I was recently thinking about how sometimes, we can be so hard on ourselves.
I was sitting with my friend Julia. She was talking about her music practice. “I should be able to play this ___ by now. I’m useless!” Yup – she was in fine self-flagulation form! I recognised these types of words having said many a similar thing to myself in my art studio.
I decided to say the words back to her, as if I was saying them to her: You should be able to play this by now Julia. You’re useless!”
But I wanted to make the point – we would never speak to a friend like that so why are we so darn unkind to ourselves?
We criticize ourselves harshly, using words we would never say to someone else. Why do we tend to be so hard on ourselves? Why can’t we be as tolerant and supportive of ourselves and our foibles as we would be with others?
Now I’m sure there’s a lot of psychology around that tells us why we do this to ourselves – lots of self-doubt and insecurities I’m sure – but rather than go into that, I’d like to suggest a way to deal with that inner critic. This is something I do.
The first thing is to actually hear ourselves. Doing so is the first step to taming that rather mean voice. It’s in our minds, often a mindless stream of negative chatter and castigation, and can be difficult to catch but once our intention to hear it is clear, we can catch it out!
Now, as soon as I hear myself saying, “Gail, that’s such rubbish! You should be able to do better. You’re an art instructor for goodness sake!” I stop. And then I repeat the words out loud but as if I’m saying them to someone else. Terrible stuff!
Then I pause, and I consider my words. I look at what I’m chastising myself about and then I go on and tell myself what I would say to a friend. It might go something like this:
“Each piece you do is new territory. You can never know what’s going to happen and that’s the great thing about art-making. It’s not a formula. We’re always finding our way. Some days are way easier and sometimes, they are harder. You’re having the second type of day. And tomorrow is another day. It’s all learning. And listen, making art is hard work! Keep focusing on your intention to create. Be in the process and don’t worry about the outcome. And…how about we celebrate the fact that you’re actually painting!”
And then I can move on.
I’ll give you an example of my own self-cruelty.
On a recent teaching trip to the UK, my reward at the end was to spend a week on a canal boat with Cam. It was going to be leisurely AND I was going to paint with my pastels as I hadn’t had time to do so before this point. My plan was to try and paint each day but I’d be okay with five out of seven.
Well, two days into the trip, I began to realise that if we were going to get where we wanted to go, through all the various locks and miles, we’d need to keep moving each day. Uh oh. So, the self-loathing began.As did the insults being hurled for breaking the promise to myself to use this time to paint. I could feel the tension building between wanting to paint and wanting to be doing this boating thing with Cam each day, making it as far as the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal.
Recognising this tension was the beginning of doing something about it. So I made a choice. I decided to let go of my intention to paint so I could fully experience this quiet adventure we were on together.
And…I also congratulated myself on doing the sketches I’d done despite the restrictions on my time when teaching and travelling. I’ve included a few.
So tell me, why do you think we are hard on ourselves? Do you have a harsh inner critic? Let me know your thoughts about this topic in the comments!
Until next time,
PS. If you have any book suggestions on dealing with the inner critic and also why we are so hard on ourselves, carrying on with this negative self-talk, please add them to the comments.
Two I know of are: