A mischievous creature who voices your negative thoughts and has a weakness for Snickers.
Samantha felt as though she was going insane because her sleep was often interrupted by her toddler, Alex. Multiple times a night, he’d hobble into her room and cry for attention. He wanted water, needed to go to the bathroom, was scared, wanted milk, or who knows what else! She woke up exhausted and cranky every morning — so did Alex.
Chana: What, for you, is the most upsetting part of the situation?
Sam: That he keeps coming into my room. He should be sleeping through the night already.
Chana: Does it bother you more that he’s coming into your room or that he’s not sleeping through the night?
Sam: What’s bothering me most is that he’s waking me up. I want to be able to sleep!
Chana: So you believe he shouldn’t wake you up.
Sam: Yes! He’s almost two already. It’s enough!
Chana: Can you absolutely know that it’s true that he shouldn’t wake you up?
Chana: How do you react when you believe that?
Sam: Angry. This sounds horrible, but I want to yell at him and hurt him. I have to hold myself back from that. And then I feel guilty for being such a bad mom.
Chana: What sensations arise in your body when you believe he shouldn’t wake you up?
Sam: My chest gets hot and tight. Everything gets tense. I’m so mad; so annoyed.
Chana: What are you unable to do when you believe the thought?
Sam: I can’t think straight. I can’t be calm.
Chana: Can you think of a peaceful reason to keep the thought?
Sam: It helps me to focus on getting him back to bed.
Chana: Is that peaceful?
Sam: No. I’m grouchy the whole time.
Chana: So, can you think of a peaceful reason to keep the thought that he shouldn’t wake you up?
Sam: Oh. No.
Chana: Now. Close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath. Imagine you’re lying in bed and your son has just come into your room. How would you be without the thought that he shouldn’t wake you up?
Sam: I don’t even know how to answer that question. He’s there. I’m just so pissed.
Chana: Can you move the thought to the side for a minute? How does your son look without the thought?
Sam: How could the thought not be there? It’s so there.
Sam found it challenging to imagine her life without the thought, and she’s not alone; it can often be the most challenging part of Inquiry. In that situation, I find using an imagery tool helps, especially one of Sam’s creation.
Chana: Okay. I want you to imagine that this thought is being said by some sort of creature who’s in the room with you. What do you see?
Sam: A Little Troll. He’s pea green and hairy with big ears.
Chana: Great. Picture him as clearly as you can. What does he smell like?
Sam: He smells like rotten sewage. Gross.
Chana: What does his voice sound like? Is it really vivid?
Sam: Yes. High pitched and nasal. No way I can sleep with him around.
Chana: Ask him what his favorite food is.
Sam: He loves Snickers.
Chana: Perfect. Can you give him $100 and send him off to the convenience store? Tell him he can buy as many Snickers bars as he wants. He can buy out the store if he wants to!
Sam: He’s so excited, he’s squealing!
Sam’s so identified with the belief that it’s difficult for her to imagine it not being there. Some people are challenged to imagine themselves without a thought because they fear it requires them to create a vacuum in their minds, which feels uncomfortable. By forming the Little Green Troll, Sam literally “sees” the thought leaving her without the anxiety of detachment or the need to fill the space with something else. Remember, this personified being can be anything from a rabbit to a hobbit, but the Troll imagery worked for Sam. Who likes having a Troll around?
Chana: Send the Troll off now and watch him leave with his $100. Now it’s just you and your son in the room. How are you without the Troll there?
Sam: I can see my son. He’s so cute and is struggling to stay asleep. I’m more relaxed and can be more sympathetic to him.
Chana: Now let’s see what this thought is here to teach you. Turn it around. What’s the 180 degree opposite of, “He shouldn’t wake you up?”
Sam: He should wake me up.
Chana: Give me three reasons it’s true.
Sam: He depends on me for everything, and he’s used to asking me for help when he needs it. Nighttime can be lonely and scary, and he doesn’t feel capable of getting to bed on his own.
Chana: Good. Can you give me another turnaround?
Sam: I shouldn’t wake me up.
Chana: How is that true?
Sam: Oooh. So many times I say I’m going to get to bed by ten, but then I’ll stay up reading articles on my phone until midnight.
Chana: So you’re keeping yourself up.
Sam: Yeah. Even when Alex has nothing to do with it.
Chana: What’s another reason you shouldn’t wake yourself up?
Sam: Because I need rest. Because I want to have a full night of sleep.
Chana: What else?
Sam: I don’t know.
Chana: Think specifically about this situation with Alex. How are you waking yourself up?
Chana: Why did you say that?
Sam: I just realized that his waking up has something to do with me. He never learned to stay in bed because I never taught him how! I never thought of it that way.
Chana: What way?
Sam: I never taught Alex to go to sleep on his own. I’ve always held him or rocked him or nursed him. He’s doesn’t know how to fall asleep, so if he wakes up, he comes to me.
Sam: By not teaching him, I’ve set him up to wake me up. I’m doing it. I’m waking me up!
Chana: That’s a very different perspective.
Sam: Very. If I want to sleep through the night, I have to teach Alex to.
Chana: Or you could choose that it’s more important to you that Alex not have to go to sleep alone.
Sam: I could choose that. But at least now I know I have a choice. I know what I can do.
Chana: You’re back in your Business.
Sam: Yeah. That feels good.
By imagining her belief to be the cackle of a Little Green Troll, Sam was not only able to disassociate herself from it, but also to lighten her reaction to it. I’ve heard other practitioners say they offer other imagery tools to their clients to help put a thought on hold. It can be sprayed out with window cleaner, blasted up in a rocket ship, shoved in a drawer, buried into the ground, or written on a piece of paper and crunched in your hand. I find personification not only useful but playful and fun; The Little Green Troll isn’t so bad when he’s gorging on Snickers.
Summary of Little Green Troll
Use The Little Green Troll when you’re having a difficult time imagining yourself living without a thought that’s causing your suffering. Putting the thought into the mouth of a creature helps you imagine your life without it.
Like what you’ve read? You can learn Little Green Trollalong with 21 other tools in my book, Hold That Thought. Download a free copy of the book here.