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When Your Inner Critic Stifles Your Creativity: 4 Helpful Truths

painting

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” ~Steve Furtick

We live in an artistically enriched country. The world is already full of all kinds of music, so much art, and so many books. With the Internet, you can experience art’s many forms at the click of a mouse.

In my heart, I am an artist. Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved creating artwork. Writing stories, drawing illustrations, playing the piano, painting, sculpting…

The unfortunate thing is that I am paralyzed—not in the medical sense. I have working limbs, imagination, training, experience, and the resources to “actualize my potential” as an artist. The thing I lack is confidence.

I am crippled by my own self-doubt.

When I was young, I didn’t seem to care about what other people thought. But the older I get, the more apprehensive I become. My fear of failure is greater than my fear of never creating anything ever again.

All artists, to some extent, have a very tough self-standard. The fear of falling short of your expectations can easily prevent you to create, particularly if you lack confidence.

Each time I see a beautiful painting, hear a moving song, come face to face with a realistic sculpture, or read an inspiring autobiography, I become immobilized. Instead of being stimulated by what I see, I get discouraged, and I am way less likely to create anything on my own. “The world doesn’t need anything else,” I think, “because it already has those.”

“What do I have to offer to the world? Why would anyone want to hear my voice? What original, unique art can I possibly create that doesn’t already exist? I might as well give up…”

I think this negativity comes from the bad habit of listening to my “inner critic” instead of focusing on “reality.”

If I let the pessimistic thoughts of my inner critic control my life, then I would never become the artist I want to be. My inner critic loves to put down my individuality and threaten me with failure. I’ve come to the conclusion that my inner critic doesn’t want me to succeed.

With that powerful information, each time I am tempted to belittle my individuality, I remember these four encouraging truths:

1. I am me, and there is no one else who is me. No one else can create what I can create.

2. Having courage doesn’t mean you’re not afraid. Having courage is taking action in spite of being afraid.

3. Your imperfections are part of who you are and part of what makes you beautifulBe proud of being you, even with all your flaws and failures.

4. If you fail, so what! If you create art for the world, you will never be satisfied. Create art for yourself.

I often repeat these things to myself when I am doubtful, when my inner critic is running the show and ruining my life.

Becoming an individual artist can be very scary, especially if you have been paralyzed by fear for a long time. It’s comfortable to go along with the flow, to conform to the culture, and to continue on in the old ruts in road.

However, there is extraordinary life beyond the paved road. There is a giant wood, a great green meadow, an infinite horizon, and countless things to explore. If you always live your life according to the norm, then you will be missing out.

Life changing advice: You don’t have to believe what your inner critic tells you.

Do you have the strength to swim against the flow, to be an individual, to create your own art? Maybe not right this moment, you think, but there is something you can do to help yourself out. You can retrain your thoughts and learn to control your inner critic to allow reality have a rightful place in your life.

If I am experiencing an artist’s block, when I realize my inner critic has taken control, I take out a piece of paper and make two columns.

One reads “inner critic,” and the other reads “reality.” Underneath each header, I make lists (kind of like a pros and cons sheet), distinguishing one thought from the other.

One way to help determine which category to put your thoughts in is to listen to the tone of the thought’s voice (how you talk to yourself). If the tone is anxious, nervous, babbling, stereotypical, and offers you no way out, then it is your “inner critic.” If the tone is optimistic, unemotional, constructive, and practical then it is “realistic.”

Below is an example of a recent list I made while having trouble finishing a painting:

Inner Critic

  • You can’t do it; you are a “nobody.”
  • What if you make a mistake? No one will like you if you produce bad art.
  • You will never be famous. You’re ugly and fat; ugly and fat people cannot produce good art.
  • Artists are irresponsible. The world hates artists.

Reality

  • I have artistic talent.
  • Sometimes I let perfect get in the way of good.
  • Most days I enjoy creating art.
  • I am loved no matter what I do, even if I am not perfect.
  • No else can be me; therefore, no one else can create what I can create.

