How we create our own villains and struggles

Somebody asked me a fantastic question recently “Does our mind creates its own villains to defeat?” The answer is a fat ‘Yes’ – and is at the root of too many ‘challenges’ we face.

The interesting thing is the ‘villain’ might be super complicated, too big, too hard to defeat – but the ‘villain creation’ process is super simple. Especially once the underlying motivations are understood.

Here are the process steps:

Step 1: Creating meaning

We experience many feelings/sensations in life. We attach different meanings and labels to them. Which have nothing to do with the feeling itself. 

For example, you are just about to get on a big stage to give a speech. You experience a racing pulse, rapid heart beat, slight sweating. You label it ‘Stage fear’. Or ‘fear’, ‘nervousness’. 

You are just about to get on to a roller coaster. You have been looking forward to this. You experience a racing pulse, rapid heart beat, slight sweating. You label it ‘Thrill’. Or ‘excitement’, ‘adrenaline rush’.

The feelings are same. Completely neutral. But what you experience is the meaning. A meaning that you completely made up. But you don’t realize the difference.

Step 2: Creating dissonance

As you can see, we welcome some experiences but resist the other – based on the meaning we ourselves attached to them. “Feeling nervous is bad” –> “I am bad”. But I want to be ‘good’. Rather, the mind wants to maintain the image of ‘I’ being ‘good’. But you are bound to feel something in life that you label bad. Which makes you bad.

“I feel nervous to speak on stage. Why am I this way?” You don’t like this feeling. You want to get rid of it. But it’s a feeling in your body. How can you get rid of it?

Step 3: Disowning

You cannot get rid of the actual bodily feeling. But you can create a meaning that says the feeling is not your fault. 

“I feel nervous to speak on stage. Why am I this way?”. Well, because “My parents never encouraged me to speak up. I was always scolded. Never allowed to express my opinion”. Or “Our education system is so bad. Does not teach kids to express their opinions. Just rote learning!” 

This meaning allows you to ‘cope’ with the uncomfortable feeling(that you labelled uncomfortable in the first place!) “Yes, I am suffering. But unless the education system changes, what can one do? It is the system’s fault” 

The ‘system’ becomes the villain. 

As you can see, this is the starting point for all irresponsibility.

The villains vary – but the mechanism is the same. I experience frustration, pain, irritation, hate. You also experience the same. All humans experience them.

My villain are the “Muslims”..or “Republicans”…or “Extremist Hindus”…Your might be “Feminazis” or “Irrational idiots” or “crony capitalism” or “government” or “pseudo medicine” or “pseudo seculars”…. “Indian culture”, “Proliferation of Western culture” , “Typical Indian parents”, “patriarchy”.

Correspondingly, the opposites and saviors are born “Modi”, or “Trump” or “Intellectuals” or “Activists/protestors”, “rebels” or some political party or some ideology.

We identify with them. Whoever they make their villains become our enemies too. Their justifications and narratives becomes our justifications and narratives.

If not for the villains, we would be left holding the painful experience in our hands. Not knowing what to do.

More the pain, bigger the villain needs to be. Less responsibility we have to take. Bigger the villain, more is the pain experienced.

Again, note that the truth of the narrative does not really matter, how bad the villain actually is does not matter – as long as it can help us disown the uncomfortable experience.

I am OK to suffer as long I can prove it is somebody else’s fault

Once the villain is created, the struggle to defeat him is also born. All people on my side become the good guys, others become the bad guys. “Us Vs them” happens.

Again note that surprisingly, the outcome of the struggle does not matter! What matters is the story that ‘We are someone who are fighting against the bad guys…hence we are the good guys

The suffering remains, compounds – but is justified. Instead of an ‘self inflicted suffering’ it becomes a ‘righteous struggle’.

Making up villains allows us to make peace with suffering. Even if the suffering is amplified a million times.

Because we would rather be right than happy.


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