We only come out at night We only come out at night The days are much too bright We only come out at night...
And once again You'll pretend to know me well My friends
And once again I'll pretend to know the way Through the empty space Through the secret places of the heart
We only come out at night...
I walk alone I walk alone to find the way home I'm on my own I'm on my own to see the ways
That I can't help the days
You will make it home okay I know you can And you can
We only come out at night...
And once again now You'll pretend to know that That there's an end That there's an end to this begin
It will help you sleep at night It will make it seem that right is always right Alright?
We only come out at night... - Smashing Pumpkins
The 1984 movie Gremlins brought the word "gremlin" to the urban dictionary, used to “represent things that are invisible, cause trouble, bring difficulties and can multiply easily.” Another way to think about this concept is the old angel and devil sitting on your shoulder. In this case, we're just talking about that pesky lil devil, the alter ego that keeps us stuck.
We can extrapolate this concept to create cognitive distance when we are upset with someone. "I don't like my husband" becomes, "When my husband is low on sleep and moody, I don't like being around him" and finally, "When Hank has taken over, I need space from Hank."
I gave you an alternative example of "Hank" representing the aspects of early high maintenance parenting. "I'm not a good mother", turns into "I hate the baby stage", turns into, "I love my precious baby, and I don't love the role/responsibility that this messy, screaming, demanding, non-napping, confusing, helpless human asks of me."
Let's go back to recognizing our own.... The gremlins or (alter egos/inner voices/negative self-talk/ "Hank") I talked about in session are the beliefs, the ‘shoulds’ , the past and the limitations that live inside us that fuel a distorted narrative about our present lives and relationships. These alter egos feed on fear, and as Brené Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection “get lots of mileage out of ‘supposed to’ – the battle cry of fitting in, perfectionism, people-pleasing, and proving ourselves”. The trouble with "Hank" is, even if you know they exist (and may have friends), it’s not easy to pin down their attributes. Before you can challenge them you have to know who they are and what they are saying. Taking inspiration from The Gifts of Imperfection, take out a sheet of paper and a pencil. Ask yourself, "What makes you afraid?" Spend a few uncensored minutes answering this question. Write whatever comes to mind. "Hank" will try and make you censor your answers, so you don’t get to the real heart of the matter. Here is an example...
Not amounting to my potential.
Not being successful in my marriage.
Always having to do jobs I hate.
Always having to "do everything" around the house, with the kids, etc.
Not feeling free, fulfilled, connected, confident.
Step two, what is "Hank" saying? After identifying the fears that give your gremlin(s) power, it’s time to listen to what they’re saying to you. Write this down. Back to our example.
“I won’t make money from what I want to do, and don’t know what I’m doing. “It’s not real work.” “People are never going to notice what I’m really capable of."
"I’m never going to be able to fulfill my destiny.” “I’m never going to feel like I’m really living the life I want.” "I won’t find a way to help people in the way I know I can."
"I will never get a break." "I will never be supported to do what I want to do with my life." "I will never figure it out." "My partner will never really know me." "I missed my chance at the life I deserved."
Writing stuff down is really powerful and cathartic. As Brené Brown says: “It gives us the opportunity to say, ‘I get it. I see that I’m afraid of this, but I’m going to do it anyway’”. The next step is to draw and name your gremlin, if you choose. This can get creative. And it can be contagious. Your kid, your spouse, your friends can all get in on the action identifying their own gremlins. In therapy, we use psychological methods of unpacking where our gremlins were birthed and what makes them grow. As we get clarity, we develop and practice skills to get curious, to accept all kinds of thoughts and feelings, and overcome them by living in accordance with what is most important to us- or values. We learn to identify when the gremlins are trying to be in control, and how to get them to let go of the wheel. Finally, we can get real about how our Hanks and the Hanks of others interact and cause chaos in our relationships. Book recommendation, "Taming your Gremlin".