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How to Tame Your Gremlins

Gremlin Overview

Perhaps the thing that most often distracts us from focusing on our connection with our True Self is the presence of ‘gremlins’ in our lives. Other names for gremlins are ‘inner critic’ or ‘internal saboteur’. Gremlins are the voices in our heads that say things like, “You should or should not be doing…”, or “Who do you think you are to think you can do…” They are voices that tell us things that do not serve us. Gremlins shame, blame, and judge. Sometimes they are sneaky, and we don’t recognize that what we are hearing is the voice of a gremlin. We can be so used to what they say, that we think that they are saying is normal, that everyone hears the same things. We can also believe that the gremlin is us. This is not true. Gremlins come from external voices we typically picked up in childhood to survive and protect ourselves.

Gary Reiss, in his book Love Power and Wisdom, says that these gremlins clutter up our mind. He also describes their input as being like a hose that keeps running, filling and at times overflowing, our inner world. When that happens, it can make it difficult for us to focus on our connection with our True Self. (22)

Gremlin Example

For example, I recently discovered a gremlin that says, “Now, dear, no matter what, you must never inconvenience anyone.” These words come to me in a very kindly, grandmotherly like tone. As a result of this gremlin, I can feel very anxious if I have to return an item to a store, or have to cancel a pre-booked dental appointment, even if it is for a legitimate reason.

As I thought about it, I could see how this gremlin was activated in my life. I could see how trying not to inconvenience anyone was a very good strategy to use within my family when I was young, but how now, as a mature adult, I can choose to go against this gremlin’s admonitions when its advice is not logical or appropriate. For example, recently I practiced returning an item to the store that truly did not fit. I tried to approach it with the attitude that all would go well. It did. The store owner was very respectful, and helped me to find the size that did fit. On another occasion, I decided to cancel a dental appointment on a day when fog was predicted and I felt uncomfortable about driving. Even though I canceled within a few hours of the appointment time, the receptionist was understanding and without any fuss, she rebooked it.

In the past, being unconscious and unaware of this gremlin’s presence, I would have felt extremely anxious, and may not have returned the ill-fitting boots, or I may have forced myself to drive in poor conditions so as not to cause inconvenience. Now, being conscious of the gremlin, and choosing to act logically, in an adult fashion, not in accordance with an outdated dictum, I am feeling stronger, and more confident.


I invite you to see if you can identify a gremlin voice that tells you that you should or should not do something. Now get curious about it. What does the voice say? How does it say it- in a kindly tone or a critical tone? Do you see an image of the gremlin in your mind’s eye? Is it a grandmother who is speaking or an ugly troll? If you feel inclined to do so, draw your gremlin and write the words that are coming out of its mouth.

Now, have some fun with the gremlin. You could say, “I appreciate that you think you are doing some good in my life by your admonitions. Perhaps you think you are protecting me. But I am grown up now and I don’t think I need you in my life any longer, so I am going to send you somewhere else. Perhaps you would like to take an all- expenses- paid vacation for 6 months in Hawaii?” Now, imagine yourself sending the gremlin on its way.

In your imagination, you may sense that the gremlin is gone for now. He has taken you up on your offer! There will be a new sense of spaciousness within you. And hopefully, you will be able to sense the connection with your True Self more deeply.

In his book, Love, Power and Wisdom, author Gary Reiss says that dealing with a gremlin this way is ‘redirecting their own energy back onto them.’ (23). This is using the same energy as an Aikido student uses when dealing with an attacker. We see what the gremlin wants to do, and the energy that he has to do it, and we encourage them to take their energy and use it elsewhere!

Tips to deal with gremlins effectively

  • Become conscious that they exist. A friend or a therapist may have to help with this, by pointing them out to you.

  • Get curious about them. Where did they come from? Understanding their origin helps to objectify them. They aren’t you! They were put into you, usually by a parent, or by another authority figure who you believed was speaking the truth.

