We all have it. A sinister, negative voice in our head. Sometimes it whispers, sometimes it shouts but it always spins stories of incapability and not-enough-ness. Often referred to as an inner-critic, negative nag, or Gremlin,* this internal voice drains motivation and sucks away self-esteem.
In over eight years of coaching teen girls, I have learned that most are very connected to their Gremlin. They listen to it regularly and strengthen it by believing its lies and stories. Some common teen Gremlin thoughts include:
I can’t do that.
She’s so much better than me.
I’ll never be as pretty/popular/cool as she is.
Everyone thinks I’m stupid/ugly/unpopular/weird.
I know they don’t like me.
I’m just not good/pretty/smart enough.
This voice causes confidence and self-esteem to plummet. It holds girls back from many meaningful life experiences. However, when they learn how to confront and “tame their Gremlin,” the negative voice loses its power. Self-doubt transforms into confidence. Not-enough-ness turns into strength and capability.
So how can you help your teen confront her inner critic tame her Gremlin?
First, suggest she name the voice and identify exactly what it is saying. She can call it the Gremlin or give it another name. Giving the voice a name will allow her to more effectively challenge what it is saying.
Next, invite her to share one Gremlin thought and ask her, Is that true? She may say “YES” without hesitation so, take it further and ask her, Is it really true? Can you prove it? Chances are, she will not find proof to any Gremlin thought, so then, you can acknowledge-
The Gremlin is a LIAR!
Now that she understands her Gremlin messages are lies, ask her, What happens when you believe these lies? How do you feel? Do you show up as your best, most authentic self? Chances are, she doesn’t, because when she believes that she’s not enough or people don’t like her, she is most likely more shy, withdrawn, and cautious.
At this point, she’s made several important revelations:
The Gremlin thoughts are untrue.
They trigger negative feelings.
Negative feelings suck energy, motivation, and self-esteem.
Clearly, this is not helpful.
The final step is to help her consider the truth about herself or a particular situation. Ask her, What is a more honest, helpful thought? What is a more positive way to talk to yourself? What happens when you believe those thoughts?
This process will help your teen detach from her Gremlin thoughts and connect with beliefs that are more helpful and positive. When she is thinking in a more helpful and positive way, her behavior will match. Her choices will align. She will FEEL better!
*Gremlin is a term coined by Rick Carson. I first heard of it through the teachings of Byron Katie. The steps outlined here are inspired by her teachings and her book, Loving What Is. I modified them for teens.
*Illustration by Shinhae Kang for Power Up Your Parenting.