People often say your inner critic is far harsher and scarier than any outer criticism you'll face. Personally, I've never found this to be true, and I find both can knock me on my ass with equal force.
I'm going to write about something that just happened in regards to receiving criticism. Months ago I sent in one of my guided meditations (the abridged version of The Golden Thread) to the Insight Timer website. It took so long to get approved I forgot I did it (and have since updated the audio slightly). When it was approved I felt excited and nervous. This was a new experience for me, and I knew it would expose me to a lot of new people.
Today I logged in to see the comments on my meditation. There were some positive ones, and there were some negative ones. I was surprised to see that many negative reviewers felt that my voice was irritating. I felt totally floored by this. No one has ever said this to me before. I have heard from many people they find my voice soothing, and they like the way it sounds with the music. I was completely shaken by this feedback. My voice is me. My voice is the guided meditation... and it's not something I can change. I've only got one voice.
As I sat staring at this criticism the waves of self-doubt, sadness and embarrassment began crashing into me, one after the other. If my voice is annoying then what I've created is annoying. If my voice is annoying then I must be annoying. I've created shit. Total shit. I am shit.
I began seriously considering taking the meditation off the site.
I felt too exposed. I had that feeling you get when someone has called you on your bullshit and all you feel is that burning shame that reduces you to two inches tall.
I could feel the shut down coming on. I wanted to run and hide. I wanted to stop creating, anything, ever, for the rest of my life. I can't do this. I can't handle criticism. I can't handle feeling exposed and vulnerable. I can't handle people shitting on my creations I treasure and love. I can't. I can't. I can't.
So it's been about ten years I've been creating and putting my stuff out to the world (the meditations are more recent - I started with creative writing). That's a long time to learn how to take feedback, both good and bad. That's also a long time to learn nothing and be on a constant roller coaster of highs and lows, soaring up and crashing and burning down. As I started to go into the shutdown there was a voice coming below all of the shame, fear and insecurity. A single message, repeating, louder and louder until I could hear it: I REFUSE TO LET THIS CONTINUE.
It was yelling out I REFUSE TO REPEAT THIS PATTERN! It was yelling at me to stop all of this. Stop the pattern. Stop the shut down. Stop taking on what other people think. Let that be theirs. Let what I know to be true be mine. Know the difference.
It was like being in a tornado, with this inner voice yelling one thing and the chaos of my thoughts swirling around me, and despite everything inside of me wanting to shut down and crouch in the center of that tornado, I embraced the voice.
I was totally losing it at this point, with tears in my eyes and a trigger finger on that "delete" key on the website. But I knew if I went into that old pattern of hiding and shutting down I would regret it. I would only be sitting in my own struggle, and I'm so done with the struggle. I'm so done with being knocked over each time there's a strong wind. I want to center. I want to thrive in my creative process, enjoying what I create rather than fearing how much it can hurt me in the end.
I went onto Facebook to two groups I'm in with other creative people I trust. I posted my story in these groups, which is something I never do. But I was determined to choose different. Normally I take these things and command myself to be strong. I internalize them, lock them away, steal myself over, and power through. But that clearly doesn't work, and it always blows up in my face later. I had to reach out for help, I had to essentially make myself more vulnerable, to put myself out to people, even though that went against everything I was craving.
I shared my experience and the feedback I got immediately started to calm the storm. I got some much needed clarity, and also some much needed support.
Here was the part of one comment that really got me to open up and change my perspective:
What limiting belief is this triggering in me? Chances are, if someone's critique is tearing you apart, it's because there's something you're afraid of lurking under the surface. Are their comments triggering unvoiced fears? Or reflecting unfair harsh internal criticisms? Sometimes it's a sign that there's something you need to work through personally!
I could see clearly when I read that why this experience seemed to cut so deep. I have always doubted my voice, not my literal, physical voice, but my message. My words. I have doubted what I wanted to say was important. I have doubted I could defend what I say. I have feared deeply that the things I write and create are worthless. And so when these people said my voice was annoying it went right to that trigger. Calling my physical voice annoying pushed that fear that my metaphorical voice was also annoying, and therefore, worthless.
Okay, so I can see this now. Now what am I going to do it about it? That's the question that follows any big breakthrough. What now? I've already made a firm commitment to choosing different. It already feels better. And I'm following through with that with this blog post. I'm choosing to share rather than retreat. I'm going to embrace rather than smother. I feared writing this post, because I thought it might instill complete doubt in me and my ability to create guided meditations. If I shake like a leaf when things get tough, then how can I have created things that will help others?
All I can say is, I'm on a journey also, and it's times like this, when I see myself stumbling, that inspire me the most to reach higher. If I never went down and rose back up I wouldn't have the slightest idea what I wanted to share with others who want to pull themselves up and shine also. I suppose they go hand in hand - when I see my shortcomings I see a chance to grow, and from that growth comes the inspiration to create, whether that be for a meditation here or a short story or something else.
And with that, I would like to end with a quote by Teddy Roosevelt. You may know it if you've read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”