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.
What you can learn from the uglier parts of yourself
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.