The voices in our heads can be so stinking awful sometimes.

A stuck writer I know (let’s call her Sally) recently told me that the Inner Critic stopping her from getting her writing done sounded suspiciously like her mother’s voice.

“Let’s interview that critic and find out what it’s up to,” I suggested. She looked at me like I was crazy. “No, really,” I said, responding to her raised eyebrows. “I’m not suggesting we call your criticizing mom. We can work directly with the Inner Critic.”

“How do we do that?” she wanted to know.

“Well, just follow my lead,” I told her. And because she trusted me, she agreed. I asked her to focus on the negative voice telling her she was no good and that anything she might write would probably be shit. “Where do you feel the tension of that voice in your body?” I asked.

“Right inside my forehead, like it’s pushing my head back. Like it’s trying to make me fall over backwards.”

I led her through some additional exercises to help her really get in touch with the sensation of that Inner Critic. And then I asked her, “Ask it what its name is and how old it is?”

She closed her eyes to listen consciously to that inner voice that was so ever-present with her anyway. Then, after a few moments, her eyes flew open and she said, “Okay, this is weird. She says she is seven years old and that her name is You’d Better-Shape-Up.”

Now we were off to the races!!! I wanted to know if Ms. Better-Shape-Up would talk to me.

She would.

So I invited her to join us in the room, and Sally gave voice to Ms. Better-Shape-Up’s thoughts as I asked her questions. How long had she been hanging out with Sally? What were the kind of things she said to Sally? Why did she say these things to her?

The longer we talked, the more evident it became that Ms. Better-Shape-Up was telling Sally she was no good, that she didn’t fit in, that her writing was horrible, that she should never show it to anyone, that she was the worst writer in her critique group, and on and on. And the REASON she was telling Sally these things, she said, was so that Sally would not make a fool of herself and discover that truly and really, everyone thought she was an idiot, rejecting her for her ineptness. She also told us that if she criticized Sally, and Sally obeyed her instructions to stay small, then maybe Sally’s mother wouldn’t have to criticize Sally so much.

“Do you mean to tell me, you’re telling Sally all of these things so that she does NOT get rejected and hurt? You’re talking to her this way all the time to KEEP her from being criticized even more than you criticize her?” I asked Ms. Better-Shape-Up.

“Yes, and I won’t even let Sally leave the house unless she’s perfectly dressed and looks effortlessly well-coiffed.” Ms Better-Shape-Up added, just to give me an example of what she could make Sally do with her efforts.

“So, you PARALYZE Sally and PREVENT her from participating in relationship with others and from doing her writing so that she WON’T get rejected by the very people you don’t let her interact with in the first place?

Long pause.

“Yes. That’s what I do,” she said.

“I see,” I said. “Well, that’s very protective, and I’m sure you have her best interest in mind, but…” and here I paused to choose my words carefully. “It just seems to me that, while your intent has been to keep her from getting hurt, your efforts are actually hurting her as much as a rejection would hurt–maybe more. Could that be true?”

And with that, Sally was now weeping. We thanked Ms. Better-Shape-Up for visiting with us, for giving us insight and for working so tirelessly to try to keep Sally safe. We told her we’d talk with her again another time and said goodbye to her. Then Sally opened her eyes, shook out her hands and drank some water. I was once again face to face with my writer friend instead of her Inner Critic.

“I had no idea all of that horrible self-talk was trying to protect me from other people.” She shook her head and let a few tears fall. “I don’t want to be stuck anymore. And I’m not ACTUALLY afraid of other people anymore, either. I think I should relieve this Inner Critic of its job.”

I nodded, agreeing that could be a good idea.

***

Sally’s Inner Critic was a PERFECTIONIST with some elements of a MOLDER. Her mother had been so afraid that Sally would get hurt out in the big, bad world, that she’d criticized and nitpicked Sally to the point that, once Sally had internalized that voice, her Inner Critic would not let her fully engage in life unless she could achieve her own version of perfection–a bar that was impossible to reach.

What we learned in the conversation with Ms. Better-Shape-Up is that Sally’s inner voice had a warped way of trying to keep Sally from being harmed out in that scary world. Only the effort wasn’t working; all that was happening was that Sally was stuck in place–not living her dreams and NOT writing her book.

If you’re relating to this, it’s because you’ve got at least one Inner Critic plaguing you.

In my experience in working with both writers and therapy clients alike, once we know WHO the Inner Critic is and WHY the Inner Critic is so relentless in its efforts, we can change our relationship with it.

And wouldn’t THAT be amazing???!!!! To be free!

Well, you CAN be free. Just as Sally got free after she learned to work with Ms. Better-Shape-Up in a way that calmed her down and healed the original wounds.

Take my new Inner Critic quiz to find out what kind of critic you’re dealing with and what you need to do to start to calm it. Go here to take the quiz.

You deserve FREEDOM, dear writer!

Love, Cami

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