Hidden Causes Of Stress: Let’s Talk Gremlins

by Doc Orman, M.D.

This week, I’d like to talk about some hidden causes of stress that I call “gremlins.”  I’ve been using the concept of “gremlins” to both understand my own stress, and to help others better understand their stress, for more than 30 years.

However, the term did not originate with me.  Several others have used it, most notably Rick Carson, who wrote the best-selling book Taming Your Gremlin back in 1983 (updated 2003).  You’ll also probably recall there was a series of horror movies based on this theme, with the gremlins portrayed as cute but very nasty little monsters.

There’s YOU…And Everything Else

The way I like to think about gremlins, however, is similar to the way Rick Carson views the term.  Carlson maintains that each of us is “inhabited” by a natural self (i.e. the real YOU), which is happy, healthy, loving, energetic, and powerful, as well as by a host of other selves (gremlins), who are more negative, spiteful, destructive, and disempowering.

He says gremlins constantly pose internal challenges to us that can be inherent in just about every activity we engage in, from climbing a mountain to getting a good night’s sleep.  He also says that learning to “tame” your inner gremlins is crucial for having a peaceful and fulfilling inner life, as well as for getting along harmoniously with others.

What Do Your Gremlins Look Like?

According to Carson:

“Your gremlin is the narrator in your head…he’s with you when you wake up in the morning and when you go to sleep at night…he tells you who and how you are, and he defines and interprets your every experience…he wants you to accept his interpretations as reality, and his goal, from moment to moment, day to day, is to squelch the natural, vibrant you within.”

To take this analogy even farther, we could say that your gremlins sometimes take over your thoughts, your feelings, your attitudes, and your beliefs.  And in so doing, they can make you feel bad, destroy your relationships, cause you to adopt poor strategies, make you sick, and even lead to your death.

Whose Voice Are You Hearing In Your Head?

The biggest problem we have with recognizing our gremlins is that they use the very same voice channel (in our heads) that our natural, healthy, and wise self uses. Thus, it can be almost impossible, at times, for us to know who’s really running the show.

For example, here are some common gremlin statements:

  •  “I haven’t had that much to drink that I can’t drive safely.”
  •  “I can cheat this one time…nobody will ever find out.”
  •  “I feel fine so why should I bother seeing a doctor or getting a checkup.”

When you hear these types of voices in your head, you can bet they are probably coming from your gremlins.  But other times, it’s may not be so clear.

Why I Like The Concept Of Gremlins

I like using this concept of gremlins, which I admit is an entirely make-believe analogy, to think about stress, because it fits very well with my “hidden causes” model.  It is not unreasonable to assume that there is always an internal struggle going on within each of us.  There is the natural, happy, healthy, and stress-free part of us, that is frequently in conflict with other internal forces that may suppress or overpower these more natural expressions.

The more we can learn to become aware of these specific, hidden, internal, stress-generating parts of ourselves, the more we can exercise control over them and keep them from causing mischief (and stress) in our lives.

Please stay tuned to my next few posts, where I will elaborate further on this interesting use of the concept of gremlins.



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