A very, very short guide to interacting with monsters.
Well, fairly short.
I will, of course, never reach my goal of writing a post so short that Seth Godin could have written it.
And anyway, if Seth had written this post it would be completely brilliant and not full of parenthetical asides and also (probably) not about monsters.
But it would be short. And ideally this will be one of the shorter guides to interacting with monsters.
Point 1: It’s not a big deal that they exist. Tell them that.
You’re not the only one with a monster.
Just about everyone I know has a monster too. Pffffffft! At least. Some of us have lots of them.
Some monsters are fear-based. Some are anger-based. Some are invisible or they hide when you look for them. Some chase you and never let you see them.
Tell your monster:
“Okay. Even though you’re here, I’m not impressed. You’re just my monster. Even though I’m terrified of you, it’s not the end of the world that you exist, alright?”
Point 2: Your monster always needs something from you.
And it’s never that hard to give.
Usually you don’t want to give it because you don’t want to even think about your monster, never mind interact with it.
And sometimes you don’t want to give it because you feel resentful. He’s making your life miserable. He’s scaring your socks off. Why should you give him anything?
Well. You give him (or her — you should ask) something because that thing will be reassuring for your monster. And giving it will be reassuring for you.
And your monster will be able to stop scaring you.
Point 3: Don’t give your monster cookies unless you know he likes them.
A student of mine had a very uncomfortable experience a few weeks ago. It made her go Eeeeeeeeeeek!
Which is exactly what monsters thrive on. It makes them feel like they are doing their job and it is not very fun for you.
Her monster was enormous and terrifying and ruining her life. Not exaggerating.
And she gave it milk and cookies and some toys … and he got so mad that he gnashed his teeth and made a huge mess and tore up her space.
Crumbs. Everywhere. It was violent and scary.
Because some of her other monsters go away and play when distracted with cookies, she thought she knew just what to do.
It doesn’t work like that.
Surprising, I know. But that’s how it is. Not all monsters like cookies.
Point 4: There are ways to find out what your monster needs.
Really, the best way is to ask.
Generally you will not like doing this and I don’t blame you, because it involves talking to the thing you are trying to avoid.
So here’s what you do. You write a note. And you leave it somewhere the monster will find it.
In a closet. In a drawer. On the back of a door or something.
And here’s what you say:
“Hello, monster. I think you are my monster. I do not know what you need but Havi and her duck Selma said you needed something.
I would appreciate it if you would — in a NON-SCARY WAY, please — let me know what that thing might be. Because maybe I can give it to you. We’ll see.”
Point 5: Don’t forget to tell your monster what you need.
A lot of times your monster jumps out and frightens you because he (or she) is under the mistaken impression that this will motivate you to do your best work.
It’s kind of screwed up, but it makes sense in monster-logic.
So you’ll want to let it know that this is not working for you. You can do this in a note, too, so that you won’t have to actually encounter it.
When you say what you need, be very clear, but also use words it will understand.
Do not say: “I need you to leave me the hell alone!” Because that won’t work.
Do not say: “I need you to stop scaring me!” Because that won’t work.
But you could say: “I need to feel supported. I can’t do the thing you’re trying to help me do when I don’t feel supported.”
You could say: “I need you to occasionally sit down for a bit and listen to music and maybe sip a pink fruity-drink with an umbrella in it while I get some things done please. Would you at least consider that?”
Point 6: If you don’t know what to do with your monster, just wait.
You can say, “I don’t know what to do, monster. So I’m waiting for you to help me out here.”
Also: There are lots of things you can do while you’re waiting.
You can leave your monster a little offering. Not cookies. Unless you know it likes them. Just, you know, a little something so it knows you’re willing to negotiate.
You can draw your monster a picture!
You could even draw a portrait of your monster so you know what it looks like. Sometimes they like that. Sometimes they don’t care, but it makes you feel better.
One more thing.
Monsters, like everybody else, appreciate apologies. If you’ve been saying mean things to it or giving it cookies when it didn’t want cookies, try saying sorry. Don’t force yourself or anything. If it’s not the time, it’s not the time.
Just something to think about.
