When was the last time you told yourself that what you were making, writing, or doing was not good enough?
I was 19 when I began to realize that the chatter in my head was not the truth. In an eating disorder treatment center, the therapists’ goal was to help us all understand that the voices telling us to stop eating, to work out more, to purge, to take diet pills – those voices in our own heads – were not being honest with us. They were our inner critics, and they were speaking entirely from a place of fear and insecurity.
It was an incredible gift for me – at that age – to begin to understand that the negative stories I was telling myself were not actually true. Instead, they were the frightened chatter of the most insecure parts of myself. And I could choose not to listen to them.
So when I heard the cadence of “I’m not enough,” I began to recognize it as thought rather than truth.
Later, in my mid-twenties, I worked with my therapist on discovering why I had developed the “I’m not enough” voice in the first place. We talked a lot about how it had once been a somewhat useful coping mechanism, a way to protect myself from potential external pain. If I told myself that I wasn’t pretty enough, it wouldn’t hurt so badly when I didn’t get asked to the sixth-grade dance. Or if my internal voice said I wasn’t smart enough, then getting a low grade wasn’t a shock.
The problem is that the inner critic, just like anyone, gets better with practice. And it’s a game stopper. Eventually it becomes stronger than any potential outside critiques, and you stop creating, writing, doing – before you even start. What’s the point? You’ve convinced yourself you’re not good enough.
The thing about the critic, though, is that it’s not mean – it’s not trying to hurt you. It’s scared. Like a little 11 year-old who is afraid of not getting asked to the dance. Instead of fighting against my inner critic or trying to ignore it, my therapist encouraged me to treat it like the frightened 11 year-old it is, to engage it in a little mini-conversation that goes something like this:
Critic: No one is going to connect with this blog post you’re writing. You’re embarrassing yourself.
Me: Oh Critic, thank you for being there when I needed you to protect me. But I’m actually okay now. And I’m really excited to share this.
Critic: It’s going to suck.
Me: I know you’re scared about that, but you can relax. I’ve got this.
Perhaps reading this little dialogue, you think I’m crazy. Maybe I am, but having these little mini-conversations has helped me push through those days when I have trouble trusting my own abilities. And as someone attempting to grow a creative business, there are an unfortunate number of those. If I didn’t give my inner critic a little vacation – let it know that its services are no longer needed – I’d never get anywhere.
Almost 13 years after being formally introduced to my inner critic, I’ve accepted that it’s not going away.
And when I’m making real creative progress is when it’s most likely to pop up and derail things because those times of progress are the most vulnerable – right before I hit the publish button on a new blog post or tell someone about my creative ideas or upload an item to my etsy shop.
And when it shows up in those moments, I know just what to say.
I got this.