Part of the mental baggage I carry from a childhood of disfigurement is a need for affirmation. It’s the consequence of an early life in which I felt acutely deprived respect or consideration. I always wanted to be social, but was ridiculed because I was an easy target. I was always a romantic, falling in love with whatever girl seemed bright and pure, and I was always rejected soundly and sometimes cruelly.

I conquered those mountains in time, but that child is still in my head.

My “terrible secret” is that I do crave encouragement. That I want an audience not only because I want to help and inspire as many people as I can, but also because it scratches my secret itch for “affirmation porn.”

I consider it a flaw: it’s emotional baggage that has the potential for negative consequences. I believe that each of our ideal selves should be self determined and assured to their core about their value and direction in life. In many ways I live up to that ideal, but still, in the back of my fragile mind, there is a child who is absolutely desperate for approval and respect.

I’ve never met any person, including those confident pillars, who is free from a secret demon or two of their own.

Harnessing your Demon for Good

In facing that child of mine, looking him in the disfigured, desperate eyes, I see a broken purpose who can serve a higher good.

It’s a dangerous push toward mediocrity to live my life in service to the whims of an audience, real or imagined. I know this. However, I choose to embrace this weakness that I haven’t shaken out with the rest of the cobwebs. I embrace it because it drives me to work harder and achieve more in areas that the solid, confident, compassionate part of me also wants for the right reasons.

Instead of creating dirty pain surrounding my inability to shake this demon child, I will move forward and embrace him. I will embrace his weakness and transmute it into strength. Engineers repurposed jet engines from military killing machines to humanitarian transports. Physicists repurposed the most terrible weapon in history to create clean energy. I can repurpose the voice in my head that says I’m not good enough in myself by using it as motivation to become better for the people I serve.

You feel addicted, unattractive, unloved, unwanted, unskilled. You feel like a failure, or if not, then a fraud. These are our terrible secrets, and I’ve seen it over and over again: these are everyone’s “terrible secrets.” We all share them, and if we had the courage to share them openly, we’d realize that we’re all in the same situation together.

How to Harness your Flaws

Acknowledge

The first, most important, and most difficult part of repurposing your demon is to simply acknowledge that it exists without judging yourself for it.

You only judge yourself for it because you think everyone else has it together. You only think everyone else has it together because they don’t share their demon child openly, just like you don’t. There’s nothing to beat yourself up about, we’re all in the same position. I crave attention and respect because I felt like I didn’t get enough during a critical developmental stage of my childhood. No one cares if that’s true or if I said it or I hid it. It’s not really a big deal, there’s no sense in hiding it.

On the contrary, the sense is in acknowledging it. By acknowledging it you allow your brain to move to the next step of harnessing it, which is to identify your demon’s motivation.

Identify the Motivation

Whatever your demon is, it can influence your behavior by giving you strange and unhealthy motivations. You might be driven to seek attention or sympathy at all costs. You might be driven to traditional success by a phantom father figure. In my case, I am driven to seek recognition. You could get attention by creating drama and pain in your life, you could drive yourself to the upper echelons of an empty career and sorosis of the liver by feeling the disapproving stare of your father on the back of your head. I could lash out or create bombastic personas to build a reputation—any reputation at all would do for my demon.

If you have a negative behavior, that’s an expression of some underlying motivation that drives you. If you can identify that core motivation, then you can move on to the next step, choosing a new behavior to satiate the motivation.

Choose a New Behavior

You’re a conscious person who wants to reach goals and have experiences that are based on your real principles. They are those goals chosen by the ideal version of yourself.

So your aim then is to choose a new behavior that simultaneously:

  • serves the authentic goal you’ve created and
  • satisfies the demon.

If you can find a behavior that does that, then you’ve repurposed your demon into an angel. You’ve harnessed your flaw for your own benefit. You’ve taken a negative and poorly grounded impulse and put it to work for you. I want to change the world by uplifting people, and my need for recognition has been repurposed to drive that higher good.

I’ve laid myself bare for the world more than once on this blog, and this essay is no exception. What would make me really happy is to see people taking that first step to benefiting from their flaw, by acknowledging it. Please, post a comment in reply, and share your deep shame that you think everyone will judge you for just like you judge yourself for it.

Be prepared to bathe in the support and love that follows.