THE COLLECTIVE: How We Quiet Our Inner Critics

A few weeks ago I wrote to some of my blogging girls, asking them what they had to say on the subject of quieting their inner critics. I'm keeping it open ended, I told them. Share what feels relevant and right to you.

So, a new series was born: The Collective. A regular forum of sorts, where I hope to feature a variety of the best online writers I know and pick their brains on subjects that I care about. I'm really excited, and really pleased with this post... Let's dive in.

Belphoebe - Rags of Love

I have always been quite hard on myself. Many people describe their tendency to think negatively as an inner bad voice but I’ve never seen it that way, my self critic became my identity, wearing an imaginary sign with ’not good enough’ on it. I think a lot of it comes from low self esteem, and I’ve found that however many times people tell me to love myself, I’ve never quite been able to bring myself to do it.

What has been more helpful for me is exercising compassion, neither seeing my thoughts as good or bad and not tying them to anything, just letting them come and go.

I also think it’s really important to write your unhelpful thoughts down and really think about whether they are the truth or not. Our brains are so good at lying to us and making us believe bad things about ourselves to the extent that we actually lose sight of reality. If I tell myself that I’m useless or ugly or not good enough, I am better at gently questioning that, and thinking about where those unhelpful thoughts might stem from. It has certainly been a long process for me but ultimately you can change the way you think. 

Siobhan - Bless The Weather

Ah, my inner critic. Honestly, I think I spend most of my time fighting it off and trying not to drown in self-doubt. For every high I have about my work, I have ten more lows scratching at my door. I don't think this is something that is ever going to change, it's the nature of creativity and working for yourself. Over the years I have learnt, for the most part, to keep going in spite of my inner critic.

Surrounding myself with like-minded people who really understand, empathise and support me is essential.

Experience, and building a body of work that I feel proud of helps as well. Something to remind myself that 'I can do this, I have done this' when my inner critic surfaces. Having a clear vision of what I'm working towards, broken down into small and manageable goals so that I constantly feel like I am achieving and improving instead of floating in a sea of possibilities. It's armour against my disbelief in myself, little imaginary trophies on my wall. Mostly, it's experience. Just keeping on going even when I feel like I can't, until I start to see the value in my self-doubt if it's properly managed. It helps me be better, and I think the day I wake up and don't doubt myself is probably the day I should give it all up. I treat my inner critic like a friendly, but potentially dangerous dog. I love it, nurture it and feed it just enough but I am wary at all times of its strength and ability to completely overpower me if I let it. 

Coline - Conflicted Beauty

As a misanthropic skeptic, I (for better or worse) don’t subscribe to any mantras. I can’t produce any quotable illuminating thoughts about quieting my inner critic…mostly because I always fail at quieting it. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve learned to live with these voices – and sometimes minimize them: I know not to put myself in social situations I feel miserable in (i.e., attending someone’s party I barely know) because I’m Mrs. Awkward and don’t always know what to do with myself (apart from getting very familiar with the bar…) and in turn feel bad about myself for not being more outgoing. Though once used as a means to brand my outlook on the world (and myself), I rarely smoke weed anymore, or when I do, I know what my limit is (puff, pass, pass). I’ve had way too many bad trips that left me stuck in my "anguished mind" for me to be able to maintain that “lifestyle.”

But most importantly, I’ve also learned to use this inner critic, or critics (there are many) or even better, demons, to my benefit.

I am constantly in a state of malaise, so I use that as creative energy to write, to make music, and to contribute to public platforms where I can openly talk about this (hint: my blog) in order to make my demons less distinct to me. By making my tribulations public, I take away their agency. When bottled up, fears and anxieties grow in power. Through creative endeavors, they’re let loose into the world and become more tame…more domesticated. I should therefore end by saying: I don’t quiet my demons, they’re here to stay. But with a tight leash around them, I lessen their voices. 

CharloTte - Awake + Make

For me, the trickiest part of being more positive in general is recognising those intrusive negative thoughts that can so easily become a regular part of my inner monologue without me noticing it. If I feel like I’m being overly critical of myself I’ll often take note of what my criticisms are, general or specific, and then ask myself how I’d feel about them if somebody else (a friend, a colleague, or a family member) said that criticism to me. Would I think it was fair? Maybe it’s constructive criticism? But more often than not, I feel like if one of my inner criticisms came from somewhere other than myself I’d feel offended or upset. I don’t let other people make me feel like that very often, so why should I allow it from myself? Thinking of my criticisms like this certainly allows me to brush them off a little easier.

My inner critic is a huge perfectionist (but whose isn’t?), and I think it helps to recognise what forms your inner critic takes.

Mine likes to try to put me off doing new things in fear of things going wrong, or mistakes being made, or things not turning out perfect. Getting older definitely helps with being able to ignore this voice, because I can recall all of the past experiences where mistakes equated to progress and learning, where missing a bus meant discovering a new café, where failing an exam meant realising other things were more important to me than perfect grades. Proving your inner critic wrong feels pretty damn amazing, and each time I do it, it pushes me more and more to challenge what I think I can or can’t do.

Maddie - Whiskey Tango Flat White

My first thought is that I am quite attached to my inner critic in that she (it's definitely a female voice) has helped me achieve so much. I would never have been offered a place at Cambridge or fought through 7 months of brutal internship to get my current job without a little voice inside me saying 'you could do better'. Sounds a bit sinister but it gets you places. So for me, it's not so much about silencing my inner critic as it is realising when it's gone too far.

It's about differentiating 'you're not doing your best at this' from 'you'll never be able to do this'.

When it gets too harsh it starts to hold you back, rather than propel you forward. So when I feel I'm getting too down on myself I try to either a) imagine what I would say to a friend in the same situation and then say that to myself, and b) remember that feeling scared or insecure doesn't actually stop me doing anything. I can feel afraid, unsure, unconfident and still do whatever it is. And actually just doing whatever you're worried about despite your fear is the number one best way to prove your inner critic wrong. 

As for myself, I'm still trying to get the hang of tuning in to the helpful critiques and filtering out the destructive ones. Though my writing and photography have come a long way, there's still days when a voice looms in my ear, telling me there are others out there doing so much better, and that I should probably give up on my dreams... But I'm working on remembering that this stems only from the ancient reptile part of my brain, designed to imagine and recognise dangers. It is not the truth, but something meant to keep me safe that is a little less helpful in the modern world.

I chose the word "quiet" with good reason when titling this post. I'm now of the belief that complete silence from my inner critic is as detrimental to my journey as her bellowing abuse; a little nudging is okay... and I can tell her to keep it down when I need to.

And there you have it. I'm so glad I started this post, because hearing some of the bloggers that inspire me most talk about self doubt was really, really refreshing. We see the final products, the finished articles, the edited highlights... so hearing that we all feel doubt was really encouraging to me (and hopefully you too).

This series will be back soon, and I'm hoping to feature a different group of bloggers each time, so expect to be introduced to some wonderful online voices!

What would you like to be the next question asked to The Collective? Please let me know in the comments - it would be great to hear what you are mulling over at the moment!