Q I have recently become aware of how critical I am of myself. I have been doing some creative writing and find that I end up throwing most of it away because I think it just isn’t that good. My writing partner told me that my work is good, and I need to deal with this highly self-critical behavior. My whole life has been driven by this pushy, demanding part of myself. How do I even begin to deal with this?

A Creative work allows each of us to get in touch with our inner critic. We all have one, as each of us is sensitive to being corrected and compared to others. Most parenting and teaching styles, until recently, have focused on what needs improvement and changing, often communicated in harsh and diminishing ways.

The first step is to recognize how this inner critic developed. Interview your inner critic. Introduce your critic to someone else and just allow yourself to explore this voice. Who criticized you? How did your parents interact with each other? Were there teachers who taught by harshly and critically correcting you? Did you feel that if you didn’t have this hard driver, you wouldn’t be able to move forward in your life? You may also do this as a written exercise in your journal.

Many feelings may arise in this deconstruction of your personality. They usually include grief, fear, anxiety, hurt, and anger. It is important to take the time to feel those uncomfortable feelings in order to really know more fully how the judgments have affected you. This is actually a mechanism through which you can re-parent yourself.

Then respond to the various aspects of your critic: the critic who is negatively trying to parent you; the one who is the strict teacher; the comparing critic; the fearful critic, etc. Find a positive inner parent who takes the place of the negative one. Tell the strict teacher-critic inside you to retire or get better training. Reassure the fearful one, or tell it to go for a walk. At times our critic even attacks us: “You’re such an idiot;” “You’re so lazy;” “You’ll never amount to anything;” “Go back to your day job.” Talk right back to your critic! Don’t cower down—allow yourself to get angry with it—so you can have your positive self back. This can be a powerful tool.

Psychologists, parents, and educators are now realizing that encouragement, support, and appreciation create the best learning environment for children and adults. There is an innate drive towards self-expression, creativity, and self-actualization in each one of us in various degrees. An atmosphere of acceptance and positive reinforcement builds esteem and nurtures greater creativity. This does not mean we do not objectively look at what needs extra care and work in our lives, or that we don’t need discipline and structure. However, we don’t want to view our work from the attitude that we are deficient, bad, or “not enough.”

Creativity flows best when we give our selves space for whatever wants to arise. Before starting to write, create an internal space by getting quiet and telling these voices to leave. When writing, allow yourself to just get your ideas and thoughts on paper, without editing. Bring in the editor who is wise and compassionate, the one who is excited about your work, and who wants to help you be as creative as you really are.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com

 

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