Well, that was the shortest guide to interacting with monsters that I’ve ever written.
It is incomplete. It is also too long.
Here’s the Twitter version:
Not all monsters like cookies. Ask first. Your monster will calm down when it gets what it needs. Communication is good.
PS: Here’s a picture of a monster.
Seems like monsters actually were creatures that used to protect us. You know, scare us away from things that might have been a problem. I grew up with special monsters around such things as getting into stranger’s cars (particularly, my mother used to tell me, if they wanted to offer me something called a “reefer.”) And there were monsters for being impolite, for getting into fights at school, for talking back to anyone with authority, etc. So I think we kind of grow up with our monsters and then we may grow out of them, but we don’t necessarily tell them that, and they do hang around. For me, one of the things that’s been helpful has been to actively THANK THEM for protecting me in the past — and then asking them to step back a pace or two so I can do the things I need to do.
do you think that monsters are always going to be there? i mean, i know there’ll always be a monster, but a different one, right? as i negociate with my monster, will it go away, eventually?
Ohhh Havi, I needed this today.
I’m having scary monster/big icky stuff interactions, and I definitely don’t want to talk to it, even though it really, really wants to talk to me.
And I’m trying to remember that it’s not impressive, but right now – it seems pretty damn impressive.
So thank you for this reminder that monsters can be interacted with, and helped, and healed, even if I don’t really want to go near them 🙂
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@Andrea – yes. Monsters transform and change shape. Sometimes they just get smaller. Sometimes they turn into something fuzzy and cute and friendly and helpful. Sometimes they disappear and something new comes in its place. Sometimes they retire.
It depends on the monster. And on how your interaction goes.
But my sense/experience is that over time it gets a lot easier and you start to say things like “Oh, right. Last time I talked to it and we actually ended up kind of being friends” or “Hmm, I wonder what this one will turn into”. And so on.
Havi (or Havi’s gentle readers): Have any of you read “The Monster At the End of the Book” starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover? It was my favorite book as a kid, and I can’t help but think it’s so incredibly profound, because it’s really about grappling with our own relationship to our monsters (just like Havi wrote about).
I used to carry this book around when I was a substitute teacher. My favorite memory comes from an inner city classroom in Austin, Texas. I’m sitting cross legged on a desk; surrounded by 20 hispanic 17-years-olds sitting on the floor (!); threatening NOT to turn the pages (because it will only bring us closer to the monster at the end of the book), but they all beg me to anyway… and we had a great discussion at the end about who/what monsters really are.
Wikipedia outlines the plot here, if you’re interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monster_at_the_End_of_This_Book
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I loved the twitter version. That was awesome.
What about when your monster is more afraid of you then you are of it?
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Havi, great post! I wish I had written it. I didn’t, so I wrote my own riff on it, giving you credit, of course.
It’s a short one, too ;-P
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I feel like my monsters come in at least two broad classes; those that are entirely mine, and those that are a costume I’ve put on a real person. I’m not sure if I should approach both of them the same way or not.
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Just wanted to say love you, Havi! Your posts are so freakin’ awesome… This is right on.
~ Rachel, owner of many, many monsters — many of which HATE cookies
Cookies?! Havi, this is amazing. My slithery millipedic monster gnaws on bones. Never cookies, not so far anyway. But yeah, dialogue.
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As a child, I was plagued by a monster in my dreams. It would pursue me through various dreamscapes, often catching me, leaving me to wake screaming in the dark.
One night, finally, I stopped running. Turning to face the horror, I merely asked “What?”
I never dreamt of the monster again.
As always, Havi, a fantastic post!
this is just awesome. my monster has been living in my–um–left butt cheek for a few days. Seriously! I am like, Monster? Don’t you know that you are supposed to hang out in closets and cupboards and jump out and scare me from time to time? What’s with taking up residence–um again–in my left glutes? Hel-lo! Definitely, most definitely, this one is so not a cookie kind of monster, so I do know what you mean. This one is, if anything, a Would-you-get-up-off-your-ass-already-Heidi, kind of monster.
*big sigh* that’s all i’ve got in me about it right now.
