In this issue ~~
* The Inner Critic
* Creative Tip
* Wise Words
One of the greatest deterrents to creativity is the inner
voice that constantly whispers in our ear that we're not good
enough, that nobody will approve of what we're doing, and that
they don't really like us anyway. This "inner critic"
becomes our constant companion, not only in our work, but in
everything we do.
The inner critic begins as a survival mechanism. When we're
children, part of our parents' job is to teach us socially acceptable
behavior. In doing so, even the best parents inevitably curb
our natural instincts. This makes us feel that there must be
something innately wrong with us, and it hurts or shames us.
In order to avoid future pain, we start telling ourselves what's
wrong with us before others in our world get around to it.
As we grow up, we internalize all those outer voices, the
criticisms and limiters on our natural behavior. This becomes
our "inner critic," whose job is to store all the rules
and then chastise us for not following them. Ironically, our
inner voice can become harsher and more persistent than the outer
ones ever were. We punish ourselves emotionally, and sometimes
physically with such things as addictions. What began as a protector
becomes a destroyer.
The inner critic will show up at different times and in different
ways. One minute, it will tell us how hopeless we are, and the
next, how much better we are than everyone else. It will appear
more commonly in some areas of our lives -- usually the ones
we feel less secure about -- than others. It will often speak
up when we're feeling tired or threatened, and when things are
going well and we feel good about ourselves, it'll remind us
that we'll never be able to sustain it. When we're in the throes
of creating, the vulnerability we feel is an open door for the
critic to step in and judge us and our work.
~ The first step in dealing with the inner critic is to recognize
it as a separate entity from yourself.
It is a voice within you, but it's not you. This voice has
been your constant companion since childhood, and it's likely
so much a part of you, like the air you breathe, that you hardly
even notice it.
Realize that these are the combined voices of all the authority
figures you grew up with -- parents, teachers, religious leaders
or just about any adult. When you were small, not heeding these
voices could result in physical or emotional pain or humiliation.
Your inner critic may even reflect the voices of childhood
friends. We all wanted so desperately to belong, yet most of
us are not strangers to being hurt or humiliated because we were
different. When I was about ten, a "caring" friend
told me that other kids thought I was conceited. It took me many
years to let go of that voice, and it certainly kept me from
being and doing my best for fear of losing friends if I allowed
myself to shine.
~ Next, begin to listen to what the voice says.
Make note of the repetitive messages you hear. How does your
critic speak to you? What names does it call you? Does it speak
to you in a demeaning way, calling you "stupid" or
worse? How does it find fault with you? Are there particular
issues it tends to pick on?
Notice if there is a particular voice that dominates. Do you
constantly hear your mother saying that men don't like smart
women, or your father saying that art is for sissies? Sometimes,
merely identifying the voice, and understanding that you're now
old enough to make your own choices, will dissipate it.
Also, step back and look objectively at what the voice is
saying. Is it true? If not, acknowledge what is true. If it is,
what action can you take? Is there a skill you need to acquire?
A discipline you need to institute? Are you setting impossible
standards for yourself that need to be more realistic? Whose
approval are you looking for? Is it worth sacrificing your creativity
to get it? Will you ever really get it anyway?
~ How is your critic trying to protect you from pain?
Remember, your critic came into being to prevent you from
behaving in a way that would bring you shame or humiliation.
It's not likely that you need the same degree of policing you
needed as a small child, yet the voice keeps up the tirade. Perhaps
it's time to tell the voice to leave you alone and find it a
new focus, like pointing out your strengths!
~ Once you've begun to recognize the patterns, begin to change
As you become more conscious of what the voice is saying,
you can "reprogram" it. How would you talk to a child
in this situation? If you often tell yourself that you're stupid,
find a more caring and encouraging way to address yourself. If
you do make a mistake, acknowledge it, but support yourself in
doing it better next time rather than berating yourself -- not
a great motivator for self-improvement.
If your voice continually points up your weaknesses, look
instead for your strengths. Tell the voice that while you may
never live up to your sister's artistic abilities, you have a
talent all your own that's worthwhile and valuable. That while
you couldn't make it into Harvard, you have great people skills
that make a difference in many lives or you're a wiz at fixing
computers. Or you may need to admit to yourself that you have
an extraordinary gift, even thought it might make people jealous.
~ Identify the underlying fear.
What's the worst thing that could happen if you didn't listen
to your critic? As a child, you might not have had the resources
to handle that. As an adult, you do. Or you can develop them.
And if you really look at the fears and test them, in many cases,
the child's fears are no longer a threat to the adult, or they
no longer need to be.
~ Talk to your inner critics.
