How to Face Your Demons

Man on cliff“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment.” – Eckhart Tolle

If you are reading this, the demons haven’t won. Facing your demons is part of life. From the earliest moments when you might have been hungry and the breast or bottle wasn’t immediately available, to later life crises like divorce, death, job loss, financial hardship, illness, and other challenges, everyone is beset with demons. When things are particularly rough, it may seem as if the demons are winning. But as long as you’re still living and breathing, you are the victor.

It’s important to remember just how resilient you are, especially in the midst of an invasion. When I say invasion, I mean those times when you feel so overwhelmed by life you think you simply can not stand another minute; when the emotional pain, grief, or hopelessness is all you can see. At those moments, it is crucial to remember how time-limited everything really is, including you.

Demons are excellent shape-shifters and can morph from one torturous form to another in the blink of an eye. A few of the guises they assume include:

Even if you live a long life, it will still be a relatively short span in the body. Being incarnate is fraught with all sorts of experiences. When the less appealing ones visit, it’s best to welcome them with open arms, as counter-intuitive as that may seem. By denying what is really happening for you, or repressing your feelings with addictions or unhealthy habits, you forgo the opportunity to grow. You miss the chance to spar with scary thoughts, ugly impulses, or overwhelming grief, all of which move you into a more evolved and compassionate place.

There are still many people out there, and I don’t mean drug dealers, who will offer you a way around your misery. Advertisers will tell you life can be rosy if only you buy X, Y, or Z. Some New-Agers will claim a quick way to nirvana, and there are myriad options for dulling one’s pain with obsessive-compulsive behaviors of all kinds. Don’t be beguiled by their dog and pony show. Who would turn away an easy way out from pain? Sign me up! I’d love to think there was some quick panacea. Although, after 40 years of studying psychology, religion, and philosophy, I truly believe the only way out is through.

That does not mean you have to weather every storm alone. This is the time to ask for and graciously accept help. Whether it is from a friend, relative, therapist, hotline, clergy-person, or 12-step group, please avail yourself of any support you can. That many of us were brought up with that old Calvinist ethic of independence and self-sufficiency does not mean we are limited in our healing options. If you were traveling west in a covered wagon then you definitely needed to be one tough cookie. But most modern folks are not braving a physical, material wilderness.

In some accounts, when the Buddha was under the Bodhi tree seeking enlightenment, the demons came. He tried to fight them off for days. Finally, realizing that, at best, they would reach an impasse, he invited them to sit with him. I like to think of this as the Buddha inviting his demons to tea. Take a page from the Buddha’s book and befriend your demons. Undoubtedly, you will learn something, and develop more resilience in the process.

Jung, Sigmund Freud‘s disciple, believed each of us has a shadow side and we need to embrace it to be fully human, alive, and whole. By inviting your demons to tea, you establish ownership of your shadow. You bravely go where many fear to tread. You have the guts to face your anger, fear, jealousy, lack of self-acceptance, guilt, and anything else you deem unacceptable.

By dancing with the demons you reclaim your power. If you keep trying to bury them, you unconsciously feed each one and it comes out in projection, attributing all your own issues to others. Everyone does this to some degree, but being unaware of doing it is problematic.

It takes guts to face your demons. Luckily, everyone has the innate capacity to tread this rocky path, and already has. Have you been ill? Divorced? Child of divorced parents? Child of an alcoholic or addict? Moved to a place where you knew no one? Weathered a financial storm? Been estranged from family? Experienced the death of a loved one? If so, you faced your demons.

You courageously soldiered on. It was not easy or fun, but you persevered, even when you thought the pain would never stop. Slowly but surely, it abated. At first, you may not have even noticed the subtle lessening of your anger, anxiety, or grief, but as the weeks and months wore on you started to feel more alive and open. That resiliency supports you through every challenge, allowing you to stretch beyond what you thought your limits were, and finding more capacity to bear what you thought was unbearable.

