Whampus was a name that came to me in an instant as I was reading The Artist’s Way at Work. The activity at hand was to notice the various voices originating in my grey matter, parse them out, and give them proper names.
Whampus was the biggest and baddest of my gremlin voices. He’s the one who tells me I’m not enough, that I’m a fraud and everyone is going to figure it out, that I might as well not even try.
Naming him and a handful of other problematic voices has been so helpful in giving me a little space from them that making that suggestion to others has become a habitual part of my life. Rarely do I work with a client, give a talk, or counsel a friend without making this very suggestion.
I say to them: That voice ain’t you, baby. It’s not logic, it’s not wisdom – it’s an animated collection of all of the naysayers you’ve interacted with over the years, all of the ways you’ve felt outside of the “norm,” all of the failures and disappointments and hurts you’ve experienced.
It’s fear under a magnifying glass.
I say: If your gremlin voice feared malaria and then saw a mosquito on the wall, it wouldn’t swat it with a rolled magazine – it would blast it with a cannon and take down the wall, too.
There – that last bit. That’s the bit that hit me last weekend after years of using that example. Maybe you’re already on it – maybe you already see what I was missing all this time.
Malaria is worth fearing.
Maybe not here in Southwest Virginia, but if I was in sub-Saharan Africa, then I would be a fool to ignore Whampus’s fear. No need to hike the rainforest hauling pirate battle gear, though. Instead, I can pull the message from behind the magnifying glass, sift through the hype, and find the kernel of useful information. I can wear bug spray and use a mosquito net.
I can use his warnings that I’m a fraud to double-check that I’m being as authentic and straight-up as I can be. I can use his junk about not being enough, that trying isn’t even worthwhile, to check my motivation and reconnect with that part of me that knows that he’s wrong, that I have a lot to give and that the effort is good for me and good for the people I have a chance to affect.
I saw Whampus once during a Focusing session (a partnered meditation technique that rocks my socks). Far from the fanged, club-carrying monster I expected, he looked like a nervous, shaggy, blue muppet. I knew in that moment that he wasn’t malicious; he was scared. For me. And that he believed that the way to protect me was to scare me, too. Maybe, he seemed to think, if he frightened me enough I would hide and, in that way, be protected from hurt and danger.
I had been reprimanding him when what he really needed was a hug.
To those of you who have heard me ramble on about gremlin voices, my apologies for having only a piece of the picture to share with you. I hope you’ll now join me in seeing their messages as a call for a little treasure hunt for the golden nuggets hidden in the rubbish, and in offering that part of ourselves some gentle compassion instead of berating.