We all have a gremlin. It’s that voice that tells us things that don’t help us. The voice that has us feeling scared or self conscious or silly.
Whenever we least need it, it pops up and starts yabbering.
Let me tell you about mine. As you know, I am a musician in my spare time. The singing psychotherapist, if you like.
So I’m on stage singing. Things seem to be going okay.
Then the gremlin shows up.
Gremlin: Hey Al.
Me: Er, yeah?
Gremlin: See all those people out there in the audience?
Me: Yeah. What about them?
Gremlin: They think you’re an idiot.
Me: They do??
Gremlin: Oh yeah! They think you’re rubbish. They can’t wait for you to finish and get off stage.
Me: Really? But they’ve been clapping after every song.
Gremlin: Meh. Politeness.
Now I’m a nervous wreck. All I see is a crowd of faces longing for me to leave.
The gremlin isn’t much fun.
Gremlins try to persuade us to believe and do all kinds of stuff.
Yet they only have power if we decide to be persuaded.
Gremlins are just story tellers. Nothing more.
Of course, we are humans so stories have power. To say they are “just” storytellers minimises their influence.
People do all sorts of things for stories.
I gave someone some paper the other day and they gave me a meal with pudding!
All because we both believed in the story of money.
Without the story, that bank note was just a piece of paper like any other. With the story, I got fed.
Even so, as persuasive as stories can be, a story is all that a gremlin has in its armoury.
It’s like a fly in a china shop. It can’t do any damage on its own. If the fly wants to destroy a china shop, it needs to annoy a bull so that the bull does it.
Likewise, if a gremlin wants to do any damage, its only method is to tell you a story and hope you believe it. Or suggest you do something and hope that you will.
If you do, you’ll respond to it and then it’s bye bye china shop.
But if you don’t, then the gremlin is powerless. The more we choose not to believe them, the less power the gremlin gets.
If we get to know the gremlin, we can find its favourite stories and counter them. After a while, it’s like spotting propaganda from your least favourite politician.
Even better, we can cultivate a counter-gremlin as an ally.
If the gremlin is telling you a story that screws you up, what’s the opposite story?
That’s the joy of stories. There’s loads of them. You can choose whichever you want.
A counter-gremlin to tell that alternative story is a big help.
Before a show I chat with my counter-gremlin to tell me the helpful stories. The audience are going to love me, and they’re going to love my performance.
When the gremlin appears mid show to derail me, I go straight to my counter-gremlin. “They’re loving this. They think you’re doing great.”
Obviously, I don’t know for sure what the audience are thinking. I’m not telepathic. Whatever I choose to believe will be a story too. But why choose a story that gets in my way?
Why go with the gremlin when I’ve cultivated an ally with an alternative, more helpful story?
During therapy, I often like to get to know the person’s gremlin. I like to investigate what this critter has to say.
I like to hear its propaganda. I like to hear what its plans are for your life, and whether you’re okay with that. Or whether you want something else.
If you had a counter gremlin that told you helpful stories, what would it be saying instead? If you could listen to stories that helped you to get what you want from life, what would those stories be?Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice