Befriending the Monster: Playing with your demons

Chihiro demonstrating the ‘Befriending the Monster’ strategy with No Face from Hayao Miyazaki’s Sprited Away

When I was a little girl, I used to be afraid of the dark. If I had to go up to my room by myself at night I would run as fast as my little legs could carry me, returning quickly to the safety of my family in our well-lit living room. Yet, for a child that was so afraid of the dark in the real world, I was oddly heroic, emboldened and courageous in the face of darkness in my dream world.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have “bad dreams” as a kid. I remember having intense nightmares; waking up with a jolt and a racing heart electrified by fear after falling head first off of tall buildings, being forced to dive into the deep end of the pool, or being chased by monsters in my scary basement cellar. But at the same time, I remember that I could always find this intuitive lucidity in my dream space. If I wanted the dream to end, I could wake myself up. If I wanted the plot to change, I could add whatever element was missing to make the dream a more fun, less stressful and ultimately enjoyable experience. One of my favorite and well-remembered strategies was the tried and true, “befriending the monster”.

“Befriending the Monster” is a pretty self-explanatory process, but the situation usually looked something like this: I’d fall asleep and start dreaming. In my dreams I’d happen upon a “scary” circumstance; i.e. having to go into the creepy basement in my parents’ house, being alone in the dark in my grandparents’… basement….jeeze…I really had some issues with basements… Anyway, then the “monster” scene…dun dun dunnnnn…. (cue scary music).

At this point in the scenario there was usually some variation. There were times when I’d run away at first, other times when I’d end the dream by waking myself up, times when I decided once and for all we are going to END THIS TONIGHT and boldly take the dream by the horns by turning around to face the monster, and even times where I’d be in the dream like, “oh hell no, I know what this is” and just proactively seek out the monster to use my special power on them before they had a chance to scare me.

But the next point in the scenario was always the same; when approaching the monster, my first instinct was never to fight them or scare them away. My strategy was always to try and befriend the monster. My little girl logic was, “this monster must be lonely because they look scary…I bet they just want a friend…I know! I’ll ask them to be my friend.” So, I’d approach the monster and simply explain what I saw in them; that I figured they were probably just lonely because most people were scared away by them, and I wanted to be their friend. And then, with the sweet innocence that no monster could deny, I’d ask the question, “do you want to be my friend?”. And without fail, they always said yes.

Then, the fun part… After I befriended the monsters, and got to know them a bit better, I’d convince them to be on “my side” throughout the rest of the dream. We’d do aaall sorts of fun things, like fighting the real bad guys together or just enjoying the general ecstatic wonder of my childhood dreamscape.

Over the years I’ve returned to this secret super power of my inner child as a source of wisdom for moments when my monsters seem too scary to face and all I want to do is run away from myself, fight off my demons, or just wake up from the scary dream I’m in.

Since my childhood, I’ve faced a LOT of scary monsters hiding in the basement of my mind. All the trauma I’ve experienced, all the self-defeating conversations my mind harbors, all the anger I’ve inherited, all the memories of abusive partners, all the soul-sucking depression, all the violated boundaries, all the scarcity conversations, all the paranoia and fear are all my monsters.

I used to want to banish them, to just kick them out of my space for not paying rent and using all my power. I wanted to run away from them, to pull the covers over my face and just pray that they’d go away. I wanted to run through the dark basement as fast as I could so I could just get back to the comfortable, well-lit places in my space. I wanted to hurt them like they hurt me. To declare that I’VE HAD ENOUGH, and just wake up from the horrible dream I felt like I was in.

In the depths of my shadows, and with the help of many people who love and care about me, I found the voice of my inner child again. I remember sitting on the back porch of my house during my last year of undergrad, with a pen, paper and a candle. I was deep in the throes of addiction, finding and using whatever I could to just hold myself when it felt like nothing else could. That night I decided that I was tired enough to surrender; I just wanted to be free. I’d just started to break the surface of my “shadow work” and decided to sit in meditation with the intention of releasing all the shit I felt trapped inside of me.

It was a cool, Florida winter night. I remember hearing the rustle of animals in the darkness, and felt a deeply embedded fear arise in me. I kept my eyes closed in meditation and suddenly the image of a demonic dragon face was staring at me. In the same moment an animal, presumably a squirrel, rushed out of the trees making a clamor. Startled, I opened my eyes and saw the candle in front of me. Electrified by the same fear I felt waking up from my nightmares as a kid, I suddenly remembered my childhood super power; the befriending the monster strategy.

Finally, the floodgates opened and I released. Tears came running down my cheeks as I bowed to the dragon in front of me…the dragon inside of me. From the depths of my darkness I said, “I love you…I see you…you have a place here. I’m not going to tell you to leave or run away from you anymore.” I saw all my monsters; the trauma trolls, the self-defeating pin men, the ghosts of abusive partners past, the depression demons, the boundary thieves, the scarcity viruses, the paranoia pirates, the addiction vampires, the dragons of angerland, and I just held them. Held them, held myself, and held all the dark scary pieces of me, the pieces I’d been running away from, the pieces I’d hated and denied and repressed and just wanted to go away.

The brave little girl inside of me smiled softly and held them all to my heart like a legion of cute cuddly beanie babies.

“Can we be friends now?” I asked…to which they all replied, “yes.”

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Haris Adele Peteranecz

Written by

Multidimensional Storyteller, working at the intersection of immersive art, social & environmental justice, and community building.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

Haris Adele Peteranecz

Written by

Multidimensional Storyteller, working at the intersection of immersive art, social & environmental justice, and community building.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +724K followers.

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