Dr. Bobbi Ballard - psychologist

Understanding the Inner Critic

I haven’t met an artist (or a person in general) who doesn’t get exactly what I mean when I talk about the inner critic. As a psychologist and an artist, I am well familiar with the chattering of my critic! 

When its voice is too loud, the inner critic can hinder creativity, chip away at your self-confidence, and slow down your artistic growth. 

As artists, we all want to express our unique voices and make an impact on our audiences. But along the way, almost all of us feel held back at some point by that unwelcome voice of our criticism and put-downs. 

The Nature of the Inner Critic

The inner critic is that nagging voice in your head that whispers doubts and insecurities about your artistic abilities. It may feel like a constant stream of negative thoughts, self-judgment, and comparison to others. Whether you are a painter, writer, musician, or any other type of artist, the inner critic can feel like a formidable adversary. 

Recognizing Its Impact

The inner critic for artists can have a profound impact on the creative process. It contributes to self-doubt, fear of failure, and perfectionism. 

When influenced by these inner doubts and criticisms, artists may feel hesitant to take risks, explore new ideas, or share their work with others. This self-imposed censorship can restrict artistic expression and hinder personal growth.

Origins of the Inner Critic

Understanding the origins of the inner critic can provide insight into its influence, and how to work around it. 

Sometimes it emerges from external sources like early criticism, societal expectations, or past failures. Over time, it becomes an automatic response, stifling our creativity and diminishing our self-worth. 

A surprising thing to consider about your inner critic is that it doesn’t hate you; in fact, it actually thinks it’s helping you! Somewhere along the way, it adopted the belief that pushing you, criticizing you, and pointing out your shortcomings would help you work better, do better, and avoid mistakes.

From the inner critic’s point of view, the emotional pain it inflicts is a small price to pay to make sure that you are kept safe from “harm”. (Yes, it’s misguided!)

Separating from Your Inner Critic

To navigate the inner critic, it is important to distinguish between your authentic creative voice and the critical voice. Your creative voice is a wellspring of inspiration, authenticity, and personal vision. 

By recognizing that the inner critic is separate from your true self, you can begin to detach from its influence and instead notice and discard its contributions to your inner dialogue.

It doesn’t hurt to shine a little love and light on your inner critic. Thank it for trying to help you by pointing out your shortcomings, and let it know that you got this. You may find that it calms down when it’s reassured that it’s not solely responsible for making sure you get things done. 

Healing the Inner Critic

The inner critic can present a challenge for artists, but it’s not insurmountable. By understanding its nature, recognizing its voice, and separating it from your own authentic creative voice, you can begin to find space and freedom from its message. 

Next, let’s explore some strategies for healing your inner critic, so that it becomes easier and more natural for you to listen to and embrace your creative voice. 

Ten Ways to Navigate Your Inner Critic

Try adopting these techniques to help you tap into your confidence and calm your inner critic:

1. Self-Compassion to Calm the Inner Critic

One of the most effective ways to counteract the inner critic is by cultivating self-compassion. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would give to a close friend. Acknowledge that making mistakes and encountering setbacks are integral parts of the creative process. Embrace the notion that imperfections are what make art truly human and beautiful. Reassure your inner critic that while you appreciate their intention to help you, you are learning and growing in your own imperfect way.

2. Challenge Negative Thoughts

Become aware of the negative thoughts perpetuated by the inner critic and challenge them with evidence to the contrary. Whenever you catch yourself thinking, “I’m not good enough,” or “I’ll never succeed,” consciously replace those thoughts with positive affirmations. 

Remind yourself of past accomplishments, the progress you’ve made, and the joy that creating brings to your life. In the spirit of healing your inner critic, we are not shouting out positive thoughts in an effort to cover up the negative whispers of the critic. Rather, we’re listening to what it is saying, and responding with other, more positive perspectives. 

Sometimes it’s helpful to have a therapist support you through the process of challenging your negative thoughts. This kind of help can prevent or reverse the downward spiral of negative thoughts and feelings, especially if your inner critic starts to sound like a voice of reason. 

3. Embrace the Power of Vulnerability

Self-doubt and criticism often increases when in the presence of  vulnerability. Feeling vulnerable is a threatening place to be! 

