Be the Anti-Hero of Your Own Movie

I’ve watched a few superhero movies as of late, and who doesn’t love a superhero. The superhero is a mythical character because real life heroes are rare.

The superhero is supposed to be someone we can look up to; but how can we look up to a hero that we can’t relate to?

The more relatable character is the anti-hero.

Now when you think anti-hero, people tend to envision the bad guys that we want to root for. Tony Montana, or Boardwalk Empire’s Richard Harrow.

But that’s a very limited definition of what an anti-hero is.

Sure, the anti-hero can have some moral ambiguity like Son’s of Anarchy’s Jax Teller, but he’s more than just just a likeable bad guy.

The anti-hero is nothing more than the hero for his own sake. He’s the hero of his own story, not someone else’s.

He’s not altruistic, but he believes in his own religion beset on a quest for redemption, which gives him a sense of righteousness nonetheless.

He’s not some caricature of a villain who isn’t evil. This more complex and nuanced version of the story’s protagonist is more Donald Draper than Dexter Morgan.

He’s just a guy who isn’t great but he’s trying to be. He’s not making a comeback, because he was never great to begin with, but something inside of him is seeking renewal and restoration.

The antihero represents our desire for catharsis to whatever end we wish.

In that sense, we are all anti-heroes. We are all searching for our own redemption from who we are.

But we need to make a decision. We need to decide that it’s time for our movie to start.

I’ll let this quote from internet-philosopher Joe Rogan tell the rest:

The best advice I’ve ever heard, the best advice I ever came up with, is that live your life like you’re the hero in your movie. Right now, is when the fucking movie starts and your life is a shitbag disaster like every fucking Arnold Schwarzenegger movie where he wakes up and makes a blender full of pizza and ice cream … those guys when they think they’re on the brink and put the gun in their mouth and put it down because they see a photo of their daughter – pretend that’s you. Pretend that right now you are in the part of that movie that starts and it shows you as a fucking loser, and just decide not to be a loser anymore.

Live your life like there’s a documentary crew following you around and you are analyzing your own behavior. Do what you would want to do, so that your kids would once day look back at it and see that documentary, and look on it with pride, like: “Wow my dad was a bad motherfucker, he really did what he had to do.” “Wow my mom really got her shit together.” I love a success story, but even more than a success story, I like a dude who fucks his life up and then gets it back together again story. Those are my favorite stories. And the way to do that, you’ve got to write shit down, you’ve got to think that you are the hero in your own fucking movie and then you’ve got to sit down and write shit down. Write down what you need to do.”

Be the anti-hero of your own movie by saving yourself from not saving yourself.

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Journey to a Healthy Ego

In the book The Four Agreements author Don Miguel Ruiz says that we shouldn’t take anything personally; that someone should be able to say we are the best person in the world or the worst person in the world and either should mean nothing to us.

In some zen egoless state of nirvana perhaps we could all feel that way, but in reality we have egos, and our ego is the part of us that cares what other people think.

So while we may feel autonomous when it comes to our feelings, in truth we are often saddled as a vehicle for our egos to support the beliefs that the ego has developed in order to protect ‘us’ from fears of the ego itself.

Our true beliefs are far different because they come from who we are versus who we want other people to think we are.

The ego is both master and slave, being the subconscious captor to the innermost nature of ourselves.

In order to break this cycle, we have to remember that the ego seeks to validate false notions designed to protect us from vulnerable feelings. It does this by magnifying the pain of our feelings being hurt, causing us to act out in order to protect them.

So, we might have an over inflated sense of our self-importance in relationships (the false notion) arising from the fact that we are insecure or afraid of being alone (the vulnerable feelings), and as a result our ego causes us to feel disproportionately spited whenever someone does something that even remotely challenges this false notion of our self-importance. So what ends up happening is that our ego causes us to retaliate and react in a manner that isn’t healthy or fair to others. When we are really just seeking to protect ourselves from the fears and insecurities of the ego (perceived as our own true fears and insecurities), in reality we just end up being major assholes.

Please read the above paragraph again.

Understanding this is one of the keys to understanding human nature.

Next time someone lashes out against you, remember that they are just trying to protect their ego. It’s the classic case of the asshole who wasn’t loved enough as a child. Guess what, none of us were. We are all that person.

But we don’t even step back to see this about ourselves or others.

Recognizing is the first step for a reason.

