Daring Greatly: Gremlins

The third chapter in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly is about shame. Here are a few thoughts I have culled from what I’ve read until now:

Shame is a universal emotion. There’s no one who doesn’t feel shame.

We often use the words Shame and Guilt interchangeably, but they are not the same at all!

(Didn’t I say say she clarifies and redefines words so that ambiguity is cut out and you know exactly what she is saying?)

The difference between Shame and Guilt is determined by your self-talk, she says. This is how it differs:

Guilt: I did something bad.

Shame: I am a bad person.

Once you’ve declared yourself as a bad person, you automatically become unworthy of any good thing that the universe can give you- whether it is love, admiration, joy or belonging. You cut off all possibility of establishing nurturing and fulfilling connections. You isolate yourself as effectively as if you’ve imprisoned yourself in a dingy tower with no stairs. And you aren’t Rapunzel as we all know. So there!

If you wouldn’t say those things to someone else you love, why are you saying them to yourself?

~ Elaina Marie

Shame cannot be resisted or deleted from your emotional map. Despite your most vigilant effort, shame will take ownership of you at times. The only way you can hope to recover from the beating shame gives you is to become Shame Resilient. Using a pleasing Harry Potter (yes, I’m a big fan) analogy, she talks of an incident when she was called a Defense Against Dark Arts teacher. In fact, she thinks of herself as Professor Snape, she confesses. Shame is the darkest art there is and Ms Brown teaches you how to protect yourself from this particular, most terrible darkness.

At the root of Vulnerability is the fear of failure. Failure makes us feel unworthy and less-than. Somewhere along the way, we have been taught to hitch our self-worth to what we are able to do or produce. We are commodities, not people. Our value is equal to the value others say we produce. Others decide what we are worth… they are omnipotent. We have no right to exist if they deem us unworthy.

Thus do we learn shame!

Shame makes you feel disconnected and isolated by convincing you that you are unworthy of connection, love and  belonging. This sense of isolation not only makes you feel more vulnerable but also compels you to hide it like a shameful secret- thus coming full circle.

Shame gains its power when it is kept hidden. Since you don’t like to talk about shame, it becomes stronger and stronger. It takes over your self-talk entirely and makes it debilitating and toxic.

She attributes the source of this destructive self-talk to Gremlins. Gremlins are tiny green creatures that like to make mischief and are manipulative and destructive. They cannot tolerate light. Shame induced self-talk is a Gremlin too. The only way to kill it is to bring it out in the light and talk about it.

Your subconscious mind is always listening to and believing in everything you repeatedly say about yourself. So try not to become your own enemy of progress.

~ Edmond Mbiaka

Referring to your destructive self-talk as a Gremlin is a very powerful ruse to break its stranglehold. By attributing the behavior to a creature external to yourself, you protect yourself from further shame. You are able to bring in some much needed objectivity. It is easier to analyse (and thus reject) someone else’s words and opinions. You can stand aside and examine the words without internalizing them.

In an example, Ms Brown talks of the time she was stuck while writing an article. When she spoke to a friend about it, her friend asked, “What are the Gremlins saying?”

That’s a very powerful question. In a moment it externalized the self-talk. There is almost a sense of ridiculousness associated with the question… as if you were dealing with a grumpy neighbor’s idiosyncrasies which were annoying and exasperating. Who can take the petulant complaining of such a neighbor personally? It needs to be dealt with perhaps, but why on earth would you make that unreasonableness a measure of your self-worth?

Ms Brown replied to her friend and said, “There are a few of them. One is saying that my writing sucks and that nobody cares about these topics. Another one’s saying that I am going to get criticised and that I’ll deserve it. And the big one’s saying, ‘Real writers don’t struggle like this. Real writers don’t dangle their modifiers.’”

There surely cannot be a sillier set of statements to apply to Ms Brown and her life-changing work.

– Her writing sucks!? When I don’t have words enough to express my admiration for the way she elucidates and the clarity she gives in a few concise sentences! That’s totally nonsensical.

Nobody cares about these topics! If by nobody you mean brain-dead then yes, I’ll agree.

– Going to get criticised! This is too foolish to even refute.

And so is the rest of it! It is just a pack of lies.. the entire Gremlin talk. I bet your Gremlin talk is pretty nonsensical too. I know mine is completely bizarre.

Be mindful of your self-talk. It is a conversation with the universe. You are a being, full of infinite possibilities! Focus your mind with positivity and you will have dictated the direction of your journey, your soul and your being, cascading in infinite abundance.

~ Angie Karan Krezos

Ridiculous beings, these Gremlins. They spout such absolute twaddle! To borrow a Harry Potter analogy, Gremlins are your personal Boggarts. They try to terrorize you by using your secret fears of inadequacy and shame. The only way you can render them ineffective is to use the Riddikulus Charm on them and make them absurd and ludicrous.

