Meet My Gremlin


I am a peace lover. And I usually write about subjects related to peacefulness, harmony and grace. But lately I’ve been feeling uncharacteristically frustrated. Angry even.

So it occurred to me that I needed to spend a little time exploring emotions that are on the opposite end of the spectrum of peacefulness. That’s where you find agitation and anger, emotions that have been surfacing in me lately.

When I get like this, I try to avoid people because I don’t want to release toxic emotional sludge on anyone else. So sometimes I carry it around like a secret burden, like an ugly little gremlin that I am ashamed to introduce to the world.

The thing about gremlins is this: by nature they are ugly. They feed on insecurity and anger and they live in those cold, dark places inside of us. The places where past hurts, ancient wounds, regret, fear, disappointment fight for survival on a Lord of the Flies-like island.

The other thing about gremlins is that they look for someone to blame for their anger. They want someone to direct their anger at so they can release it. Maybe it’s a mother. A close friend. Or the guy in the car ahead of you who cut you off on the interstate. Or maybe, just maybe the gremlin is mad at YOU.

Why? Maybe your gremlin is mad and is using anger to make you tougher. Braver. More congruent.

Sometimes anger is a legitimate emotion. Maybe someone has wronged you or is exhibiting bad behavior or making poor choices that affect you.  But I am talking about unexpected anger, the kind that seeps out at inconvenient times with no warning. It has something to communicate that’s been stuffed down and hidden away from public viewing. Sometimes the anger is waving a red flag demanding attention before the person swimming in it goes down for the third time.

I always think anger has something to say. Something to teach, something to unveil. I believe anger is to be investigated, not buried.

But when you’re not used to being angry, it’s a scary emotion. This week I was secretly asking myself….”Who is this person, this me?” I don’t recognize her. I SWEAR I THINK SHE HAS TWO HEADS AND COULD BE CAPABLE OF EATING HER YOUNG.

Of course I didn’t introduce her around; I disguised her as best as I could considering she had two heads. But inside, there was no escaping her.

And now, in a calmer state, I realize this person is me, too. And I realize I need to embrace her because she’s part of me; she’s the yang to my yin. And maybe she–my gremlin—is demanding some attention from ME and for me right now.

Yin and yang is a basic principle of Taoism, the idea that balance is needed in nature and in all things. My nature is peaceful, but just as light does not exist without dark, neither does peace exist without  challenge.

Sometimes the challenge to peacefulness is a reminder to investigate our values. Sometimes it is an invitation to self-love, an invitation to accept the light and dark, the good and not-as-good part within ourselves. And to take responsibility for all of it.

As I write this, I am reminded of the work of the now deceased Debbie Ford. She was a #1 New York Times bestselling author and self-help teacher who wrote extensively about our shadows or gremlins. I wrote a blog about her last year after she died.

Her teachings helped to demonstrate how when we examine and embrace our darkest  gremlin-like tendencies, we can fully embrace ourselves. In her book “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers,” she says, “you must go into the dark in order to bring forth the light. When we suppress any feeling or impulse we are also suppressing its polar opposite. If we deny our ugliness, we lessen our beauty.”

So for now, I’m going to embrace my inner ugly. My Medusa who could turn someone to stone with a glance.  And I’m going to offer her bites of dark chocolate the way ancients offered up goats, to appease her.

But I won’t ignore her. I think she has something to tell me. But until I figure out her message, I’m going to keep her on a short lease.

Do you have a gremlin in need of attention? If so, what is yours trying to teach you? I would love to hear! 

If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read my book Tao Flashes.  Or visit me at or on twitter @taoflashes.

7 thoughts on “Meet My Gremlin

  1. Thanks Carol. For me, it’s hard to be angry. I feel guilty and out of sorts. But I really do believe it is there to teach me something, so I’m going to pay attention. And feed it lotsof dark chocolate in the mean time.

  2. Lisa, this is wonderful. I call my gremlins “trolls in the forest” and I’ve come to believe they are there to make us argue for ourselves when self-doubt creeps in. Maybe your gremlins are trying to help you remain happy by making you notice it a little more. You sound like you’ll get to the bottom of this soon, either way 🙂

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