Begin to see the yin and yang of behavior relative to feelings. Take an objective look at your feelings next time you find yourself engaged in or experiencing unhealthy behaviors/feelings.

These behaviors include self-deprecation (belittling/diminishing/undervaluing oneself), self-destruction (sabotaging/punishing/harming oneself), martyrdom (reacting as if persecuted/victimised/oppressed), stubbornness (resisting change in one’s life), selfishness, arrogance (inflating/exalting/overvaluing oneself), and impatience.

Each of those behaviors are driven by feelings that the ego doesn’t even want us to be consciously aware of. We’re too blinded by our ego’s quest to protect ourselves from these chinks in our armor that we don’t see the clear paradoxical nature of our feelings, realizing that 90% of our emotional triggers are obvious defense mechanisms.

The ironic thing is that while we use these defense mechanisms as a coping strategy to defend against feelings that are counter to the notions of our false self that the ego has created, they do nothing to mask the underlying emotional triggers to others. Meaning that our ego driven behavior ends up looking exactly like ego driven behavior. An obvious case would be jealously looking like blatant insecurity.

So, now that we begin to recognize these defense mechanisms, we can start becoming aware of them and looking beneath them to discover the underlying stories that are driving them..

We can also adopt healthier models for dealing with these ego-driven defense mechanisms, using Vaiillant’s categorization of defense mechanisms.

Dr. George Eman Vaillant is a Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard and employed at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He authored a study on how different psychological coping methods helped people succeed or fail during their lives.

His four categories of defense mechanisms are arranged in a hierarchy that can serve as an excellent and extremely valuable framework for anyone seeking eye opening information about themselves and who wants to make significant change and growth in their life.

The following is from Wikipedia, but I beg you to read it with an introspective mind. You’ll find both insight into your own behavior, and healthier models for behaving and communicating your ego driven feelings.

Vaiillant’s categorization of defense mechanisms.

Level 1: Pathological (psychotic denial, delusional projection)

The mechanisms on this level, when predominating, almost always are severely pathalogical. These six defenses, in conjunction, permit one to effectively rearrange external experiences to eliminate the need to cope with reality. The pathological users of these mechanisms frequently appear irrational or insane to others. These are the “psychotic” defenses, common in overt psychosis. However, they are found in dreams and throughout childhood as well. They include:

  • Delusional Projection: Delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.
  • Conversion: The expression of an intrapsychic conflict as a physical symptom; some examples include blindness, deafness, paralysis, or numbness. This phenomena is sometimes called hysteria.
  • Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn’t exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.
  • Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs.
  • Splitting: A primitive defence. Negative and positive impulses are split off and unintegrated, frequently projected onto someone else. The defended individual segregates experiences into all-good and all-bad categories, with no room for ambiguity and ambivalence. When “splitting” is combined with “projecting”, the negative qualities that you unconsciously perceive yourself as possessing, you consciously attribute to another.
  • Extreme projection: The blatant denial of a moral or psychological deficiency, which is perceived as a deficiency in another individual or group.
  • Superiority complex: A psychological defense mechanism in which a person’s feelings of superiority counter or conceal his or her feelings of inferiority.
  • Inferiority complex: A behavior that is displayed through a lack of self-worth, an increase of doubt and uncertainty, and feeling of not measuring up to society’s standards.

Level 2: Immature (fantasy, projection, passive aggression, acting out)

These mechanisms are often present in adults. These mechanisms lessen distress and anxiety produced by threatening people or by an uncomfortable reality. Excessive use of such defences is seen as socially undesirable, in that they are immature, difficult to deal with and seriously out of touch with reality. These are the so-called “immature” defences and overuse almost always leads to serious problems in a person’s ability to cope effectively. These defences are often seen in major depression and personality disorders. They include:

  • Acting out: Direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse in action, without conscious awareness of the emotion that drives that expressive behaviour.
  • Fantasy: Tendency to retreat into fantasy in order to resolve inner and outer conflicts.
  • Wishful thinking: Making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality, or reality
  • Idealization: Unconsciously choosing to perceive another individual as having more positive qualities than he or she may actually have.
  • Passive aggression: Aggression towards others expressed indirectly or passively, often through procrastination.
  • Projection: A primitive form of paranoia. Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one’s own unacknowledged unacceptable or unwanted thoughts and emotions to another; includes severe prejudice and jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger, and “injustice collecting”, all with the aim of shifting one’s unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses onto someone else, such that those same thoughts, feelings, beliefs and motivations are perceived as being possessed by the other.
  • Projective identification: The object of projection invokes in that person precisely the thoughts, feelings or behaviours projected.
  • Somatization: The transformation of negative feelings towards others into negative feelings toward oneself, pain, illness, and anxiety.

