This story of good and evil always fascinated me since I was a child. As humans, it is mind-blowing how we can be capable of both the best and the worst. How there are hidden demons within us that come out uninvited when we least expect them.
In 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the now classic novel “The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. In the novel, Dr Henry Jekyll, a 50-year old London physician of good stature is often struggling with evil urges. To protect himself, he creates a potion that suppresses his demons that do not fit with a man of his stature.
However, when he takes the potion he transforms into Mr. Hyde, an evil and violent man without compassion, essentially becoming Dr Jekyll’s evil alter ego. Instead of hiding his demons, he ends up letting them out in the open. Eventually, Mr Hyde becomes so overpowering that even without the potion, Dr Jekyll turns into Hyde. In the end Dr Jekyll is completely consumed by Mr Hyde, and permanently transforms into an ugly monster.
When our Hidden Demons Take Over
When I read this novel, I was a teenager. Many years later I came to realise that there was something fundamentally true within this story.
It was my first day on a new job and I was going around the office meeting new colleagues. Suddenly, someone who I’ve never met before comes to me and says “I find your name really hard to pronounce, can I call you Bill instead?”. Instantly, without really knowing why, I started feeling all kinds of negative emotions taking over my mind. Although I didn’t say anything at the time, inside me there was a volcanic eruption of emotions and thoughts.
I returned to my desk but I couldn’t let go. My mind was flooded with thoughts. I felt insulted, disrespected, even confused. My negative feelings were overwhelming, even days after this event. I ended up constructing a really bad image of this person and I would look for all the cues to confirm my bias. It was as if a hidden demon inside me has come to the surface.
It took a lot of time for me to realise and accept that he was a good person, who happened to say the wrong thing at the wrong moment.
Unfortunately, most of us have some similar story to tell.
The Enemy Within
The truth is that people can say hurtful things, whether there is an intention or not. But it is up to us to define how we react to it. Quite often, people that upset us are totally unaware of the influence they have on us.
Someone tells us the wrong thing and instantly an explosion of frustration is triggered within our minds. Like a chain reaction that cannot stop once it starts. But this should’t be an excuse to turn into evil Mr. Hyde.
When emotions take over, we tend to make snap judgments and get angry with people we know very little about. There is a limit to our perceptions.
One reason that this happens is because we all have deeply held values and beliefs that have been shaped throughout our childhoods. As such, we feel threatened from others who have very different values from us. Another reason is that we may have hidden traumas we haven’t dealt with, that others trigger on us. Alternatively, it might be that we are the ones triggering this in others, and bringing out Mr. Hyde in them.
Facing Our Demons
It is easy for our minds to find external enemies to fight but many times the enemy is within. When we see our demons making their appearance, it is time to dig deeper, and discover what is really feeding them. Like the potion in Dr Jekyll’s case.
Although they influence us, our demons are not who we are, and we should not let them become us. Instead of trying to hide them, we should become more conscious of their presence and accept them.
Perhaps our demons are just a reminder of those unfinished issues we have inside. But they are also an opportunity for us to develop emotionally, and grow.
As my grandpa, many years ago, told me, the key to happiness is to not let people upset you. I think I now understand what he meant.