You are here for the whole enchilada, not just the kittens and rainbows. The sooner you embrace the totality of life with its highs, lows, and everything in between, the sooner you will find some measure of peace. Practicing affirmations, self-soothing thoughts, or a comforting prayer or mantra, will ease you through those trying times everyone has.

No one is exempt, no matter what their life looks like, or what story they tell you. Every life is mix of treasures and traumas. By persevering, speaking lovingly to yourself when the going gets rough, and assuming the best, you will make it to the other side.

Just like all the molecules in you and around you, things are constantly moving and shifting. Whatever you feel at this moment won’t last. It can’t. That’s what makes life so interesting and bittersweet. By embracing the vicissitudes of life with compassion for yourself and others, you allow yourself to fully experience whatever is happening to you right now. Yes, this is also known as mindfulness, acceptance, and liberation.

© Copyright 2011 by By Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, therapist in Buffalo, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Justin Nutt

    November 3rd, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    I have to say that this article is 100% true. What is often so hard to get is that what we see as a demon is often a matter of subjective view that comes from the events of the past. Also, what is most important is that we control what effect we allow a demon to have on us. Everyone faces great horrors in their life and they can either be seen as a chance to grow or they can be seen as a reason to wallow in our own self-pity. How we choose to view these events is in turn what leads to our ability to not allow others to treat us badly, but also our ability accept being treated good. The greatest problem is that once we have battled enough demons we often end up able to accept the demon we know and are quick to write off those people and events who are not going to teat us bad simply due to the idea that we deserve treated better being something that has become foreign. I myself have dealt with all these issues just as so many others have and while for years they served as a reason to allow myself to be treated bad in time I came to use them as a chance to grow and out of that growth I wrote a book that I hope is able to help all the others who are in these situations to break out of the cycle of self-allowance of bad treatment that leads to low self-esteem and self-worth.

  • Dawn

    November 3rd, 2011 at 4:00 PM

    So many people who are hurting are looking for the easy way out. The easy way to lose weight, deal with grief, whatever. But this is so completely on target. There is no real way to get past anything without first being able to look it head on and DEAL WITH IT!

    Life is not easy and I don’t think that any of us were ever given any kind of guarantee that it would be. But if you grow up and deal with the things that haunt you then I can promise you that it will be a whole lot easier. And I am not even a professional to know that!

    Burying the problem does not make it go away by any stretch of the imagination. They will only keep coming back. Think of how much better you will feel about yourself when you are finally able to face those things and to know that you conquered them!

  • highonlife

    November 7th, 2011 at 3:40 PM

    It’s funny how some see facing your demons as a surrender rather than a way to win the war, or at least to call a truce with oneself. When you fight and fight and fight, all you do is deplete yourself of precious energy. That approach is worthless and unsustainable. Stand tall and proud instead.

  • brandii s.

    November 7th, 2011 at 8:43 PM

    “It’s important to remember just how resilient you are, especially in the midst of an invasion. When I say invasion, I mean those times when you feel so overwhelmed by life you think you simply can’t stand another minute.” Oh Nicole, I could have wept when I read that because that’s exactly how I’m feeling right now. The last thing I feel is resilient. I am so tired of wrestling-emotionally,physically and mentally-with all the issues going on in my life that I could just lay down and sleep for a week. I think growth is overrated if this is what you have to go through to get there.

  • Archie Rollins

    November 8th, 2011 at 12:01 AM

    Basically, you need to grow a pair and see your demons for the illusion that they are! Do not accept them into your mind and heart, and they are powerless to command your attention. It takes focus and hard work, both characteristics found sadly lacking today in society but as my father used to say, nothing worth having comes easy.

  • Mo McGarry

    November 27th, 2011 at 1:28 AM

    What a great topic. So much of our energy can go towards resisting change, accepting discomfort. Facing reality often causes pain, but its necessary to growth. I appreciate the authors wisdom about being kind to oneself, soothing, speaking lovingly despite the storm … when we can’t control life, we have a choice about our response – acceptance is less stressful:)

  • Myron B.

