Stop Being a Bully! An Easy Way to Manage your Inner Critic

October 4, 2022


When was the last time you really let someone have it? I’m talking about a real verbal lashing where you absolutely tore strips off the person. On first reflection, I imagine the average person hasn’t spoken to someone like that in a very long time, if ever. But I wonder, when was the last time you spoke that way to yourself. Last week? Yesterday? A few minutes ago? The Inner Critic has a biting tongue and can be a cruel mistress. She has us convinced that we will never be able to produce good work without her harshest of critiques. In the unholy alliance with The Inner Critic, we develop an unhealthy dependence on her opinion. 

The Critic had a dysfunctional hold on me for a very long time. I believed that she was the source of my finest work. I was convinced that her nit-picking and casual cruelty were the price that had to be paid to develop my skills. The meaner and more biting the critique the better. However, there was a problem in this arrangement. Over time I slowly began to create less and less. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened. You would think that the not creating would silence The Critic, but with no work to tear apart, she shifted gears and started criticising how lazy and unsuccessful I was. 

We tend to avoid that which hurts us. I believe a vast amount of people have walked away from their creativity, not because they lost interest in it, but rather because they got tired of being bullied. The problem with bullies is we don’t always know how to stand up to them. Confrontation can lead to a black eye and a split lip. Standing up to your inner bully can cause some serious knock backs, and I have certainly been kicked in the guts by my inner critic when I tried to stand up for myself.

Over the years I have discovered a way to stop the bullying and find the joy of creating again. I call it the Thank you AND Technique, and it goes like this.

The Inner Critic: “What the hell is that? That is all wrong! You’ve destroyed it! You should have framed the image like this, but you didn’t, and now you’ve ruined it! Your such an idiot!”

My Response: “Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I can see how I could have framed it differently, AND I won’t be spoken to that way. Maybe next time I can try your idea out.”

What I’ve learned is that at the heart of The Inner Critic there is a desire for our best. The Inner Critic really does want to help, its just the method is all wrong. What the Thank you AND Technique does is helps us identify the good that lies at the heart of our inner bully’s words, but it also creates a safe way to stand up to the bully and develop that inner confidence. 

In my experience, over time The Inner Critic is trained how to more appropriately helps us. Instead of being a bully our Inner Critic learns how to be the helper they’ve always wanted to be. 

These days my Inner Critic often acts as a collaborator. Sometimes I still must use the Thank you AND Technique to remind her that I am the foreman and that I no longer accept being spoken to disrespectfully. However, often the detailed eye of the critic propels the project forward and is an integral part of my creative process. 

What’s your relationship like with your Inner Critic? Are you being bullied to the point that you just don’t show up any more to your creativity? I would encourage you to sit down and write a letter to your inner critic. Use the Thank You AND Technique and then at the end of the letter explain how you’ve been hurt in the past and what the new rules are going to be in your relationship. Invite your critic to still be part of your creative process, but make sure that they know that there are now new rules of engagement moving forward. 

When your first starting this new way of interacting, you may want to set up a Time Out Chair. If the Critic is starting to be a bully, tell them that they had to go sit in time out for 5 minutes. Set an actual timer, and when the 5 minutes are up, invite the critic to come back and join you. It may feel silly, but this little role play is a very effective way to build back up your own creative confidence. Not only does it train The Critic, but it also builds self-trust. It’s a way for you to show your creative self that you will stand up for your creativity, and that the creative process will once again become a safe place. 

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