The Critic Within, The Critic Without
I have someone to hold my hand. Someone to encourage me along the way. I have fans, I have followers. I have fellow travelers, faithful friends, and a family of believers. Amen.
I also have detractors and naysayers. Those that doubt my strength, my ability, my drive, my talent and even my sanity. Critics: evil, onerous, relentless, sometimes immoral, and, often, inaccurate Critics.
Fortunately, those that are for me outnumber those who are against me, for my main detractor is Myself. I am my own Worst Critic. I can take one word or sentence delivered by a Outside Critic and turn it into a Litany of Self-abuse and a Torrent of Shame. Talk about talent! The Critic Within is far more powerful than He (or She) That Shames Me from Without.
In the latest episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine, ‘Rage Against the Christine’, Old Christine plays tennis with her new boyfriend and wins. Afterward, Old Christine taunts him with an “in your face” victory dance. The boyfriend literally flips out and has an audible session of self-recrimination and shame right then and there. “Stupid, stupid, stupid! How could you be so stupid!?!” he mutters angrily at himself while smashing his tennis racket into his stomach, head and then into the ground. Old Christine is shocked and a little scared, “Wow, what a wacko!” she says to her friends. I’m thinking, “Wow, what a wacko!” as I laugh at this guy’s antics.
But wait, don’t we all have that same conversation with ourselves when we feel shamed, inadequate, defeated, or embarrassed? Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, calls it listening to the radio station KFKD (I’m not going to explain the call letters KFKD, you’ll just have to figure it out). Anne says:
“If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head 24 hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker . . . the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.”
Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls this self-recrimination “artistic child abuse.” In dealing with criticism, Julia tells us:
“It is important to be able to sort useful criticism from the other kind . . . Pointed criticism, if accurate, often gives the artist an inner sense of relief: ‘Ah, hah! so that’s what was wrong with it.’ Useful criticism ultimately leaves us with one more puzzle piece for our work.
“Useless criticism . . . leaves us with a feeling of being bludgeoned. As a rule, it is withering and shaming in tone; ambiguous in content; personal, inaccurate, or blanket in its condemnations. There is nothing to be gleaned from irresponsible criticism.”
Wow. Talk about Synchronicity. As I was typing, a little box popped up on my computer screen to tell me an email from Zen Habits had arrived with Leo’s latest blog post: “My Most Recent Failures and What I’ve Learned.” In this blog post, Leo shares his frustration over a reader (critic) who accuses him of “preaching to readers as if I’m perfect.” After listing his most recent failures (as the title implies), he ends with:
“. . . I just wanted to point out that I fail, just like everyone. I struggle with motivation and habit changes. I am imperfect.
“And yet, like many of you, I have made progress with these struggles. I learn from my failures and do better the next time. I have had many successes, and those have been wonderful. I succeed despite (or perhaps because of) these failures, with small incremental changes, by celebrating my successes and keeping a positive attitude, by loving the journey.
“And I know that my imperfections make me who I am. I try not to beat myself up too much, and feel good about the good things in me. Because there are many good things in me: I am caring, I am kind, I am passionate, I am (fairly) intelligent, and also I have a nice butt. Well, that last one is according to my wife.”
Bravo, Leo. Bravo! Leo seems to have found the Cheerleader Within.
Oh, and Linda? Just so you know, I didn’t need to be told two times, I needed to be told FOUR times. 😉