Sunday, October 14, 2012

Inner Critics and Niggling Doubts

What would you say if I told you that your best and most powerful tool in your creative arsenal, you already posses? And what would you say if I told you that your biggest hindrance to that bountiful, glorious, creative life that you want, you already have, as well? I'm sure you'd agree with me about that second question, rather than the first. Why are we so ready to believe the negative things about ourselves, rather than the positive? I'll tell you why. Because we've all got those same little doubting, niggling little voices in our heads. The most powerful tool we have and the biggest hindrance to us is the same. It's our own brains.

Think about it. Who's the person that most often tells you that you "can't" do something? Who is the person that beats you up for attempting something new and failing? Who is the person that sees everything wrong with us, from how our bellies are too fat to how much better of a car we should be driving? That's right. It's the voices on our own heads.

Sure, the voices in our heads may take the shape of someone we know, or that we have known in the past, but it's our own brains that replay these tapes of their voices over and over throughout the course of our lives.

For me, sometimes those horrid little voices take the form of kids I went to school with. Sometimes, the voice is that of my own mother. But, most often, that inner critic that points out every single little flaw in my life, however minuscule, is the voice of my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Regenbogen. She is no longer alive, so I feel empowered to actually state her name as the most horrible little voice that I've ever encountered which grates on my self esteem, downplays all my accomplishments and wears me down, mentally, to nothing but a nub.

Mrs. Regenbogen had absolutely no business teaching children. She was strict, stern and full of razor-sharp remarks that cut even the most gregarious and outgoing child's self-worth to the quick. Once, I was sick and I missed school. That night, my parents called her and put me on the phone with her to get my make-up work. I wanted to make sure that I had reached the right person. "Is this Mrs. Regenbogen?" I asked into the phone. "Yes," she replied. "Is this Mrs. Vera Regenbogen," I asked, again trying to confirm that I'd reached the right person. When she, again, confirmed her identity, I began to ask about my assignments.

The next day, before we began our lessons, Mrs. Regenbogen called me up in front of the class. "Bri, what's my name?" The tone in her voice withered me on the spot. In a small voice, my eye fixed on her terrifying gaze, I replied, "Um. . . Mrs. Regenbogen?" "Good!" The word that came from her mouth carried no innuendo of its meaning. "You call me that!" I dropped my head and concentrated, very intently, on my shoe laces. After she had humiliated me, she sent me back to my desk and began class for the day.

Thinking back on that year in school, I can't remember saying another word to her or in class, in general, unless I was singled out specifically. I spent the rest of that year with my head down, reading or drawing, trying desperately not to draw her attention to me.

I'm 31 years old, now, and I still carry the scary demon of Mrs. Regenbogen in my head. No matter what I do, it's never good enough and it always draws her ire. If a line I draw isn't perfectly straight, I can hear her snort in disapproval. If I happen to misspell a word while writing, her voice comes to the forefront of my thoughts, "I knew you could never do anything right," I can hear her spit at me.

Mrs. Regenbogen is dead. Part of me rejoices at this thought, but the deeper and wiser portion of myself knows that, really, it's my fault for carrying her memory around and letting her undermine me from the grave. It's my brain (in her voice) that's criticizing me. It's not really her. She's living rent-free in my head and I'm letting her do it. It's the same with all those wheedling and annoying voices in your head.

Whenever Mrs. Regenbogen, the kids in my class or my mother's voice come to the front of my brain, I have to take active measures to not let them get to me. I've learned that ignoring them doesn't do much good. They only get louder. For me, I have to acknowledge them and I do this in a couple of ways.

The first way I can get them to shut up is just to give my brain what it wants. I turn the page in my sketchbook and I let those nay-saying voices run rampant. I write down every hurtful thing they say. I give them free reign to criticize me, pull me down and make me feel like crap until they've said their piece. Most of the time, I can then just turn the page, forget them and continue along my merry way, relieved that they're gone. Other times, I sit down with each of their negative things and I write out whatever response I want to give them. Here are some examples of this:

You're too fat.
Not as fat as you (Mrs. Regenbogen was a rotund woman). At least I don't have anorexia and look like a skeleton. At least I still get invited to dinner parties. And so what if  I am? My hubby loves cooking for me and we still have an awesome sex life. I still know how to enjoy myself, so which one is more important?