  • Tell someone else about your gremlin. If that person doesn’t have the same gremlin, they will often logically explain to you why the words of your gremlin don’t make sense, and with that explanation, the power of the gremlin’s voice is diminished.

  • Sometimes, being playful with them. Drawing them, and redirecting them and their energy by giving them another job to do, can help.


Exercise to Send Away and Replace a Gremlin with a More Helpful Thought

*Note: this is best to do with another person, but you can also do it on your own with a journal.

1) Pick a gremlin to work with

a. Write a list of shoulds and should nots (each person does this separately)

b. Pick one you hear often that you want to work with your friend (don’t start with your most intense one – it can take practice so pick a “lighter” one first)

2) Clarify and explore the gremlin your chose

a. Discuss the following with your partner (or in your journal if you are doing this alone)

i. Where do you think it came from? (remember gremlins come from outside of us)

ii. If you could imagine what this gremlin says/looks like, what would that be? Draw it if you can.

1. The partner can get curious and asks more questions so you can really understand the gremlin. The more you get clear on it and separate yourself from it, the less power it has.

iii. What do you appreciate about this voice?

iv. How/Why does the message no longer apply?

v. Send the gremlin somewhere or give them a job to do.

3) Replace the gremlin message with one that is aligned with your true self

a. With your partner (or in your journal if doing this alone) brainstorm a message to replace the gremlin voice that comes from your true self.

b. Thank the gremlin for their service. Let them know that you no longer need this message and speak the new message aloud. Then send them away to the place you want to send them to.

c. When the gremlin voice comes back, repeat the new message and send them back away!

Additional Information: Three Types of Gremlins (Inner Critics)

Reiss describes three kinds of inner critics:

1) Positive or Constructive Critics

  • Their intent is to help us and give us feedback.

  • i.e. you should or shouldn’t do something because if you do, it won’t go well for you.

  • Typically the impact is to scare and discourage us so we won’t make a mistake or do something “wrong”.

2) The Regular Old Critic

This critic is there to evaluate and show us how we are not good enough or smart enough or beautiful enough. These critics are usually partially unconscious ie, we aren’t aware of them and what they say. They usually originate from either our family of origin or as part of our culture- school or church, where the adults were frequently criticizing the children. The Regular Old Critic tends to operate as a constant internal voice. It can range from mild to quite harsh.

  • Usually the adult criticizing his children was criticized by his parents before him and it becomes an intergenerational critic.

  • ie “who do you think you are? You will never succeed in what you are trying to do.”

  • (coming from the voice of a parent who was blocked from fulfilling his childhood dream, and now is projecting that onto the child- you too will never succeed.)

  • “you must save all your money, because if you don’t, you will be eating cat food when you are older."

  • (said by a man whose father became ill, couldn’t work or support his family and died in poverty. This man projects this outcome on himself, and is full of fear it will happen to his children too.)

3) The Killer Critic

This critic typically arises out of trauma/abuse situation. When children experience trauma, they absorb the energy. It becomes internalized and the person then uses it against themselves- it’s an internal abuser and attacks who you are. i.e “you are worthless”, “you are a bad person”, “you are selfish” etc. Of course, sometimes it can come out unconsciously and attack others as well.

Of course, these Killer Critics are much more damaging and serious, and we usually need the help of a trained therapist to deal with them. Gary Reiss details several strategies he uses in his psychotherapy practice on pgs 42-55 of his book. I highly recommend Rapid Resolution Therapy (see info below).

Sources and References:
  • This was created in collaboration with Dr. Susan Gleeson. To view her books and services, see

  • Taming Your Gremlin, by Rick Carson (he also has great YouTube videos)

  • Positive Intelligence, by Shizard Chamine (he also has an inner critic assessment and a great TEDx Talk)

  • Love Power and Wisdom, by Gary Reiss

  • Rapid Resolution Therapy is especially effective at quickly replacing gremlins with more helpful thought patterns. The founder has free sessions every Monday night. View more on the website:

Copyright 2023 – Indigo Education Company – NOT INTENDED TO BE THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. For reference only.


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