Facing Your Gremlins

Gremlins—we all have them--those quirky changelings inside our heads that call us nasty names, predict dire consequences of our choices, and stop us dead in our tracks while we worry about whether we are too fat, too thin, too old, too young, or too casually dressed for the challenge ahead.

Gremlins are adept at wielding the weapons of fear and shame. They are ventriloquists and shape-shifters, sometimes speaking in the voice of a parent or a teacher, sometimes not speaking at all, but simply showing us scary images of what might be, or of what might have been. Gremlins whisper our deepest fears back to us, reflect our shame and our weakness, threaten us with failure and exposure.

Gremlins never go away. They are gifted to us as children, grow up with us, change with us, age with us, die with us. But it’s up to us if they come along as friends, or stalk us from the shadows. They are inseparable, essential, even vital parts of us—but we have to let them out of the closet if we ever want them to play nice.

Recognize Your Gremlin

It’s easy to recognize your gremlin sometimes. When you hear that inner voice that says, “Don’t speak up; you’ll sound stupid,” it’s pretty obviously your gremlin. It’s been called “negative self-talk” and “the inner critic.”  Easy to identify that one. Other times, the gremlin is hard to hear. You feel uncomfortable, blocked, unable to move forward, to take a risk, to try something new. Or you feel driven to do something you know is bad for you--dangerous, unhealthy, or destructive. And you can’t stop. That’s not your gremlin talking to you; that’s your gremlin driving your inner vehicle.

We all have an inner vehicle. What’s yours? Mine’s a 1950’s Ford truck—it’s red. You can tell my gremlin never got me into much serious trouble; how do you get into trouble in a 50’s pickup? But if your inner vehicle is a Corvette, or a motorcycle, or maybe a Mercedes SLK, your gremlin behind the wheel can do some serious damage. Maybe it already has.

Befriend Your Gremlin

Like anybody who’s spent their whole life in a closet, gremlins get really lonely and sad. Your gremlin really just wants your attention. It wants your love and acceptance. Your gremlin is the still, small voice of your childhood self. It’s the place where all your hurts and humiliations and embarrassing moments went to live. Your gremlin took in all the bad things people said about you, all the insults, the putdowns, the scoldings and punishments—your little gremlin bears the scars and the sores life inflicted on you. Your gremlin shouldered all this so that you could survive. But it can’t carry it in silence, so it whispers to you, and shakes the door of the closet, and sneaks out to drive your car once in a while.

Eventually, you have to call your little gremlin to your lap. You have to receive that tiny, powerful, impish creature with compassion, listen to the stories it has to tell of who you were and what you did and why you did it. You have to give it gratitude for carrying your pain for you, and you have to make a deal with it that you’ll allow it to see light and breathe the open air. “No more closet for you, little gremlin, no more lying and shaming you, no more denying your existence. You’re part of me; I love you.

The Exercise

Calling your gremlin home and welcoming it is a powerful exercise in self-acceptance and a necessary step on the path to authenticity.  It’s not easily done, but it’s worth every minute of the work. Start today. Journal about your gremlin. Learn to recognize its voice.  Draw a portrait of it, give it a name. Write down the things you’d like to tell your gremlin, the pain it carries, your gratitude for that carrying.  Imagine yourself holding it gently, stroking its head, comforting it as it sobs away its sorrows against your chest. Tell your gremlin you love it. Tell it over and over. Do this, and gradually the whispering will stop, and a conversation will start. Fear will fade. Your gremlin will hand back your pain and your scars, and you’ll take them, because they bring with them compassion, empathy, and hope.  New adventures will arise, and you and your healed gremlin will go forward together into the rest of your life --best friends, strong and authentic parts of a new, transformed you.