“The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.”
~ Stephen King, Night Shift
I love that quote above by Stephen King about monsters, because it’s true. We all know what to do to help a child with monsters under the bed. Logic seldom works. We can’t just say, ‘Monsters don’t exist, honey. Don’t be silly. Get back into bed and go to sleep.’
Science has proven, over and over again, that for our brains, imaginary is real.
For the child the monster is real. Even if part of them knows it’s not. So what does a caring adult or older sibling do? They turn the light on. They go through the process of checking under the bed and in the cupboards. Maybe they offer some kind of solution and support so that the child can feel safe. They might use a nightlight, or give the child a magical crystal, or tell them that their teddy bear will stay awake and watch over them while they sleep.
We don’t give the monster strength by agreeing that it is scary. We diminish the monster by doing all the things that make it weak and small, or that banish it altogether.
Why am I telling you this?
This technique of support and reassurance works on grown-ups and proverbial monsters too.
I have a girlfriend whose husband is freaking out right now. His big fear is running out of money. As a consultant he has jobs that need finishing, and when they are finished he will get paid. But there are no new contracts on the table. Instead of working on the things that will bring money in he is constantly looking for jobs he might be suited to, and asking his wife to do him up a new curriculum vitae.
The monster is the lack of new projects. And in his head my friend’s husband is already imagining them starving and out on the streets. Now his monster is a shapeshifter!
He’s telling his wife about the monster because he needs reassurance and support.
So what should she do?
No amount of telling him that things will be fine will slay her husband’s monster. If she truly listens to him, and then honours his fears by helping him get his resumé together, he’ll calm down and be able to finish his work. That is the best way for her to support him right now – by acknowledging his monster and his fear. And by refocusing his mind on solutions, and on all of the things that ARE going right in his life. By reminding him of his own unique talents and strengths.
The worst thing she could do is make fun of his fears!
It might be you who has the monster under the bed. Some people are lucky enough to be able to get themselves into a space where they can ignore their monster. But for most of us, that’s a losing battle.
To help yourself, find the thing that is really worrying you, and explore it deeply. Then deconstruct those worries by finding some simple solutions that you can actually implement in your life. Clearly identifying the underlying worry, and giving yourself practical steps to deal with that worry is a way to clear out the monsters, to turn on the light, and to bring yourself back to a place where you can sleep peacefully.
Love lights the darkness. Whenever you can, be that light.