Do you ever feel like the scariest place in the world is right inside your own head? Well, you're not alone. It's because your mind is like a haunted house. Today, I'll introduce you to the monsters, demons, and ghosts that live in your mind, give you some suggestions to help unhaunt yourself and recognize and possibly help when the people in your life are haunted.
The Mind as a House Metaphor
For the purpose of this metaphor, imagine your mind as a house full of all kinds of stuff, like habits, beliefs, and memories. Much of the time, our minds are comfortable homes where we can feel safe, and experience logic, and connection. But it's also full of monsters and demons and ghosts, oh my!
It's in our nature to try to avoid things that frighten us, make us uncomfortable, or cause us to experience negative emotions. But when we avoid these activities or experiences, we make them even more frightening, and turn them into monsters in our closets.
Our minds are filled with these monsters, and the longer we keep them in there, the scarier they become. Procrastination, anxiety, guilt, shame, and discomfort are all monsters that live in the closets of our minds, growing more and more frightening as we refuse to open the door and face them.
Getting Rid of Monsters
The way to get rid of closet monsters is simple, and definitely not easy. As I’m sure you expected, facing your fears, accepting discomfort, and even taking a look at the parts of yourself that cause you shame is the only way to get rid of them.
Just like when my mother opened my bedroom closet door and I realized the Smoky the Bear wasn’t in there telling me that I bore the sole responsibility for preventing forest fires, you’ll discover that opening the door is the scariest part. When you do, the monster will lose its power.
Ever have racing thoughts? Then you know why I'm calling them demons. Fast, dark, and frightening, when your thoughts are racing, it can feel like you're overwhelmed with demons. You can't catch them or keep up with them, they keep you up at night and interrupt your peaceful moments.
Facing Your Demons
Call them out. They're just thoughts. We all have 'em. And sometimes they race and that's not fun, but also, there's nothing dangerous about it. Racing thoughts can be less overwhelming and frightening when we work to slow them down by being mindful of them. When the mind begins racing, just label your experience. "Oh, racing thoughts are here. They're just thoughts, no big deal." You can just turn your attention away from them, to something like your breathing, or you can slow your racing thoughts by grabbing a pen and paper and start writing them down. Remember, if you can name them, you can tame them.
As I mentioned in my post about neuroplasticity, every experience we have leaves a trace in our minds, and emotional or traumatic experiences create lasting and durable implicit memories. Implicit memories are felt senses, they don't have logic or language, and they aren't aware of time and space, they are just alive in our brains, long after the experience that created them passed.
Habits and procedures are stored in implicit memory, like riding a bike or brushing your teeth, and so are traumatic memories. These traumatic memories live in the corners of our minds like the ghosts of suffering past, and when we come across one of these ghosts, they possess our minds. You can check out a video about implicit memory here.
Many of our emotional reactions are caused by these ghosts. I believe that any emotional reaction you experience that feels like it's "out of your control" is likely the result of some ghost overtaking your logical mind.
And any time the thought that accompanies your emotional reaction begins with something like, "You always....", "They never....", "I'm always...." etc, you can be pretty sure there's a ghost involved. That's because those kinds of thoughts reveal that you’ve left the present moment and you’re reacting to experiences from the past.
Another important clue that you've been possessed by a ghost from the past is if you're reacting to someone in your life today, based on something you experienced from someone else in the past. For example, if your former spouse or a parent was highly critical, you may react defensively to a mostly neutral comment from your current partner, because their comment triggers one of your ghosts.
The key to ghostbusting is returning to the present moment, because ghosts don't live in the present. Here's how:
First, you need to recognize the early signals of being possessed. I tell my clients to watch out for where these signals show up in their bodies - for example, a tightening in the chest, pit in the stomach, or heat in the face - everyone has their own early warning signs, and if you've got a few different ghosts roaming around in your mind, they each might show up differently.
Once you recognize the presence of the ghost, bring yourself back to the present moment by taking a breath, and feeling your feet on the ground, or your back or bottom supported by a chair, and look around you. Notice what's real by focusing on your senses. This is called grounding yourself.
Then, simply ask yourself, "What is true and real right now?" Without dipping into the past or the story your ghost is telling you, you will likely calm down.
Sometimes, that’s enough, but if you still feel the pull of the ghost, you can try the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. First notice 5 things you can see, then 4 things you can feel, then 3 things you can hear, then 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Don't be rigid with this - if you can't smell 2 things, who cares? Remember, the point of the exercise is to get back to the present moment because ghosts don't live in the present.
I have to be honest with you here. Once you've got a ghost in you, it really tries to hang on. Each time you bring yourself back to the present, it will grab you back into its story. But with continued practice, you'll get better at noticing your ghosts, sometimes preventing possession, and other times, returning to the present quicker.
What if the Ghosts Have a Point?
That will be the subject of my next post. Stay tuned.
When Someone Else is Haunted
I’ve found that thinking about the mind as a haunted house is especially useful to help understand what’s going on when the people we live with and love get haunted in their own minds.
This is really important to know. You can’t get anyone back home - yourself included - when they’ve been possessed by their "ghosts" by using logic or reason! The logical part of their brains are "offline".
But even though you can’t reach them with logic and reason, if you're able to access your own compassion, and aren’t in the midst of your own haunting (this happens A LOT - and if that's your situation, go back and do your own work), you can help them.
If they see you as a threat at the moment because of what's going on in their own minds, your best bet is to give them some time and space to get themselves back home because, unfortunately, at that moment, you may be what’s triggering them.
But if they’re reacting to something else, you can gently help bring them back to the present moment.
Whether it's monsters, demons, or ghosts that haunt us, the goal is always to return to the here and now in our minds, where logic, connection, and safety reside.
Exorcism by Compassion
Monsters, demons, and ghosts have a lot of trouble thriving in an atmosphere of compassion. If you're haunted, it's not your fault. You did not ask for such a tricky brain. And if someone you're dealing with is haunted, no reason to blame them. I'm sure they'd rather be enjoying safety and connection too.
So when you notice a haunting, either while it's happening, or once you're experiencing the fallout, try cutting everybody a little slack.
Understanding how and why we get haunted is really important, and I believe very helpful in and of itself. I hope this post accomplished that. But unhaunting ourselves can be hard! Not impossible by any stretch, 100% worth the effort, but hard. There's no shame in seeking help if you recognize signs of being "haunted" as I've described it, and struggle with unhaunting yourself.
And although it's not our fault when we're haunted, it is our responsibility to unhaunt ourselves. Whether we do it on our own, with the help of our loved ones, or by seeking professional support, ultimately no one else can do it for us.
One more thing; a common-sense disclaimer of sorts. Please remember that this is a metaphor and I am not talking about anything actually paranormal - even though it can feel that way at times.