Always in the back of our minds, ready to satisfy its wants and desires, the inner brat lies in wait. Whenever we're faced with a frustrating situation or a challenge to our willpower, the inner brat will use a variety of tactics and manipulations to get immediate satisfaction. Too often the inner brat influences us to say or do things that we later regret, just because it can't tolerate even mild frustration. Representing primitive desires and impulses, the inner brat wants what it wants, when it wants it, without considering the consequences. It is responsible for much of what we hate about ourselves.
The inner brat operates in three main spheres: thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In our thoughts, it talks to us, sometimes in gentle persuasive tones, sometimes in demanding, urgent tones, and sometimes in a threatening voice. Although we don't generally hear an actual voice, we do perceive thoughts running through our minds. When we find ourselves justifying our behavior or emotions, that's the inner brat trying to convince us that we are right, even though our better judgment knows otherwise. When we grumble to ourselves or dwell on the unfairness of a situation, it is our inner brat that keeps us focused on our misery.
Most inner-brat thoughts are accompanied by unpleasant feelings. Usually these are experienced as irritability or a sense of urgency. We experience such feelings not only in our minds but also in our bodies. Every emotion has a physical sensation associated with it, but not everyone experiences the same type of physical reaction. For example, some people feel their hearts beating faster. Others sense a tightening in their throat, chest, or stomach. Still others feel weakness or tension in the muscles of the arms or legs. Just as emotional hot buttons vary from one person to the next, so do physical components of emotions.
Physical sensations are not limited to emotions connected with the inner brat. They occur with all sorts of feelings, such as when a person is excited, or frightened, or overjoyed. They can also develop in response to medications or as a result of a medical condition. These reactions are what we call nonspecific. That is, they occur in many different kinds of circumstances and are not necessarily diagnostic of anything in particular. They simply reflect a state of physical or emotional arousal. The body becomes aroused by any strong stimulus that is either physical (e.g., a sharp pain) or emotional (e.g., anger). Since the inner brat includes some emotional reactions, these, too, are accompanied by physical sensations.
Besides showing up in our thoughts and feelings, the inner brat also operates in our behavior. It reveals itself when we engage in activities that we know are harmful to ourselves, such as smoking, drinking, drug use, and gambling. It is implicated in overeating, in spending money we don't have, as well as in procrastinating and making excuses. The inner brat is also evident in behavior that is hurtful to other people, such as temper tantrums, sulking, and sarcasm. Many extramarital affairs involve the inner brat. The parties involved usually anticipate that their own spouses will likely be hurt, but they rationalize their circumstances in order to satisfy their own desires. Whenever we engage in behavior that we don't like to see in other people, it is probably because we gave in to our inner brat.
Bratty Thoughts & Feelings
The inner brat gets jealous, resentful, and angry. When it doesn't like what's happening, it starts mumbling, grumbling, or even yelling inside your mind. When you find yourself going over and over something that seems unfair or hard to deal with, your inner brat is engaging in an extended monologue. The longer you allow it to dwell on whatever predicament you're faced with, the more you'll end up feeling angry, resentful, or sorry for yourself.
Bratty feelings are closely related to bratty thoughts. They affect one another. Inner-brat feelings include anger, jealousy, envy, and self-pity. While the latter three are directed inward, inner-brat anger is typically directed outward, often at other people. All these feelings have destructive effects, not only because of the feelings themselves but because of the thoughts and actions that they generate. When the inner brat is steeped in being angry or upset in some way, it keeps us focused on the negative. If we allow inner brat thoughts to control us too often or for too long, not only will we develop an attitude problem, but our health may also be affected. Prolonged negative thoughts and attitudes affect the stress hormones in the body and its ability to fight disease. Research has demonstrated a link between negative attitudes and certain illnesses as well as slowness in healing.
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A cautionary note: It is important to distinguish between temporary negative moods and those that last for weeks or months. If you find yourself dwelling on the negative most of the time, this may be more than your inner brat. Chronic negative feelings are one of the signs of clinical depression. If, along with constant negative feelings, you are also tired and unmotivated, find yourself overcome by sadness for no good reason, have trouble eating or sleeping, or feel nervous much of the time, you may be suffering from depression. Also, these same symptoms can reflect certain medical conditions. In any case, if you have any of these symptoms, you should consult a medical or mental-health professional.
Bratty Behaviors: Addictive Habits
One of the most common effects of the inner brat is in behavior that we call addictions and bad habits. Habits are difficult to break. Addictive habits are especially problematic, because they involve not only psychological cravings but physical symptoms as well. Anyone who has quit smoking or who has stopped excessive use of alcohol or drugs will tell you that, for the first few days, the body undergoes a period of withdrawal that may include dizziness, light-headedness, tremors, and other highly uncomfortable sensations. These are the body's reaction to an abrupt withdrawal of a substance that it has become used to.
Withdrawal has a mental or psychological component as well. Just thinking about what you're giving up can precipitate some of the same uncomfortable symptoms as those caused by actual physical withdrawal.
When your inner brat gets you obsessed with feeling deprived, your body often responds as if it's in need of a "fix." Thus, long after the body should have adjusted to the absence of the alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, sugar, or other substance, you may still experience episodes of light-headedness just by imagining having some again.
The inner brat is instrumental in most addictive habits: smoking, drinking, gambling, drug use, Internet addiction, and even uncontrolled eating and shopping. It also comes into play when a person engages in marital infidelity. In each case, the inner brat demands immediate gratification, using persuasion, arguments, threats, or whatever it takes to get what it wants. Of course, all of these "conversations" that the inner brat has with you are internal, and sometimes they happen so automatically you don't even realize it.
Your inner brat tries to get you to do something that you know is bad for you. It also sometimes tries to have you avoid doing something that you know is good for you. The most common example is procrastination. Everyone procrastinates at times, especially when the task is difficult or time-consuming. Just like a whiny child, your inner brat doesn't want to exert itself at something that requires planning or extended effort.
The main emotion underlying procrastination is anxiety, a form of fear. When we're not sure if we can accomplish what we expect of ourselves, we feel unsettled and anxious. In order to reduce our anxiety, we typically promise ourselves that we'll get around to the task later. In other words, we procrastinate. This promise brings a sense of relief. Procrastination is all too common, mainly because it gives people a false sense of security. Just promise yourself you'll get to your taxes or your exercise or your homework later, and you feel better immediately. The only problem is that this relief lasts only a little while just until the next time you have to face what you didn't accomplish.
People who repeatedly give in to procrastination are controlled by their inner brat. They are all too willing to let their inner brat relieve them of anxiety by rationalizing that this is the wrong time to begin the task or by promising that they'll be more motivated next week. The inner brat will do anything to avoid facing the possibility that it may not be able to accomplish what it thinks it shall.
Bratty Behaviors: Overreactions to Angry Feelings
Problems with addictive habits and self-discipline harm primarily the person who engages in the habit or resists self-discipline. When it comes to behaviors of the inner brat that arise from feelings of anger and rage, however, the primary adverse effect is on other people.
The inner brat has little patience. When it encounters obstacles, it overreacts to them, sometimes with grave results.
What about the notion that it's important to express our anger so that it doesn't get "bottled up"? Isn't it harmful to hold in angry feelings because they accumulate and explode later on? To some extent, this is true, particularly when the inner brat dwells on them and obsesses about them. On the other hand, behavior that we associate with a quick temper is best held in check.
Research shows that when we "blow off steam," we become more aggressive rather than less. Angry behavior amplifies the adrenaline surge through our bodies, increasing the level of hostility even more. Any parent who has spanked a child knows that, in a series of smacks, the intensity increases from the first slap to the last. Parents who abuse their children don't start out thinking, "I want to bruise or maim my child." They are usually just angry and tense and, via their inner brat, seek to relieve the tension by hitting the child. Rather than reduce tension, the hitting increases it, and the parent continues to hit harder and harder. In the process, anger has gone out of control.
The potentially harmful effects of uncontrolled anger are not limited to the home. News reports of road rage have become more and more common. Some people become so enraged behind the wheel that they use guns to shoot other drivers who get in their way or who challenge them. One can only imagine what their inner brats must be saying: "How dare he cut in front of me! He's not going to get away with this!" or "Flip me the finger, did he? Well, I'm going to show him that nobody makes a fool out of me! That driver's gonna pay!" Road rage is an extreme manifestation of the inner brat. Thankfully, most people who get this angry don't have a gun handy. Nevertheless, they can still be dangerous. An angry person drives more aggressively, increasing the likelihood of an accident.
I have worked with individuals who were referred to me for evaluation and psychotherapy by their attorney or by the court. In almost every case, their explanation for their road rage was that the other driver made them angry. Rarely did they recognize that they lacked control over their own behavior. During the course of psychotherapy, it was helpful for them to picture an inner brat as a way of giving their anger a name. Once they had this tangible label, they could better recognize early stages of rage and take charge before their inner brat did.
Tantrums and road rage are not the only forms of angry behavior displayed by the inner brat. Sulking and pouting are other expressions of anger, but presented in a more indirect manner.
The inner brat operates in our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviors. We hear it as a voice in the back of our minds, and we feel it in our bodies. The inner brat is the basis for much of our resentment, anger, envy, jealousy, and self-pity. It is also instrumental in our actions, including in our habits, addictions, and angry outbursts.
Although the inner brat can be viewed as an entity somewhat separate from our true "self," it is, at the same time, a part of us. The inner brat is simply a convenient name for describing our darker side. We still remain personally responsible for our words and actions.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Beyond Words Publishing. ©2001, 2004.
Taming Your Inner Brat: A Guide For Transforming Self-Defeating Behavior
by Pauline Wallin, Ph.D.
About the Author
PAULINE WALLIN, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice. She has served on the adjunct faculty of the University of Minnesota and Pennsylvania State University and as communications board chair of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association. Over the years, she has written numerous columns and commentaries for newspapers, magazines, and mental-health Web sites. She has helped hundreds of individuals, couples, families, and businesses understand and productively deal with self-defeating behavior patterns. http://www.drwallin.com