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I mentioned brain gremlins in passing in my last post, and I’m likely to mention them again, so I thought I’d post a bit about them now.

“Brain Gremlins” is my pet word for those voices inside your head. you know the ones. The voices that shout at you, and call you “fat” or “stupid” or “lazy” even when you know it’s not true. They’re the voices that tell you that everyone hates you, even when your friends are all around you and trying to support you. They’re the voices that shout “shut up shut up shut up” when you’re trying to think, and bring up painful memories at just the wrong moment. They’re the liars that say you’re not worth anything. In short: They’re jerks.

In the world outside your head jerks are enough of a problem, but when they’re inside you, and a part of you, it’s even harder to ignore them. The more you try to push them away the more childishly they act. The more you yell at them to shut up, the bigger their tantrums become. So how do you deal with them?

My advice for dealing with brain gremlins is the same as my advice for dealing with any jerks you can’t get away from. Inform them calmly and politely that they’re being unreasonable, point out what might be a more reasonable approach on their part, and don’t get drawn into frustrated argument!!

“Frustrated argument with myself?” you may exclaim. Yes. There are times in all our lives when we try to fight back the negative voices in our heads by simply thinking “No, that’s wrong. That’s WRONG!”
Now it is very often true, but the problem with this approach is that it is, in itself, negative. The brain gremlins are a part of you, and convincing yourself that they’re wrong is still feeling that there’s something wrong inside you. A far more reasonable way of doing it is to calmly remind yourself of what is true. Strive to notice when the brain gremlins say you’ve failed, and try to replace that thought with “I handled that well, given the circumstances” or “Huh, I’ll have to learn from that and do better next time.” Listen out for their cries of “You’re just being lazy” and say “I’m lacking energy right now”, “I’m doing all I can” or even “Perhaps I should get up and do something right now!

One of the vital points about brain gremlins is that they can’t, and shouldn’t, just be ignored. They are criticism. They are often harsh and unfair criticisms, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t step back and look at them critically and decide if they are all BS or if they point out possibilities for improvement. In a way they’re even more important than criticism from close friends, because they’re criticism from you! They show things that you aren’t happy about, for one reason or another, and that kind of clue shouldn’t be ignored. Looking at them from a more detached perspective can help you to either find out what you can do to improve whatever they’re bitching about in you, or find out why it is that you think that these criticisms are true when they’re clearly not.

Another important things about dealing with brain gremlins is to remember that what is in your head is not necessarily true, and that feelings aren’t the same as facts.
Another is to remember that feelings are also important! When the brain gremlins tell you that you have no friends and that no-one wants to spend time with you it’s important not to believe that that’s true. It’s important to remember that there are people out there who care for you, and that if you pull away from them it’s harder for them to help you. It’s also important to remember that no matter what the truth is you’re still feeling alone and friendless, and that that’s a valid and upsetting feeling. By all means recognise that it’s wrong and take steps to prove that to yourself, but never tell yourself that you’re wrong for feeling it. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling down. Self-disgust is a really bad way of climbing out of a depression spiral!

If you have people that you trust to talk to about brain-wibble like this then it can be useful to get an outside view on the brain gremlins’ claims. Sometimes the reassurance of a friend that they do honestly like you can be enough to pull you out of a downward spiral. Sometimes (although far harder) a brutally honest friend and a strong will to face things can help you see when the brain gremlins might actually have a point, and can help you to change what it is that you dislike about yourself. And sometimes someone who can hug you and say “Wow, your brain gremlins really are jerks!” can help you get through another day.

And remember, even when they speak a grain of truth, brain gremlins really are jerks.