Community Post: The Inner Critic

In Community, Inspiration

Ah, the inner critic.  We all have one. That voice in our head that tells us our work is terrible, that we aren’t worthy, that we will never amount to anything. It is the kryptonite that drains our inspiration and tries to keeps us small. Today, the Viewfinders team is sharing our tales from the dark side. We are shining a light on the voice of our inner critic and sharing the techniques that help us move past it, and in some cases, even make friends with the nagging voice that lives in each of us.

I’ve worked hard to make friends with my inner critic over the years.  I have gone from being completely incapacitated by it, to gradually understanding that it is not the voice of truth, but rather the voice of fear and ego. My inner critic is simply my thinking brain trying to override my intuition, and it is something that I can choose to give less and less weight to if I am mindful. Typically my inner critic taunts me with the question, “WHO do YOU think you are?!”  (Say it in a loud, menacing voice to get the full effect.)  I have found it therapeutic to listen to artists I admire talk about their inner critics. Elizabeth Gilbert writes about it extensively in Big Magic.  And I also love the work of Danielle Krysa, founder of the popular blog The Jealous Curator.  In her book, Creative Block, she interviews 50 successful artists and asks many of them to talk about their inner critic.  Guess what? Every one of them wrestles with the subject, which means it is universal. The question inspired Danielle so much that she went on to write an entire book on the subject, aptly named, Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk.  What I am getting at here is that we need not feel alone with this. If other artists have successfully conquered their inner critic, you and I can too.  — deb

When my inner critic starts telling me my photos are boring, or too simple, or not as good as so-and-so’s,  I look back at this photograph to recapture the joy I felt — and still feel — when taking photographs.  This photo of my daughter with a cellphone flash is the first photo I ever took with my big-girl camera, and I remember the way my heart skipped a beat when I peeked at the image on the camera.  I hadn’t learned any of the settings on my new Canon Rebel, and it’s not technically correct.  But that flash of light and her peaceful expression in that moment filled me with joy and anticipation at what other images I might capture.  If your inner critic starts to get too loud, revisit a special image from your archives, and let it shine its light right into your heart.  –lucy

My inner critic is an asshole.  She doesn’t want anything good for me and she thinks that all my ideas are stupid. She wants to shut my projects down before I even get started. She tells me all the reasons she thinks I’m not good enough.  She uses words that I would never say to ANYONE.  And yet?  I still hear them.  But I’m starting to learn the difference between that small, but oh-so-powerful voice and the voice of my intuition.  I am starting to learn to quiet my inner critic by staying in the work, even when I feel like quitting and to share what I’m doing, even if it makes me feel uncomfortable.   I’ve found so much support when I open up and share my messy, imperfect and unique voice.  –Angie

My inner critic is sneaky.  I can be in a groove, feeling good…then, seemingly out of nowhere, she appears.  She stalks me with shadowy doubts; she nags me with fear-based questions.  What if someone laughs at your work?  Do you actually think that’s good?  What are you thinking, and who are you kidding?  Where I was once moving along steady and even, I come to an abrupt halt.  I freeze.  I come unglued.

After some amount of freezing and ungluing, here’s what I do.  I turn to softness.  I acknowledge my inner critic, let her know that I’ve heard what she has to say but tell her no, thank you and you need to be on your way.  I step outside, I read a poem, I bake some cookies, I take a bath.  I write more words and take more photographs, even if it feels hard (and, believe me, it’s hard).  But I keep moving.  I keep going.  (because we must)  – michelle

She tells me that there’s nothing special, nothing beautiful, nothing unique, nothing new. She tries to convince me of the mundanity of it all, the boring repetition of the everyday. What can there possibly be to capture? What surprises can you hope to uncover in the well-trodden paths that run through your life? But, I have to admit though, that sometimes she’s not entirely wrong. Sometimes she tells me to wait, be patient, try a different composition, push past the familiar. I hear her out. Then I look up at the sky. I wait, giving myself some time to soak it in, and then I raise my camera. – Eyes wide open, Chinwe

Compare leads to despair.  I’m not certain who said that first, but it’s something I repeat to myself (and my teenage daughter) often.  Even when I was working in an industry for which I had a college degree, was paid well and given good reviews, the “they’re going to figure out that I don’t know what I’m doing” syndrome reared its ugly head too many times to count.  Even though I’m older and wiser now, I sometimes still compare what I’m doing photographically to others whose work I admire, despite knowing it’s a fruitless endeavor and drives my confidence further south.  Luckily, I’ve learned a few tools to get out of my own head over the years.  One of them is to get grounded.  Sometimes that’s literally taking off my shoes, planting my feet in the earth and lifting my face to the sun.  — kim

What ho! Kirstin’s inner voice here. I talk to her in a posh sergeant-major voice whenever she lifts a camera to her eye. Delighted to make your acquaintance, and all that. Now, let’s get a few things straight around here. Straightness. That is important. Wonky horizons simply won’t do, unless they are deliberately very wonky, for effect. Also, do try to avoid taking pictures of the backs of people’s heads. That means you are in the wrong place and need to move in front of your subject. But more generally, ask yourself why you are taking every picture. What is the point of it? How else could you do it? What new things could you try? I won’t mind too much if you ignore my advice and just press the shutter anyway. Dash it all, sometimes you just have to go with your gut, I say. But remember, I’m not here to criticise, I’m here to encourage. Keep pushing those boundaries! Because that’s what photography is all about, eh? Toodle-oo!     kirstin

I have tried many different tactics when it comes to my inner critic. I have tried to quiet her. I have tried to ignore her. I have tried to cuss her out. Then I noticed something. My inner critic is especially noisy when my heart is especially broken. I hate my photography when I am also in the middle of hating something about me. My inner critic is actually a symptom of my inner shame and disappointment in myself. This shame leads to me hating everything in my life, not just my photography. I suddenly can’t make a decent dinner, be a good wife, or be an understanding mother. The one thing that helps shut up this inner critic is the one thing I am usually afraid to do- embrace her pain while I keep moving forward. When I start being unkind to myself, I need to stop and ask why and what else is going on. What old tape am I listening to? What lie do I believe as a truth? Then, with quiet confidence, pick up my camera and shoot from my heart.  ~Staci Lee

Minnesota-lifestyle-photographerNot unlike all of the lovely women who’ve spoken before me, comparison and “they’ll find out I’m a fraud” are my most frequent companions. Even when I think I’m just scrolling Instagram or Facebook or my blog feed for intrigue, for inspiration, and to see what kind of things are out there, when I go back to my own work, that’s when that voice hits. “If only you were able to see the light better, then maybe you’d be able to use it more effectively.” “If only you had that certain way of angling yourself toward your subject, if the kids were older or younger or more cooperative, if you weren’t so afraid to take your camera out in public, if this, if that, if only, if only, if only… then you’d be as successful as all of them.” And then, then when I manage to start to feel a little confident, booking weddings and families, that other voice chimes in, telling me that I’ll get figured out. I’ll shoot and deliver the wedding and they’ll come back completely devastated because I clearly had no idea what I was doing.

I’ll admit, I’m terrible at working through these feelings. I often count on the busy-ness of life to sweep past so that I don’t have the time to focus on them, but that isn’t really effective – it just shoves them deeper and deeper into my consciousness. One thing that does help me at least a little is to go out on a little photo walk and really take the time to breathe and focus in on just shooting in the moment and creating something that speaks to my soul. Shooting from that place of process rather than outcome can be truly cathartic.   Alison

Ooooooh the inner critic. I know her so damn well. She is a sneaky trickster sometimes. She is a subtle bitch too. Sometimes she is a loud and angry monster destroying everything in her wake. She is a creepy and manipulative hellion. I hate her sometimes and that makes me want to cry, and I love her sometimes and that makes me want to cry too. I don’t think it’s possible to ever let go of the inner critical voice. I’ve talked to folks older than me, and I’ve talked to folks way older than me too, about this very subject. That voice is there for the long haul. The choice is ours, however, how much we want to listen. As others have mentioned above, my inner critic tends to be a spawn of deep seeded shame. I know so well when I’m shame spiraling because it’s not just about my work, it’s not just my photography. It’s everything!! I tell myself I’m a bad….person. Ouch.  My photography suffers greatly when I feel this way, because the inner critic kills ( and does so harshly) inspiration. KO. Dead on Arrival. But all is not lost. Here are some things that have helped me cope with my inner critic.

