Updated: Sep 19, 2021
I'm sure we're all familiar with the concept of the inner critic. It's that voice inside that criticizes everything we do, often in a self-berating manner. But what if that inner critic isn't even yours? What if that voice is actually someone else's voice you internalized as a child? Today I'm exploring this very idea and providing some helpful tips in dealing with this nagging voice. And if you haven't heard of the inner critic, check out this post where I covered strategies for living with your inner critic.
What's the Difference?
At first glance, these might seem like the same concept: an annoying voice that insults you internally. But they're actually quite different, specifically in what they want from us. Our inner critic often hurts us based off our personal metrics. For instance, if we want to paint super realistically, everything we paint will be judged off this personal goal. But what if we actually love creating comics and are still being judged by the same standard to paint realistically? This is where an inherited critic might be lurking. If you were constantly told by parents or teachers that comics are inferior to realism, you might have unknowingly internalized those standards and continue to judge your work off them. To summarize, the inner critic wants us to meet our goals while the inherited critic wants us to fulfil someone else's expectations. They're similar in their difficulty to live with, but differ in their desire.
Which is Which?
Figuring out which voice you're listening to can be difficult. However, it comes back to listening to your instincts. (For more info on this, check out my post on techniques to strengthen your instincts.) When we sit in quiet, journal our feelings, or think introspectively, we have a much easier time determining what we think and feel - not what others want to us to experience. To do this, simply take a few minutes to sit in quiet and ask yourself what you want out of your artwork or job or life in general. Images, words, or sounds might flash in your mind after asking this question. These are clues about your true desires, or, as I like to call it, your North Star. Following the example above, if you find a strong calling to be a comic book artist within, then you know that any criticism regarding its so-called inferiority is coming from an external source.
After you've confirmed that this voice is the inherited critic, you can start working on removing its power over you. Now, this is much easier said than done and will take longer than you think. But knowing the source is the first step to overcoming this challenge!
One of the best techniques for this is writing about where it came from. Did you have a snooty professor ridicule you in front of the whole class? Did your parents constantly belittle your artwork or dreams? Did you internalize an expectation of society in general? Try to get as specific as you can. Doing this helps you understand where these thoughts are really coming from. After the source has been determined, write about how this changed you and makes you feel now. Don't worry about censoring your feelings or writing perfect sentences - this is all about your experience and should be as authentic as possible.
After some detective journaling, you can start challenging this voice. For example, when it starts to creep up and tell you that your comics are childish or low-brow art, you can tell it to take a hike. Take a deep breath and say, "Thank you, but the only opinion that matters is mine, and this is what I love doing. Please stop." Do this every time that voice starts to criticize you and it will slowly start to lose its influence. And be gentle with yourself. This is hard work that takes time! Be grateful that you're learning to honor yourself and allow room for nonlinear progress. The more you do this, the better you'll get. And eventually you might not hear it at all.
Living with an inner critic is hard, but it's even worse when that voice doesn't belong to you. Hopefully this post helps you take back the precious real estate in your head. After all, it's only fair to live the life you want.
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Thanks for reading and happy creating!