*huge sigh* but it’s easing up. A bit. And I have a good idea what shtuffs and shenanigans it’s about. Oh my.
Bye now. Still sighing. Thanks, Havi.
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The saddest thing about monsters is that they are really misunderstood. Fact is, even the meanest and nastiest ones are only trying to help.
Hard to believe, I know, but really.
Sometimes this can be pretty screwed up, especially when we’re adults and a monster is creating pure hell in our mind. Why is it doing that? Because it really, truly, honestly believes that if it does not do this, something even more horrible will happen in reality.
Monsters are often very emotionally young. Babies even.
They should be loved (no, you don’t need to hug them, and you’re allowed to leave them in the backyard, even in the rain, especially if they’re they non-furry kind). They don’t mind that–they’re monsters! They just need to be forgiven. They had a job to do, and they did it as best as they could with what they knew. Now the job is done, but when they were created, there was nothing to tell them when to be un-created.
I try to get to know my monsters. They have much power, and they are not trying to kill me, but rather to protect me from things they believe to be far worse.
The beauty of the whole thing is once I’ve convinced a monster that the old battles don’t need to be fought anymore, then, hey . . .
I have a pet monster!
They make great pets, and they are fiercely loyal, and they represent a primal kind of power that is just too wonderful to describe. They do still bite a little sometimes; old habits die hard 🙂
Love your monster, even if they scare you. It’s their job to be scary, but really, they only want to help, and they just take their job way too seriously.
PET MONSTERS FOR EVERYONE!
So what would an example of feeding cookies to your monsters be?
Abigail, I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s a bit lost in the metaphore!
We’re talking about fears, right? How can they become pets?
@Abigail + @Willie – Sorry it wasn’t clear enough …
If your monster is whatever is scaring you or intimidating you, interacting with it in a gentle, conscious, intentional way is always going to be more effective than running away from it or blowing it up or whatever.
Since interaction (even the gentle, conscious, intentional kind) is scary in and of itself, I was trying to recommend ways to mediate that interaction.
Once you’re interacting with the fear/stuck/whatever it will change form. Or it will give you useful information about why it’s there.
So it’s not that your fear becomes your pet. What happens is that you gradually realize that something that was originally supposed to motivate you or protect you has morphed into something that causes you pain and distress.
When you start talking with it, something happens. It gets acknowledged. And sometimes it goes away. Sometimes it changes form and becomes something else. Sometimes an unexpected ally shows up.
You don’t have to befriend your fears or turn them into pets or anything. It’s more about being open to finding out what is behind them.
And sometimes that thing behind them is just a scared, fuzzy little thing. And sometimes there is nothing behind them at all because they’re a construct in our heads whose time is done.
It depends. That’s why we explore.
All of this is a pretty advanced practice, I know. And it’s pretty counter-intuitive and weird at first.
Some posts I’ve written about fear and interacting with it in a non-violent way:
— You don’t have to face your fear.
— Talking truth to fear.
— Talking to a wall.
— A gigantic block and some destuckifying.
— Conversations with Blocks part 3 (links to parts 1 & 2 as well)
Anyway … maybe some of those will shed some light. It’s definitely a pretty unconventional way of looking at things.
Oh, and @Abigail – just realized I didn’t answer your question.
Feeding cookies to your monster would be doing anything that *you* think the monster needs instead of finding out what the monster needs.
So fighting with it, cajoling, running away. It kind of depends on the situation.
The student of mine who gave her monster cookies had already talked with other fears and what those fears had wanted was distraction and sweetness. So she gave — symbolically — cookies. But this particular monster wanted her to take it seriously, so cookies weren’t the right thing.
If you’re just starting out with this whole “getting to know my monsters” thing, then some of this is going to feel pretty vague at first. You might just want to start with a more basic “Even though I’m not really sure what I’m afraid of and I’m not sure I want to know, I’m ready to have a more conscious relationship with myself if that’s what it takes to heal some of my stucknesses.”
Or something like that …
Hope that helps!
Besides loving the fact that we can interact with these monsters consciously and intentionally, I’m marveling at the fact that our multiple monsters can have such different needs.
It would be so easy to assume that they all need the same thing, because they are all *our* monsters.
And yet it doesn’t work that way.
Just noticing how incredibly complex our Selves are, with all the different facets and needs.
Victoria Brouhard (@victoriashmoria)s last blog post..Being Me, Not a Metaphor
Having this show up in my reader today is FANTASTIC.
Changing my business to go out onmy own has brought old monsters out of wherever they have been hidding.
Me – Wait… whats that monster?
Monster – We weren’t hiding you were working based on our old contract?
Me – I guess thats right you were. Now its been a while but I guess its time for some contract renegotiating! Who should we get to cater the meeting?
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Thank you! It was a great post, by the way. Thanks for the further clarity. 🙂
I love this post! It basically says what you’ve said quite a few times already, but repetition is always good if we want these things to really sink in, and saying the same things in a different way always helps too – and here you’ve found a great way to express these ideas again. That was brilliant!
Thanks Havi. Ha ha, I’m a noob. ^_^
I’ll go back to read those posts, thank you for the list. I think for now I’m good with the “Even though I’m not sure what’s going on I’m here to sit and listen” approach.
I’m pretty sure I got some fears, I think. If I didn’t, I’m sure I’d be doing more of the “moving pencil over the paper” thing and less of the “oh yeah, I could do some drawing but there’s this really important other thing I need to do first” thing. Like deciding I need to reprogramme my watch or save the world or redecorate my ‘office’.
I’m learning though. You’re helping. Thank you.
I discovered I had a monster one day when I was talking with my brother, distraught over a recent break up. I was describing the dramatic scene of the final falling out and my puzzling overreaction to something that wasn’t a big deal. As I told him the story I saw the monster in my mind, as if watching a movie. I saw it plume out of me like an atom bomb over the scene of me screaming at my ex-lover for nothing.
“This thing in me destroys everything!” I sobbed.
“Well, you could try to kill it,” my brother said, “but like the hydra it will sprout 7 more heads when you cut off one. It’s part of you,” he paused, “so you could try to kill yourself.”
I knew he was serious. Dry humor. Matter of fact. But he wouldn’t leave me there.
“That seems counterproductive though and doesn’t really address the issue.”
Then he changed my life. “Or, you could become friends with it.”
I finally sat down with my monster and apologized for ignoring it all my life, for stuffing it inside a dark space. I asked it to forgive me and I promised to listen to it and take care of it.
Now, I check in with my monster and it lets me know when things are too crazy, it gives me strength when the little girl is too tired or too scared. It is my power that I denied for a long time- a benevalent power unless ignored and abused. Then out of desperation it becomes a Grendel (see Beowulf). To avoid marauding the countryside I no longer abandon myself-my monster is part of me, has a place, a right- not to “do” anything it wants, but to be heard, to be recognized, to be respected and accepted. It responds in surprisingly the same way it’s treated.
Life is amazing!
Brilliant advice and something I was just talking about with a girlfriend (and fellow solopreneur) over lunch. I think it’s time my monster/s and I have a little chat!
Katys last blog post..Feed and Care of Your Personal Monsters
@Willie – “Or save the world …”
AWESOME. And so funny. I like you.
@Ashley – that’s quite a story. Wow! Smart brother.
@Katy – good timing then. Hope it goes well. Tell your monster/s I said “play nice!” 🙂
Oh Lord! Havi, you made my day. Even though I’m writing this 13 days after you wrote it, it’s still my day and I’m saying you made it.
Seth Godin rocks, and you rock more. Especially when it comes to monsters. And Seth sucks at parenthetical, complex dialogues. (Sorry, Seth, but it’s not your strong point.)
One of my monsters thinks I should be more like you.
Just now I asked it if that’s really what it wants.
Who knew? I love realizing that all the monster wanted was for me to relax and enjoy you.
I can do that.
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The monster I came across certainly would not settle for cookies only. See link below.
.-= RichardAlois´s last post … My Life As A Monster =-.
OH MY GOD! LOOK WHAT I JUST FOUND!
Apparently there is one iguana who wants a strawberry. Ahahahahahahaha!!