Updated: Jul 19
This week I was getting ready to update “my story." Designed to showcase my experiences with my inner critic, it will end up on my website and social media.
According to all the marketing gurus it’s essential for me to share the challenges I’ve overcome and the successes I’ve experienced so that people see that I know where they are and what it feels like when you live with an overactive inner critic.
While my public stories are meant to create connections with an audience and activate the mythical SEO algorithms that guide people to my websites, what it means to me in real terms is that I might have the opportunity to do what I’m love to do: help people thrive. This makes publicly sharing my journey a high-stakes activity.
I’ve always found writing challenging. Big or small, high-stakes or a simple post, I have a tune I sing about writing: “I don’t like to write ‘cause I’m not good at writing.”
This might be a song you’re familiar with. Simply replace the ‘write’ with something that you don’t feel particularly adept at doing and voila, you’ve got your own personalized stumbling block anthem!
I decided to create a video for this “about me” update and minimize the writing part to simple social posts. Lots of people would be nervous about making a video but for me, writing posts felt like an uphill trek I had to train for. Maybe because it represented the start of weeks of written content creation that lay ahead of me, or simply because “I don’t like to write ‘cause I’m not good at writing.”
I wanted my story to convey a journey of transformation. How I felt then, swimming in a pool of self-doubt, and how I feel now. The swing from frightened, trapped, and ashamed to hopeful, free, and self-assured. Yet every time I started to write a post, my stomach grew hard, cold, and heavy as it foreshadowed struggles ahead.
That feeling of internal struggle is downright uncomfortable. It’s often more than only a mental discomfort because the struggle often shows up in your body too.
Maybe you’ve experienced the physical feeling of dread when faced with a task. If you’re like me, though, more often than not you’ve powered through the discomfort in order to do what you need to get done. Feeling constrained and joyless and anxious the whole way.
This time when the discomfort emerged, I decided to tackle the issue with a head-on “WTH is going on here?” approach. I have a lot of writing ahead of me. While I could ignore it and push through, I thought about the physical price I would pay.
My body has learned to shout at me when it doesn’t want to do what I’m forcing myself to do. The writing would be done but at what cost? Backaches and headaches, stomach issues, maybe a cold. Nope, I didn’t want to go there. It was time to remove this obstacle.
Have you experienced physical manifestations of a stressful situation? Our body does not like us to do what we really don’t want to do.
My first step may sound familiar if you’re a fan of self-help books or pre-recorded courses. I used the same formula: start with information about the generalized underlying causes. Struggles with writing are a thing, so what do the experts have to say?
A quick google search later, and there it was, a great quote from Shondaland. Thanks, Google; what a delightful place to land.
I found an interview with different writers on being stuck. These were writers of fiction, yet much of what they said held true for my issue.
It was reassuring to learn that it sometimes takes accomplished authors years to sort through the details and that the right word may never appear or be enough to describe the memories and emotions of the story.
Next came looking at my specifics to figure out what else might be holding me back.
Some of the more common reasons people get stuck when writing their stories include thoughts that their stories are not interesting enough, holding a fear of being judged and diminished for their work or for sharing, and not wanting to be the center of attention because they are self-conscious are common blocks.
These concerns were familiar to me. I lived most of my adult life applying these fears of not being enough to almost every situation. I also know shame. Not just in experiencing it but also in eradicating it. I’ve done it for myself and helped others release theirs. I decided I should knock on shame’s door to see if she was still hanging out.
Had you asked me why I chose to work with people quietly battling their inner critic, I would share my story easily. I can do it on video, in groups, and one-on-one. I can talk about my experiences, training, and what I’ve learned. I was able to rule out shame. I didn’t sense any of my shame “tells.”
What are your shame precursors? It’s that feeling just before it hits you squarely in the gut or neck or wherever your shame lets you know it’s there.
Still, the “I’m not good at writing” song was played so I pulled out another coaching tool: I Felt Into The Story.
I sat quietly with the thought: “I’m not good at writing,” and allowed myself to feel where and how this thought landed in my body. Was I tense or relaxed, or did I pick up on signals of fear or apprehension that only I can read?
Sure enough, I felt the apprehension of something unknown but spoken about as “being bad.” But the root of the issue still was not in focus.
The words I used: “I’m not good at writing,” stuck in my mind. With their child-like feel, they’re not words I would use today. That intrigued me. So I used yet another tool and followed that hunch.
This time using visualizations and practice similar to the one described in this blog by Martha Beck, I discovered an artifact from my childhood. A sense of fear of not being whole or fully capable.
Sitting as if in an audience, the scene rolled out in front of me. My parents being lectured on the importance of forcing me to be right-handed. I remember the unsolicited advice “Make her write with her right hand or she’ll always struggle.” They, thankfully, took no heed from the people of this land that time forgot, where I grew up. However, I did continue to hear that writing must be hard for me and that I would never do it “right.”
The world was organized for right-handedness, and when these caring albeit misguided folks wanted to look out for me, my 5-year-old brain soaked it up and made it my own.
They spoke of physical difficulty. I internalized the thought that I had an impediment to the creative act of writing because I knew that the physical act of writing wasn’t difficult. In fact, I liked it.
I had broken down many blocks and released things that held me back, but never one quite like this. There was something so innocent about it. So easy to let go of that it was hard to believe that this was actually my impediment to writing. So I gave it a try. I sat down and started writing. Words came with newfound ease followed by relief and awe.
One of the less talked about aspects of letting go of your inner critic is that there is so much opportunity to explore and dispel and create anew once you remove the veil of shame and the false foundation of fear created by your greatest critic.
Maybe crafting an enjoyable read will continue to elude me, but I now know that shame does not stand in my way, nor does the confusing myriad of word choices. The old belief that simply was untrue and created in a place that time forgot, has been removed, allowing me to enjoy the process and feel excited about where it leads.
The coaching tools used were:
Form a general understanding of what might be the issue or the cause of the issue.
Move from the general to the specific and understand what the issue is for you.
Figure out what general knowledge applies to your specifics.
Use mindfulness, meditation and visualization tools to gain a deeper understanding.
Follow your intuition or hunches.
Listen to your Body
Recognizing what your body is telling you.
Try on what you've discovered to see if you've found the answer.
Repeat the loop until you find what is true for you.