I just finished reading a book my friend suggested “Embracing your Inner Critic: Turning Self Criticism into a Creative Asset by Hal and Sidra Stone. It was perfect timing—I was procrastinating with a creative piece of work. I hear the critic raise its ugly head in my clients all the time, but was fooled into thinking I had mine handled. Surprise!
When Does it Happen?
For me it happens whenever I start a creative project. I was beginning a songwriting project which kicked off an attack—ouch! Critical whispers in my head telling me this project has to be REALLY good or it’s not worth doing; in fact let’s go for perfection and hit it out of the ball park! With pressure like that, I head for the hills and I go clean out my office files or stick my nose in a book instead—anything to get away from that harping General Patton.
Other times the critic can kick up is after you’ve been in a social situation, you come home and then it questions what you said, how you behaved, what others thought of you. Or at work. Or looking in the mirror. How about when your teenagers are telling you how strict and unfair you are because you won’t let them hitchhike through Europe? There are so many triggers that can activate the critic.
Who’s Running the Show Anyhow???
Yeah, who’s really in charge? At times when it is attacking, it feels like its speaking the truth. But actually, instead of the truth, we are hearing voices from long ago that we have internalized; voices that have developed to try to keep us safe, in a twisted way. They will harangue us and beat us down so that we pull back into our safety zone and don’t do anything that risks us looking foolish—a fate apparently worse than death. It all sounds so crazy. And it is.
So What to Do?
The process that the Stones suggest in their book is called Voice Dialogue. Carl Jung developed a similar concept called Active Imagination. Both are about having back and forth conversations with the Critic or any other parts that are driving us—the Pusher, the Perfectionist—that are not letting us have free choice. We can do this with a facilitator or we can journal the conversation on our own.
As we differentiate between these voices battling it out in our head, we start to hear other, wiser voices that have more compassion and kindness. We can reassure this inner critic by reminding it that we, the wise part, are in charge and are not going to do anything dangerous or risky. We are then better able to choose what action we will or won’t take that will meet our needs and serve the situation.
Having a healthy relationship between the wise part of ourselves and our inner critic is essential in learning how to love and care for ourselves, and have the freedom to live the life we truly desire.