We’re all familiar with the inner critic when it comes to our creative work, but what other sub-conscious voices may be impacting our creativity? I have a theory (influenced by a form of psychotherapy called transactional analysis), that we all have a bunch of internal drives or “voices” vying for our attention in our creative life (an internal dysfunctional family of sorts!).
All these creative voices have a role to play – they’re there for a reason, but frequently they work at cross-purposes creating a sort of chaotic brawl in your head, which isn’t great for your creative mindset, confidence or productivity! As a creativity coach, one of the things I can help people with is to understand their internal creative voices, and help them to play nicely with each other (sort of like family therapy!).
Here’s a quick snapshot of just some the creative voices we have sitting behind the scenes (these are just the main ones – the nuclear family, if you will).
We all know the inner critic – that loud, judgmental one making you doubt yourself. She’s linked directly with your creative confidence. It’s tempting to dismiss her entirely her, but she actually has an important role to play, and that is to keep you safe. She’s acting on a primitive level where risk equals danger, so she tries to stop you putting yourself in precarious situations (e.g. sharing your work with others where there’s a risk of social rejection).
Unfortunately, she’s not very discriminating, in that she shouts all manner of things at you - both useful critique about your work (e.g. “that paragraph doesn’t sound great - you should move it”), and judgmental, personal comments (“you’re a crap writer – what made you think you could do this!”). Coaching can help you to tune in to her constructive comments and tune out the rest. Once you turn a deaf ear to the negative white noise, you’ll find she’s actually not so bad.
The opposite role to the Critic is the Cheerleader – that fearless, overly enthusiastic, and carefree voice that tells you that anything’s possible. It’s great to have her positive voice boosting your confidence, proclaiming you’ll be the next Shakespeare or Mozart, but this cheerleader doesn’t spend much time with her feet on the ground, so she’s a little out of touch with reality. Plus her rebellious streak doesn’t care much for your safety, so she’s happy to throw her weight around with little thought for consequences.
Needless to say, Inner Critic and Cheerleader are in constant battle with each other. Like the Inner Critic, her voice matters, but she should only be taken in small doses (plus she can be super annoying at times!), and balanced out with the other voices.
The inner creative Child is a bit all over the place - she can whisper or yell depending on her mood. Like all the voices, your inner creative Child has two sides to her. She can be curious, playful, imaginative and energetic, for example the excited feeling when struck by inspiration, or the bursts of energy you feel when starting a new piece of work. Unfortunately she can also be moody, needy, erratic and egotistical, for example, whining that she doesn’t want to get back to work, or demanding that your partner drop all his prior commitments to pick you up a tube of paint.
There’s different ways to deal with your inner creative Child when she’s cracking it. She can be tricked or bribed into behaving, or you may want to use your inner Competitor to put her in her place.
Your inner creative Competitor takes an opposite role to the Child – although both like to play games. Think of your Competitor like a serious athlete. On the plus side, she’s disciplined, focused, organised and hardworking – you get stuff done! She knows exactly what she wants and she’ll do anything to get it, but this level of control comes at a price. This disciplined workaholic can hinder your creative freedom, distance you from other parts of your life, or push you to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. Sometimes the inner Competitor just needs to take a chill pill.
The Competitor-Child interplay is an interesting one. When they’re both at their best, this pairing works really well – your Child helps soften your Competitor’s hard edge, and your Competitor provides the scattered Child with some much needed structure. If these two roles become unbalanced however, things can get messy!
Your inner Coach is the perhaps the most important role of all because she acts as a central, neutral point between the other voices. Hers is a voice of reason, empathy and objectivity. Think of her like the family therapist working with the dysfunctional family. If your inner Coach is strong, the balance between the other voices will be maintained. She’ll help to bring out their positive sides so they work together, not against each other. If however, your inner Coach is inexperienced or a bit timid, she can easily find herself overwhelmed, and won’t be able to keep the other inner voices in check. At the extreme end this could look like your Competitor coldly dictating to, and attempting to control your Child, who’s flailing around having a massive tanty.
Meanwhile your Cheerleader is running about aimlessly shouting empty motivational phrases (“You can do it – yay!”), and on the sidelines your Inner Critic is on her high horse, looking down on everyone, pointing the finger and shouting insults. Let’s not play this mental game!
The trick with our creative voices is to listen and acknowledge them all, understand their motivations and differentiate between their constructive and destructive sides. Just like real life family members, we’re stuck with them so we need to learn to live in harmony rather than conflict.
Creativity coaching can help ensure all your voices are heard, understood and their constructive sides developed. Most importantly, creativity coaching can help build up your inner Coach so you can maintain a healthy creative life (and your sanity!).
Bronya Wilkins is a creativity coach and founder of Creative Cocoon, a coaching practice dedicated to helping people connect with their creativity to increase wellbeing and life fulfilment. Bronya is passionate about psychology, self-development, and creative expression. