How to Overcome Your Inner Gremlin

Recently I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine. We were talking about the sometimes hard to catch and hard to deal with behaviour of ‘being a bit of a dick’. We were trying to understand how to overcome your inner gremlin. That little negative habit that hangs over your shoulder sometimes.

What I’m talking about is how you or your partner can turn into a bit of a dick when talking about certain topics.

They can be ‘medium-button’ topics (as opposed to hot-button topics) but regardless the energy in the conversation shifts. 

One of you might get a little more edgy or defensive and start doing and saying some things that really send the conversation down a rocky path. 

When I’m working with my clients to try and create more harmony and connection in their relationships, we often come up against this behaviour. 

This behaviour really gets in the way of building trust in relationships and can also get kind of heavy when we are working to change it. 

We refer to these behaviors as ‘Gremlins’ to make it easier to identify when it’s at play and take some of the significance out of dealing with it when it shows up.


The Unconscious Behaviour of Gremlin

In this case, a Gremlin is referring to a set of  behaviours and strategies a person takes on in a situation to survive it. These behaviours are usually unconscious and have been created over time through various experiences in the past. The key thing to remember here is that Gremlin behaviours show up because someone is scared or uncomfortable. 

One of them includes the distinction of ‘the Dick Gremlin’ or DG for short. 

The Dick Gremlin is a really challenging ‘way of being’ that some people take on when they feel stressed, confronted, or upset. 

DG usually presents as a slightly mean-spirited-jerk (or an a**hole) and will definitely disrupt and kill off any connection and trust that exists in a relationship. 

People who are using the DG as a front are usually oblivious, or have convinced themselves they don’t know about it, making it all the more challenging to deal with.

You might be one of those readers who are nodding along right now because you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve clearly been a victim of the ‘DG’. 

If you don’t really know what I’m talking about, or you’re pretending you don’t really know, let’s go ahead and look at the basic DG profile and see what we can learn.


The Dick Gremlin is Not Specific to Any Gender or Age

Men, women, and children of all ages can front the Dick Gremlin. 

It’s a way of avoiding responsibility and protecting oneself from getting hurt – the old “I’ll hurt you before you hurt me” mentality. 

Let’s start with what the DG looks like in action.

The Dick Gremlin in action can be identified in a few different ways:

  • Mean, passive aggressive, or undermining comments that take the focus off of them and redirects it back on you
    • Often experienced as confusing by the ‘receiver’ and as a result leaves them question themselves. 
  • Stonewalling
    • To block, stall, or resist intentionally.
  • Acting clueless
    • When they behave as if they don’t know something that you know they know because you’ve actually/definitely/literally had a conversation about it.

Those are just a few highlights of how the DG presents in real life.


Why People Behave Like Gremlins and What You Can Do About It

Why someone would act this way? Why do you think someone would act like that?

The clear result they get from DG behavior is some form of breakdown in the relationship. This seems like such a silly choice for a person to make, right? 

The thing is, in the moment, they are not often conscious of what they are doing. Those that are conscious of it in the moment may see it and not know what to do instead.

Bottom line? 

People who front the Dick Gremlin are scared.

It’s really that simple: gremlins (of all kinds) are created in an effort to keep us safe from perceived threats. We’re all trying to protect our fragile hearts and psyches from getting battered and bruised. 

That’s nice. Now what?

We’re basically left with two paths at this point: You’re either being the Dick Gremlin or you’re dealing with it.  

If you find yourself in a situation where you think the person you’re speaking with has engaged their inner DG you’re really only left with a couple of options. 

Option 1: Call It Out and Redirect the Conversation

Option 1 works really well if you’ve had a conversation about the DG previously, you know they are open to recognizing it in action, and stopping its impact in their lives as well as their relationships. 

This requires having had a conversation with your person ahead of time and talking about the concept of the DG when things aren’t heated. 

Doing this ahead of time is a solid idea that will set both of you up for success.

Option 2: Stop the Conversation and Do Not Engage

Option 2 means literally saying: “I’m going to stop this conversation now.”

Gremlins are not coachable. That means when a person has one of their gremlins running the show instead of themselves, you can’t have an authentic and meaningful conversation with them. 

Maybe you’re dealing with a person who is not interested in transforming their inner DG and all it’s destructiveness into something more open and loving. Well, you may have a bigger problem on your hands.

Gremlins, no matter what their persona, how they behave, or why they were created in the first place, are a front. As a result, you don’t have access to the wholehearted person you’re wanting to connect with.


