If you are an artist (or a human being) you have probably had to deal with internal self abuse. That negative voice in your head that says some pretty mean things. Things like...
You're just not smart enough.
People are going to laugh at you.
That's just not good enough.
That's so cliche.
They're going to think you're weird.
No one will ever like this.
Who do you think you are? You're just not talented enough.
Any of these sound familiar? Not only are these voices mean but they are useless, in no way, shape, or form will listening to these voices help you to be a great artist. So where do they come from and what the heck can we do about them?
These voices are not yours - they are someone else's words coming from a part of you that has good intention.
So sometime, long ago, probably in the first 8 years of your life, something like this happened...
Little Jenn (age 5) draws a picture of her family. She lifts the picture up and proudly shows it to her mother. Her mother begins to cry and runs out of the room, Little Jenn thinks "when I share my work, mom gets upset."
Now little Jenn doesn't understand that her Mom just had a huge fight with her boss and is scared she might lose her job and not be able to take care of her family. Little Jenn doesn't know that that is why Mom is upset. Little Jenn still attaches all effects to whatever happened immediately before it. Because little Jenn is five and has a lot to learn about the world.
Now if this was the only moment when something like this happened then Jenn might not develop a mean voice but later on...
Young Jenn (12) plays a song she wrote in the school talent show. In the middle of the song she looks out at her best friend sitting in the audience. Her best friend looks totally pissed off. Young Jenn thinks "when I share my work, my friend gets upset."
Young Jenn isn't considering that maybe her best friend is jealous because she also auditioned for the talent show and didn't get in.
These experiences build and build on top of one another until they become the voice in our head. So now when a, supposedly, fully functional adult (lets just admit it - we don't really grow up we just get older) sits down to write her novel, when she imagines it getting published, it kinda makes sense that a voice would pop up and say "This is going to upset people."
Little Ally practices a song to audition for the middle school chorus. Her mother, who desperately wants her daughter to succeed and get everything she wants blurts out, "Do it again, you're not good enough yet."
Young Ally gets an essay back from her 8th grade teacher (who knows how smart and capable Ally is). In the top right hand corner in big red ink is written, "D+ Ally, this just isn't good enough."
Adult Ally stares down at her screenplay, she reads over the scene she has just written, the voice pops up in her head "I'm just not good enough."
These annoying little voices have been trained into us since childhood but, most of the time, they are misinterpretations coming from people who had good intentions but flawed executions.
So the first step to us dealing with these voices is to get curious about our past and discover where they are actually coming from. Meditate and they write down every single time you can recall an experience that helped build this voice. Often times if you find the very first one you can reframe it and all the others will lose their power.
So go back as far as you can and write out this moment. Then you can reframe it. Help your younger self tell themselves a story that does not traumatize them. Jenn can have little Jenn realize that Mom had just gotten off the phone and her being upset was a result of that conversation, not the picture.
Ally can help young Ally to note that her mom's intention was to help her accomplish her dreams but that her Mom used some pretty bad languaging to do so, not because she was a bad mom (necessarily) but because she didn't know any better.
Going backwards is the first step - going forward is the second.
So now that you have an understanding about where these voices are coming from you can begin to change your behavior moving forward in order to create a new neural pathway that reroutes the negative self speak to positive self speak.
This is a very simple ACT!
A - Acknowledge the voice C - Change the frequency T - Two-for-one
Acknowledge The Voice
Recognize that this is a voice from your past. Acknowledge that it's intentions are good but it's execution is flawed. You can even speak to it "Hey voice, I know you are scared and want to make sure I don't get hurt but telling me I'm not smart enough to pull this off is doing far more harm than good. I have plenty of drafts to make sure this script is great, It's not going to be perfect the first attempt so please let me work."
The voice is a bit like a screaming child in the back seat of a car. If you ignore it, it's going to keep crying and if you yell at it, it's going to cry even louder. So acknowledge, but take away its power.
Change The Frequency
Taking the power away from the voice is easy. Pretend you have a frequency knob and then twist it up as high as it can go. So high that you only hear this voice as a ridiculous squawk, as if Betty Boop had just sucked on a helium balloon and was then trying to tell you "You're just not good enough." It will sound ridiculous and you will laugh. Because it is a ridiculous voice, and it's ridiculous for you to believe it. Helium addicted Betty Boop should NOT be taken seriously.
Now the final and most awesome tool in this series is the Two-For-One. Since you heard a voice that said one negative thing about you, you have to replace it with two positive things about yourself that you truly believe in that moment. If you don't actually believe the positive thing, it won't work.
Years ago, I used to hear a voice, and even say outloud to myself "Because you're a terrible person Jess." What a useless thing to say to myself five times a day. But after two weeks of acknowledging, changing the frequency, and then practicing two-for-one (usually starting with something shallow like, "I have great hair" because I felt silly doing this exercise, but then I'd feel the negative voice release and the self-loathing run away, allowing my second two-for-one to be much more meaningful, something like "I am extraordinarily compassionate towards my friends and strangers.") that voice just went away. I went from hearing it five, sometimes thirty times a day to hearing it maybe twice a year.
Self abuse will never help you, it will only hurt you.
If you continue to indulge in self abuse eventually your brain will get so sick of the abuse that it will start to tell you you don't like writing because it only brings you misery and then you will stop writing (or painting or singing or whatever). If you want to become a successful writer, (whatever that means to you) if you want to become a better writer, you have to ACTUALLY BE WRITING. So keep the dopamine flowing and get rid of the cortisol during your writing time so you can accomplish your dreams already.
Plus no one wants to work with a writer with low self-esteem. Ew. Part of being a professional artist is marketing, promotion, connection and community. You will succeed far greater if you have a healthy relationship with your inner artist.
The tortured artist is so last century. The mindful high-functioning artist is here to stay.
So be kind to yourself. The next time one of those nasty voices shows up remember to ACT and soon you will have rewired your brain to be a more mindful, higher functioning you.
Stay curious my creative monkeys,
Jess Hinds The Crass Shaman
The Crass Shaman
Written by a dyslexic, proof read by an apathetic foreigner.