Why Fight the Inner Critic?
I'm going to share some of my story with the inner critic. That's a term for creatives referring to that voice in your head that criticizes your creative freedom. Going through past trauma can be what triggers those voices to crop up in your life. And sometimes a big trauma or stress event can be the impetus to us finally saying "enough, that's it. I'm fighting this voice. And I can't let it hold me back any longer".
The metaphor of growing plants is so accurate for creative growth, because so much of the growth happens under the soil down in the dirt. It can be messy. Roots have to grow deep down into dark places to enable the flourishing and the blooming we all love to see. I am incredibly passionate about helping people stay the course and do the hard work of letting what is in you as a creative come out.
As the pandemic hit, I used that odd break from our normal routine to launch my art business because it felt, incredibly important to me in the midst of the chaos of our world. This is the time when we most need beauty and creativity to work out the difficult stuff we're going through. I was floored when I read an article by James K. A. Smith in which he very intellectually articulated things that I had already been feeling deeply. In this quote from his article that’s titled “I'm a Philosopher. We Can't Think Our Way Out of This Mess” he said, “Needless to say, I've abandoned all hope that we can think our way out of the mess we've made of the world. The pathology that besets us in this cultural moment is a failure of imagination. Specifically, the failure to imagine the other as neighbor. Empathy is ultimately a feat of imagination and arguments are no therapy for a failed shriveled imagination. It will be the arts that resuscitate the imagination.”
I want to tell you a little story of what happened when I was in my own personal year of crazy-everything-is-going-wrong, and it wasn't 2020. All though certainly we experienced the reverberations of what's been going on in our world during 2020, for me, it was 2017 that really rocked my personal world. I'll just do a quick fly by shall I? The year begins and less than a week into it, we have someone break into our house to rob us. Thankfully, they didn't take too much, but certainly our confidence and sense of safety was stolen. A few days later, I had a family member show up in need of medical care and rehab- I had no idea where to even begin. This family member lived with us off and on for the next weeks undergoing treatment that was intense and emotionally heart aching. Less than a week after that family member left our home, (on our anniversary) my husband discovered water (we thought) all over the basement floor. The basement is my creative space. That is where I go to hide away from all of the kids upstairs. Sometimes they're down there with me, but it's where I go to make- whether it's sewing and quilting or painting. The basement is my refuge and my creative lair... and was now covered in what we found out with sewage. So we had a surprise basement renovation on our hands. (At the time the youngest of my four children is six months old). Everything gets pulled out and undone. In the midst of that renovation, we had one dozen cases of strep throat among the six of my family members in my home, which is an excruciating experience and incredibly stressful. The rest of the year included a tree sideswiping our house, breaking a few windows and smashing everything in the backyard, head lice that went around and around my kids, another round of strep for all! It was a crazy hard stressful year.
As I came out of it the best advice that I got from a counselor was that I needed to paint. I needed to be creatively expressive to be well, just according to what he could tell of how I
am made. I thought, “well, great. That's what I want to do anyway...that prescription doesn't cost as much- at least I’d rather put it on art supplies than pharmaceuticals! There aren't bad side effects….”
I had graduated with a fine arts degree, but in the midst of raising and homeschooling off and on the four children, I found my creative outlets to be places more textiles with creating quilts and knitting and gardening, flower arranging ...As I've gone on this healing journey, I've really seen how I have had a lot of loud inner critic. And as I came back to my painting, every time I showed up to do the work, there were so many cruel voices in my head telling me so many negative things about how terrible I was at this. And why was I even bothering... you name it, I heard it. Everything was discouraging me against doing this thing-creating. I've since read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He talks about the resistance and how anytime you set out to do something creative, good…(even if it's just toning your abdominal muscles-anything good) there is an equal and opposite force of evil that's resisting it. And you will meet that when you try to do something good.
Well, I was meeting it big time. It was so discouraging and hard to keep showing up while having a perfectionist inner monologue that was just plain mean. I knew that I had big, bold, creative, free, playful, whimsical work in my heart that needed to come out. And I just couldn't let it out.
Around this time. I had a friend who was going to go to a Dan Allender Story Workshop put on by the Allender Center out of Seattle. Dan Allender is a psychologist and theologist. I had loved his books for years, yet it never occurred to me that I could study under him. I've always loved not only the arts, but also healing/therapy/counseling. But I realized that I needed to do this work-the Story Workshop, where you go back into the beginnings of your personal story (they call them origin stories). Traumatic events (whether it's what you would think of as trauma -car wreck or worse, or small instances that just break your heart) change who you are. They change how you relate to the world. I knew that I had to address those things.
