#Mindmonsters: could you change the world with a simple doodle?
October, 2010. A storm busies the gloomy London air as I watch as the street lamps flicker on for the night. The golden halos of electric light reveal great walls of dancing water, and as the windows around me rattle in their frames, I can’t help but feel as though the glass will just shatter and let the threat of the outside in.
Inside my mind it’s equally tempestuous. In four days’ time — at this point in the evening — I’ll be preparing to do battle. Repeatedly, I get drawn inwards by my mental image of the fight; an amalgamation of all the boxing bouts I’ve had before. I can see two fighters in the ring at the centre of a hall, pushing through the exhaustion to hold onto their pride. And all around them, sitting at tables littered with glasses and bottles, boisterous men in suits watch on. They drink and cheer and bellow out a chorus of indecipherable advice.
There’s no one home tonight but me. I pull a blanket tight around my shoulders and turn up the volume on the TV, trying my hardest to concentrate. I want to lose myself in someone else’s story so I can drown out the pre-fight mental chatter for just One Peaceful Moment.
But it’s pointless. Much like the bluster of the storm outside, the words on the inside are louder and more demanding than the voices in that faraway box. Tonight, the monster in my mind is telling me its favourite story:
“You’re not good enough to do this. You’re going to get battered, bruised, overpowered and humiliated in front of all those people. You want the glory? No, you’re not strong enough for that. Not fit enough… not fast enough… not talented enough… not determined enough…”
It can keep talking forever, my monster. And tonight — as its words force their way through my feeble defences — I find myself feeling as vulnerable as the trembling sheets of glass in the walls of my flat.
But the worst part of this isn’t actually the fear. It’s not even the anticipated failure. It’s that I’m too ashamed of my anxiety to confide in anyone about it. I’m a fighter — a Strong Person — and I’ve been doing this for years. How could I possibly confess to the flaw that belies my entire identity?
I can’t. I just have to bear it. But it means that my immediate future is easily predicted. I won’t sleep tonight and my training will suffer tomorrow, fuelling yet more criticism from the monster. So, I’ll struggle to sleep again. Repeat. Fright, fatigue and the shame of it all will play out on an endless loop over the next four days, until I find myself stepping into the ring to perform for those boisterous men, feeling as powerless as a little child.
Why — when I try so goddam hard to make success possible — is my mind so determined to sabotage me?
Shame: the source of self-sabotage
Emotional issues can make us feel isolated, set apart. Yet, we all have our monsters of the mind. For some, the struggle is directly with anxiety, anger, guilt or shame. Others battle with the behavioural manifestations of those feelings: procrastination, underperformance, overeating, drinking too much, repeatedly pushing their loved ones away, etc.
The end result is largely unchanging. We all wind up asking that same question of ourselves: “Why???”
While in the grip of our most negative thinking, we can feel as though we’re defective. It’s frightening to feel less-than, so we fight back. We try to rationalise our fear with overthinking. We seek to numb our pain with drink, drugs, TV or too much work. Or, like I did for years, we attempt to disprove our self-doubt with stubborn, determined striving.
When a feeling of inferiority gnaws away at us from the inside, we’ll do virtually anything we can to try and fend it off. But resistance is a flawed strategy. Whatever method we choose invariably brings its own fresh set of self-sabotaging consequences.
Ultimately, fighting our monsters only ever makes them stronger.
Telling the story
In contrast, sharing our stories — as difficult as it can be at times — heals the pain caused by shame and self-loathing. And it’s not only good for our own wellbeing. It helps others to recover too, because in communicating the darker parts of human experience, we all can feel united in the struggle.
To begin doing this, of course, we need to know what we’re talking about. We need to resist the temptation to dive under the blanket of denial and take a proper, deeper look at ourselves.
To move past the crippling self-doubt that I described above, I had to look my monster in the eye. Doing so meant that my performance anxiety gradually tapered off, success came more easily, and I began to enjoy my sport in a way I’d never really considered possible.
This article has been written to help you take that all-important first step for yourself.
Doodling ourselves better
Over the last 18 months, I have been writing my first book (an undertaking that has inspired its own fair share of mini monster moments). Fight explores the psychology of self-sabotage, and it includes tasks and creative visualisation processes like those I use with my clients. In chapter one, the reader is encouraged to imagine their monster.
Since the completion of the first draft, people who have read Fight have been sending through some incredible representations of what they saw. I’ve received animated gifs, photos of angry scribbles in notepads and images of detailed paintings (you can view the website here).
I didn’t plan for a collection of expressive art. It came as a surprise. And yet, as I’ve been wrapping up the book-writing process, I’ve come to realise that it’s one of the things I’m feeling the most excited about.
So, I’ve been asking for more. And they continue to thrill, sadden and amaze me each time they arrive in my inbox.
The reason for my enthusiasm is that in drawing their monsters, the people who have taken part in this project have been creatively expressing their (potentially) shameful stories. The feedback has been that doing so has felt cathartic, like a release. The process enables a deep-dive into the previously uncharted waters of the unconscious mind.
The #mindmonsters awareness project
With permission, I’m sharing the images sent through on social media (Instagram: @Hazel.Gale.Therapy), and on this site: mindmonsters.online. My dream is that our troop of sabotaging selves will inspire others to engage in this kind of healing expression.
There are so many people out there who feel worthless and separate while in the grip of their monster patterns. By taking part in the #mindmonsters project, we can send the most important message to people like that (people like us). We can show them that they’re not alone.
Here’s what you need to do to get in touch with your monster and begin the process for yourself.
Before we start, please be aware that although this is a lighthearted process, you will be asking yourself some serious questions here. If anything that comes up feels too challenging for you to tackle on your own, please consult a therapist, counsellor or your doctor for help in dealing with the issue.
Note: your contribution will be anonymous unless you state otherwise. Also, please, please be aware that your drawing does not need to be “good”. This isn’t an art competition.
To get started, just follow the four steps and answer the questions below to build your monster’s character.
When you’re done, send it all over to the email address provided. If you take a photo of your drawing, please ensure that the paper is well-lit and that there are no big shadows. Otherwise, I may not be able to use it.
By way of saying thanks for joining the conversation I will send you a guided meditation in return for your drawing. This is something that you can begin using right away to reduce the stress and reactiveness that can lead to self-sabotage.
Finally, if you’d like to share your monster on your own social media pages, please use the hashtag #mindmonsters.
Bring to mind an example of how you self-sabotage; a thing that you either do or feel that you wish you didn’t.
Imagine that there is a particular part of your personality that makes you do or feel that thing.
Now, consider this question:
If you could see that part — as if it were a real thing, in the room with you right now — what would it look like?
For help with that, consider these additional questions:
If you could point to your “monster”, where would you point?
Is it humanoid, animal-like or something else?
Is it large or small?
Is it dark or light?
Does it move or is it still?
Does it make any sounds? If so, what kind?
Draw a representation of what you imagined in any medium you like. It can be as detailed or simplistic as you see fit.
Copy the questions below into an email addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org, and send your answers over with your image. I’ll reply with your Mp3 as soon as I can.
1. What kind of self-sabotage were you thinking of when drawing your “monster”?
2. If your “monster” had a name, what would it be?
3. If your “monster” could speak, what would it say?
4. Where does your monster live?
5. Where do you think it might have come from?
6. How does it make you feel?
7. If there was something you’d like to be able do with your monster in order to solve the problem, what would that be?
Your details (entirely optional):
If you’d like me to share your name, website URL, Instagram/Twitter handle (or anything else) with your image, please provide those details.
My heartfelt thanks for reading, and even more so if you plan to get involved. It means the world to me.