Working with Your Inner Critic

by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC

Nothing’s either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” ~ William Shakespeare

Our inner critics (I call mine “Chuck” for reasons too lengthy to explain here) relish our thoughts, especially the “irrational” ones. What makes something good or bad? Despite what my ego tells me, it’s not my thoughts. Our personality structure consists of the Body, the Ego, and the Spirit all working in tandem, at least on a good day. This has important consequences for the creative process. Creating is often pre-reflective, non-verbal, being present in a very committed and intimate way that is unconditional and removed from the everyday “stuff” that constitutes are thinking, rational ego.

Consequently, talking too much pulls one toward ego. This is an important lesson for all those who engage in a creative endeavor. Writers, poets, painters, dancers, musicians and, yes, even therapists are at their best when they are mindful to the art of silence. It is the sense of risk that our inner critic fears the most and consequently this is part of the arsenal he or she will use against us at our most vulnerable moments.

We learn very early in life to pass judgment on those parts of ourselves that don’t meet the expectations of others and, thus, fulfill a self-prophecy to live through a very tiny part of our totality while casting other “unacceptable” parts of ourselves into the shadows, where we keep them hidden in the darkness. There are many ways of exposing this inner critic, which Psychologist Carl Jung coined the “shadow.”

Jung held that the unconscious could be an attentive companion and mentor to the conscious and that psychic wholeness or individuation comes from bringing equilibrium to the unconscious and the conscious. He professed the foremost way of doing this was through dreams. I believe that this relationship is also part and parcel of the creative journey. The key is navigating the strict chart that the rational, conscious mind, the “I that I think I am”, has mapped for us.

Here are a few pointers when dealing with your inner critic:

Give a name to you inner critic. Just like a pet, you name it, you own it! Personification will assist you in dealing with negative thinking. This way, you are more likely to begin a personal dialog between you and your “shadow.”

When struck by a negative thought, ask your inner critic for her or his hand to dance. Sound silly? Do it now, and while you’re at it, gently, seductively whisper into her or his ear that you are taking the lead in this dance. By integrating these mental gymnastics into your creative life you will be open to the possibility of experiencing creative freedom, and then the true dance can begin!

Challenge you inner critic by giving shape to the existentials of life, “What does the warm, engrossing blackness where creative ideas spring from look and feel like?” Draw it, write it, map it, BUT don’t think about it!

Successful artists are successful for a number of reasons, but here are five to remember:

  1. They are passionate about their work.
  2. They are risk takers.
  3. They are technical experts at their craft.
  4. They feel comfortable with failure.
  5. They are “strange and unusual” and damn proud of it.
  6. They consign art and creativity to the theatre of everyday life – something they do with every nuance of their existence.

Creativity is important to our health. Never underestimate the power of a journey. And if you feel at times that you’re not up to the test, remember this: if you don’t risk the journey, you risk even more.

2 thoughts on “Working with Your Inner Critic

  1. It is so interesting reading this article. You refer to ‘Chuck’ as your inner critic, and since 1979 I have referred to ‘Frank’ or ‘Francis’ as my inner-self companion. I did this because I was affirming my personhood as a human being. ‘Creativity’ was the word that expressed an existential present that I lived out of. In fact, all existence participates in this dance among the stardust, you might say. — I like your blog Don, but I think I am having a difficult time getting my username and pass word corrected or in the system. Never the less thanks for sending this. I enjoy them all.

    James Dale Barrington—Dale

Comments are closed.