In all my years of teaching the intuitive painting process and helping people get more creative, the biggest ongoing issue I’ve seen that keeps folks blocked, stuck and unable to be creatively free, is the inability to deal effectively with the inner voice of judgment, more commonly known as the inner critic. Or as I like to call that voice… Mr. Judgy.
So here’s a few tips that I have learned over the years that can begin to help you get a handle on taming your own version of Mr. Judgy and find your way back to the land of creative joy.
CREATING A CRITIC FREE ZONE
You need to make a conscious choice to take the critic on, because it’s not going to just go away on its own. You can avoid confrontations with the critic but only by staying in the circle of limitation and safety that doesn’t challenge it. If you want to grow creatively you need to engage directly with the critic.
There are two different archetypes you need to recruit to help you in your battle with the critic. The first archetype, the warrior, is the part of you that is capable of setting boundaries and is effective at self defense. It is not interested in putting up with B.S. (either yours or the critics), is willing to be angry and assertive, and will do whatever it takes to prevail and to win. You need to develop your warrior self because you are safeguarding something very precious, the treasure of your unique, authentic, creative self. The warrior energy is essential to fight the dragons of conformity, fear, low self worth, learned helplessness, underachievement, and victimization that manifest when the critic gets the upper hand.
The second archetype is that of the nurturing, all accepting, cheerleading good parent. This is the aspect of yourself that believes in you unconditionally, who stands by you no matter what, who hears the still small voice of your creative intuition and encourages that voice to become loud and confident and strong. It is the part of you that loves and values everything that you create, just because you created it, and not because it will make you money or get you on Oprah!
Engagement with the critic is always difficult and requires commitment, focus, intention and discipline as well as specific strategies and tactics. One of the primary goals in critic work is differentiating between yourself and the critic so I’ve included a few tips and exercises that can help you with that process of separation.
Give it a name. It can be a descriptive name like Stinky or Killjoy or Blowhard or a real person’s name. The important thing is to distinguish it in your own mind as an independent entity.
Draw, paint or sculpt your critic.Really get in touch with the energy of it and don’t be afraid to make it big and ugly and wicked. Have fun!
Make a list of all the different messages that the critic gives you. Writing them down allows you to get some distance from them, observe patterns, and begin to see the absurdity of these communiqué’s.
Write a letter to your critic. Using some of the messages from the previous exercise, fight back. Tell it off. Stand up to it. Practice being fierce and angry.” I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!”
Involve yourself in a creative project and then purposefully search for the critic. Be very vigilant. Go on a critic hunting spree! Practice being the predator, not the prey. When you find it… well, I’m confident by now that you know what to do!
Choose a day where you refuse to engage with any critical assessment of yourself about anything. And I mean ANYTHING!!. When you hear any internal criticism whatsoever, be relentless and JUST SAY NO! As you go about your daily routine, every time you hear the critic speaking, say out LOUD something like shut up, get off my back, leave me alone, I’m not listening. Using your own voice in this way gives you an energetic power boost that helps to break the critic’s spell.
You may appear to be a nut basket to those you are living with, but it’s better to be a little kooky than to spend the rest of your life caged and contained by that voice.(Make sure that you let your domestic companions know what you are up to so that they don’t think you are talking to them!)
Ask your friends and family to help you out. If they hear you saying something critical or disparaging about yourself, give them full permission to bring it to your attention and to command you to stop. This could become a very popular activity with your tribe as they will really enjoy having a legitimate reason to boss you around!
One of the critics more clever disguises is to manifest as some kind of physical distress such as overwhelming tiredness, a splitting headache, backache or nausea right at he point when you are getting ready to tackle a creative project. So instead of sitting down in front of your computer to write, or standing in front of your easel to paint you are compelled to lie down on your couch and take a nap with a cold compress on your head!
People are often surprised to learn that these symptoms are just another demonstration of the critic at work. If you push through the physical discomfort , and continue with your creative expression, you will be astounded at how quickly the headache, tiredness or nausea disappears.
The critic also shows up as procrastination: It says things like(I’ll get to it tomorrow). It makes all kinds of excuses, (but I just don’t have the time). It puts other things first (my grandmother, cat, pet goldfish really needs me now). It will do ANYTHING to keep you from getting started on a creative venture.
