The Gremlin Within

The Voice of the Gremlin Within


The Gremlin is that voice that speaks to you in your head 24/7 offering lots of “helpful” feedback, like, “You suck. You’re fat.  That’s a bad idea. They hate your shoes. You have no talent. Everyone is staring at you because you’re weird. You will never be loved.”  Holy shit that sucker is mean! 

Anne Lamott calls the voice “Radio K-Fuck”.  Geneen Roth calls it the Voice. Freud called it the Superego. 


I like calling it the Gremlin because in my mind, the Gremlin is a wily shape-shifter who takes on the voice of whoever or whatever will most effectively bully you or shut you down in that moment.  You might be cleaning the kitchen and the Gremlin will take on the vocal rhythms of your mother who was difficult to please.  You can even “see” her in the corner of your mind and she’s, well, she’s “disappointed” in you.  If you are getting dressed to go somewhere new or unfamiliar, the Gremlin shape-shifts into any one of a thousand voices of the culture or your past.  It becomes a “mean girl” or TMZ or Kim Kardashian and tells you you must be kidding yourself and that the only thing to do is to just stay home and hide in shame.  The versatility of the Gremlin is truly impressive.  After it has managed to keep you home it will pipe up with, “I can’t believe you didn’t go to that event. God, what a loser.  It’s like you don’t care about yourself and that’s just sad.”  The Gremlin gets you coming and going.  That’s its superpower. 


One feature of the Gremlin is that it will always tell you that it’s doing this for your own good.  “Who else will tell you the truth?, the Gremlin croons in your ear.  “I’m the one who’s looking out for you. I’m just trying to keep you from embarrassing yourself.” It’s all in a day’s work.  The Gremlin loves their job.  And they’re good at it.  As long as you are stuck unable to leave the house or set a boundary with someone at work or work on anything creative, or even (God Forbid!) take some much needed time for rest and fun, the Gremlin is happy. 


So living out loud, being creative, trying new things is downright dangerous in a world where that kind of hostility is literally living inside you.  It can seem like the safe thing to do is to lay low until you come up with a good enough plan or idea.  The delusion of the Gremlin is that we will someday be able to please or appease it.  Guess what?  That day will never come.  The Gremlin is like a ghost in the machine left over from millennia of human development.  Its job is to “keep us safe.”  Unfortunately it’s the wrong kind of safe.  It’s the safe that tells you to never leave the cave because there MIGHT be a saber tooth tiger out there.  Or it tells you to fit in with the tribe so you are not ostracized and left to die.  By the way, I think the modern version of those fears is “Don’t express your truth” for fear of the online troll.


 But there is good news.  The Gremlin can be quieted.  With mindfulness, awareness and action, it can become the “crazy granny” in the attic who you don’t pay much mind to because she’s nattering on about the Civil War.  And that’s preferable to the Gremlin being your “drill sergeant.”


Ways To Quiet the Gremlin

First become aware, perhaps even write down, the things the Gremlin says to you.  Start to become aware of the different voices that it uses to berate and belittle and frighten you.   Notice if the voice gets louder and more threatening when you are contemplating some new project that will require you to move outside your comfort zone even in the slightest.  This project can be as simple as trying on a new style of pants or attempting to date or taking on more creative responsibility in an existing job.  Remember the Gremlin is here to root out and fight against all change.  The Gremlin will tell you that unless you are ready for Insta-Fame, unless your play is ready for Broadway, unless your idea is going to get you featured on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, then you need to sit back down and shut up.  The Gremlin will tell you that it’s all or nothing.  And that’s a lie.  The Gremlin lies. 


Next try taking some small actions in spite of what the Gremlin tells you will be the certain result.  Start small.  Wear the earrings anyway.  See what happens.  Notice it and move on.  Raise your hand and share your thoughts at the meeting anyway.  See what happens.  Ask for what you want or need from your sweetheart anyway.  See what happens. 


Meditation is a great way to quiet the Gremlin.  Meditation helps you separate from the thoughts in your head.  Helping you to realize that your thoughts are just thoughts.  They are not “TRUTH”.  And you can choose to believe a different thought.


Working with the voice of the Gremlin to quiet it and live out loud is a life-long practice.  We all have that voice, even really famous successful people have that voice.  The key is to take back the decisions of your life from the voice.  The Gremlin voice is a crappy navigator.  It just drives in circles and won’t stop to ask for directions. 



Angela Albert