Why You Should Invite Your Inner Demons to Tea

When it feels like a storm is brewing inside you—a potent mix of anxiety, jealousy, anger, and other difficult emotions—you might be inclined to turn away. But that rarely makes them dissipate, so you might as well invite them in and get to know them better.

It’s a dark and stormy night, and it’s only 8 a.m. My demons are knocking.

I barricaded the door, but they slipped in through the cracks. They seem to be everywhere, and there aren’t enough blankets or beds to hide under. So I’m trying something novel—I’m inviting them in for tea, exploring what happens if I stop trying to avoid the little beasties that seemingly just won’t go away.

Demons can manifest in many dastardly ways. As the voices that whisper persuasively that you are destined to fail. Demons can grab you by the throat and shake you when you listen to the news, or they can be the fears that assail you when you leave the cozy cover of your bedroom.

For instance, if you pulled an all-nighter to prepare for a job interview, your exhaustion might be what gives your demons their ferocious fuel. Suddenly, your heart’s racing. And then like freakin’ flying monkeys, the demons arrive: “They’re never going to hire me! I’m too old, too young, too tall, too me!”

Now you’re wondering why you were so foolhardy as to even apply for this job. As the demon forces gather strength, you look for ways to numb the effects of the threat-chemicals that are charging through your bloodstream. You want to run to the local bar or leave the galaxy altogether.

Or perhaps the wildly cascading thoughts and feelings would just love a soothing cup of tea instead? Doesn’t that sound nice?

Why You Should Invite (and Even Welcome) Your Inner Demons to Tea

It makes sense that you might not want to invite in distressing thoughts and emotions. But when they are already in, avoiding them doesn’t seem to do anything except to cause them to roar all the more.

Part of your tea party includes being a good host by recognizing which demonic thoughts have come for a visit, bombastically blaring their bullhorns. Who are they? Name them. They want to be heard, so hear them. Once they have spun their story, you could ask yourself if there’s any evidence that their stories are even true. Maybe they’re just spinning a tall tale and, like any tea party gossip, you can listen with compassion and understanding without becoming attached to every word.

It makes sense that you might not want to invite in distressing thoughts and emotions. But when they are already in, avoiding them doesn’t seem to do anything except to cause them to roar all the more.

Now, you can have empathy for the emotions that are arming those demons. Emotions also want to be invited in for tea. Usually, one sip is enough to settle them. You don’t have to get rid of these emotions. You don’t have to do anything except to notice what has been stirred up.

Then, you can welcome the sensations that are surging through your body: Feel the tugs and tightening, notice the numbness and sweatiness. Tenderly welcome the whole maelstrom in. Once you can make some small peace with the de- mons that come to call, you can explore creative ways to welcome what just keeps showing up, dammit. Earl Grey, anyone?

The Three-Minute Responsive Breathing Space

The three-minute breathing space, developed as part of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), can help you manage monstrous moments. Explore it for yourself and see if you notice whether it helps you find calm when demons threaten to sink your spirits and squelch all hopes of joy.

  1. Bring your attention to describing and identifying whatever is going on for you right now. What thoughts are distressing you? What emotions are overtaking you? What kinds of stormy sensations are you feeling in your body? It might help to name any difficult emotions, body sensations, or thoughts as specif- ically as possible: “I feel anxious about this job interview.” “There is tension in my jaw.” “They’re not going to like me!”
  2. Once you have noticed the thoughts, emotions, and body sensations that might be involved in your anxiety, gently use effort and energy to shift your attention and focus toward feeling your belly breathing in and out, closely tracking this movement. Or you could choose to focus on your hands, or the soles of your feet, counting to 15, in and out.
  3. Now, stop counting and expand your attention to the entire body. Feel where your body makes contact with the chair or the floor. You don’t have to get rid of your thoughts, just do your best to feel the whole body, including your posture and facial expression. (Pro tip: You can even do this while waiting for your job interview!) After this three-step exploration, what do you notice? How has your anxiety shifted?

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  • Elaine Smookler
  • February 15, 2022

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