Level 3: Neurotic (intellectualization, reaction formation, dissociation, displacement, repression)

These mechanisms are considered neurotic, but fairly common in adults. Such defences have short-term advantages in coping, but can often cause long-term problems in relationships, work and in enjoying life when used as one’s primary style of coping with the world. They include:

  • Displacement: Defence mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target; redirecting emotion to a safer outlet; separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening. For example, a mother may yell at her child because she is angry with her husband.
  • Dissociation: Temporary drastic modification of one’s personal identity or character to avoid emotional distress; separation or postponement of a feeling that normally would accompany a situation or thought.
  • Hypochondriasis: An excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness.
  • Intellectualization: A form of isolation; concentrating on the intellectual components of a situation so as to distance oneself from the associated anxiety-provoking emotions; separation of emotion from ideas; thinking about wishes in formal, affectively bland terms and not acting on them; avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects (isolation, rationalization, ritual, undoing, compensation, and magical thinking).
  • Isolation: Separation of feelings from ideas and events, for example, describing a murder with graphic details with no emotional response.
  • Rationalization (making excuses): Convincing oneself that no wrong has been done and that all is or was all right through faulty and false reasoning. An indicator of this defence mechanism can be seen socially as the formulation of convenient excuses.
  • Reaction formation: Converting unconscious wishes or impulses that are perceived to be dangerous or unacceptable into their opposites; behaviour that is completely the opposite of what one really wants or feels; taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety.
  • Regression: Temporary reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way, for example, using whining as a method of communicating despite already having acquired the ability to speak with appropriate grammar.
  • Repression: The process of attempting to repel desires towards pleasurable instincts, caused by a threat of suffering if the desire is satisfied; the desire is moved to the unconscious in the attempt to prevent it from entering consciousness; seemingly unexplainable naivety, memory lapse or lack of awareness of one’s own situation and condition; the emotion is conscious, but the idea behind it is absent.
  • Undoing: A person tries to ‘undo’ an unhealthy, destructive or otherwise threatening thought by acting out the reverse of the unacceptable. Involves symbolically nullifying an unacceptable or guilt provoking thought, idea, or feeling by confession or atonement.
  • Withdrawal: Withdrawal is a more severe form of defence. It entails removing oneself from events, stimuli, and interactions under the threat of being reminded of painful thoughts and feelings.
  • Upward and downward social comparisons: A defensive tendency that is used as a means of self-evaluation. Individuals will look to another individual or comparison group who are considered to be worse off in order to dissociate themselves from perceived similarities and to make themselves feel better about themselves or their personal situation.

Level 4: Mature (humor, sublimation, suppression, altruism, anticipation)

These are commonly found among emotionally healthy adults and are considered mature, even though many have their origins in an immature stage of development. They have been adapted through the years in order to optimise success in human society and relationships. The use of these defences enhances pleasure and feelings of control. These defences help to integrate conflicting emotions and thoughts, whilst still remaining effective. Those who use these mechanisms are usually considered virtuous. They include:

  • Humility: A mechanism by which a person, considering their own defects, has a humble self-opinion. Humility is intelligent self-respect which keeps one from thinking too highly or too meanly of oneself.
  • Mindfulness: Adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterised by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
  • Acceptance: A person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest, or exit. Religions and psychological treatments often suggest the path of acceptance when a situation is both disliked and unchangeable, or when change may be possible only at great cost or risk.
  • Gratitude: A feeling of thankfulness or appreciation involving appreciation of a wide range of people and events. Gratitude is likely to bring higher levels of happiness, and lower levels of depression and stress. Throughout history, gratitude has been given a central position in religious and philosophical theories.
  • Altruism: Constructive service to others that brings pleasure and personal satisfaction.
  • Tolerance: The practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves.
  • Mercy: Compassionate behavior on the part of those in power.
  • Forgiveness: Cessation of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offence, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand retribution or restitution.
  • Anticipation: Realistic planning for future discomfort.
  • Humour: Overt expression of ideas and feelings (especially those that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about directly) that gives pleasure to others. The thoughts retain a portion of their innate distress, but they are “skirted around” by witticism, for example self-deprecation.
  • Identification: The unconscious modelling of one’s self upon another person’s character and behaviour.
  • Introjection: Identifying with some idea or object so deeply that it becomes a part of that person.
  • Sublimation: Transformation of negative emotions or instincts into positive actions, behaviours, or emotions, for example, playing a heavy contact sport such as football or rugby can transform aggression into a game.
  • Thought suppression: The conscious process of pushing thoughts into the preconscious; the conscious decision to delay paying attention to an emotion or need in order to cope with the present reality; making it possible to later access uncomfortable or distressing emotions whilst accepting them.
  • Emotional self-regulation: The ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable.

