About two months ago, I was sitting in a therapy group facilitated by my co-workers. The group explored the theme of self-image and in an exercise clients were asked to write down a list of their strongest attributes. I decided to join in and write my list. One of my co-workers chuckled when he saw my list – in particular at the word ‘twisted’ which I had included as one of my attributes. He and another co-worker, both often subjected to my twisted taste in entertainment and sense of humour, concurred that twisted I am indeed. The clients, who became intrigued by this seemingly dark attribute which I’d so openly declared as an aspect of me, wanted to know more. My colleagues wanted me to explain myself, to reveal the deeper layers of my psyche….
I’ve often been asked why I love horror movies. There are many layers to it. First of all, I love watching horror movies because I get to test the boundary of fear. Fear tells us, “Don’t go there.” I like to stretch my level of tolerance by exposing myself to that experience. I know many drug addicts who are driven by a desire to go beyond healthy boundaries into what they know is dangerous territory. It is a common human motivation to test boundaries, whether they are good or bad. For me, watching a scary movie is a safe way to test boundaries within my psyche.
Secondly, I find horror movies very entertaining. I define “being entertained” as having a wide spectrum of emotions invoked in me by something that is made up. Just like being on a roller-coaster where we choose to be terrified, thrilled and in awe, I often select a horror movie if I were asked to pick a movie because I enjoy being terrified, thrilled and in awe. Entertainment is meant to stimulate us and make us feel alive, and feeling different kinds of emotions makes us feel alive.
Thirdly, I don’t really ‘get off’ on the blood and guts. I am, however, drawn in by the psychologically twisted elements in the movies, either personified in the characters in the story or that reflected the twistedness of the minds behind the creation of the story. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by what motivates people: what drives people to think of unimaginable things, to commit atrocities or destroy themselves.
In later years, I realised that my curiosity for such answers was a search for the elusive qualities in humanity that make people seek redemption, choose joy over pain, forgive the unforgiveable, sacrifice for the greater good, believe in themselves in the face of adversity. If I can get to the depth of where the movitation to mangle somebody lurks, then maybe there too I can find humanity’s motivation to forgive an abuser.
Dark and light are two sides of a coin. Where there is dark, there is light; where there is light, there is also dark. I spent some years trying to deny my dark side and believing that I must only be nice, angelic, selfless and radiate love all the time. Little did I know, I was actually creating an unbalance in me. By denying a whole side of me, I was rejecting myself. It was hard work, and no matter how hard I tried to be “a nice person” I always ended up feeling false. It had to feel false, because I was over-compensating for something I was denying in me. My dark side, meanwhile, was struggling to get out and the more I denied it the more it wanted to be honoured.
I remember the relief and freedom I felt when I finally accepted the darker aspects of my psyche. I felt more authentic, and my psyche more balanced as a whole. Accepting myself for who I am, no matter what my mind may judge it to be, is a lesson I am still learning. Every time I reach a new level of self-acceptance, it releases more energy back to me, and I celebrate the bliss of coming home to me.
One of the things that have allowed me to embrace my darker aspects was having the understanding that I too am capable of committing the worst crimes. At first, I thought that I could never, ever do what a sadistic murderer or a pedophile does. But when I really asked myself, I realised that yes, I can imagine myself being in a state where I could commit those crimes.
The potential to commit any act exists within us; where we stand in our moral compass is determined by how far we go in crossing the line that defines behaviours of low morality. So, having a bad thought about someone isn’t the same as actually doing something bad to that person. By correcting your course before the idea is actualised, you preserve your morality. But that potential for us to actualise the idea exists in you and me. The choices we make in any situation is governed by our moral boundaries as well as the boundaries of the environment. For instance, it’s a well-known fact that many men who come to Thailand would choose to cross their sexual boundaries of discernment, fidelity and orientation. In other words, they do things they would not do in their own countries, such as sleeping with prostitutes or transvestites. But the potential to do these things must exist in them long before they came to Thailand.
When I owned the darker aspects in me, I felt instantly enlightened. There was no horror in me anymore when I stopped denying the horror-filled world of my psyche. Contrary to what a lot of people fear – i.e. by acknowledging that somewhere inside them there is a part that is capable of committing atrocities, they would be likely to act out those capabilities – accepting it all as parts of our complete make-up will make us balanced and wholesome people.
I’ve seen the look of shock and horror in some people whenever it’s even suggested that they explore discussing the dark and macabre. These are the same people who screw up their faces and ask, “Why would you watch something like that?” as if they are saying, “What kind of a person are you?” But what they are essentially saying is, “What kind of a person do you think I am?” Judging another is a sure sign of rejecting the same thing in yourself – it helps take the sting out of acknowledging that you are not accepting yourself fully. When you find yourself vehemently protesting someone’s actions, there is a gift in it for you that will allow you to see who you are in all your beauty and glory. It’s like raising yourself to a higher perspective, step by step, seeing more and more of the proverbial forest that paints your true beauty.
Being twisted takes me to deep corners of my mind. I am more creative because of my twistedness. My ‘exposure training’ in horror movies and sick jokes has yielded an incredible flexibility of thought and imagination, and it helps me to become a more compassionate person, as strange as it may sound. I don’t flaunt being twisted, friends who know me long enough will find out sooner or later – delighted or horrified – depending on their own level of self-acceptance.
A few days after that group, one of the clients came up to me and showed me a book she’d been reading, Hardcore Zen by Brad Warner. She said that literally right after our group she read the chapter called ‘The World of Demons’ which says exactly what I was describing about twistedness. Here’s some of Warner’s writing:
“Every one of us is Charles Manson, Saddam Hussein, and Adolf Hitler… You can only do good when you know what bad really is and where it comes from… Far from being the dangerous loosening of morals so many warn us about, this kind of thing is actually human society’s awakening to a new sense of real morality, a morality that is much more powerful than any which could be maintained through the fear of a God whose existence most of us question.
The biggest, ugliest, most damaging lie that religions spread is that truly moral people never have immoral thoughts. What a dangerous, damaging load of crap. It’s not that a “good person” has only moral thoughts. It’s that they act only upon the moral thoughts and not the immoral ones… People who pretend they have no impure thoughts are seeking to get fat on the guilt of others.
All of us have nasty antisocial tendencies. Every last one of us. It ain’t just the Nazis, al-Qaeda, and the people on the registry of sex offenders – or whatever enemy-of-the-week the media is pushing. All those evil-doers are you. And me too. They’re every single human being in the world without exception. Maybe you don’t have whatever specific urges the media is telling you are the very worst (you tell yourself you don’t, anyway), but you have others and they’re just as nasty and disgusting. Every human being does. That’s part of the nature of being human.
Recognising your suppressed desires certainly does not mean you have to act on them. But you have to know that they’re there. Pretending only abnormal people have certain desires is extremely unhealthy and extremely dangerous.”