COMING CLEAN: Brat Attack

My cousin Tanya is about six years older than me. When she’d come to visit us from Florida, she’d bring along her teen magazines with the Coreys on the cover, and I’d page through them trying to absorb it all so my teenage cousin would think I was cool. I’m the oldest of two, and… Read more »

My cousin Tanya is about six years older than me. When she’d come to visit us from Florida, she’d bring along her teen magazines with the Coreys on the cover, and I’d page through them trying to absorb it all so my teenage cousin would think I was cool. I’m the oldest of two, and the only girl, so I really looked up to Tanya as more of an older sister rather than a cousin I’d only see a few times a year. Plus, she was a dancer, cheerleader and a natural beauty — who lived in a tropical paradise! — so when she informed me that the Brat Pack was cool, then they were cool.

We were children, mind you, so we had no idea why they were called “The Brat Pack” by New York magazine, or that it wasn’t necessarily a term of endearment. They were in movies. And on magazine covers. And rich in their 20s. So, to us as kids, that seemed cool. Thus “brats” were cool, in some regard.

Although I never thought I was purposefully being a brat, I no doubt was in my teens — what teenage girl isn’t? — but I figured I kicked it when I turned 18. For the most part, I did, at least outwardly: I was kind to people, worked hard to get into my college of choice and joined the pep team at school. But when it came to how I treated myself, the brat never really died.

According to the Handel Group, there are three voices in your head, three different personality types that get in the way of you accomplishing your goals: the Chicken, the Brat and the Weather Reporter.

The Chicken

This is that scared little voice in your head that says you can’t do it, that it’s too hard to change. If you lose weight, you’ll get undesired attention. People will look at you differently. You’ll get compliments and not know how to respond. If I change, my friends may not like the new me or my family may not want to be around me because I’m “different.” This is the voice of fear that resides within us, that drains our energy and keeps us from living our best lives. My chicken voice is loudest when it comes to my writing — I can edit and fact-check and juggle multiple tasks, but when I return to my first craft, my perfectionist emerges and fear of not good enough holds me back.

The Weather Reporter

Just like a meteorologist who reports the weather but doesn’t control it, this is the voice that allows you to resign to your bad habits. “My family has always eaten this way.” I’ve never been an athlete. Or, “This is just how my life is.” It is the voice that says you have no control. It reports the facts of your life and leads you to believe that you’ll never be able to change it. This voice speaks to me when I run late to, well, pretty much every single appointment. My dad would would refer to it as being “on Lewis time.” The Weather Reporter tells me that it’s just my tendency to be late. We always ran late as a family. I was always running late in the mornings and would miss the bus. It’s just my nature. As much as I hate it and it embarrasses me and makes me feel awful to make those I love wait, the voice returns and says “this is what you do, what you’ve always done.” It’s a defeating voice. And it usually makes me feel 10 times worse.

The Brat

When I think of the Brat, I think of Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (not the 2005 remake, although Johnny Depp was good — I’m talking about the more excellent 1971 version with Gene Wilder). My Brat wants the candy, the cupcake, the Chinese takeout. She wants the piece of pizza, the cheeseburger. She wants the golden goose. And she wants it now.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wzr12gBrXA8]

The Brat, of course, loves the drama. She makes a fuss when she doesn’t get her way. She wants what she wants. (The Brat can be a male voice, too, for a female, or vice versa, a female in a male’s head — it’s different for everyone, but for me, she’s Veruca.) There’s no arguing or rationalizing with the Brat, mostly because she doesn’t care to hear it. She doesn’t want to make a deal with you. So in the end, the only way to silence the Brat is to tell her to shut up. Talk her down to remission. Yell and curse and tell her you’re not listening. I can notice her and take note of what she says, but I don’t give in.

All of these voices, whether it’s the Brat or Chicken or Weather Reporter, need to be on a leash. Lauren tells me to think of my mind as a field to tend to: If the voices are the seeds, and they are all negative thoughts, all that grows in my field are weeds. My job is to tend to the field and only allow positivity to grow. I see myself in a pair of overalls, walking around an open dirt plot, zapping mini snotty Verucas as they pop up before they can finish the statement “I want….” The Brat can be tricky, too, shifting tones and coming at me as a negotiator, making bargains and rationalizing why it’s OK to eat something that’s not on my meal plan or why I can skip the gym. Sneaky little Brat.

I never really thought of my excuses this way. When I did, I started to laugh at myself when I’d reach for the cookie. I almost allowed myself to be Veruca Salt, and no way did I want to be a bad egg.

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