As a child, were you ever trapped by a monster under your bed? Having a suspected bed monster presents an uncomfortable dilemma. On the one hand, you want to get away from the monster ASAP. At the same time, we all know what happens the minute you step out of bed to make your escape. The monster grabs your ankle and drags you off to the shadowy land of things that go bump in the night.
Therapists call this dilemma a double bind. It’s a fancy way of saying “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” When you’re a child stuck in the bed monster double bind, what do you do? You pull the magic covers over your head, wait until a trusted adult comes along to sort things out. The thing is, adults also get stuck in double binds–only there is no trusted parent coming along to banish whatever monsters. Adults have generally outgrown magic covers per se, but we also tend to escape dilemmas via our own brands of “magic.” Alcohol, drugs, sex, money, achievement. Hide behind these things long enough, the unconscious strategy goes, and someone will eventually come rescue you.
Next time you’re stuck in a seemingly impossible dilemma, keep this is mind: The key to overcoming a monster below your bed is not to defeat the monster. The key is recognizing there is no monster! It takes serious guts to poke your head below the bed and take a look. To see things as they are requires immense courage. (After all, you don’t really know what you’re going to find when you go looking beneath your bed.) But know this: the simple willingness to look is enough. Expanding your awareness–even, or especially, to the darkest and murkiest places in your life–is the first step toward greater freedom.