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By becoming aware of unhealthy, sub-par models, we can consciously seek more mature, healthier replacements, reducing friction in our relationships, and honoring the good wolf, our authentic self, rather than the bad wolf – our ego.

It should be noted that the ego isn’t all bad, and by adopting mature defense mechanisms, we learn to have a healthy ego.

It’s up to you to make a choice to consciously examine and improve upon the areas where your ego is an impedence to your well being.

It’s the battle of the two wolves living inside of you.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Remember, no one can serve two masters. (The ego, and the authentic-self)

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Matthew 6:24

Which master are you going to choose to serve?

You deserve to free yourself from maladaptive behaviors and the accompanying dysfunctions that are negatively affecting your life.

This is a great step in conjunction with my previous post on reinterpreting the stories dictating your life. You’re going to need to shed some of those stories that aren’t serving you in order to adapt healthier behavior models.

This isn’t just paperback Buddhism. This is a chance to take actionable steps towards freeing yourself from the chains of the past.

You can improve your relationships not just with others, but as important, you can greatly improve your relationship with yourself.

You have the opportunity to love and be loved. Making the journey to a healthy ego can change your entire life experience for the better. You deserve it.

Here’s your homework:

1. Read Adaptations to Life by Dr. Vaillant.

2. Ask yourself why you are feeling what you are feeling. Not the real reason, i.e., ‘well, she offended me’ but look deeper to recognize the role of the ego in the feeling.

3. Examine Vaiillant’s categorization of defense mechanisms as seen in this post. Try and not only discover which defense mechanisms you and using, but also ask yourself why you are using them, and find an appropriate replacement that doesn’t feed the ego wolf.

4. Remember, you are okay.

p.s. Listen to this song and make the decision to age with grace. It will be much easier than not being vulnerable and compassionate towards others.

The Power to Change Your Life.

Update 11/5/2014

Almost exactly one year to the day later I’ve revisited the topic of changing your life through myth and story. That entry can be read here, and provides a more accurate clarification on why we need to rewrite our personal stories, because in light of what is in the new entry (particularly the update near the end), the quotes and introduction to this entry are almost ironic; although, the entirety of this entry is not rendered irrelevant. 


There is so much going on in my life right now.

I’m trying to be more human than my mistakes, but the older I get the more I realize that it’s my mistakes that make me human.

I am not a perfect person. As I write this, I’m nearing the end of my twenties; however, I feel like Al Pacino’s character in Friday Night Lights in this clip till the 1:40 mark:

I mean — I made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make. I, uh, I pissed away all my money, believe it or not. I chased off anyone who’s ever loved me. And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.

However, I understand that a degree of introspection and self-examination is a necessary requirement to maintain one’s self-awareness – regardless of the temporary impact to my self-esteem.

I also know that from errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.

Look, we’ve all been through shit. We are all fighting our own battles. No one has it great forever because life is characterized by change – and some of that change can be truly fucking shitty.

One of my favorite quotes, from the Counte of Monte Cristo says it perfectly:

Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next.

We’ve all been shattered on the rocks.

Life ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.

But all too often we lose sight of how the storms of life fit into our own personal odyssey.

Instead of seeing past adversity, we dim our hopes and scale down our dreams.

We let the storms change our views on life, until one day, we discover that we are a product of an environment that we don’t really enjoy, and life sucks, and we don’t particularly care for the person we are in that moment.

But I’m here to tell you something.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

You have the power to change your life. Anything about it.

Your Life is a story. You are both the main character and the narrator. Unfortunately most of us have really shitty narrators, and we’re telling ourselves a story that not only makes us feel small and insignificant, but leads us to lead a life that is far less than what we are capable of living.

Unfortunately none of us are aware of this narration. It’s bigger than our inner voice. It goes far beyond both our inner and our outer sense of reality.

