Making Peace With Your Inner Critic by Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D
“When it comes to your inner critic, my advice is to not take advice from someone who doesn’t like you. That’s like returning to the perpetrator for healing after you’ve been abused.”—Patrick Califia, writer
Do you hear voices in your head? Of course, you do if you’re a writer. We creatives have one relentless voice, in particular, that lives in our heads and never rests—an inner critic that puts us under the microscope, bludgeons us with criticism, and tells us how worthless, selfish, dumb, or inept we are. That kick-butt voice pops up like burnt toast with such lightning speed we don’t even notice—eviscerating us with name-calling, discouragement, and putdowns.
The voice tells you that you can’t; you should, ought to, have to, or must. (Psychologists call it “musturbation”). The Critic knows where to find you, no matter where you go. And it does. When you’re working on a manuscript, it stalks you to your desk and whispers in your ear. It could be scolding you right now. Listen closely. Do you hear it: “No, that’s not right! You don’t know what you’re doing! You might as well give up! Who do you think you are, Stephen King? J.K. Rowling? You’re an imposter.”
Burnt toast anyone?
So, when the Critic pops up, what do we do? There’s no use fighting, debating, arguing, silencing, or steamrolling. It always has a comeback and always wins, plus you can’t get rid of it. Instead, observe it like you would a blemish on your hand and listen to it with a curious, dispassionate ear as a part of you. Imagine someone scolding you over your cell phone, and you hold the phone away from your ear. In the same way, you can hold the Critic’s message away from you and listen to it from afar as a separate part from you, not all of you. A dispassionate ear gives you distance from the Critic’s voice and keeps you from identifying with it or attacking yourself. When you let it come and go without fighting or personalizing it, it keeps you from believing the voice’s made-up story. But if you oppose or try to reason with it, you give it credence and, instead of streaming on through, it takes up residence.
What a relief to learn that the voice in our head isn’t who we are. It’s the lowercase “self.” We’re the Writer Self with a capital “S”—the writer who hears and sees the lowercase “self.” The uppercase YOU is composed of “C” words: Creative, Curious, Clarity, Calm, Confident, Courageous, Connected, and Compassion. When you are in one of the “C” states, it automatically triggers some of the others. For example, if we get curious, it often activates clarity then calm. Or when we get calm or confident, it unleashes creativity.
Studies show when you come down hard on yourself after a publisher’s rejection or a harsh review, it’s like attacking the fire department when your house is on fire. It reduces your motivation and dilutes your chances of success. It’s just as easy to affirm yourself with positive messages, as it is to tear yourself down with negative ones. We become proficient at what we practice on a regular basis. If you’re stuck with your writing, try replacing it with Self-compassion (from the capital Self) each step of the way. Experts say self-compassion is a powerful resilient tool that stands up to harm and is more likely to lead to untold heights of literary success. So put down your gavel and amp up your kinder, compassionate side. And in times of writing struggles, give yourself pep talks, positive affirmations, and talk your self off the ledge instead of letting your Critic encourage you to jump.
Vincent Van Gogh once said, “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” I’m no Van Gogh, but I say, “If you hear a voice within you say, “You cannot write,” then by all means write, and that voice will be silenced.”
Bryan E. Robinson is a licensed psychotherapist and author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books. He applies his experiences to crafting insightful nonfiction self-help books and psychological thrillers. His multi-award winning southern noir murder mystery, Limestone Gumption, won the New Apple Book Medal for best psychological suspense, the Silver IPPY Award for outstanding mystery of the year, the Bronze Foreword Review INDIEFAB Book Award for best mystery, and the 2015 USA Regional Excellence Book Award for best fiction in the Southeast.
His most recent release is Daily Writing Resilience: 365 Meditations and Inspirations for Writers (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He has written for Psychology Today, First for Women, and Natural Health, and his blogs and columns for writers appear in Southern Writer’s Magazine. He is a consulting editor for The Big Thrill, the online magazine for International Thriller Writers. His long-selling book, Chained to the Desk, is now in its 3rd Edition (New York University Press, 1998, 2007, 2014). His books have been translated into thirteen languages, and he has appeared on every major television network: 20/20, Good Morning America, ABC’s World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, NBC Universal, The CBS Early Show, CNBC’s The Big Idea. He hosted the PBS documentary, Overdoing It: How to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself.