Talking back to your inner critic – an exercise in creativity

Writing about dreamwork yesterday, I got to thinking about other techniques and exercises I’ve used as a creative arts therapist. Back in the 1980’s, I gave numerous workshops at colleges and growth centers in the Hudson Valley – “Empowering Yourself through Creative Art Therapy,” that sort of thing. I even taught at Omega Institute for a couple of years.

Here’s another exercise you may be able to use. As writers, probably most  of us have negative thoughts and voices running through our heads. Some of my own:

This work is a pile of crap . . . .I’m never going to get anywhere . . . .I might as well give up . . . . I just don’t have the talent . . .

I’m sure you can add many of your own, but there are ways to exorcise these messages. I used this one many times as a guided visualization, but you can do it on your own. If you like, you can record it and play it back to yourself, or have a friend read it to you and take turns. Here goes . . .

Get comfortable, relax and close your eyes. Focus on your breathing . . .(Here you can use any type of relaxation induction that works for you, for a minute or two.)

Picture yourself working in your ideal studio. This might be your regular writing space, or it might be a space you create in your imagination. Perhaps you’re writing, or perhaps you’re practicing another art form you love or that you’d like to try. Take some time to visualize yourself in this space. What are you creating? Whatever it is, you’re feeling very pleased with it. (Pause)

Suddenly there’s a knock on the door. You stop working, go and open the door. It’s your critic. Who is this person? (Pause) You invite them into your space to show them your work. Now imagine what they say, and what you say in return. Imagine a dialogue between the two of you . . .

Now give them a final message, say goodbye and usher them out the door. . . In your own time, come back to the present space and open your eyes.

In an actual workshop, at this point I would have people make drawings or paintings about the experience, then share in a group discussion. I might also encourage them to write down the dialogue they had with the critic and maybe expand on it and carry it further, or maybe get into some sociodrama and have them act out the scene with another person.

When people meet “the critic at the door,” they come up with many different characters. Most often it’s a parent; often it’s an influential teacher from their past. Occasionally it’s someone well known, an artist or writer, or an unknown figure of some kind. Note that the phrase “your critic” is neutral – neither positive nor negative. Critics can give either rave reviews or bad ones. With people I’ve worked with, though, 20% or less have encountered positive critics, people who say, “That’s great, I love it – keep up the good work.” For most of us, the critics are negative.

I hope I’ve given you some helpful hints on banishing your inner critics if they’re evil, and cheering them on if they’re good. I’d love to hear from you – who are your inner critics?

13 thoughts on “Talking back to your inner critic – an exercise in creativity

  1. It’s a good exercise. Funny how making something manifest often divests it of its power. “Is that all? Why was I even bothered by you? Now go away and let me work.”

    • Thanks, Dani – the comment’s much appreciated. As I e-mailed you tonight, I’d prefer to put the crit off till June. I see someone else asked for June 3, but I’d like June 4 if it’s still free.

      I’m one of the few folks on Blog Book Tours using WordPress, and as you said, the learning curve is steeper, but I’m glad I stuck with it, as Alexis Grant encouraged me to do. It seems to have a lot more options than BlogSpot, and I’m hoping to incorporate more of them before the crit.

      By the way, it’s possible for people using BlogSpot and other programs to transfer the content of their entire blog to WordPress. Don’t ask me how, but they tell you in WordPress for Dummies.

  2. My inner critics won’t be silenced until the book is written! But the closer I become to accomplishing that goal, the fainter the voices become… I’ll have to try some of your techniques.

  3. That is a great technique – I’m going to have to try it the next time my inner critic gets out of hand.

    Most of the time, if those thoughts come into my head while I’m working, I just mutter “write it bad, write it bad, write it bad”. I know I can fix things in editing, and there’s not a lot my critic can say to me, when I already know I’m writing it bad *g*

    Elle Parker

  4. Julie, when I feel self-doubt, I think about the many successful people who, early in their careers, had to deal with negative criticism, but who went on to succeed because they had faith in themselves and in their ability to improve their situations.

    I’m currently listening to an audio book* by the highly acclaimed actor, Sydney Poiter. He was told by a teacher at an actor’s school that he was good for nothing except holding a job as a dishwasher. He went on to prove his critic wrong. In fact that was part of his motivation. Sometimes that’s part of my motivation too.
    *_Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter_ (2008)

    “All I know about getting something that you want is that there are 3 essential things, wanting, trying — and getting the opportunity, the breaks. None works without the others. Wanting is basic. Trying is up to you. And the breaks — I do know this — they always happen.”
    -p. 97, _A Rose for Mrs. Miniver-The Life of Greer Garson_ by Michael Troyan, 2005

  5. I like this – Give your inner critic a name and a personality and have a heart to heart. It’s dealing with the amorphous nature of this cynic that can wear you down.

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