This mental exercise will take practice, but over time, you will begin to see positive results in your life and your creativity.

At first, it will be difficult to distinguish your self-critic from reality, especially if you have obeyed your fears for a long time. If you try it, I guarantee that you will begin to enjoy a more nourishing, creatively enriched life in the process.

I have been utilizing this practice for a while now. After the first few months, I didn’t have to make physical lists anymore; I could separate the thoughts in my head. Even though, I am still a long way off from where I want to be, I am a lot closer to my goal than I was before.

What are some of your hurdles as an apprehensive artist? How do you overcome your obstacles?

Photo by TinyTall

Avatar of Mary Borchers

About Mary Borchers

Mary Borchers is just like you—a girl trying to find her purpose in this world.  She is passionate about living a nourishing life, physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Check out her personal blog http://haveanourishinglife.blogspot.com/, a journey to find sanity and sanctity in the midst of mental illness.

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  • http://twitter.com/jeffurmston Jeff Urmston

    Mary, this is a beautiful post! Thank you. I wonder how much our current cultural obsession with criticism-based reality shows is cultivating massive self-doubt in our society. Everyone is eager to flaunt their dissection of the latest performance, but how will this affect our ability to create? Like you suggest, I think truly original, authentic, creative and brilliant ideas emerge from compassion (especially self-compassion!) and not from the inner critic.

  • BB

    I completely relate to this. It does take a certain level of clarity to be able to come up with the “reality” column. My inner critic’s voice often justifies itself as a voice of reason. Thank you for this article – it has definitely helped me.

  • woodstockdc

    Good practical techniques for shushing the inner critic regardless of how your creativity expresses itself. Thank you for sharing what has worked for you. I’ll be trying this in the future.

  • Mary Borchers

    Thank you, Jeff! I agree with your insight about reality shows. I could never really understand why I didn’t like those TV shows until you put it the way you did. Thank you for the enlightenment! And thank you for your feedback and your kind words.

  • Mary Borchers

    I am so glad the article helped you. Just like most things, treating yourself with compassion takes time and practice. I found it helpful in the beginning to show my lists to a friend or loved one. Once they read the list, they certainly helped me put a few comments in the inner critic column! What I sometimes thought was reasonable was critical instead.

  • Mary Borchers

    I wish you the best of luck! Let me know how it goes for you. Happy creating!

  • http://melissadinwiddie.com/ Melissa Dinwiddie

    Ah, the inner critic. The bane of all creatives everywhere, and everyone, really. I see mine as a gremlin, sometimes as a gang (herd? murder? pack?) of gremlins, each spouting its own broken-record message:

    “You’re not good enough!”

    “Who do you think you are to try THAT?”

    “You’ll never be as good as So-and-So, so why bother?”

    “Dang, girl, lose some weight!”

    “That [artwork/piece of writing/song/etc.] you just created sucks!”

    And on and on, ad nauseum.

    The best tool in my ninja-gremlin-training toolbox is simply to *notice* my gremlins for what they are (ie, gremlins, rather than the Voice of Truth or the Voice of Reason).

    Then once I notice them, I like to send them off to get pedicures. ;)

    Your column idea is lovely, Mary — thank you so much for a wonderful post!

  • Mary Borchers

    I loved how you named/visualized your inner critic. I am a visual person as well. Sometimes, I’ll name my negative thoughts so its easier to talk about. I tell my husband that evil “Dork” won’t leave me alone. :) Thank you for your kind words. I am glad you enjoyed my post. Keep fighting the gremlins. You are worth it!

  • Another Mary

    Revision for non-artists (we’re all creative in some way)-

    Inner Critic

    You can’t do it; you are a “nobody.”

    What if you make a mistake? No one will like you if you produce bad ________.

    You will never be famous. You’re ugly and fat; ugly and fat people cannot produce good ________.

    Reality

    I have talent.

    Sometimes I let perfect get in the way of good.

    Most days I enjoy creating.

    I am loved no matter what I do, even if I am not perfect.

    No else can be me; therefore, no one else can create what I can create.