Handle Your Inner Critic Like A Boss
All your paintings are ugly.
Your art looks like a child drew it.
Everything you do stinks.
No one will buy your work.
No one likes or follows you on social media.
You’re a fraud.
How can you call yourself an artist?
These are just a few things the Drill Sergeant in my head says to me. Sergeant, aka my inner critic, is quite the meanie. And, unfortunately, always close by to tell me what he thinks of me and my work. It is hard enough that artists like me have to deal with flesh and blood critics, on top of that we have an inner critic to deal with, too. I know that if I have not found a way to deal with critics, physical or the one in my mind, I’d not be creating art or doing anything else I was passionate about in my life. The Sergeant, unlike his real life contemporaries, can turn up at any time — when I’m in the shower, while I’m watching TV, as I’m turning the covers down for bed…. The guy is always there and is pretty much always on.
Many times in the past I gave up doing what I loved, and one of the reasons was the Sergeant. I believed what he told me and so I let go of the things that made me the happiest. But thank goodness that eventually I decided to listen to my heart despite the Sargeant and came back to creating art.
It took a long while for me to make peace with Sarge but things started getting better when I read about and practiced exercises recommended by books on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). With new knowledge and much effort I was able to tell myself positive things to counter the constant criticism. After a while I also got more comfortable really listening to what Sarge was saying to me and because I was ready and willing to sit with his words, I realized what my real fears are, the biggest being that I am not good enough. I came to see that he was trying to protect me from what he saw as a cruel world, he wants me to stay safe and not take any risks lest I get hurt. I came to understand that he had good intentions but was just really inept at being likeable and kind. Yes, I now know what he’s all about and I get where he’s coming from, but that doesn’t mean that he’s right and he still really does piss me off.
My adeptness at quelching the effects of my inner critic’s efforts elevated when I gave him his persona and first named him (I know other people have done this to their own inner critics as well). After naming him, I listened. I did this to be able to catch him doing his worst because I realized that at times he’s sneaking in the background of my mind whispering and I don’t notice he’s doing this. Then eventually I end up anxious or in a bad mood and not sure how I got there. That’s him being a sneaky rat. So, to counter this, I have to be conscious of when he’s working.
I also continued my efforts to be more positive. Whenever I caught him doing his job, I’d question his words. Is what he’s saying to me true? If it’s true, is it accurate? Is what he is suggesting to me going to help me or harm me?
Usually I find that Sarge exaggerates things. When he tells me “Your work sucks” while I am in the middle of painting, I see that maybe it is true that my art is not quite right yet. I can counter with “Sarge, my art is a work in progress. It is not yet time to judge it as it is not finished.”
When he says “No one wants your art, no one will buy it because what you make is ugly”, I can say “That is not true. I have sold paintings before and even if my art is not to everyone’s taste, there are people out there who are willing to pay their hard earned money for it.”
Sarge says “You have no idea what you’re doing”, me: “I know what I am doing most of the time, and when I don’t know how to do something I am smart enough to find out how.”
“You better quit now because artists starve and you’ll end up homeless and hungry and no one loves you.” OK now that’s just crazy talk and sometimes what he says can be laughable because it’s so ridiculous. When he says stuff like that I realize he knows I have won the argument, because I don’t even dignify that with an answer and merely snicker and shake my head at him.
The thing with Sarge is that he can talk, but I don’t have to take his advice. He can try and bully me, but my job is to stand up for myself by answering him with more accurate, realistic statements in a positive yet assertive way.
My inner critic has been a difficult companion all these years, but I have come to accept that he’s not going away. He’s here for a reason, and in some weird way he’s made me stronger, helped me get to know myself more and even made me better at handling harsh words and criticism in general.
The examples I used above are all related to my work as an artist, but Sarge will also sneak his negative opinions into my personal life. The inner critic can affect many, if not all aspects of our lives, but questioning and facing him assertiveness and logic work for me no matter where he shows up.
Because I know that he’s going to make himself heard, and because he keeps saying the same things over and over again, I have constructed pre-made answers or scripts that I can just throw at him quickly as a comeback. These scripts have proven to be really effective for me, especially when I am tired and don’t have a lot of energy or brain power to contradict or question what he tells me. If you’d like a copy of the scripts I use on Sarge visit Scripts To Combat Your Inner Critic, use them on your own critic or feel change the wording to suit your needs!
More help: If your critic is especially nasty or getting out of control, give CBT a try. There are many books, workbooks, websites, counsellors and info out here that may be able to help you tame that annoying inner voice.
- Interested in an art or creativity workshop? Visit mtmhobbes.com/classes