J_Belfort

The above quote may sound like a really wise piece of common sense, but it’s a truth that you don’t even realize – even if you feel like it makes perfect sense to you.

We simply aren’t aware of the bullshit stories we are telling ourselves.

It’s not the obvious self-helppy ‘Oh, I can’t do that because I’m not good at math’ kind of shit.

No, the real barriers can’t be seen from the inside, and that’s what keeps us trapped in them.

I overheard an extremely eye opening quote recently to the effect of: Most people don’t even realize why they do the things they do.

And that’s the problem.

We aren’t aware of the most powerful guiding forces in our lives.

They’ve dictated our thoughts and our actions and we’re completely oblivious to them them because they’ve been developed as a coping mechanism to help us interpret the world.

As a result they are rooted extremely deep inside our minds. Beginning in our early childhood, we started developing the stories that instinctively helped us to survive and navigate our relationships with our families, ourselves, and the world as a whole.

This is human nature. We evolved because of storytelling. The ability to understand and tell stories is one of the fundamental foundations of sentient consciousness. Stories help us stay sane. They help us maintain our identity, they both shape and reinforce our beliefs, and most importantly they help us integrate our feelings and our experiences into a cohesive narrative.

But there’s a fly in the ointment.

The story isn’t always that ‘mommy loves me’ or ‘I had a fair chance at going to the school I wanted to’ or ‘there was always enough’.

What happens when we grow up in an imperfect world? Where an imperfect and dysfunctional society imprints the stories we’ve led ourselves to believe?

The behaviors that arise from them keep us trapped.

As a result we are stuck inside thought patterns and behavioral cycles that are completely hindering our ability to live balanced, purposeful, and happy lives.

I’m not saying the answer is to be a Pollyanna or to pretend that mistakes and injustices never happened to you, but you can edit the story from those events to change the filter through which you see the world and free yourself where you have been stuck as a result of self-defeating behavior and limiting, disempowering beliefs.

This is serious. It’s time you regain the power to narrate your story.

Changing your beliefs and resultant behaviors and habits is nothing new. Everything from The Law of Attraction, to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been successful at doing this.

I believe that the end result is the same, but I’m giving you the power to do this.

You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control the way you think about and react to external events.

This is the power to change your life.

Somewhere inside of you, you have a sense of your own destiny. It’s time to reclaim it right fucking now.

Life is meant to be an epic journey. Not a silent whimper.

You are made from the DNA of Spartans and cavemen.

From this moment on you need to start looking at life objectively from a high-level point of view because you are now the narrator of your life story and the stories driving your life.

Right now, I want you to do something.

I want you to imagine there is a shadow on a podium in your mind and it’s this subconscious narrator that’s been constructing the stories for your entire life. Some good some bad.

Now, I want you to fire this narrator. In your mind, close your eyes and say You are fired. I’m sorry, but I need to start narrating my story and I need to clean up the baggage from the older stories that no longer serve me – enough is enough! See yaaa! and flip him or her off or whatever you want to do or say.

Now ask yourself, what is your story going to be from here on out? It can be what you want it to be. Truly. Remember, the only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.

And just as important, why are you doing what you are doing?

There is going to be a lot of why’s tied up in your stories, and it’s your new job to start taking inventory of your stories and redirecting your interpretations of them in healthier and more powerful directions.

But you also need a big why.

Because if you don’t have a big ‘why’ and are connected to it and it pushes you forward you’re going to use the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ as an excuse to not do that thing that you said that you were going to do.

Now, here is your homework, and I’m going to do it too.

1. Start working on your why everyday. Write. Daydream. Set goals. Imagine. Put a piece of paper in your pocket with your why on it, carry it with you.

2. Start objectively examining all of your feelings from the point of view as your new role as Chief Narrator of your life. Never give up this role. This is true self-awareness.

3. Order this book: How to Stay Sane

4. Order this book: The Mythic Path

5. Remember, everything is story.

6. Listen to this song on repeat:

Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.

P.S. I am so excited about this you have no idea! It’s storytime kids.

storytime

P.P.S. Download the above as your wallpaper here.

If you aren’t sure of your screen resolution, check out What is my screen resolution

Click the closest to your size, then right-click and select ‘set as desktop background’.

– if you liked this, please share it on facebook or via email. It’s one of the most important things I’ve written in awhile and I think it has the power to truly change anyone’s life.

Edit 04/04/14: If you enjoyed this, and want to work more on reinterpreting your stories, check out my entry Meditations: Session One.