Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own unguarded thoughts. ~Buddha
The meanest girl in high school had nothing on the inner voice that turns up to berate us when we’re facing a challenge or reaching for a heartfelt goal.
“Are you kidding me?! You can’t do that. You’re weak-lazy-stupid-unenlightened-ugly-unlucky. You’re totally average. Give it up.”
Or my personal favorite: “THEY have talent. YOU don’t.”
We hear this voice as if its the truth. And the tragedy is that we take action – or don’t take action – based on the message it sends us.
You’re probably familiar with this voice. It sounds alarmingly confident and convincing. In fact, if you’re like me, you might regularly mistake the voice of the inner critic for your own voice.
This is reasonable, and this is where the soul work is.
The clever words delivered by our inner critic convince us that taking the next step might very well end in failure, humiliation, isolation and even, yes, death. It plants seeds of irrational fear that paralyze us into non-action.
The simple and obvious truth is that you won’t die from embarrassment if your proposal is rejected or your idea flops. You won’t be abandoned by your family, cast off from the tribe, or cursed.
And yet we hold ourselves back from taking healthy risks because we allow ourselves to believe these threats are real. We’re hardwired for survival, which sends strong messages to avoid taking chances in favor of maintaining the status quo. Our innate response keeps us safe, and keeps us small. Sure, we survive, but we’re here to do much more than that.
At least I am.
Cutting off my creative arm
When I was a child I loved to draw, paint and make things. I was proud of my artist mom, and mimicked her by carrying around a sketchpad at all times. I had art projects going constantly. I also doodled in the margins of my notebooks, sewed costumes for my dog, and made food art, jewelry, candles and mosaics.
I was happiest knee-deep in art supplies.
Then I went to a conservative East Coast college where I lost my sense of identity. I struggled to find my tribe in a sea of foreigners, and I decided that I might feel at home in the art department. I signed up to be a Visual Studies major.
I made it through three classes before dropping out.
In the classroom I came up hard against the inner critic. The thoughts running rampant in my 18-year old mind were cruel and disparaging. They were fueled by perfectionism and overachieving, and they were aimed directly at shutting down what wanted to shine.
“THAT’S art? Are you kidding? That’s so juvenile. You don’t have a shred of talent”.
Not recognizing it as “other”, I believed the messenger and the message. I looked around me and found validation for these snarky thoughts. I compared myself to the other art students, and agreed I didn’t have any talent. In a flash, I bowed out and took “artist” off the list I’d used to describe myself.
The crazy thing is how powerful that act was. Since then I have not painted or made jewelry or been “creative” in the way I lived it deep in my body as a child. I have spent most of my adult life appreciating creativity from a distance, unable to reclaim it as mine.
I miss my old artist-self. I AM creative, and have recently made a declaration to myself that shifts the landscape back to one I can play in. My newly expanded definition of creativity includes my many gifts: the way I relate to people, birth ideas, and live life. Rewriting the inner dialogue helps me plug back in to the energy of creativity, which in turn enables me to express myself in all sorts of satisfying ways.
It starts, as all things do, with our thoughts. We’re in charge of them and need to be vigilant about monitoring the ones that threaten our ability to thrive. The fear-based thoughts delivered by the inner critic are sneaky and surreptitious, and can do serious damage if not kept in check.
Here are three steps to working with the mean girl:
1. Take charge of the internal conversation
When your inner critic voices a disempowering opinion, take notice. Distance yourself from the messenger, and start a dialogue with her/him. Thank them for having your safety in mind, but you don’t need their help; you’re ready to move beyond the status quo. You’ve got things handled. If you’re met with snarkiness, stand your ground. Remember, too, that the inner critic uses everything it can to get its way, so be more clever than it is.
2. Clear out the cobwebs
Some of most far-reaching limiting beliefs are the unexamined ones that have been lurking in the shadows for decades. Go looking for old stories you once told yourself about who you are, and hold them up to the light. What do you see? What no longer fits? Find data to support the stories, or agree to let them go once and for all.
3. Replace the fearful thoughts with truth
Look past the inner critic and connect with your deeper wisdom. This is another voice within, and it’s always available to you. The voice of wisdom that you can trust to guide your actions is reliable and consistent, but can be hard to hear in the fray of your mind. Quiet your inner critic so you can hear your truth, and turn toward it with your whole self. It’s got your best interest at heart.