Coronalone: Week 23 - Silencing the Inner Critic
"Coronalone". It's like "Home Alone", but without Macaulay Culkin. And without the burglars (we hope). It's our ridiculous name for the surreal and strange circumstances in which we currently find ourselves.
And we currently find ourselves fighting with our “inner critics”.
We’ve been working on some home projects recently and, as is often the case, those projects tend to include some “weeding out” and going through odd bits of stuff that we haven’t seen in a while, deciding whether they stay or go. I happened upon a couple of writing magazines that I had bought for myself a number of years back— probably one of the times I swore to myself that I would participate in and complete NaNoWriMo*— and I decided that before I pitched them, I really ought to see if any of the advice contained within their pages might be helpful.
One article, from a May 2006 issue of Writing Basics by Jacquelyn B. Fletcher, was about silencing one’s “inner critic”. As I read the article, I realized that my “inner critic” tends to be most active not when I’m writing, but in other aspects of my daily life. And he seems to be particularly active lately, “in the time of Covid”. The author made the distinction between the discerning critic, who focuses on the writing and how it can be improved, and the damaging critic, who focuses on the writer and questions his or her worth. Perhaps many of you are picturing what I was as I read it: the angel on one shoulder and devil on the other that are often used to represent aspects of our “conscience” or, in Freudian terms, the “super-ego” and the “id”. The damaging critic attacks us, questioning our worth, our intelligence, or our effectiveness. Oh, how well I know that little devil. He has been living within inches of my ear, whispering and disparaging, for decades.
The little guy is always at his most vocal when I feel as if I am letting others down, or when I question whether I am successfully doing whatever it is I think I should be doing… and let me tell you, he is relentless. He’s also completely irrational. For example, lately he has been deriding me for working from home because it means I’m not pulling my weight at work. But then he’ll shift to berating me for even thinking about returning to work, because then I would be letting our moms down, potentially increasing their exposure to this horrible virus. Then, it’s back to “you’re not good enough” if you don’t go back to the office. It would be comical if it were not so soul-crushing.
He is also completely unable to recognize things like the fact that I have amazing bosses who have figuratively bent over backward to allow me to protect “the moms”, and who will, I know, keep the lines of communication open and let me know what they need from me for this whole arrangement to continue to work. He doesn’t get that my coworker is a wonderful person who was the first to say to me, back in March, that I needed to follow my conscience— the real one, not the little, mean homunculus— and to do what was right for me. He refuses to acknowledge that sometimes, particularly in difficult circumstances like the ones we are currently facing, there is no perfect answer. Sometimes, we just can’t do everything we would like to do for others without facing other repercussions. Sometimes, we expect far too much of ourselves. And sometimes, we give in and listen to the nagging voice coming from that sharp-tongued little devil who will malign our every thought and our every move until we become afraid to move at all.
So, back to that article I was reading, and the suggestions for silencing one’s critic. The author may have been referring to our inner censor with regards to writing, but it seems to me that we might be able to extrapolate from her ideas and find ways to silence the little guy in other areas of our lives, too. She suggests visualizing your inner critic and then finding a way to visualize shutting him down. She sees her critic as “Gollum” from The Lord of the Rings, so she bought a toy “Gollum” and, when she needs to silence him, she pushes the button that makes him say, “My precious!”, allowing her to just laugh at herself and keep writing. I think I might try visualizing the little guy as a tiny vampire, and I’ll make it a point to keep a small pointy stick on my desk… with which I can stab him in the heart at the first sign of trash-talk.
I see that option as a bit more specifically suited to the inner writer-critic, but her other suggestion may have broader applications. She suggests acting one’s way through non-action. It’s a method acting technique, and it involves acting the way one wants to feel. Need more confidence? Wear something a confident person you know might wear. Trying to banish a bad mood? Try to keep a smile on your face for as long as you can. It is amazing how dramatically our physicality can affect our psychology.
My contribution to this list of suggestions? Talk to someone else, rather than listening solely to your own inner critic. It’s quite possible that someone outside of the world inside your own head will see a situation very differently than you do. Sometimes, all we need is a little perspective… well, and maybe that pointy stick.
*NaNoWriMo is “National Novel Writing Month”, in which participants attempt to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. It began in 1999, and we have a few friends who have participated… and even succeeded in successfully completing the challenge! Check it out here: https://nanowrimo.org/about-nano