Is Your Inner Critic Cramping Your Style?
I feel insignificant and small.
I'm so dispersed.
I'm cerebrally lazy.
I feel sad and alone.
I ate too much.
These are just a few of the things I wrote about myself in 1993. If you've ever kept a diary or journal and gone back to it, you may notice the strong, domineering voice of your inner critic. I've started journaling again and went back recently to look at my old journals, and frankly, it was hard to read the words I wrote against myself, especially knowing that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship and had bulimia and undiagnosed ADD.
It's not like I'm completely free of those voices today, though at least now I have some tools to not let them get in my way.
Keeping a journal and freewriting are great activities to catch your critical, judging voice in action. When you write freely without paying too much attention to what you're writing, it's amazing how much you can discover about yourself and about how your inner critic may be running (or trying to run) the show.
Set aside time to write
Take 10 or so minutes to write and see where it takes you. Set a timer, clear off your desk, or lap, and pull out a nice notebook. Maybe you don't look at what you wrote until the next day or not.
And if you decide to dialogue with the inner critic who came to scold you while you were writing, then you may well ask her where she gets her/his/their ideas from. More to the point, who do you know who is like that or was like that, either with you or with themselves? Is it related to a parent, sibling, or teacher? Chances are the more you unpack this question the more you'll arrive at the conclusion that it doesn't have anything to do with you. The fact is that you may actually be carrying someone else's beliefs inside you and holding them up as truths when they weren't yours in the first place.
When you stand back and look at the criticism objectively you may realize that you can see and hear it, but that you don't need to identify with it. This takes some practice and I'm still a novice at it after several years, but becoming aware is the first big step.
When you deal with your inner critic, you may wish to request help from your Protector or Nurturer, on the part of you that will be a friend. If you find this part or parts of yourself aren't very strong, then spend some time reinforcing them. Do this by bringing your awareness down to your heart. Use the breath and breathe into this area of your body where the Protector resides. Tell her that you'd like her help and believe that she will keep you safe from the inner critic. Doing this repeatedly will eventually help the Protector to be seen more and gain in strength as she helps you. You may also wish to write a letter to your Protector to ask how she may help you.
Write down some things that your inner critic says to you, such as you always fail or you get it wrong often. Now rely on your Protector or Nurturer to write down reasons why this isn't true. After a while of relying on your inner Protector and Nurturer to have your back, it will be easier for you to look on the inner critic as someone who isn't very reliable with her observations.
Sometimes when we're blocked due to negative beliefs, it can be a safe place to be because we're used to it. When we strive to do something that means a lot to use such as write a book or paint, we may come up with excuses as to why we shouldn't do it, such as people will look down on me, my friends will not approve, or my parents will be critical of this, or it's too late. These beliefs are not facts and the more readily we recognize this, the closer we'll come to fulfilling our creative longings.
Write out a list of the things your negative voices tell you when you make time for yourself to create—whether it’s writing, painting, knitting, or building a birdhouse. Write how it makes you feel when you hear those voices, and what their words have made you feel about yourself.
The voices you hear when you carve a space for yourself to create are very real, yet the more you connect to that part of you that fears the unknown, then the easier it will be to move toward your creative vision. There is a certain amount of risk you take when you venture into a creative zone of your own making. Humans hate risk most of all; it’s built into our DNA. Yet studies show that if you don’t risk if you don’t trust others, especially yourself, you'll never know the answer to the question What if?
Here’s a little story about my voices
When I first began writing every day it took me a while to recognize and deal with the negative self-talk that went on in my head. One part of me--the part wishing to be happy and embrace my creative wholeness—thought that expressing my creativity was a normal part of being human, while another part—a smaller yet very opinionated and bossy part—was constantly criticizing everything I did. I would take two steps forward with my writing when a voice would say, “What do you think you’re doing?” and “How could you imagine that you'd have anything to say or contribute to the world?”
Because they had been with me since I was a little girl, maybe even for several lifetimes, they were firmly ingrained in my sense of who I was, so much so that I barely knew they were there. I would add to the voices by telling myself there was no point in trying because nobody reads books anymore, or writing doesn’t pay the bills. Yet, all the while every cell of my being was crying out to create—to express my sense of the world, of my being, through words. It got to the point where, as my own voice grew louder and stronger demanding that I take time for writing, I also started to recognize the negative voices for what they were: My fears and anxieties about giving in to my own creative discovery.
Critical voices & food
For women, these voices often tell us what not to eat and why we need to look a certain way. As someone who struggled with bulimia in her 20s, I know how complex a woman's relationship to food and her body can be. I recently caught the podcast, Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos. In this episode, she interviews Jessamyn Stanley who identified as a "fat, awkward weirdo" and didn't exercise until she realized it was her body-shaming that was holding her back. She now teaches yoga at Underbelly, a thriving community she founded. It's a beautiful story of how one woman forged her own path about what yoga was for her, and then became an inspiration for thousands of people who never thought exercise was for them.
Here's one last question I have for you to consider: What if your inner critic wasn't there to judge you? What kind of insanely wonderful creative universes would you be cooking up?
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