Find out what they have to say about you. In most cases, when
you hear how extreme and absurd their criticisms are, it will
be easier to dismiss them. Notice how contradictory they are
-- they'll find something wrong no matter what you do! On one
day, they'll criticize you for not being talented enough. On
another, they'll criticize you for looking too good and making
Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone have developed a technology called
"Voice Dialogue," in which they work with clients
to interact with numerous inner voices, one of which is the Inner
Critic. You can also do this using meditation, journaling or
opposite-hand writing, in which you write your questions with
your dominant hand and respond to them using the hand you don't
usually write with.
~ When doing your creative work, keep the critic in its place.
There's a time to create and a time to evaluate. When you're
in the midst of the creative process, you don't want this judging
presence looking over your shoulder, stopping the flow of creativity.
Later, you want to be able to discern what works, what doesn't,
what improvements are needed. That's when the judging voice becomes
~ Build your self-esteem.
Seek out and remind yourself what's good about you and what
you do well. When you do that, you become less vulnerable to
outside "attacks." Ironically, the more we give our
inner critic free rein, the more outer critics seem to show up
~ Become your own authority.
By listening to inner and outer critics, you give them power
over you. Whose approval are you always looking to get? What
gives their opinions more weight than yours? When you were a
child, it could be devastating, a seeming threat to your survival,
to lose the approval of parents and teachers. But you're an adult
now with a much wider range of choices and capabilities. It might
hurt to lose outside approval, but you don't need it to survive.
While you can learn technique and skills, true creativity
is unique to you, and you need to follow your own muse. That's
how we achieve innovation of expression in the arts. Caroline
Myss, in her work, talks about our "tribe." This can
be our family, our colleagues, or some other peer group. In order
to be part of the group, certain behavior is expected. But in
order to individuate, to live your life by your own ideas and
values, you need to break away from the tribe, at least for a
time. That can be painful, but it can also afford you tremendous
~ Keep things in perspective.
Even if you have an incredible teacher whose judgments you
value, don't allow them to diminish your self-trust. Mentoring
is great, but not at the expense of your self-esteem and creativity.
Your opinion matters, too. Remember, Freud didn't approve of
the direction his student Karl Jung took. What a loss it would
have been had Jung limited himself in order to please his teacher!
~ Be more gentle with yourself.
Instead of listening to your inner critic, give yourself the
love and approval you want. True, some of what it says may be
true. Do what you can about it, then let it go. Remember how
annoying it was when your mother constantly nagged you about
standing up straight or being like your cousin? Why do that to
The inner critic emerged to help you learn social behavior
and avoid pain by curbing your natural instincts. But you need
those instincts to create. As an adult, you know when and how
you need to control yourself and when you can let loose. You
have the maturity to discern that for yourself and no longer
need arbitrary rules. There are still many places where you need
to control your behavior, but your creativity can be one place
where you can safely express yourself without limits -- as long
as you keep your inner critic in check.
There's one more thing you need to know. The voice of the
inner critic is not going to go away. Not completely. And you
don't want to force it to go away -- as they say, what you resist
persists. But the good news is, you can teach it to speak to
you in a more positive, constructive way. Listen to it if you
choose, but make your own judgments as the adult you are.
A special thanks to Roberta W. of New Hampshire for inspiring
When you want to bypass your inner critic, try writing or
drawing with crayons on big sheets of construction paper to tap
into the innocence of the child within you.
"Be yourself and think for yourself; and while your conclusions
may not be infallible, they will be nearer right than the conclusions
forced upon you."
~ Elbert Hubbard
"Self-worth cannot be verified by others. You are worthy
because YOU say it is so. If you depend on others for your value,
it is 'other-worth'."
~ Dr. Wayne Dyer
"Many of us grow up with the idea that mistakes are bad,
linking our self-esteem with continued success. We become afraid
of making mistakes. So in order to achieve success, we tend to
steer clear of areas that may lie outside the apparent realm
of our natural talent. In this perverse equation, the secret
of success becomes avoiding failure, leaving much of our potential
untapped. In order to reach our full potential to learn, we must
accept and then transform anxiety and fear, relentlessly seeking
accurate information on our performance. What used to be perceived
as criticism now becomes a gift for constructive growth."
~ Michael Gelb and Tony Buzan, Lessons
from the Art of Juggling; How to Achieve Your Full Potential in Business, Learning and
(click on the book graphic to see a
description at Amazon.com)
Embracing Your Inner
Critic: Turning Self-Criticism into a Creative Asset .
. . Hal Stone, Sidra Stone
Disarming Your Inner
Critic . . . James Elliott
Soul Without Shame:
A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within .
. . Byron Brown
Be Full of Yourself:
The Journey from Self-Criticism to Self-Celebration . .
. Patricia Lynn Reilly
When Words Hurt: How
to Keep Criticism from Undermining Your Self-Esteem . .
. Mary Lynne Heldmann
The Power of Your Other
Hand: A Course in Channeling the Inner Wisdom of the Right Brain
. . . Lucia Capacchione
How to Be an Adult:
A Handbook on Psychological and Spiritual Integration .
. . David Richo
© 2000 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.
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