This is a blog post I wrote for The Dragon’s Rocketship, a Sci-Fi/Fantasy group for authors, artists, readers, and all around fans located here:
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Silencing Your Inner Critic
By S.J. Wolff
How many times have you looked at your work, rolled your eyes, sighed heavily and thought, “Oh boy, I suck at this”?
Too many. Right?
Don’t worry. You are not alone. We all have that little niggling, good-for-nothing voice pushing us down. No matter how skilled you are as an artist, a writer or overall creative soul this voice exists.
Why? We are not born into this world not believing in ourselves or our talents. We are not brought into this world with an awareness that we can fail. If we feared failure, would we stand up for the first time? Take those first hesitant steps forward learning to walk? No, we wouldn’t. We learn to walk because we have no one telling us that it is dangerous and we shouldn’t bother. We aren’t afraid. We know nothing of failure. This fear didn’t come from within. So, just where did this self-denigrating voice come from? It came from without. Someone somewhere in our life implanted this wicked little naysayer into our psyche where it then took root and has grown in the shadows ever since. While we’re looking over what we’ve created self-doubt opens the door for this shadow from our past to slink through. And boy does it wreak havoc when it does. It plays with our minds and tricks us into believing things that are not true. The longer we go with this voice calling to us from the darkness, the more we question our ability to create something of worth.
So, step one in conquering and dispelling the voice in the shadows is to shed some light on it.
We must identify the Voice so we can understand why it holds sway over us and take away its power.
The people around us, our relatives, friends, teachers all form our opinions of self-worth. They give us context for where we belong and what is valuable within us. Often times, without realizing it, they also give us baggage.
Some examples from my own life:
“You’re a slow learner.” (Teacher)
“You can’t accomplish without someone else’s help.” (Teacher)
“You talk just to hear yourself talk.” (Mother)
And perhaps the most damaging for my creative psyche, “Why do you waste so much time doodling with writing when you could be doing something more important? It’s a wonderful hobby but what are you going to do for real?” (Mother)
Now, I know you’ve all probably heard some semblance of that last one. Someone who told you that writing or your art is a great little hobby but not something that is “real”. But, all of these type of negative comments feed our wicked, false, and tricksy internal opportunist who is always looking for an opening to knock us down to size.
Think back. Who in your life could have triggered this voice in you? There may be one person or a few. It might have been while you were a child or while you were an adult. The only constant is that this voice is the voice of someone whose opinion mattered to you in some way.
Write down who they are and what they said to you. Stare at the words on the paper and understand, these are the words you have been wielding against yourself all the years forward from that moment in time when they were uttered by another person. These ARE NOT your words. Disown them. Disassociate with them. Separate them from who you are.
Now on to step two – Replace These Negative Words with New Positive Ones, either by you or by those who have encouraged you.
Where I had a teacher who said negative things that stuck with me, I remembered a teacher who was dearer to me than the first. At the time, her words were ignored in favor of the negative ones. I can’t tell you why. Perhaps it was because at home I was hearing the same negative type comments so this teachers comments rang “true” to me. Now, as an adult I realize there was only one person who’d tried to make a difference in my writing life. The others are the voices that have held me back from where I needed to be.
So, hers is the voice I replaced the others with.
Make a list of positive things people around you have said to you or about you. Replace the negatives with their voices.
Every time your internal critic tricks you into uttering, “I suck at this. Why do I even try,” stop it cold and replace it with, “A writer writes. It is who I am and who I’m meant to be. I learn from my mistakes and get better every day.”
Don’t fear your inner critic. Learn to control it. Self-doubt is natural. Critiquing one’s own work is necessary because without it we do not improve. But, there is a difference between critiquing your work and allowing it to move into self-flagellation. When the thoughts whispering through your mind are no longer constructive, when they tread on your talent with steel spiked boots leaving impressions that will only grow deeper, then it is time for the cycle to come to an end.
We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.
~ Maya Angelou ~