On the care and feeding of your personal demon.

October brings greater awareness of the dark side, with horror films and costumed rituals expressing the madness that lies within.  Yet as grotesque figures lead our public discourse and ghoulish creatures blare at us from screens large and small, we don’t need Halloween to remind us that human existence is one spooky ride.*

Still, this celebration of witches and goblins does offer a timely reminder of a more intimate pursuit: the care and feeding of one’s personal demon.  As opposed to the supernatural characters of mythology or Hollywood’s evildoers, personal demons are our own concoctions, individually generated and having no independent existence outside our own bag of skin.

One’s demon can arrive at any moment, day or night, though being a demon, he often decides to reveal himself at the most inopportune times — particularly the wee hours when one is desperate for rest before facing another day at the grindstone.  So when your demon surfaces, what is the appropriate response? Fear? Anxiety? A sedative?

It’s helpful to understand that most demons simply want attention. Much like a  faithful dog being excited at the prospect of his master returning home, the demon has patiently waited for a quiet moment to say hello. Why shouldn’t he be excited? After being cooped up inside our subconscious during the day, a day we’ve spent performing repetitive tasks, pushing aside our own desire in favor of “doing the right thing”, we’ve given the demon plenty of openings for a conversation.

So let’s say you wake up in a cold sweat and your demon is standing next to the bed, leering down at you. Some would advise you to confront your demon and attack him before he attacks you. Not a good idea. That would only serve to hurt your demon’s feelings. After all, he’s made a perilous journey from the depths of Hades just to see you.  No, this business of “battling your demons” is a falsehood, since it’s the equivalent of fighting yourself.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, it’s more advisable to embrace, not fight, your demon.  This way you can integrate your Jungian shadow with your public face, and ultimately gain strength from the experience. Here are a few suggestions for how to treat your demon the next time he pays a visit:

  1. Greet your demon warmly, like you would an old friend. Remember, your demon is an extension of your personality, and there’s no reason to be frightened of yourself. Really, he’s like a relative, so invite him into your domicile the way you would a brother. Take his cape and top hat and hang them nicely in the closet. Offer him the good chair and let him prop his feet on the coffee table, even if they’re caked with grime.
  2. Ask the demon what’s on his mind. He’ll probably be in a foul mood at first; usually demons arrive in a snit so let him rant for awhile. You may find him lashing out at you regarding your personal failings, or criticizing your latest mistakes at the job or with the family. Don’t take it personally; be patient and remain detached. Eventually he’ll let you get a word in edgewise. Meantime, compliment him on his appearance despite his pale complexion. This should bring color to his cheeks.
  3. Offer your demon sustenance. Something sweet is preferable: cake, pie or ice cream are welcome choices. Note: this is often thought to be the same as giving yourself license to indulge. While it’s true that you get the benefit of a tasty treat, the dessert will also help take the edge off the demon. Make sure you give him extra whipped cream.
  4. While he may ask for it, avoid giving the demon alcohol or narcotics! Demons tend not to react well when mixing chemicals with their volatile personalities. It could cause the demon to lash out and place you in a compromising position. You want to soothe the demon, not trigger him.
  5. Take your shadow self out for a stroll. Demons love to go for walks, especially at night. Where would it like to go? To the casino? The saloon? An all-night bakery? Rather than acquiesce to the demon’s choices, calmly discuss the pros and cons of each location. Meanwhile, just keep walking. Fresh air and exercise will do you both good. Note: if you live in a sketchy neighborhood, one can simply pace slowly around the apartment with the demon, even in circles. Like a pet, they’re just happy to be by your side.
  6. Demons enjoy spirited conversation, not just an internal dialogue. One way to get their full attention to speak out loud to them. If you are out in public, this may appear as if you’ve lost your mind. If you’re bothered by what others may think, simply strap on a Bluetooth headset and you’ll look like every other smartphone junkie in the midst of an “important phone call.”

Ultimately, by showing the demon respect rather than anger, impatience or fear, you’re helping yourself mend fences, soothe your soul, and unify your bifurgated subconscious. Befriend your demon and he will befriend you!

*If you are going out trick-or-treating this year, we suggest avoiding the top four costumes for adults (witch, vampire, zombie, pirate).  Rather, dress as your own personal demon.  It’s more creative, and he’ll credit you for the effort.