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Dealing With The Inner Critic

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This Saturday I will be teaching a course in how to write one’s memoirs. The calls are coming in and I believe that both classes (I am teaching the same class two different times that day) will be well attended.

However, I have already spoken to several people who would like to take the class, but they will not be there, not because of time conflicts, but because they listen too well to their Internal Critic.

Everybody has an Internal Critic, that shrill, interior voice that damns us for daring to think that we can be creative, be successful, be effective. Many authors confess to having one and I know very few that don’t.


I allowed my Inner Critic to hold me back for years. Here is a list of items I have learned about this monster of the mind:

  1. Nobody is born with an Inner Critic. Have you ever given crayons to a 3-year old and see them pause before a piece of white paper paralyzed with self-doubt?
  2. The Inner Critic is composed of all the criticizing, shaming voices we have heard throughout our lives, ones that came from our parents, our teachers, our peers, sometimes even strangers.
  3. The Inner Critic feeds off an unnatural response to failure. Failing to reach a goal is a common human experience. Everybody fails, but if we are taught that we failed because of a lack or flaw inherent within ourselves then we will come to believe we will never be able to succeed in anything simply because of an unchangeable attribute of who and what we are.
  4. Before too long we begin to feed our Inner Critic ourselves and filled with self-loathing and fear, we cripple our own lives.
  5. The three weapons of the Inner Critic are Fear of Rejection, Fear of Failure, and Fear of Success. Those hobbled by the Inner Critic are afraid they will experience more rejection when they fail, that they cannot succeed at all (Fear of Failure) and that if they do succeed in accomplishing their goal, it was merely a fluke and it will never be able to be repeated.

My Inner Critic arose from a fourth grade teacher who, unknown to anybody at the time including herself, was dying of a brain tumor. Unable to handle stress and mentally hampered by the tumor, she abused the children in her class emotionally and physically and, as I was a difficult child to begin with, much of her fury focused on me. Worst of all, she poisoned the fifth and sixth grade teachers against me in the teacher’s lounge and their expectations became a self-fulfilling prophecy. In sixth grade, I tested as gifted, but when the teacher read my score in front of the class, she shamed me by announcing the results a fluke and I would always be a failure.

Believing my teacher, I proved her right until a dramatic change on my world view during 11th grade allowed me to graduate with honors in the 12th. Sadly, I made a bad choice in colleges and lacking a wise mentor, slipped back into self-defeating behaviors and mindsets.

So how do we overcome the Inner Critic?

The story will be different for everyone and my path will not be yours. However, I hope in telling my story you may find seeds of hope for your own recovery.

  1. I have always had a strong faith in God even though at first I saw him as cruel and vindictive. Though I entered adulthood despising teachers because of my experiences in school and college, I found healing and the ability to forgive because I discovered a God who was patient, loved me unconditionally (it took me years to learn not to confuse God with life), and fulfilled to perfection the titles of Great Physician and Wonderful Counselor.
  2. Having an emotional collapse in 1979, I began reaching out to therapists and counselors who walked me through the process of healing. I also was blessed with incredible mentors and in my success, I stand on the shoulders of giants: Amos Devor, Dr. Francis Norton, and Robert Aulthouse.
  3. One of the hardest tasks was focusing on my successes and looking at my failures as not proclamations of my self-worth, but steps toward learning.
  4. I learned how to muzzle the Inner Critic by focusing on the task instead of the inner voice. Focusing on the next step and knowing that good enough is good enough. Perfectionism is not something to be proud of. People who must be perfect such as surgeons, airline pilots, and others have teams that back them up. Most of us are artists work solo. However, as a writer there will be ample time to go back and fix the mistakes. This is why revision, not writing, is the most difficult task of the two.
  5. I learned to celebrate small victories.
  6. Failure, as I previously mentioned, is not a statement of my self-worth regardless of what others may say about me in response to the event. Failure is only learning how not to do something. You and I are a work in progress and I proudly wear a button along with everybody else that says, Please be Patient, God is Not Finished With Me Yet.
  7. I gladly write crap. I know now what the phrase “first draft” means. Suitably tamed, I can allow the Inner Critic to make statements about the work, but I now refuse to allow it to make comments on my self-worth or stop the work itself.

In closing, dealing with the Inner Critic is not easy, nor can it be dealt with overnight. Healing for me took decades, but I started it and at the age of 59, I am now reaping the rewards of my creative work.

Now go out and create.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
eric_hinkle
Nov. 12th, 2013 04:46 pm (UTC)
No matter how often I read essays like this from you, it's always rewarding. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. And all best wishes with the writing memoirs class!
captainq
Nov. 13th, 2013 07:47 am (UTC)
Thanks for this.

Focusing on the task seems a sure way of overcoming self-defeating habits, as merely not working on the task is one of the roots of self-defeat.
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