Stop Comparing. If you are having a fragile shamey day, DO NOT visit your favorite photographer or local competition’s Facebook, Instagram, or Website. For real. Don’t do it. Instead, listen to some inspiring music and look at some of your favorite work that you’ve done. You will realize how amazing you actually are.

One of my favorite images I’ve ever taken . 1. Read some of your favorite uplifting quotes and stories. Watch an inspiring TED Talk. Here are two quotes I love when I’m shaming hard.

” Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest will take care of itself. ” Elizabeth Gilbert.

Sometimes my revolution involves photographing a  couple in a field of Queen Anne’s lace. Sometimes it’s a tray of Nachos and 7 episodes of Supernatural. No judgment.

” All things are yours” . 1 Corinthians 3:22

This scripture is my reminder that Grace can be found anywhere in absolutely, anything. This realization has been like a thunderbolt in my life.

When fear and scarcity get to me, I like to look to brave people who inspire me. One person who continues to do that is this gal, Tallie Osborne.

2. Call your mom.Or your sister, or your favorite gal pal. A woman whom you love, and who knows your inner critic too.

3. Talk to yourself like you would your 7-year-old self. You cannot be mean to her. It’s impossible. In fact, I find when I talk to her, I have nothing but the deepest love.

Now, take a picture of yourself.

You might mostly feel like a sad little heap. You might feel wobbly and confused. Your inner voice might be raging. But, that 7 year old, she’s still there. She’s you. Be nice to her.  Nurture her. Love her. Talk to her. Honor her. Let her soar.  Audrey Amaro

My inner critic is mean with a capital M. She lurks behind the scenes, patiently waiting in the wings for her moment to shine – those times when pushing tender vulnerabilities to the surface of my psyche will have the most debilitating impact. And those vulnerabilities: who the hell do you think you are?; what makes you think you have anything to say?; nope – not original – been done a thousand times before and so much better; you don’t know what you’re doing; you’re uncredentialed, untaught, and, be honest with yourself, you don’t even know what you don’t know; you will make a fool of yourself; and, the pièce de résistance, damn! even your vulnerabilities aren’t original, woman, what makes you think your ideas or photos would be?

Not merely interested in putting me off my game, my inner critic is a goddess of full scale destruction. She wants nothing less than to stop me creating – to stop me even thinking creatively would be her ultimate victory. I’ve tried to ignore her, to stop up my ears to her and say, “nah, nah, nah I can’t hear you,” but she is undeniable, and avoiding her gaze or shutting my ears won’t silence her because that bitch is telepathic.

The more battles we fought, the more I have come to realize that I need to look her dead in the eye and answer back quietly but firmly, “I make pictures because I love to make pictures. I share them because it’s one of the best ways I’ve found to connect with people I admire and enjoy. The sharing is not always comfortable, but it stretches me in ways that I know represent personal growth. And the making, the making of the pictures, that is the closest I come to experiencing the divine. So it doesn’t matter what you say, I’ll still make them.”

Every force has its countervailing force, and if I want to welcome that inner voice that compels me to create, unfortunately, her doppelganger comes too. One is a quiet, stalwart friend and the other a very compelling viper. I can’t get one without the other,  but energy follows attentions. The more I listen to my true friend, the less oxygen remains for her counterpart.  –Debbie

“Hey, you, inner critic, it’s about time you and I sat down and had a conversation. I want to tell you what a big jerk you are and that I don’t really like the way you’re treating me or my photography. It needs to stop. Come, sit. SIT! Tell me what it is that bothers you so much about my images. Is it my technique? My style? My subject matter? Or maybe you’re just jealous I have MY own voice and I’m not echoing your nagging, incessant chatter all the time.

Wait, no, I asked you to sit! Don’t leave! Talk to me, please.

Stay. Let me heal you, tame you, make you more confident. I can be kind to you, I promise.

