What are gremlins?
We all have at least one gremlin that overstays its welcome in the hotel we call a ‘brain’. It checked in many moons ago when it started off as a small gremlin and its host brain was much smaller. It discovered that it was in fact welcomed and it ended up staying much longer than anticipated because it was watered and fed negative thoughts pretty much every day and it grew and grew and grew till it reached its full demonic size. Not only that, but it invited in other gremlins to join in!
Gremlins are those nasty-looking little devilish monsters – those voices in our heads that remind us that we’re not good enough, tell us we’re frauds, advise us to stay stuck and not grow and basically seem to sabotage any attempt we might make to move forwards in our lives.
The question remains – why on earth would we ever entertain the idea of hosting such a thing? Who wants to host a gremlin?! It all starts in childhood when we believe the messages we’re told by our significant others. And unfortunately not all messages we were given by our caregivers were true, fair or kind. Those messages determined our sense of who we were to become, so important were they to our development. Those messages formed our ‘conditioned’ selves; in other words, we acted according to how others told us we should be so that we would fit in. Enter the gremlin. Gremlins represent all of those introjected messages that we ended up believing about ourselves. The gremlin can be relied upon to remind us of our inadequacies which were formed a long time ago and which reside in the deep recesses of our unconscious.
So how can we deal with these negative voices?
Step 1: Thank the gremlins
Gremlins believe it or not, ultimately have our best interests at heart. ‘But that’s crazy!’ I hear you say. I know! The human system is always trying to protect itself and safety is paramount. Every time its hosts entertains the idea of trying to come out of its comfort zone in some way, the gremlin pops up from behind the hotel Reception desk to remind you that your new positive thought isn’t welcome here. Basically, take your positive thoughts, shove them back into your suitcase and leave. The Receptionist tells the ‘rational’ part of your brain that to change is way too risky and dangerous, therefore ‘irrational’. This creates tension between the two parts and its host is left confused and anxious at the prospect of change. The authentic self which is designed to self-actualise is once more sabotaged as the self-concept (who we like to think we are) feels threatened.
Step 2: Listen to your gremlins
There comes a point when you need to have a conscious conversation with your gremlins. You’ve reached a point in your life where the gremlin no longer serves you. Your authentic part is crying out for a more fulfilled life experience but it believes whatever it’s told. A good starting point here is to take some time to actually hear what your negative voices are saying to you. Find out what it is that you’re telling yourself and ask ‘why are you telling me this?’ Then see what comes back to you. The response might be something like, ‘well, you ARE too lazy to do that type of work so you might as well not bother going for that job/promotion..’ You might then say, ‘what makes you think I’m lazy’ – wait for a response, then, ‘thank you, they’re all legitimate reasons but I think I’d like to try something new, I feel ready. Than do step 1 – thank the gremlin and tell it you no longer need it to protect you in this way anymore.
Step 3: Write those pesky messages down and challenge them.
Now you know what the messages are specifically, you can write them down. One technique is to write these down in a list. Then write down the opposite of each statement – EVEN IF YOU DON’T YET BELIEVE IT! This new message can turn into an Affirmation which if repeated long enough, will begin to feel more familiar to your brain and will increase the likelihood of you eventually believing it. On its own, it won’t be enough, but such an exercise can go hand in hand with other types of inner work. For example, if you’ve written, ‘I’m lazy, I never get anything done’, then the opposite statement might read something like, ‘I’m not lazy, I get things done’. A more positive Affirmation you could then practice, could be something like, ‘I do what is necessary to be done; I do the best I can’.
You can also challenge your thinking by looking at your list of negative statements and asking, as Byron Katy in ‘The Work’ advises: ‘Is this true?’, then, ‘Is this REALLY true?’ and question each statement you’ve written. As in CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), look for the evidence for each statement and take a long honest look at why and how you have developed these ‘distorted’ thinking patterns.
Remember, repeating more positive statements is key if you want to keep the gremlin’s voice at bay.
Step 4: Mindfulness to help with negative thinking.
Adopt a Mindfulness approach. One way of developing some control over your thought patterns is to get into a state of deep relaxation either through meditating or guided visualisation (there are plenty of these on Youtube). Once you’ve begun to relax, notice any thoughts that come your way and acknowledge they’re there with no judgment. Then imagine them just drifting by; you could put them into a bubble and watch them float off or perhaps place the thought/s into an object and place it into a stream or river and watch the object float away. There is no right or wrong – you are in charge.
Then keep focusing on the NOW. Focusing on your breath is a great way of bringing you back into the present moment and reconnecting yourself in a way that gives your brain and body a break from anxiety and negative thinking.
Step 5: Externalise the gremlin – sculpture or draw
If you can represent the gremlin either through a sculpture using Playdoh or Plastercine, or drawing/painting it, then this will help you to have a sense of control over these negative messages. The bonus will be that your creation may well look comical too. You may then decide to screw up your piece of paper and throw it away, or even burn it. You might want to stamp on your gremlin sculpture or to use it as a way of helping you to visualise that part of yourself which you wish to understand more or lessen in some way.
Step 6: Write to your gremlin
As well as having spoken to your gremlin, it’s also useful to put your thoughts into writing as this will help solidify and give credence to your emerging positive thoughts. Speak to it from the heart and see what comes up – you may surprise yourself. Then write to yourself from the gremlin’s perspective. This is a great way of exploring yourself at a deeper level. Write down any thoughts or feelings that come up for you in response and use the exercise as another way of you honouring yourself enough to want to make positive changes to your life. Gremlins don’t tend to thrive in healthier environments so the more inner work you do, and the more you get to know yourself, the less of a hold they will have on you.
Step 7: Know that the gremlin is only a messenger of a belief that isn’t the truth.
Commit to changing your belief and be patient – this takes time.
We have a tendency to believe negative messages about ourselves much more easily than any positive messages that come our way. We find it easier to praise others, and to offer empathy and yet can find it very difficult, at times, excruciating, to offer these to ourselves. This is the stronghold that our childhoods have on us way into adulthood.
It takes courage and commitment to do the work that will help us to move forward in our lives.
Like the Hotel California, we are all ‘prisoners of our own device’ – until we choose to set ourselves free.
I look forward to connecting with you!
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