You need to recognize these undermining tactics for that they are and bring the warrior self in to carve out some inviolate time where you make your creative life a priority. Draw up a schedule. Put your creative time on the calendar and practice not letting ANYTHING interfere.
Don’t compare or compete! The critic loves to point out how this or that person does whatever it is that you want to create better, or more brilliantly than you. When you are in the critic’s thrall you have no capacity to judge your own work.
For example, this article keeps getting longer and longer and longer. When I started this I had no idea I had so much to say and it just keeps coming.
So here I am feeling pushed around and bossed around by this muse of mine, this voice of my intuition that I am now wishing had stayed “still and small”, and all I can do is surrender. I want it to stop, to leave me alone but it wants what it wants and I am only it’s often sullen, sulky, whiny instrument. But I’m the best it’s got right now, and I need to honor that.
If I don’t do this it won’t get done, because the truth of it is no one else can do this like I can. I’m not saying that no one else can write about the inner critic or difficulties with the creative process. Lots of people have done so and will continue to do so in a myriad of whiz-bang and wonderful ways.
But no one else can say exactly what I have to say in the way that I can say it because they are not ME! I have my own take on this that it is important for me to express it even if the critic is trying to tell me that someone else has already done it better, and no one really cares what I think.
Surrounding yourself with critical people: A surefire recipe for creative paralysis is having both internal AND external critics.So one of the critic’s favorite tactics is to enlist a posse of people to help it with its job of making you feel bad. You can identify these folks by their habit of always seeming to find fault with your creative expression.
What you need to flourish and grow creatively is to surround yourself with a wildly enthusiastic audience who applauds every creative move you make. If you have people in your life who can’t be your cheerleaders, then ditch em! OK, OK, so maybe you can’t just ditch your mother. But you must never, EVER show these naysayers any of your creative efforts. Not ever. I really mean this.
Catastrophizing: If you are going through a challenging patch creatively, feeling stuck or bored or scared, the critic will jump in with doom statements like “It’s always going to be this way. This will never change. In fact it will only get worse. You should just quit now.”
If that doesn’t work and you continue plowing ahead with your creative project it will pull out the death and ruination card.” If you stay on this path of creativity you will lose your job. Become a bag lady. A plane could crash into your house. You could die of some horrible rare disease. In fact ,what is that weird pain you are feeling in your left toe? “
Of course all of this is completely ludicrous, but the critic is counting on years of training in slavish devotion to anything it says to blind you to the ridiculousness of these statements.
Demanding that you do the impossible: The critic loves to set you up for failure by giving you creative assignments that you couldn’t possibly fulfill based on a skill level you couldn’t possibly have and then berating you mercilessly when you fall short of the mark.
Too much, too big, too scary, too, too! Whenever you hear the critic saying you are too ANYTHING, turn it around and try to be even more of what it doesn’t want you to be. The critic says what you are doing is trite or kitschy? Fine! Pull out all the stops and show that old judging mind what kitschy is really all about. Gleefully make it jump up and down. Practice being too much.
Always, always, ALWAYS be very suspicious of the critic’s motivations for giving you a particular message. Whenever you hear the critic mouthing off always ask the question “WHY? Why is it going after me now? How have I threatened it, how am I getting too big or powerful or otherwise stepping outside of my familiar box?”
Never engage with the critic in an argument on its own terms. The only interaction you should ever have with the critic is some version of telling it to take a hike. Remember… it is not rational , so don’t interact with it as if it is. Giving it that level of respect feeds the critic and diminishes you. You can’t win an argument with a crazy person… even if that crazy person is lurking inside of your own head.
And finally…the critic will never go away. This process of fighting back is not meant to ultimately get rid of the critic because that just isn’t possible. The inner critic is just one aspect of your unruly monkey mind. It’s part of the hardwiring in being human. So there’s no shame in having to deal with it again and again. You need to have compassion for the struggle, and recognize that although you can’t get rid of the critic itself, you can change your relationship to it, so that it is no longer running your life. And after you’ve kicked its butt about 5 million times, you can then begin to have compassion for its scared, misguided, annoying self!
From my wild heart to yours,