You never did learn how to spell.
So what? That's what spell-check and editors are for! I may be a bad speller, but my bad spelling is putting food on the table for my editors' children and I don't see anything 'bad' about that.

All your friends are just pretending to like you.
And? If they are, they pretend pretty damn well AND did I mention that I still get invited to dinner parties? Plus, one of my friends invited me to witness her baby being born. I don't think that's a pretend gesture.

Who do you think you are, attempting to dispense advice? You're not all that special.
Well, apparently there are other people who think differently because my blog gets comments from people I don't know and the response seems to be overwhelmingly positive. Plus, have you seen all the list of countries that people live in who are reading what I write? Pretty damn impressive, wouldn't you say? And I get new countries added to the list and new readers every week, so there!

See? Our greatest hindrances and our most powerful weapon against them is our own brains. For this week, in your sketchbook, whenever those nasty inner critics rear their heads, I want you to write it down. I want you to write down or draw all that negative stuff that's running around in your brain. Get it out of you. Let all the negativity and vitriol flow down on the page until there's nothing left to say. Let this take as long as it needs.

After it's all down on the page, I want you to answer all the voices in writing. Tell them exactly what you think about them. Do you have a writing teacher in your past that gave you an 'F' and tore your creative pieces to shreds? Tear them a new one on the page. You can be as mean as you want to be to them. At one point, I had an elemenry art teacher who offered commentary on a clay sculpture that I was particularly proud of, a mask of Princess Leia. "It looks like you've put this through the spin cycle," she said. In my sketchbook, I countered her. I'm an adult, now. I can stand up and I can tell her exactly what I think of her. In my sketchbook, I wrote:

"You know what? I was really proud of that sculpture. I thought it was the best thing I'd ever created, at the time. And I'm still proud of it. I don't care if you think it looks like "it's been through the spin cycle." Have you ever seen Jackson Pollack's work? What would you have said to him? You fat, old, bitter woman, you have no business teaching children. Children should be encouraged and celebrated, not used as defenseless verbal punching bags for adults who are insecure in their own lives. How dare you insult me! How dare you embarass me in front of peers who already thought I was strange! You were a teacher and, thus, in a position of authority. When you make fun of a child, the other children take that as free license to pick on each other and that's not right! You're a horrible person and you've never made any positive impact on anyone. You were an art teacher. You had a sacred trust placed in you by The Creator to teach, enoucrage and nourish the creative-selves of young children, not create deep emotional scars that follow them into adulthood. I grew up and have been able to come back and tell you that you are full of shit, but others haven't been so lucky. Now, I'm out in the world healing the scars that you and others like you have made in the beautiful, gentle souls of the world. So you can just sit down, shut up, and fuck off 'cause I'm done with what you said to me and I'm done with you!"

The feeling of getting all of that out there? So awesome! So empowering to finally tell that woman off, even if it was only in my own head. This week, I encourage you to do the same. Take back your power. Write it down and let your inner bullies know that you will no longer be standing for any of their crap. You're an adult and you're in control, now. Their residence in your head is no longer welcome. As Wesley Snipes says in the movie To Wong Fu,

 "Approval neither desired nor required!"
Go rent To Wong Fu, if you haven't seen it already. Awesome movie!
If you like, after you finish, you can destroy the sheets of paper you've unloaded on. Taking them out in the back yard and setting them on fire is very freeing. Burying them can work, too, but I find that burning pages is an especially liberating way of releasing that energy back into The Universe so it can be recycled back to us as something positive and uplifting.

Remember, you're not alone. We all have inner critics and niggling doubts when we attempt something new. Don't let them get you down. I'm here to be your cheerleader. You can do it! You don't have to be controlled by your past. You can let it go. You can put it down and not carry it with you. You can be free!

And, most of all my lovelies, please remember that we all, yes all of us, are visionaries. We just have to figure out where we excel!