One of the most common causes of creative block I see in my consulting room is the devastating effect of the inner critic.
You see as well as the family and friends we have around us, we also have an inner family, and some of those family members, such as the critic, can be really nasty.
Think of your worst enemy; the person who steals your dreams, pours poison on your passions and tells you that you will never be any good at the things you most want to do like drawing or painting.
It’s the voice in your head sowing seeds of doubt, fear, and confusion as you move out of your comfort zone towards happiness and success.
Your inner critic says things like: “Is my work good enough?” “Can I really call myself an artist?” “My art teacher was right I’m really useless at this technique”.
Whenever you have the urge to paint the inner critic is lurking in the background ready to jump in and stop you in your tracks. Creative blocks can last for days, weeks, months, or even years, destroying your confidence and self-esteem.
Silencing the inner critic is a skill. It takes time and patience. It is also hard work. It is not so different from dealing with that most difficult family member or friend, who makes your heart and energy levels sink, whenever you come into contact with them.
The critic is the very demon that can and does drive artists mad and on a downward spiral towards more serious mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and stress and attempts to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
Sometimes it takes the help of a mental health professional to understand what is happening.
How therapy can free you from your inner critic?
Therapy can give you, as an aspiring artist, a safe and confidential space to explore your frustrations and concerns with your blocks to inspiration or creativity. The process usually begins with a gentle exploration of how the inability to create may contribute to symptoms such as depression, anxiety and stress and explore ways of resolving them.
Therapists who understand the creative process can help you develop the coping skills and strategies to work through your creative block now and in the future.
Where the inner critic is the main culprit, therapy helps understand where it came from and what to do with it. Usually this destructive voice is a mixture of the negative comments a parent, caregiver, sibling, teacher or even society and media, have made in the past that have become internalised and form core negative beliefs about yourself.
On the positive side your inner critic does actually work for you by encouraging to do more, acquire new skills and go to the edge of your talent if you learn to flip the message and use it to encourage you rather than undermine you.
There is also a lot you can do for yourself before you consider whether therapy is the right option for you.
Here are my top three tips on how to free yourself from your inner critic;
1.Better the devil you know
Make friends with your inner critic, get to know him or her, recognise what they sound like, their tone of voice, the things they usually say and when they are most likely to turn up in your life. Just like anyone you meet get a good sense of who this person is and how they are likely to behave. Write it down. Keep a journal or a diary.
2.Your enemy is your greatest teacher
Creativity and destruction come from the same place. Both are powerful energetic impulses. Make your critic your greatest ally. Instead of listening to the destructive voice that sabotages your personal growth and achievement, harness the power, and use it to create. Turn the words around and make the negatives a positive. Use “No you can’t” as a challenge and say to yourself “Yes I can”.
3.Silence is golden
Use the power of your imagination to turn down the volume of your inner critic. Imagine your head is like an enormous TV screen and you have the remote control in your hand, until you can stop the voice and switch it off practice lowering the sound. Find a mantra, a few simple words to repeat like “I can and I will” to drown out the inner critic, and keep your focus firmly on the road ahead.
Training your mind is no different to training your body. Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, T’ai Chi, swimming, walking in nature are all natural ways in which you can get into the flow again.
Next time you hear those negative comments in your head, even before you get down to work, know that with time, patience and practice, you hold all the keys to unlock your own creativity.
Lindsay Percival is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and Reiki Master/Teacher who specialises in working with artists and creative professionals such as writers, musicians and performers to help them beat their creative blocks and make the most of their talent.
She will be a regular contributor to ZenArt.