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My savings throw against The Angst Monster failed mightily this week.* At work I have fears about an unpredictable possibly violent patient. There is some anxiety induced by the buyout by The Overlords. At home I have concerns about upcoming events, including a flight to Michigan. I won’t watch the news anymore, as it is all ‘too much’. Everything seems to evoke emotions of helplessness and hopelessness. All challenges my training and my philosophy and my coping skills.

One of the most ancient and popular story-lines is “Slaying the Monster”. This universal stencil is seen in countless stories, tales, and movies. Slaying the monster is an archetype about coming to terms with The Shadow and its personifications. Here are the basics:

There is a monster in the area. It is usually not recognized as such right away. Complacent folk are not aware of it at first; the evidence is denied, dismissed, or deemed done by something else. In time the monster makes itself known and folks finally connect the dots it really is so. Folks (or The Hero) go to battle with the monster and its ilk and allies. The monster looks defeated and there is a sense of closure – only for the monster to return even worse than before. The scales tip and the prognosis turns grim; the monster is certain to ‘win’. Then – when things looks the bleakest – The Hero(s) find a solution and the monster is finally slain. Life goes back to normal, or a ‘new normal’, based on the experience. The Hero and the people are changed in some ways, hopefully for the wiser.

In the 20th century “Slaying the monster” stories became less resolute. The angst of the 20th century translated them into more pessimistic tales: one can not kill the monster but only squelch it for awhile. The Monster keeps coming back. This is reflected in all those horror films franchises with their never-ending sequels (think Michael from ‘Halloween” or the Godzilla movies).** Heroes come and go yet the Monster stays. As the newsman on The Onion says: “this sh-t never ends”.

While we want to slay the monster, make sure it is dead, this sort of closure only occurs in fairy tales. Fairy tales are comforting they assure us Good triumphs and Justice prevails. Dr. Jung and The Stoics would disagree. Jungians never ask “is there a monster (Shadow)?’ but ask ‘where is Shadow now?” For The Stoics, the monsters aren’t the obstacle in the way, the monsters are the way. Life is a series of whack-a-mole Hydra-headed monsters. Being conscious of our monsters makes them paradoxically manageable. We will endure – somehow – all monster attacks; our saving throws suffice. This isn’t much comfort but it is the best there is. I hope it is enough for me, anyway.

*In ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, when your character is attacked by a monster, you the player get to roll a twenty-sided dice for something called a ‘saving throw”. This means you’ve managed to dodge the attack. Perhaps that fire-breathing dragon was too far to the left, or the nasty gnome’s sling shot deflected off the tip of your shield. If you fail the throw, you get the full hit of the incoming weapon. Big monsters like demons, dragons, and Texas legislators often have a high saving throw number between 18-20. Stirges, by the way, have a saving throw of 6, which is surprisingly low.

**A curious solution to the problem of the unstoppable Monster is to render it less odious. Godzilla started out as a deadly take-no-prisoners entity that was slowly translated over time to become a protector-guardian type, not only of Japan but of the planet. He’s on our side! Another example is Mr. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu who regularly shows up in humorous and cute toys and Christmas ornaments. If you can’t defeat the monster, declaw it or make it cute. These are not bad options.

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