The past few weeks, I have been wrestling with my Inner Critic. I used to think of the Inner Critic in terms of something that got in the way of my writing by stifling my creativity. But creativity is more than just producing a story or a painting or a song. I’ve always believed that – or at least said I believed that – but I lately I have been developing a deeper appreciation of how living life and moving through the world is a creative act. And how my Inner Critic effects the way I do that every day.
I think of my Inner Critic as the part of me that is working overtime to keep me “safe.” And not in a good way. It’s almost like the Inner Critic was once burned on the stove and is now determined to keep me away from all stoves – ever, for the rest of me life – oh my god watch out for the stove! – using whatever means possible. The Inner Critic is heavily invested in what others think, winning favor, scoring points, gathering things, meeting expectations and being in control.
The Inner Critic isn’t all bad; its job is to keep us in check. It makes sure we pay the bills on time and get to work each morning and drive on the right side of the street and eat our vegetables. It works hard to make sure we are safe and validated and all our needs are met. It doesn’t like risk or chaos or the unexpected, but a lot of what makes life worth living – the big stuff like growth and creativity and love – is risky, chaotic and unexpected. And so it tries to stop us before we take risks.
The Inner Critic takes on many voices. My daughter will talk about the “mom in her head” and has learned to check in to see if that what her real mom thinks. I have worked with people who are trying to write but their Inner Critic sounds so much like a former English teacher they are frozen. My Inner Critic often takes on the voice of friends who once said something just a little critical at just the wrong time.
The Inner Critic will tell you lies. Even worse, it will tell you half-truths. Even if what is saying is true, that truth is often useless. It will offer you daydreams and fantasies that are far more interesting than the hard work of life. It won’t stick to just one argument, but will bombard you with this lie and that dream and then another – often so many distractions you can’t keep them all straight. It is a shapeshifter that will lead you into a place where you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Like I said, the Inner Critic isn’t bad, per se. We need it but we also need to keep it in its place. It keeps us from hearing out Inner Authority. Our Inner Authority is that still small voice that knows we can risk and create and be vulnerable and still be OK. It’s the part that that knows we are loveable and safe and important and good just as we are, right now. Our Inner Authority guides us back to our True Selves.
We can never get rid of our Inner Critic and we will never “win” an argument with it, but we can choose when we pay attention to it and when we ignore it. The more we notice it, name it and call it out, the easier it is to see it for what it is. Then we can let it mutter and nag and grumble in the background while we get busy doing what really matters: creating the life we were meant for.
And that’s where my most recent message from the universe comes in. While I was thinking about living creatively, all the while berating myself for not writing more, I got a Tweet about the Inner Critic Doll. Someone is creating a cute little personification of the Inner Critic, complete with a mouth you can zip closed. I kept coming back to that Tweet and looking at it again and again.
I am not much for stuffed toys and I can have a lower tolerance for cute (especially if I think people are looking) but I am all over creating rituals and having talismans to remind me of where and who I need to be.