(On an aside, isn’t J.K. Rowling simply awe-inspiring? What a beautiful and powerful culture she has created. There will come a time (I’m sure) when people will believe Harry Potter to be a flesh and blood character just as they believe so of Sherlock Holmes.)

Making the Gremlins look silly is an important step in silencing them. The second is to stop their food supply. They feed on your reluctance to clothe your shame in words- even private words that only you will hear/ read. Wrap words around your shame and the Gremlins food supply will be cut off at source. With these two steps, you will have developed Shame Resilience.

What are YOUR Gremlins whispering to you today?

Daring Greatly- Gremlins
Image Credit: Mine


Note: This is a series of posts. I will be recording the most arresting thoughts the book provokes in me. If you have read the book, please do share your impressions too. If you haven’t, why not read it with me? I would be so much fun, wouldn’t it?

Here are the first and second parts!

Daring Greatly: Gremlins

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8 thoughts on “Daring Greatly: Gremlins”

  1. Quite true, what she (and by extension of this post, you) says. When we as people are measured by the yardstick of someone else, it becomes difficult to live up to that. I suppose the direct line one would remember would be, “You should be ashamed of yourself” and that repeats no matter if one is just an inch short of the finishing line or an foot behind the winner.

    What the gremlins say depends on the situation. As a writer, I relate to the gremlins of Miss Brown. As a blogger, the main one I get any time before I click publish is, “Why bother? Only few will read, and even they will not comment.” Twaddle, as you so rightly put it, but that’s what it comes down to. I guess because I find life in my words, it doesn’t affect me very deeply.

    1. “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

      What a terrible line! And how frequently do we say it to ourselves! It really is a pity we listen to such nonsense from our own selves. Bad enough to hear it from others!

      ‘Why bother’ was the theme song of my Gremlins too for ages. Thankfully they no longer sing it… or if they do I don’t hear it. Which is just as well. 😀 Now my Gremlins try to kill me by reminding me of the many MANY things still left undone on my plate. They do succeed at times. In fact… umm… most times. Bah!

  2. In it’s purest form, shame is a process of healing. At the onset, it is like a freshly born neonate. One may allow it to take the form of aBoggart and the rest of one’s existence thereon. Rowling has said this famously enough, “By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

    I have had my shares of Gremlins of late, punishing, unforgiving that they are. Learning to take them in your stride is the only thing that cowers them into submission. Gremlins are useful too.

    1. You say ‘shame is a process of healing’. I am not sure if I understand what you are trying to say. From what I understand of shame, it depletes your will to even try to heal. Won’t you please elaborate? I’d like to understand your perception.

      Similarly, the context in which Ms Brown uses the term Gremlin, there is hardly anything good about Gremlins. She isn’t talking of reasonable self-doubt. She also isn’t talking of borderline unreasonable self-doubt. She uses the term Gremlin to mean absolutely and entirely false testimony that our fears give about our capabilities. Here too, I must ask you to clarify. I can’t yet see how Gremlins could be good.

      Thank you for that perspective. You have made me think. 🙂

  3. Shame will have divergent origins. At least, they will appear to have divergent origins. It is the recognition of a deficiency, real, imagined or purported to have been imposed by the society. At times, it is the realisation of a false move. But for the recognition, we will not even meditate a closure of the gap. That is why I have said it is a process of healing.

    Speaking about Gremlins, my thoughts may appear out of context compared to the illustrious author you have quoted so ably. Perhaps I need to peruse the exquisite book to fully perceive her philosophy. But this is what I have to say about the condition: there can be only one way out of the relationship between you and your Gremlins. Either you trample on your fears or you let your fears trample on you.

    1. Let me share with you Ms Brown’s definition of ‘shame’. She defines it by differentiating between guilt and shame, which are often used interchangeably.

      In guilt we say, “I did something bad/ horrible.”
      In shame we say, “I’m bad/ horrible (person).”

      By this definition, could the realization (or conviction) of a false move be really called shame? Perhaps in certain situations it can be. In which case, you are absolutely right when you call it a process (or catalyst) of healing.

      But what of other situations when the source of shame isn’t anything as mild as a false move/ decision?

      Also, it can be a process of healing- and ideally it surely should be. but how many of us are able to use a shame storm positively to bring about change and realigning in ourselves? We’re a lot more prone to throw in the towel entirely instead of standing up and learning how to weather the shame storm… and to stand tall after it has blown itself out as it must.

      About Gremlins… your thoughts exactly match those of Ms Brown. 😀

      Thank you for this very scintillating exchange. I loved it to the hilt!

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