Coping with Your Inner Critic

Updated: Sep 19, 2021

Choosing to be an artist is not an easy decision to make, especially in a world that constantly labels artists as unimportant and unnecessary. In fact, artists are often met with ignorant and rude comments from others about their career choices, work, and skills. But, more often than not, the hardest person to deal with on your artistic journey isn’t someone else... It’s yourself.


I know I’m not the only one who struggles with a harsh inner critic. Many artists out there also have very loud inner critics, demanding nothing less than perfection every time they sit down at the easel. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can reclaim our emotional well-being and pump up our self-esteem by learning to cope with our inner critic effectively. I’ve gathered three different tactics for coping with a harsh inner critic so we can get back to enjoying our work instead of dreading the potential self-criticism. With that, let’s get into it!


Name It

There are many reasons someone might have a harsh inner critic. As a Type 1 Enneagram, mine is terrified of not being good. And anything that isn’t perfect isn’t good and, therefore, an automatic failure. But yours might criticize you for not working hard enough or for making "meaningless, hollow" work or for taking time to do something you enjoy when you could have been helping someone else. Whatever the reason, these comments can cause real damage. That’s where identifying this voice comes in.


One of the most common pieces of advice related to inner critics is to give yours a name. This exercise is meant to show that this demeaning character is separate from you and therefore should not be listened to. Moreover, by doing this you’ll be able to see that this other “person” doesn’t really know you nor do they have your best interest in mind.

I’ve decided to name mine Ross, after the incredibly annoying character from friends. When mine starts to nag me for an illustration gone awry, I just say, “Thanks for trying to look out for me, but I didn’t ask for your advice.” That usually shuts Ross up.


Whatever you choose to name yours, try not to use this as an excuse to be hurtful to someone else. And if you do choose a name that might be common, remember that you don’t have to share it with anyone else.


Prune the Garden

Once again, the opportunity for me to encourage everyone to keep a journal has arrived! In all seriousness, if you don’t keep one already, I encourage you to start. I just filled up my first ever journal early this year, and now I can’t imagine my life without it. And, as you can probably guess, journaling is a great chance to free yourself from your inner critic’s harsh gaze.


In your journal, start writing down the comments your inner voice screams at you during the day. Keep a record of what you were doing, what your inner critic said, and how it made you feel to hear those words. I would encourage you to write these comments as “you” statements instead of “I” statements, as a means of keeping that separation between you and the inner critic. For example, instead of writing “I am a terrible artist”, jot it down as “You are a terrible artist.” This will help you see this voice as a foreign perspective as opposed to your own. And once that becomes internalized, you’ll be able to see that this “person” isn’t the type you want to hang around.


For further pruning, start to rewrite these statements from a more compassionate and accurate point of view. Continuing the example above, you might write, “I sometimes struggle to accurately render human faces, but I can draw animals really well.” This will give you a more realistic perspective as well as boost your self-esteem.


It might be difficult at first, but over time you’ll get used to spotting the weeds in your garden and easily replace them with lovely flowers.


Cultivate Self-love

This term gets used a lot these days, but I think it’s always a good reminder to be kind to ourselves. When my inner critic starts lobbing hurtful comments my way, I push back with self-love. And one of the simplest ways to do this is to start talking to yourself like you would a friend.


I mean, imagine saying the things our inner critics say to our most beloved friends. I automatically recoil in horror! And if I wouldn’t say it to someone else, why should I speak to myself that way? So instead, strengthen your inner nurturer and inner protector by practicing self-compassion. This could look like comforting yourself when something doesn’t turn out the way you thought or stopping your thoughts when they start to compare you to someone else or giving yourself grace to take as much time as you need to develop your artistic voice. The basic idea behind these practices is self-respect.


Remember that you are worthy of love without having to earn it, including yourself. And practicing a little bit every day will eventually become a natural habit.

 

If you’ve housed a harsh inner critic for any length of time, I hope you’ll give these practices a try. Before you know it, you’ll be helping them pack their bags.


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Thanks for reading and happy creating!