spirals? You know the ones. When we start thinking about a negative thought, then thirty minutes later we’ve spiraled into a pit of despair? Certain triggers will set off a visceral physiological response and consume us, completely changing us from rational, calm people into anxious, depressed, fearful, and oftentimes spiteful ones. For a period of time we become consumed by these emotionally destructive episodes, almost as if they have possessed us. What if people back in the day didn’t understand the way mental illnesses worked and used demonic possession as a way of explaining why their loved ones would drastically change?

As a person who deals with mental illness, I always think of my triggers like a computer program that becomes the only thing I can see on the computer monitor when I run it. I know that there is a whole operating system beyond this program, but this program really holds my attention. It holds my attention so well that the more I run the program, the more I forget that it’s a separate thing from my computer’s operating system. Whenever I look at the computer I just see that program. By recognizing that the pain program is a thing, I am able to give it a name, and — more importantly — begin to identify how it works.

But just knowing its name is not enough to banish a demon. It is only when the exorcist is able to see the difference between the possessed person and their demon that they can remove it; to truly kill a demon we need to close the program, hit one of those coding boot-camps your friends are always telling you to check out, and learn to read its code.

Alternatively, let’s talk about the masseuse. Massage therapists spend years learning the body to be able to understand the way it physically expresses emotional pain. The masseuse knows that the pain we feel in one part of the body often stems from a “root” knot, and once they can find that knot, they have to do an extremely painful thing, and press into it until it unravels. The masseuse digs into the root and allows it to express its pain. It feels violent, it feels ugly, and sometimes it takes many sessions, but after a certain amount of digging, the knot in the muscle suddenly breaks, and its power is lost. Like an excised demon, its program is no longer able to run. So what does this mean for us?

Just like the exorcist, the programmer, and the masseuse, we are tasked with the holy mission of first finding the root of our pain, then bravely feeling it into oblivion. Armed with nothing but our bare hands, we dig into the parts of us that hurt, allowing them to express why they hurt, and give them the space to feel valid, mourned, and finally, released. But it is only through the act of pressing into the knot that it is able to unfurl.

And what of the exorcist? Sure, we can feel our emotions all day, but what do we do after we’ve dug up all of this hurt? Anyone who knows scary movies knows the possessed person can’t very well exorcise themselves, now can they? The exorcist is our lifeline. It’s our wise old wizard. It’s our friend who already knows how to code. It’s that masseuse we’ve been meaning to call.

It’s that therapist we’ve been avoiding.

It’s that help that it’s okay to ask for,
because nobody can fight demons alone.

What if demons were never meant to be understood as otherworldly entities who want to sabotage us, but instead as the pieces of trauma that consume us when we’re hurting? What if they are the bits of us born from unprocessed pain, and they haunt us, not to hurt us, but to beg us to let them truly be felt? What if these are just the traumas that we never properly mourned; an inseparable part of us that can never be truly banished, but can absolutely be mastered? From this perspective, feeling our demons would surely be an act of magic. It’s similar to the kind of magic that lived in those fantasy stories from when we were kids, except this magic is very real. When we harness magic like this, we do what few dare to do when faced with unimaginable pain;

we greet our demons, not with spite, but with empathy, understanding, and love.

Hold space for your demons. Don’t run from them when they try to scare you. They are not monsters. They’re just pieces of you left over from the times you were broken, running around in Halloween masks, banging on your door, and pleading to be seen, so they can finally be tucked into bed, kissed goodnight, and set free.

Birds chirp. The sun shines. Ukulele music. Cut to black.



Jonah Green

Retired Youtuber, anthropology student, and lover of art.