Updated: Jun 1
My first coach Kathy Paauw gave me a toy monster finger puppet - I learned to call it my gremlin, as described by Rick Carson in his classic book Taming Your Gremlin.
He says, “There is indeed a gremlin in your head and he’s out to make you miserable. Left to do his thing, he’ll zap your health, foul up your relationships, ruin your creativity, hamper your productivity, drive you into low-down funks and wind you up into fits of anxiety.”
Madwoman in the attic
I must admit that I was kind of a late bloomer on this one. I didn’t get it - I mean I got that my inner critic was mean and beat me up. I got that she had these crazy high standards and hundreds of rules about how to be, some that contradicted each other. Like when I was offered a chance to write a textbook chapter, she warned me not to - telling me that I was too stupid and could never get it done. And then when I was writing it, I had to do the most incredibly perfect job with it or my career would be over.
I guess I was so used to having her around that I just thought she was supposed to be there to whip me into shape when I might consider slacking, and to beat me up whenever I got 99% instead of 100%, so that I could try harder next time. Her messages were so similar to the ones I got growing up that I came to believe them: I was always “lesser than”, “not enough”.
In their book Burnout, the Nagoski sisters call her the madwoman in the attic: “A demon
that taunts us and tries to stop us from doing things we most want to do.”
My madwoman is called Milly. She still looks like a gremlin. She’s a mean old thing who is perpetually grumpy. Her main job is to constantly point out the gap between what I’m doing and what I should be doing, and to make me feel bad. Her super powers are shame and fear. She’s always saying things like, “You suck at that.” and ”You’re such a fail.” Things that I would never say to anyone I cared about, actually not even to a perfect stranger.
I’ve learned through coaching that I have superpowers too. Mine are love and compassion. I’ve learned that I’m better at accessing my superpowers when I think about my children and how I love them unconditionally.
When I think about how much I love them despite their flaws and imperfections, I see that I am capable of offering that love to myself too. That I can have compassion for my own flaws and that it’s okay to be proud of incremental progress. Because pride is the antidote of shame.
Momming your brain
It’s taken a long while, but my best aspirational mommy self has finally befriended Milly. She knows that Milly is often negative and sometimes downright mean, but she also appreciates that Milly is trying to keep me safe.
Milly doesn’t like being the hall monitor. She hates being hated, just as we all do. But she has to be the way she is, because that’s her job - her duty. She was lonely and miserable until she began to get some appreciation for having to do the hard job of protecting me all these years.
Best mom self. Pen and pencil on paper. Discovery Bay, 2020.
It’s not that Milly has gone away, but she’s much quieter these days. Sometimes she still goes on a rampage or throws a tantrum, but then my inner mom just goes to sit with her. I hear her out on all the fears and rage by writing them down in my journal, I use my self-coaching skills to choose the experience I want, and we get on with it.
Whether or not you’ve been a mom, or had a mom, or know a mom. We all know what it is to be taken care of and how to take care of others. And when we can channel our best mom selves to care for our physical bodies as well as clean up our minds, we get to unleash our limitless potential.
Taming Your Gremlin: A surprisingly simple method for getting out of your own way. Author: Rick Carson. Revised. Published July 8th 2003 by William Morrow Paperbacks.
A super quick read - very thin paperback and lots of illustrations. Classic psychology concepts are presented in a fun and informative way with exercises to help you visualize and do the work.
Burnout: The secret to unlocking the stress cycle. Authors: Emily Nagoski, Amelia Nagoski. Published March 26th 2019 by Ballantine Books.
Science of chronic stress is presented through stories and vignettes in a highly entertaining way. Accessible and actionable format.