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Hell in the Self

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Contrary to a glib understanding of some French authors, hell can more often be a personal one than that found when in the company of others.


The void. What we stare into staring back into us. Our lowest moments magnified horrifically, like looking into a mirror and seeing everything we fear about ourselves; insecurities writ large and inflamed. A spot here. Wrinkles here and there. Maybe worse, maybe not. Perhaps I should look deeper, prod that part or consider changing it somehow? Maybe it is something more than skin deep. . .


The effect can be entrancing, akin to something like rubbernecking. Like seeing the aftermath of a car crash from a passing vehicle can be visceral, the relatability of how that could feeling all too real in the mind. Horror has long drawn attention and substantial amounts of money from film, books and tv, drawing upon our greatest fears and darkest dreams. It is said that to turn a blind eye is to avoid reality. But what to do when reality seems to stare back, showing only horror now and of more to come?


There can be a relief to be found in viewing horror; cathartic experience in the safe viewing of atrocity and trauma from a safe enough distance, a playing out of dark fantasy on screen or in the written word. It all plays to deeply human sides of ourselves. For centuries religion and ritual has played the role of helping us through the dread of the unknown let alone the ghastly and the grim reality can offer. Instincts and drives primal more than cognitively conscious. Like a theme park thrill-ride, the security of being able to get on and being able to get off at the end provides a form of relief. To experience and to survive is to know, understand and feel that little bit more, and get a bit of self-assurance and confidence in what might be ahead at a level beyond what we understand.


Looking into our own fears, flaws, and insecurities is to confront our own reality without turning a blind eye. None of us is perfect, nor is perfection attainable. Our histories a mixture of shades from good to bad. For some of us, the horrors of our past can seem too painful, too scary even to go near. In some ways, not facing (even running from) our fears can create a meaningful and positive distance from what we had experienced, propelling us to a more fulfilling existence. However, no matter the distance we put between ourselves and our fears, the chances of them creeping back up in some way or form is not insignificant. That could take the form of no longer being able to avoid a particular type of situation or type of person. The world around us rarely makes plans with our specific needs totally in mind.


Being prepared for changes and challenges like this is an area which psychodynamic counselling can appreciate and help with. Taking our past into total account and all of its effects reminds me of a flower. As much as the flower can grow and reach for the sun, if the roots are not tended too and the soil good enough for it to prosper, the chances for growth will be limited. All of us have roots, histories we carry with us, unconsciously and consciously. Having the safety to not only tend to what is on the surface (the flower) but to what lies below the surface is to confront our present and our past; all of our fears, flaws and insecurities. Knowing and understanding what brings us to a certain point in life can allow us to move more freely, to reach out further than we otherwise would. Facing the seemingly unfaceable fears of ourselves can bring a real catharsis beyond that of the horror film, the thrill-ride or the adrenaline rush of extreme activity. It is not to be passive but active. To participate bravely in our own story, beating our own fears and horrors rather than being further trapped by them.


This year, 2020, has given us more than a glimpse of the worst the world can offer. For many if not most of us that will have included seeing some of the worst in ourselves and those around us, be it minor or major. However, in an age of fear stoked by media of all stripes and types, turning a blind eye is increasingly not to the darkness, but to the light and hope which can break through it.

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