Inner critic. Personal demon. Shadow. Dark side.
Whether you use one of these terms for your negative self talk or just call the problem Fred, if you’re a writer then you know all about that nagging, negative, pervasive, and sometimes downright toxic – thing – that tries to get in the way of our writing.
The inner critic is one of the most difficult problems writers face. That negative inner commentary takes a tremendous toll on our creativity, our productivity, and even the quality of our work. It leads us into procrastination. It creates avoidance and contributes to burn out. It steals our love for writing and fills us with misery and self-loathing. Under its influence some of us stop writing or never even get started in the first place.
Given the monstrousness of its behavior and the extent to which it harms us, maybe it’s not surprising that we talk about this common creative problem as though it were something separate from us, something alien and “other.”
Using a metaphor offers a degree of separation that allows us to engage in ongoing warfare without ever fully assuming responsibility . It also ensures that we can never win. Because here’s the thing, people:
My inner critic, demon, shadow, whatever, is absolutely and indubitably part of me. And yours is part of you. Which means we are waging war with ourselves.
This cannot end well. In fact, as long as we live, it cannot end at all. And yet, below is a small sampling of the popular advice on offer for dealing with the inner critic problem.
These are all from page one of a Google search for “inner critic,” and they are all high-powered, informed, intelligent sites, including Psychology Today and TED Talks.
I have to confess that I’ve spent the last few years using similar language when talking about the critic. I’m sorry about that. And I’m out to repair the damage.
Here’s what I’ve come to believe. if you try to silence, tame, or overcome your inner critic, you are silencing, taming, or overcoming a part of yourself. Maybe it’s not the best and brightest and most lovable part of you, but who can blame it? It’s unheard, invalidated, unloved, and it’s naturally gotten a little ugly and muddied up because of that.
Psychologist Carl Jung theorized that we all have a shadow self which contains the unconscious parts of our personality that we do not want to own, usually because they are unsavory and unpleasant and we don’t want to acknowledge that we contain this darkness. Because these pieces of us are unconscious and untended, they can create all kinds of havoc in our lives.
But it’s not only the ugly stuff that gets stuffed away into the shadow:
Our toxic, negative self talk has its roots in our childhood and early creative lives. It continues to live on because we believe the lies that we were told, and because we have unhealed wounds that continue to fester. We live in a condition akin to Stockholm syndrome, where we have internalized the words of those who want to keep us small and captive.
But stay with me, because there is hope – so much bright, beautiful, wonderful hope.
Jung believed that by embracing our shadow we can we become our best, brightest, and fully realized selves.
And I believe this is how we resolve the problem of the inner critic, by learning to dance with our demons. When we heal our writer wounds, transform our negative, toxic self talk into positive, encouraging messages, and forgive the people and events that created those wounds in the first place, we can reclaim a valuable and powerful part of our creative selves instead of wasting our energy fighting against it.
This frees up so much abundant, creative energy and joy so we can get to our writing and other creative work unhindered and actually aided by a helpful, thoughtful, critic that serves rather than impeding our progress.
Stay tuned for more posts on DIY inner critic transformation, or join me for my brand new Dancing with Your Demons: Transforming Writer Wounds class starting September 26.