    November 1st, 2013 at 11:33 PM

    I have to constantly fight my demons, I was forced into retirement at 38, due to health issues. I went from $80K to $13K and living on social security disability, fortunately I have my old wood sailboat and all my other stuff paid for so my bills are at very small amount that I don’t starve to death. I keep myself busy and learn as many new things everyday that I can. I am 45 now and still not broke, I live on my sailboat and keep it and I afloat. I still talk to my ex-wife and I am working out at the gym every night to keep myself in shape and my bar tab low. I at a point now in life, where I am searching out my demons instead of letting them find me first. I talk to God, write a blog, and read daily to keep me from insanity.

  • hiral

    June 3rd, 2014 at 12:56 AM

    Truly wonderful write-up. Acceptance, facing of problems, and final resolution of those is actually life. Running away from problems has never really helped anyone.

  • Dudeness

    September 19th, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    Having to live with having been a bad person, an addict, having hurt people willingly to my own ends, never being able to make it right with them and having to seek the selfish peace that comes from self-forgiveness alone…it has been hard. This article is true, getting to know myself has been a painful experience. I never liked the person I saw in the mirror, but I’ve come to regard him a little better each day. I can make good decisions, I can be better. I may be a sociopath on the inside, but it is in fact what I do and why I choose to do it that defines me.

  • Manju

    October 9th, 2014 at 3:00 AM

    i think facing your demons comes more forcefully when you are are listening and following your intuition. you end up taking the more so called difficult road. some how t gives you permission or continue on this path and when something seems inconceivable to others…. you go out and do it becasue somewhere inside of you …. you know you will come out fine…. you have hope and you have will… and you have values. the article is so true and thank you. 6 years to this month my life turn upside down when my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour …. i had to kids 6 & 9 at the time …. he passed away following numourous operations and procedures 5 months later…. to this day i face demons… some of which i choose to walk towards …. i still dont completely understand it but I do know it has and will continue to contribute to my growth and i still would not opt to change a thing…. always remember the story of king solomns ring…. this too shall pass!

  • Sam

    June 22nd, 2015 at 6:50 AM

    But how do you deal with it? How do you conquer your demons? I didn’t get the manual that tells me how to do that and now they plague me every step of the way…

  • Faiz

    November 27th, 2015 at 1:53 PM

    Remember that it is all a test. When you feel overwhelmed, cry out to your God. He will send you a sign or He will send you help. Remember also that God is all around you and hears your cry. Learn to accept what is and you won’t suffer long.

  • Faiz

    November 27th, 2015 at 1:46 PM

    Ones duty is to conquer ones demons. Not have tea with them.
    They may seem all powerful and be unrelenting in their attack but one must keep ones faith and remember that ones soul can never be conquered.

  • Onel

    December 17th, 2015 at 8:45 PM

    I won’t go into details, I’m only going to say that I loved this.

  • China Doll

    December 21st, 2015 at 7:38 PM

    But HOW? Invite my demons to tea? This is obviously a metaphor. So, what do you actually mean? What does “face” mean in the phrase “face your demons”? Anyone can say these trite, pat things, but that’s not good therapy and it’s not helpful. You call your article “How to Face Your Demons”, when the content is simply “It’s Good To Face Your Demons”, but with absolutely no indication of what the heck that means!

  • Jeff

    December 28th, 2015 at 2:26 AM

    Thank you. There are great, inspirational articles and this one holds truth. The only way to get past emotional pain is to go through it. I believe that disspointments lift and what is revealed is who we really are. And, what we learn is for us to know. Ultimately, my own demons will bring me closer to God.

  • easterner

    September 13th, 2016 at 3:45 AM

    It is easier said than done. But I will try to face my demons head on.

  • Gerald M

    January 12th, 2017 at 10:11 AM

    Wow is this good! Thank you Nicole!

  • Sandra

    June 22nd, 2017 at 8:06 AM

    Opening ones eyes to face those parts of oneself that may be deemed unacceptable or unpleasant without fear, and embracing the total you in my experience (albeit brief) really is very liberating. I’m looking forward to see the person who will emerge from accepting all of me.

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