Gremlin Behaviour Busting is Messy Work 

It is only in rare cases that the gremlin behaviour will just surrender and disappear – especially the first time someone is called out. 

There are often layers to the gremlins that exist in our beings and they were created for a reason: to protect us! 

So calling them out is often perceived as a call to arms for the gremlin. 

You have to stick it out with power and compassion, holding boundaries, if you want to breakthrough the barriers, especially when it gets uncomfortable.

A Couple of Things to Keep In Mind:

  • You can’t work with a gremlin
    • If the gremlin won’t step aside, you’re better to end the conversation and try again another time
  • You can’t make the other person want to deal with and transform their Dick Gremlin
    • If they’re not willing to let go, you may need to have a different kind of tough conversation
  • It’s likely that when you’re confronted with your partner’s gremlin, that your version of the DG will automatically show up too. 
    • It’s important to make sure you’re being responsible for that and taking a time-out if your know-it-all/ enabler/ caretaker/ victim/ etc. gremlin shows up to the gremlin party

If You Have a Gremlin On Your Shoulder – We Need to Talk 

Come over here for a second and let’s chat…You can trust me.

I get it. I know. It’s really uncomfortable when people see you; see who you really are and see your defense mechanisms. 

And you know what? It’s ok. Stay with me here…

If you’re suffering from a case of the inner DG and you’re still reading this, I know you want to bust up the behaviour and find a new way to deal with uncomfortable situations. You know you want to learn how to overcome your inner gremlin.

Good on ya! You know what else? You totally can bust up your inner DG and it’s a pretty straightforward process. 

Step One: Recognize It!

Once you admit you have an inner DG you have to get familiar enough with it to recognize it in the moment. 

Spend some time thinking about interactions you’ve had in the past where your DG shows up and make a list of all the behaviours it tends to use.

Does Your Behaviour..:

  • Undermine? 
  • Stonewall? 
  • Diminish or marginalize? 
  • Does it gaslight*?
*Gaslight: To cause another person to doubt him/herself through the use of psychological manipulation. This can mean making someone else question their experience of a situation and whether their feelings have merit by manipulating your side of the story. For example pretending something didn’t happen the way it did in an effort to protect yourself and avoid responsibility for something. Telling the other person that they completely misunderstood you when you know that it’s totally reasonable that they landed at the conclusion they did.

Be really honest with yourself about all of this.

When you use any of these behaviours or similar versions, recognizing them and being responsible is the only way you’ll have any luck in shutting down the DG for good.

Step Two: Deal With It!

Just like other people can’t work with a gremlin, neither can you – even if it’s your own gremlin! 

Gremlins cover up who you really are and what you really want. They block access to the things that really matter in your life! 

You can’t get around them, you can essentially only disappear them by shutting them down or turning them off; and that’s really hard to do on your own.

My recommendation is that you share your list of behaviours with the people who are usually impacted by it. 

Where You Can Start

  • Communicate and create a game plan together to conquer the DG behaviour
    • Talk to them (at a time when the DG isn’t trying to run the show) and come up with a plan of attack for how you’ll handle it the next time the DG shows up. 
  • Come up with a question or a phrase (like a safe word) that both you and your person can use when the DG may be rearing it’s head.
    • This will be challenging for your person to confront your inner DG.
    • You have to be responsible and really look to see if your DG is in action when you’re called on it. 
  • Recognize what sort of things trigger the DG to jump into the driver seat. 
    • Although it may be difficult, you’ll need to confront your inner DG in the while it attempts to protect you from perceived threats
    • Then deal with those triggers if you want to have any lasting change in this area.

Gremlin Behaviours Can Work in Tandem With Each Other 

What this looks like is that you may have a couple of gremlins internally that like to alternate between each other making it harder to pin them down and bust them up. 

This can also mean that your gremlins trigger your person’s gremlins and then you have one big gremlin party instead of an effective conversation or interaction. When you are working to discover how to over your inner gremlin, they can compound on top of eachother.

Gremlins are sneaky and subversive and the only way to be free of them is to get responsible for the fact you have them and get curious about why they were created in the first place.

Want little more than an article to help you deal with your gremlins? There’s a great book out there called “Taming Your Inner Gremlin”by Rick Carson that you can get at most bookstores or online. 


If you want to talk to an objective 3rd-party about strategies to bust up your inner gremlins, I do free consultations – maybe it’s time we talked. Book your free consult here. 

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