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Taming the Gremlin

Saanich News
with Paul Beckow

February 2, 2005

Dear Paul

My husband and I feel stuck. We are both so quick to react to one another, to correct each other. We can quarrel over anything. We are tired and spending less time together. We can’t seem to stop this. What’s going on?


Barb, if I had a loonie for every time a client expressed this sentiment to me I’d be a very wealthy man.

What’s going on, you ask? Let me suggest something.

If we look deeper into ourselves and our life experience, we will see that there is within our nature as human beings an always-ready-to-spring “mechanism”. This mechanism lives in a constant state of defensiveness. It becomes easily hurt or offended, feels annoyed, judged, and frequently misunderstood.

It is an automatic reaction mechanism. That means it “goes off” automatically without thought and takes everything very personally.

This part of us has been called many names. The Small Self. The Ego. The Reactive Mind. The False Self. I call it “ The Mischief Maker” because of the enormous amount of suffering it creates in relationship. Rick Carson calls it “The Gremlin” in his book “Taming the Gremlin”.

The Gremlin is always in the state of defensiveness. That’s its job. To signal a threat and to protect us.

Your husband says “What’s for dinner ?”. And the Gremlin bursts forth: “ Don’t rush me buddy! And, what have YOU done to help?”

Your wife says “Hey, where are my scissors? I left them right here.” And the Gremlin snaps “ Why ask ME ? You used them last !”

Reaction. Reaction. Reaction. It is this automatic system of reaction and protection that makes being in relationship difficult and tiring. We all have a Gremlin lurking within us.

Why are we so sensitive? What are we protecting? What is “it” doing?

The Gremlin has one purpose – to uphold, protect, and manage our self image. This device is running all the time. It does not take recess or vacations. The Gremlin will “come out” if its thinks its self-image is under question or attack. And it talks to us constantly.

How does the Gremlin do its job? Simple. By being right, judging, and making others wrong. It thinks it wins that way. It can be right about anything. This feeling of being right feeds the Gremlin. It also causes a lot of indigestion, but that doesn’t matter – it’s a meal.

Now remember - in a marriage, there are not one, but two, Gremlins - living together ! Can you see a little problem here ?

One of my clients said to me last week “ He always has to have the last word ! Well sorry, I just won’t accept that.”

Notice what happens when you make your partner wrong. They defend themselves, justify themselves, make you wrong back. To which you react, making yourself right and them wrong (er). And on it goes. There you have “two mechanisms”.

Gremlin v.s. Gremlin.

And let’s not forget that when you have two Gremlins in action –there is no one
listening !. No one. It’s all reaction. That’s a fact.

I suggest being aware of this simple and very human mechanism can make for greater happiness in our intimate relationships.

Because if we understand the automaticity of human “reactions”, they become so much less personal. We see; we understand. We can begin to learn. We can discover how to be responsible for our own Gremlin. We can catch it in action. Detach from it. Notice it’s ways. We can learn to clean up the messes it makes. And we can begin to understand, and more effectively respond to, the reactions of our partner that seem so puzzling.

One could say the aim of marriage is to have satisfying and pleasurable times living together. To find ways to be easy, gentle, validating of the other.

When we recall this aim, it definitely calls on us to - “Tame the Gremlin” within.

Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. He can be reached at the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at http//:www.paulbeckow.com

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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