Conversations With My Critic

Girl Reading by Belafonte

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.

Thanks.

I got this.

22 thoughts on “Conversations With My Critic

  1. Great article! I also have that critic in my head to, it tells me about how terrible I am all the time. Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of having a conversation with it, you could just tie it up in a chair and gag it with a dirty sock so it can’t say anything to begin with in the future?

    1. Haha! That would be awesome. Unfortunately my experience is that it’s a devious little sucker that can get out of any ropes I use to tie it up!

  2. I just wish the critic didn’t have such a loud, obnoxious, unignorable voice. Usually it doesn’t let me get a word in edgeways!

  3. Such a fantastic post. Bravo. My Voice of Doubt sits on my right shoulder and also yells. I’m learning to adopt selective hearing.

      1. WOOO!!!! YAAAA Katie, thanks for snahirg! I got goosebumps many times throughout the read. I am STOKED!! I am looking forward to see your wild and unique journey continue. Way to go Katie LC M is proud of you! Keep going girl, right here behind ya!Mandy

  4. About a year ago, my inner critic got really loud, yelling at me to go back to work (as a corporate accountant), make some real money, do something useful with my life. It was horrible, and I was astounded at how I was saying such horrible things to myself, worse things than I’d ever say to anyone else. While thinking about this one day, I suddenly got a picture in my head of what this ‘person’ looked like, and she got a name: Helga the Horrible! Then she got quieter, almost like since she’d been truly discovered, the gig was up. After a few days of being really angry at her presence, I realized that she was just trying to protect me, that she’s nasty because she’s scared that I’ll get hurt in one way or the other. I realized that she’s done an extraordinary job of keeping me safe, through all kinds of life’s trials, and as a result my life has been pretty darn good. So I also had a conversation with her, thanking her for all she’s done, and telling her also that I’ve got it now, it’s going to be ok. She’s still with me, she always will be – but she’s quieter (usually), and she fades into the background, especially when I meet her fear with gratitude and compassion. It’s been an amazing transformation!

    1. Deb, that was so beautifully put.
      And I know exactly what you mean about the power of naming – once we recognize that it’s a particular thing and not “us,” then dealing with it (the mean voice) is easier – and being able to thank it for its service. I’m so glad for you that you’ve gone through that amazing transformation.

  5. I feel like I’ve encountered my inner critic a lot lately — rather than yelling at me and saying “You suck, what are you thinking???” it’s this mousy little thing that wrings her hands and hems and haws like “Are you sure we’re going to be good at XYZ? What if we’re noooottttttt? I’m scaaaaared.” She’s annoying and petulant, but at the same time I want to listen to her and attend to her insecurities so she’ll feel better. Bitch.
    Phrase that resonated the most with me — “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” — printing, posting over computer, reading multiple times daily.
    And as for your inner critic, Kt, lemme at’er! I’d like to give her a big 1-2 punch.
    xo

  6. “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”

    I’ve learn a few things about vulnerability myself in past months :) It’s actually a good thing!
    When you acknowledge your thoughts they don’t really go away but it seems to fade, became less powerful… It’s a daily exercice.

    Great post, thank you for sharing!

  7. Thanks for this, Katie! I love how talking about the inner critic actually brings us together and essentially proves that critical voice wrong. Thanks for being brave enough to share it!

  8. Wow. I got here via a link from Saturday Sequins… your post is amazing and has me really really really thinking. Mostly, that I should definitely try to talk with my own therapist about this, too…

    If you were hoping that your post today would help someone else who really needed it… you have.

    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *