The Predator Within: Why You Should Appreciate the Ugly %&$@!#

One of my favorite science fiction movies is the Schwarzenegger classic “Predator.” For the uninitiated, the film is set in the jungles of Central America, where a stranded commando unit is stalked and killed, one by one, by a space alien.

With the beast rendered all but invisible by an advanced camouflage system, the protagonists don’t know what they’re up against for much of the film. When one of them finally glimpses the disguised monster, the commandos react by firing thousands of rounds blindly into the jungle. Schwarzenegger’s crew is heartened to find a bit of fluorescent blood left behind by the slightly injured creature. “If it bleeds, we can kill it,” he concludes.

Ultimately, Schwarzenegger is the last man standing (of course). He is rid of the alien, and off to pursue other missions. He even manages to disparage the alien's physical attractiveness (in R-rated fashion) along the way. A complete smack-down.

People sometimes adopt a similar attitude toward the aspects of themselves that they don’t like. Whether a quick temper, jealousy in relationships, or any other unwelcome character trait, you may be repulsed by the way it makes you feel or affects your relationships, and its stubborn refusal to leave you alone. You may set out to destroy it in a haphazard hail of self-improvement gunfire: if only I could be rid of this interloper, I could be healthy and happy, you figure.

That sort of campaign rarely ends the way Schwarzenegger’s does, though. Trying to change or control feelings and behaviors that are unpleasant or harmful to you or others is noble, and can be helpful. But it is an incomplete effort until you unmask them, and consider what gives rise to them.

When you do, you’ll find they aren’t adversaries at all, and certainly not foreign invaders. They are actually your defenders, as bumbling, unskillful, and unattractive as they may be, and they are tightly bound to the good parts.

To the extent that you wish you would stop being so angry, know that your anger is almost always a secondary emotion that arises in response to one that is so painful (shame, fear, grief, anxiety, not being seen or heard, etc.) and difficult to bear, that self-righteous, empowering anger emerges as a quick and easy (albeit temporary) way to feel stronger and better about yourself.

Your jealousy may emerge from a part of you that never received or felt worthy of affection, and now treasures it and is deathly afraid of losing it.

You need to look beneath the camouflage to see the tender parts that the tougher, uglier parts are protecting. They can teach you, and point you towards your wounds, where healing can take place. Trying to kill them is akin to picking away a scab in hopes of speeding the healing process: you may temporarily achieve the illusion of wellness, but as long as the wound isn’t healed, a new scab will form to protect it again.

What you need is more patience, care, and compassion for yourself, not more aversion, aggression, and self-judgment.

Your space alien, if you will, is a manifestation of your innate desire to feel happy and safe, and where it stands guard is where your attention is needed. As you become stronger and healthier, your alien will become less necessary, and self-destruct when the time is right. Any blood you discover until then means there is something alive that needs tending to.

Jim Hjort, LCSW

Jim operates a psychotherapy practice, helps people overcome roadblocks to self-actualization as a Right Life® coach, and appears at speaking and teaching engagements. He studied Sociology and Abnormal Psychology at UCLA and holds an MSW from USC, with a specialization in Systems of Recovery from Mental Illness. He has also been awarded the Certified Mindfulness Facilitator designation from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. 

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Alanna 's picture

In trying to think of my biggest ugliest issue, it comes down to anxiety, and inability to relax and let it be. I know it's because if I always have a plan, then there's a plan B. I have to start allowing spontaneity play a part. Generally makes other people more comfortable, and I won't spend my time killing myself in an attempt to be ready for anything. I need to start trusting that other people can carry the load, and do a pretty descent job, even if they don't shoulder it like I would have.

rightlifeproject's picture

Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Alanna. I agree, there is a lot to be said for loosening up a bit around the need for control--either needing for things to be done the way we like, or having a handle on every potential outcome, lest we be caught unprepared. It can be easier said than done, of course, since the primitive parts of our brains aren't big fans of the unknown. They like things cut and dried, and safe. Mindfulness meditation can help a bit with this sort of thing, since it involves practicing remaining with whatever happens to be going on right now. Perhaps ironically, letting go of the need for control in this way, in favor of presence, better enables us to respond wisely to whatever *does* end up happening! Thank you again for contributing your thoughts and personal experience!

Jeffrey taffet's picture

My predato is definitely my temper. Hopefully more mindfulness practice will keep it in its place . 

rightlifeproject's picture

Or allow it to be free to leave! :)

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