The gremlins’ sneaky contribution to self-love

One of the analogies that I like to use when helping people work with their gremlin voices draws a line between those fearful inner voices (and gremlins are working from fear, albeit often expressing that fear in creative ways) and a little kid who has awakened in the middle of the night, terrified of a monster in her closet.

When I invite people to first identify their gremlins, I often ask them what they want to say to these internal voices. The vast majority of the time, people offer some version of, “Bugger right on off!” And I’m with them: For the first number of years after I named Whampus, my most common message to him was, “Dammit, Whampus – I don’t have time for you right now!”

But then I had a pretty amazing experience – one that included a partnered meditation technique called Focusing, a vision of the Hindenburg (oddly enough) and my first glimpse of Whampus – and I realized that while shooing him away was buying me much needed space to process and work and live, it was tantamount to chasing off a part of myself that needed a hug far more than a reprimand.

It’s just like that kiddo, awakened by her own fears, sure there’s a monster in the closet. She doesn’t need to be reminded of the late hour before being abruptly shooed back to bed. That would only compound her discomfort. A hug on the other hand, and a courageous adult checking in the closet to see what, if anything, is lurking in there – i.e., an adult bringing gentleness, curiosity, and presence – would ease that kid’s mind and get her back to sleep.

Notice, too, that in this analogy, we’re not reactively believing the kid that there’s a monster in the closet. We are believing her emotional reality – that she’s frightened and in need of nurturing. But we bring curiosity to her interpretation of the fear she’s experiencing. Maybe it was a garden variety bad dream that led her little heart to race; maybe it was a bullying classmate in school the day before who led to that bad dream. We won’t know until we peek in the closet.

And we won’t peek in the closet if we don’t bring our curiosity.

And we won’t bring our curiosity if we default to banishment rather than compassion.

And that compassion is what allows us to step away from reactivity and into curiosity.

And when we point that virtuous cycle toward ourselves and the fearful, critical voices of the gremlins, we’re tiptoeing our way right into broader self-acceptance and deeper self-love. It’s the best kind of sneaky I can imagine.

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