When you sit down to draw, paint, compose, etc., thoughts may come into your mind that try to tear you down emotionally: thoughts saying the depiction isn't good, that you are wasting your time, that you are a phony, that you can never finish projects, that you will ruin it, that you have nothing to say, etc.
Sometimes it's enough to just notice these thoughts to let them melt away, and other times they can be very persistent and even feel cruel. They can make you feel stuck, blank, and anxious about creating.
This is when people often give up on art.
We know the benefits of creating... so, how do we stay with the process when it can be so frustrating?
Befriending the Inner Critic
In Art is a Way of Knowing, Pat B. Allen (1995) suggests that getting to know your inner critic is an extremely important part of the creative process. Allen writes, "the critic holds our deepest fears; resistance shows us we are on the right track. If we shift our perception, our critic can be seen as trying to spare us the pain of change, the shame of fear" (Allen, 1995, 48). It is in changing our relationship to this voice that self-awareness blossoms and creative doors begin to open.
When negative thoughts arise, see if you can witness them from a distance. Are these are thoughts you have in other parts of your life? Do they more often come up when you are creating? What is the underlying message? Rather than banishing negative thoughts, be curious about them!
Engaging with your own internal creative process is the first step toward authentic expression. You may want to seek out a therapist or art therapist to help you untangle how this plays out for you personally.
The internal struggle with negative self-talk often surfaces during art therapy sessions. I've worked with kids younger than seven who have told me they "can't draw," or who doubt their ability to express "correctly." These internal judgments start young and persist throughout our lives until we take a good look at them. Creating intentionally can help, as can working with a therapist.
If you are feeling stuck or blocked in your creative process, check out the last blog post with some ideas to get you started. While you try some of these out, be interested in your internal dialogue. See if you can notice when your inner critic speaks out -- what might you have to say in return?
-Sarah Klein, MA, LPCC
Art Therapist and Co-Owner at Open Mind Holistics
Learn more about Sarah in this blog post, or on her bio page.
- Allione, T. (2008). Feeding your demons: ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict. New York: Little, Brown & Co.
- Allen, Pat B. (1995). Art is a way of knowing. Boston: Shambhala Publications.
- Earley, J., & Weiss, B. (2013). Self-therapy for your inner critic: transforming self-criticism into self-confidence. Larkspur, CA: Pattern System Books.