“Did you have an imaginary friend when you were a child? Mine’s still around. He hasn’t aged. He’s still hyper-critical of everything I do … still controlling and dismissive and with the same self-righteous, overbearing attitude. His voice is in my head at all times, scolding my every error, ungracious and belittling about any minor success I may have …” (Charles Saatchi, Evening Standard, 2.4.12)
Does this sound familiar? Saatchi was writing a satirical article about psychiatry in which he was enjoying pulling the wool over a psychiatrist’s eyes with made up stories about his psychological health. But this little paragraph sounded uncomfortably familiar to me. It may have been a joke to Saatchi, but this sounds to me very much like Gremlin Number One, who is a frequent visitor in my mind.
For those unfamiliar with the word ‘Gremlin’ being used in this context, I am taking it to refer to a voice inside my head which is unhelpful in a number of rather clever ways. This ‘presence’ takes a number of different forms, depending on how I’m feeling or what I’m doing or what it particularly wants to sabotage. Gremlin Number One is the critical voice in my head which tells me that I’m not smart enough or thin enough, that I’m not pretty and I’m not well dressed enough etc. The voice that saps my confidence about my abilities and that leaves me just wanting to dive back under the duvet with a large box of chocolates and never emerge again. It’s the voice that somehow doesn’t rouse my defiant self – over the years I have found it hard to tell Gremlin Number One to get stuffed because at some deep level I believe it is right.
I suspect that Gremlin Number One has been around in my head for a very long time too – we have pretty much grown-up together and the criticisms it throws at me are very cleverly attuned to my own insecurities. It is very good at spotting my latest worries and playing on them to destroy any fragile confidence that I’ve built up during my work with Beyond Chocolate. Beyond Chocolate has helped me enormously and Gremlin Number One is now an identified presence in my head, somehow separate to me instead of part of my very being. I can now ‘hear’ Gremlin Number One when it starts up with the ‘you’re not thin enough’ refrain and Beyond Chocolate has taught me strategies to cope with this nasty, slimy, confidence sapping voice.
My preferred strategy is a shrug and a, ‘So?’ or ‘And?’ To dismiss this Gremlin, I simply refuse to care about what it is saying, I shrug off its insinuations and I don’t care what it thinks of me. Of course this takes practice and persistence and a genuine acceptance that this Gremlin isn’t helping any more. For, believe it or not, this Gremlin thinks it’s helping me. How it’s helping may not be immediately obvious, but given our lengthy history together, it’s helping me not to get too ‘bumptious’ … being bumptious and loud was one of the things the Gremlin and I learned quite early on weren’t acceptable. Being over-confident wasn’t acceptable, so the Gremlin has learned to spot those times when I might be ‘getting a bit too bouncy’, and warns me by crushing me as quickly as possible.
What Gremlin Number One hasn’t realised is that things have changed. I’m not a child any more and I don’t live in dread of adult disapproval of my behaviour. I don’t need to be warned when I get too bouncy any more because I can regulate that for myself (or just annoy everyone!). I have changed, but my Gremlin hasn’t – it’s still reacting in the same way it always has, only now I am aware of it, now I can choose not to believe it any more. Spotting its interjections quickly is the key to stopping this Gremlin and I can do that by being aware of what thoughts are going through my head – in other words, Tuning In to those thoughts. If I let them go on unexamined, the Gremlin can get quite a lot said before I notice it and dismiss it.