The Trouble with Tribbles

This happens to all of us:
Something happens. It’s not something fun, and we’re hurt or upset. Or we’re stuck resisting something that seems like an obviously good idea on the surface.

And just when we’d like to be dealing with what’s happening in the moment, some not-so-helpful corner of your brain pipes up with some stories:

You don’t really deserve that good thing anyway
You shouldn’t try that and then there will be no chance you’ll fail
You’ve never been good at that

Havi calls them monsters. Kelly calls them bears. I’ve decided to call them tribbles, not least because tribbles are small and fuzzy and not scary, and also because their original job was to alert someone to bad things. Which, it turns out, is actually what your tribbles want to do.

Now I am going to tell you a secret about tribbles: they are actually clever little beasts* who want to help you. Sometimes — usually, in fact — it turns out that the way they want to help you is not exactly the way you want to be helped, but tribbles are pretty much never crazy.

So when You-Don’t-Deserve-That Tribble starts to give you the what-for, it’s usually worth a bit of a closer look. What is she really trying to protect you from? If you’re like me and you talk to yourself, you can actually ask her this. Or you can just think about the idea that you don’t deserve things, trying to be as curious as you can. Sometimes the phrase I wonder can help you with this: I wonder why I don’t deserve that. I wonder what would happen, what kind of person I think I’d be if I did deserve that. (Tip o’ the hat to Thorn Coyle for the I-wonder trick.)

For me, often shining a little bit of light on the subject is enough to start a tiny shift: once I hear the story that You-Don’t-Deserve-That Tribble is telling me, I have the chance to respond. The story she’s whispering to me goes like this: If you think you deserve those things, you will stop thinking you need to work and will become lazy and self-centered.

(Important note! It is important to talk nicely to tribbles. Your tribbles probably feel about like you do about yelling and meanness.)

So what helps once you know the tribble’s story?

Acknowledgement: you’re worried I’ll never do a lick of work again if I think that I deserve lovely things.

Reassurance: You can remind the tribble that you don’t intend for the bad things to happen. Maybe there are even things that you know are true that you could remind the tribble about? Does it help to remember that there are lots of worky things that I love to do? Or that one of the reasons I think I deserve lovely things is that I think everyone deserves lovely things?

Negotiation: Sometimes, I can agree with my tribbles that I can try something. Other times, I can refocus them: usually the thing they’re afraid of is actually something I don’t want, and so they can sometimes help by focusing directly on that thing, rather than on things they’re afraid might lead to that thing. The tribble who is afraid I’ll become lazy can help me see when I’m avoiding my work with my favorite frittery distractions. The one who is worried that I’ll be self-centered can help me remain conscious of the wide-spread ripples that my choices make in the world. And so on.

How about you? Which tribble is riding on your shoulder today, and what does she want to keep you safe from?

*Of course, tribbles are actually you. But they’re a part of you that doesn’t necessarily operate according to the direction of your conscious mind — which is what we usually mean when we say you — and so sometimes it’s helpful to pretend that they’re not you in order to figure out what they’re about. Also, it helps you avoid going all Fight-Club on yourself.

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5 comments to The Trouble with Tribbles

  • Cat

    I like this piece.

    For me, the most powerful of these is “I can’t do that” around physical things that might trigger the fibro to reach out and squash me. My relationship with fibro, pain, my body, etc, is complicated at best, and this is one piece of it.

    There’s another one around my co-parenting relationship, but i’m not articulate enough about it to write anything before the second cup of coffee.

  • I love the word “tribbles.” Just saying it makes me happy, which in some strange way actually pleases my tribbles. They keep wanting to alert me to some tragedy that will befall if I don’t check email right now, but when they hear themselves called tribbles they get all blushy and shy and giggly. Tribbles!

  • [...] secrets! I am going to tell you a secret about tribbles: they often travel in groups. Or, more precisely, in lines. You think you’ve sorted a tribble [...]

  • Liss

    I also really liked this post. It articulates exactly how I, in the form of a legion of tribbles, apparently, talk myself out of figuring out what I actually want and how I might be able to do/get/try/experience that.

    Also, I love you extra for using the phrase “going all Fight Club on yourself” :-)

  • [...] tribbles. You are so fuzzy and troublesome! But also: so legitimate. Fears are legitimate. And we get through [...]

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