I had been to an art show around this time and really enjoyed seeing the art of Wyanne. She had created a beautiful, bold world of whimsical color and free playful painting on huge canvases. I attended her artist talk (and listened carefully because she has a speech impediment due to mouth cancer, where she lost her tongue). I was profoundly moved to hear her speak about how she had always been a painter, but she worked small though she had always wanted to work big, but she had been too afraid. She had never even stood up to do an artist talk before because of her own fear and perfectionism and inner critic. But after having cancer; having a small chance to live and surviving it, she said, ‘You know what, that's it. If I'm still here, I'm doing what I’m made to do. And I'm not letting fear stand in my way.’
After that I kept asking myself the question, “What is it going to take for me to do the work I was made to do? What is it going to take for me to get this whimsical, playful, raw, honest artwork out of my heart and into the world? Am I going to have to wait till I have a devastating cancer that threatens my life to break of the fear and the inner critic and the perfectionism that's holding me back?”
No. I would not like to wait for something like that. I decided that 2017 for us with all the trauma that it held, was enough to break me out. But it's been hard work.
This longing to break free drove me to the Story Workshop. When I went to the weekend long intensive workshop, Dan Allender started out by saying that we live in a place that's a battlefield between good and evil. Evil does not have as much power as good, but it has been around a long, long time. If you can think of someone in the military that can profile people-- see them and make snap judgements. We've got humans with very limited abilities, yet we can profile someone instantly with great training. Well, evil's been around long enough to profile, and it has the ability to see young children at the earliest age-- see that twinkle and sparkle in their eye-- see exactly where they're most gifted, how they show up in the world and reflect the goodness and beauty of God into this world through their gifting. And what do you think evil does with that information? With limited means it's gotta be strategic. So it uses trauma events, knowing that our brains are wired to be so captive and vulnerable in moments of trauma. Evil uses trauma moments in our early childhood to particularly target the places in us that are most deeply gifted to shine light and beauty and goodness into this world.
Hearing this was like putting on 3D glasses and all of a sudden everything jumped out of the page. I could look at my own life and see, it's not just a random assortment of hard things I've been through… I have been strategically under attack in order to be silenced in the places where I am most gifted. One of the things that I heard from Rachel Clinton who spoke at that workshop was “In our places of deepest harm is the very soil of our calling.” She said that the stories of greatest suffering are surrounded by the areas of our greatest beauty.
Just let that sink in. Our creative hearts as artists, writers, photographers, whatever ways you have of creatively showing up in the world like the quote by James K. A.
Smith about imagination-- whatever ways you have of showing up and inviting and helping nourish and grow people's imagination through the work you were made to do--
it's under strategic attack. The places in you that need to be the most free in order to do your creative work are sheltering in self-protective stances around the areas of your deepest hurt.
I hope this realization makes you feel the courage to press into those places, to look into them with curiosity. You will bump up against things that trigger you and make your knees feel shakey… you’ll feel woozy and experience a whole system upset. You may find yourself thinking,”It didn't seem like that big of deal. Why am I just undone?” Very likely because the present experience you are dealing with is connected to some early trauma memory you have. Let's get curious because there are clues there. If you lean into your places of trauma, hurt, inner critic, and perfectionism...those places that get you stuck and have resistance against your freest creative self--there are clues there to what you were most made to do.
The places of deepest harm and hurt in your past are the very soil of your calling. Will you dig in the dirt? I hope so. I truly hope so. I've been on a journey of doing it myself. The growth that happens is watered with tears. You can't do it and keep your heart protected behind walls and numbing addictions. You've got to let your heart crack open and be vulnerable and feel the hurt and let the vulnerability of forgiveness come in. I hope that you're willing to do that work because the world needs us. The world needs us to show up with the playful, imaginative creativity we were made for... to invite us all to see things differently, to see that there's more here, to open our hearts. I hope that you'll join me on this journey into more creative freedom and growth, and the bravery of showing up with a warrior heart that is soft and empathetic and has compassion for others that starts with compassion for yourself in your own earliest most tender places. Until next time, have courage. Take heart and bravely face the hard stuff, knowing that there's goodness, and there's beauty in the midst.
Keep Growing Creative.
( This is taken from the first episode of the Growing Creative podcast... available where ever you listen to podcasts)