From the inner critic’s point of view, maybe it can protect you from so-called threats, by jabbering about how you’ll never be good enough;  after all, if you give up, you are saved from the pain and heartache of failure. 

Aww, inner critic, your heart is in the right place, but you’ve got this all wrong! 

Try recasting vulnerability as a virtue to embrace, which can disarm the influence of your critic. Imagine if you were to take risks, explore uncharted territories, and create without the fear of judgment. What’s the worst that can happen? The inner critic might think it’s fatal, but reassure it that you’re not going to perish, and that you are equipped to handle uncertainty and yes, even rejection.

Remember that vulnerability is the gateway to authenticity, and it is through embracing it that your creative voice has room to express itself.

4. Surround Yourself with Supportive Communities

Building a network of supportive artists can provide invaluable encouragement and validation. Seek out like-minded artists, join creative groups or online communities, and engage in conversations that uplift and inspire you. 

Sharing experiences and connecting with others who understand the challenges of the creative process can help increase your confidence and validate how normal it is to feel vulnerable as an artist. 

5. Practice Mindfulness and Self-Reflection

Engaging in mindfulness exercises and self-reflection can help you become more attuned to your thoughts and emotions. Take moments to observe the inner critic without judgment, allowing its presence to become a passing cloud in the sky of your mind. Through mindfulness, you can create space for your authentic creative voice to emerge and flourish.

watercolor pan and paintbrushes

6. Authenticity as a Guiding Principle

Embracing your authenticity is essential in strengthening your creative voice. Trust your instincts, follow your passions, and create art that resonates with your true self. Avoid falling into the trap of imitating others or seeking external validation. Remember that your creative voice is unique, and your perspective is valuable. When your inner critic chimes in, know in your gut that you are following your true instincts. 

7. Embrace and Learn from Failure 

Your inner critic may try to cast failure as validation of its judgments. But don’t believe it! Failure is always part of the creative process. Instead of fearing it, view failure as an opportunity for growth and learning. See if you can figure out what lesson it’s offering, adjust your approach, and continue on. Your willingness to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them is what helps you discover new things that playing it safe would not have revealed.  

8. Find Inspiration in the Everyday

As a creative, you are probably observant of the world around you, and everyday experiences can fuel your imagination. 

Your inner critic may try to talk you out of enjoying these small but beautiful moments of inspiration, because it doesn’t fit with its narrative to experience new things, no matter their size.

Remember, the inner critic’s “job” is to keep you safe by keeping you feeling and living small. The more inspiration you can let in, the less room there is for your critic. 

9. Practice Consistency and Discipline

Like I’ve alluded to a couple of times already, inner critics tend to pounce when we’re vulnerable. 

Establishing consistent creative practices and routines can help keep your art practice on solid footing, making it:

a) easier for you to brush off the inner critic’s voice, because you’ve got plenty of contradictory evidence, and 

b) harder for the inner critic to make its case against you, because it will see your steadily progressing body of work. 

Set aside dedicated time for your art, even when inspiration feels elusive. Through this consistency, your creative voice stays primed for action. You may hear your inner critic in the background, but it probably won’t be the loudest voice. 

10. Celebrate Progress and Milestones

Help even the playing field with your inner critic, by acknowledging and celebrating progress in your art practice. Take note of the milestones you reach, no matter their size. 

Celebrating your achievements bolsters self-confidence, and builds a reservoir of positivity. When you’re buoyed by awareness of your progress, it is easier to reassure that critical voice that your “risks” are safe and successful. 

Conclusion: You Got This! 

Navigating the inner critic and tuning in to your creative voice is a lifelong process. I hope that the strategies and suggestions here help you live and create outside of the shadow of your critical voice. 

If you want more support with mindset issues for artists, I have a free resource “Anxious Artist’s 1-Minute Mindset Shift” that teaches a simple technique to shift yourself out of anxiety or overwhelm, so you can get back to making your art. 

Keep creating!

1 reply on “Navigating the Inner Critic for Artists: 10 Strategies For Healing”

[…] can make creating painstaking at best, and impossible at its worst. (I’ve got a blog post “Navigating the Inner Critic for Artists: Ten Strategies for Healing” if you want to read […]