I talk a lot about the inner critic – that brutal self demeaning voice that loiters in your mind – nagging, irritating and trying to convince you that you aren’t enough for yourself or anyone else. It’s loyal. It’s always around. As I sat down this morning to choose a topic for my blog, my inner critic was having a spirited one-way conversation in my head. “Why keep writing this junk?” he scolded. “You’ve vomited a ton of blogs, a finite number of people read them, so it doesn’t matter what you have to say.”

I felt dread as I resigned myself to the fact that I had found my topic: The Inner Critic Revisited. And revisited. And revisited. It’s all the rage these days to revisit popular TV shows and movies in prequels or sequels: Dexter, our beloved serial killer. Cinderella, yet another version. The Many Saints of Newark, the prequel to The Sopranos, one of the most widely watched TV series. The Friends Reunion. So why not revisit the Inner Critic, the bully that never shuts up or goes away. It tricks you. It hides in the shadows and just when you think you’re home free, tooling along, it jumps out in your mind and scares the living daylights and the creativity out of you.  

Stop nagging me, I tell him. He doesn’t listen.

Your mind can be a splendid ally, a motivator and a supreme puzzle solver. But it’s not necessarily your friend. I stopped outside an ice cream shop one day and watched a server making a brownie sundae with hot fudge and whipped cream. I wanted one.

“Go ahead,” my inner voice encouraged. “Have that sundae. It’ll be delicious. Life is hard. What harm can one sundae do? You only live once.”

I debated the pros and cons. Remember the cartoons with an
angel on your right shoulder and a devil on your left, arguing with each other? Guess who won? I walked inside and ordered the dessert, it was delicious, but when I was halfway through, the critical voice began chiding me. “You shouldn’t have eaten that. It’s unhealthy and it’s fattening. You better throw the rest of it away. You made a big mistake. Now you’re screwed.” I lost my appetite.

When you find yourself unconsciously aligned with a shaming voice inside, try taking a step back, get curious, and watch what’s going on. Like an annoying neighbor or a loud family member, instead of trying to shoo them away, you have an opportunity to spot the ruse and transform yourself from a victim to an impartial observer. That’s a solid step on the path to self-acceptance.

We all have different ways of dealing with the inner critic. Some people try to make nice, others attack him with an elbow to the stomach and still others try to reason with him. A friend of mine makes a place for him at the far end of the table and another banishes him to the back yard. However you choose to tame him,
you need to make it clear that you won’t be changing your behavior, no matter how much he (or she) torments you.

My inner critic always has something contrary to say.

While I’m doing a writing session, he says,
“Your writing is crap. Stop doing it and clean the house.” 

If I skip a session, he says, “You aren’t very serious about writing, are you?”

If I work too much, he tells me I’m a workaholic.

If I take a day off to pamper myself, he says, “Stop being lazy. You’re not being productive and you’re going to become a bag lady.”

In the face of such constant criticism, it’s easy to see yourself as defective or broken and think that you’ve always been this way. But the truth is, no matter how cunning, loud, persistent, and punishing the critic is, he’s not as powerful as you are. You serve at the pleasure of yourself, not that of your inner critic and believing his rants is a bad habit. If you make a commitment to treat yourself with respect and ignore the nattering voice in your head, it will become a distant whisper in the background of your creative expression.