By Chris Zydel, MA | Updated September 22, 2018
Whenever you decide to take the courageous risk of expressing yourself creatively, you are automatically opening the door for the Inner Critic to come and join the party. The Inner Critic is that scared voice of "No. No Way. Can't Do It. That's Impossible.You're Not Good Enough etc." that shows up almost every time you decide to be creative. So you need to create a Critc Free Zone, a place where the critic is not allowed to enter, a protected place where your creativity can flourish and thrive.
The first step in developing the Critic Free Zone is making a conscious choice to take the critic on because it's not going to just go away on its own. The most popular way to avoid confrontations with the critic is by staying in the circle of limitation and safety that doesn't challenge it. This often means sidestepping any opportunities to be creative or ignoring your creative impulses. But in order to keep growing creatively it's necessary to engage directly with the critic.
Standing up to the critic is always challenging and requires commitment and focus as well as specific strategies and tactics. One of those strategies is learning to realize that the critic is not you. It's a part of your mind that is based in fear. There are knee jerk, one size fits all learned responses to the scary process of creative expansion that come from your family and culture and show up in your head as the critic's voice. Separating out your own needs, desires and creative visions from those voices is essential in order to take your power back from the critic.
Below are a few tips and exercises that can help you with the process of differentiation and empowerment. Also, the critic can be a very sneaky master of camouflage. I've included in this list some of the more popular schemes and ruses that it uses to try and distract you from doing your creative work. Once you can identify its tricks you will have an easier time not falling for them.
GIVE YOUR CRITIC 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. Let it know, in no uncertain terms that "I'm mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!"
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!
THE BODY BLUES: 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 work, you will be astounded at how quickly the headache, tiredness or nausea disappears.
LAME EXCUSES: The critic also shows up as procrastination, (I'll get to it tomorrow) excuses, ( I just don't have the time, I'm too old, too tired, it's too late) and putting other things first (my laundry, my ficus plant, my pet goldfish really needs me now). It will come up with just about 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.
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 devices is to enlist a posse of people to help it with its job of making you feel bad about your creative efforts. 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 (being able to paint flawless realism the first time you pick up a brush) or in a time frame that is completely unrealistic (a completed novel in a month) 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 standing up and 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!
©2007 Chris Zydel. All rights reserved.
Using counseling and the expressive arts, Chris Zydel, MA, has worked with hundreds of people to help them joyfully grow and expand into their full creative potential. ...