Perhaps then, you can try to be kind to me…?”    Maite

My inner critic often tries to control me with fear and shame.  She knows when I’m feeling vulnerable and she tries to take advantage of that emotion.  I love rock climbing, but haven’t been in years.  I’ve not felt strong enough physically to try it again.  I kept procrastinating.  I have a fear of falling and I sometimes panic on the wall when I’m high up.  When I walked into the climbing gym for the first time a few weeks ago, I looked around and saw mostly high school and college age kids climbing routes that made me dizzy.  Not a middle aged, out of shape woman in sight.  The inner critic kicked right in: you’re an idiot for thinking you can do this; you’re going to make a fool of yourself; everyone’s watching you; you don’t belong here; and you’re not physically fit enough.  Gentle, gentle deep breaths.  Inhale, exhale.  I quietly tell my inner critic that I hear her and then I try a simple boulder route on the kids wall.  Next I clip into an easy route and climb a quarter of the way up and let myself fall a few feet to the ground.  The next week I return to try again.  The inner critic laughs and mocks me.  I quietly listen and then remind her that I’m not here to impress anyone; I’m here for myself.  I’m here because I love it and I believe I can.  I climb a little higher than my first visit and practice falling again.  Each week I grow stronger and climb higher.  I begin to notice more diversity in the other climbers.  Friendly faces and kind words.  Were they here all along I didn’t notice?  The inner critic can hold us back from life and relationships and adventure.  Last night I almost made it to the very top, but lost my footing.  I’ll return this weekend and nail it. – Laura

In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert talks about fear as a person. Like, Hey Fear, I know you’re there. You can tag along for the ride if you want, but you’re DEFINITELY not driving and you’re DEFINITELY sitting in the back seat. Fear comes along for the ride to protect us. We need her. But somewhere along the freeway, the lines get blurry and Fear becomes that overly chatty passenger you just want to shut up so you can listen to the music and focus on the road. Since reading that a couple of years ago, it has stuck with me. My inner critic is just fear. That fearful person that wants to do the driving but I know what a stupid idea that is, so I say no. I am not really sure how or why, but I listen to her so rarely. Fear feels her job is very important. She takes herself very seriously. She has no idea that I’m actually in control of how important her job is. When I hear her whispers, I know it’s time to come back to centre. Stop – breathe – reset – start again. The past few years has seen me wake up in many areas of my life. Awareness. Everyday. In the tiny, seemingly unimportant tasks through to the big, life changing ones. I choose to surround myself with positive people – women especially. Words they have said, along the journey, stay with me, echoing in my head. Go gently. Be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can. So you fucked it up. So what? Try again. This too, shall pass.  ~Tahnee

She’s awful. She tells me how useless I am on a rather regular basis. My images aren’t straight. The composition sucks. The quality is low. The exposure’s off. She’s so mean, that I’ll be paralyzed with indecision for weeks before sharing something, and in some cases years before I allow myself to appreciate my work. She reminds how much better other photographers that shoot the same thing are, and how my “take” isn’t anything new. She tells me constantly how financially unsuccessful I am even if the talent is there.

And sometimes I believe her. But then something comes along that reminds me how warped and skewed and fucked up she can be. How insecure and dismissive she is. And I remind myself that at least I’m trying. I remember that I’m doing my best and constantly learning every step of the way. That I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to be happy, be healthy; I just have to be me. I remember, that it’s “Never a failure, always a lesson.” Maybe I need to have that tattooed on my arm too. ~ Holly

 

xoxo The Viewfinders

8 Comments

  1. Such a good post and reminder that I am not the only one who struggles with this. Thank you.

  2. I hardly know where to begin. This is the subject that lurks in the shadows, the one we all know about but hate to discuss for fear bringing it into the light will somehow reveal our weakness. And this is true and not true for when we are our most vulnerable, it is then that we become strong. I’m linking to your post on my blog and spreading this good news that we can overcome our inner critics. This post is like a balm for my soul.

    • Donna,
      We are delighted the post spoke to you. I remember the first time I heard Danielle Krysa talk about it in her books and her podcast. (I reference her work in my contribution to the post.) It was a HUGE turning point for me to know that in this area I am not unique. It is a universal experience. Shining a bright light on it is incredibly therapeutic. Thank you for linking the post on your blog. Would you mind sharing your blog with us here in the comments section? I’d like to direct the other Viewfinders to it. Many thanks! Deb

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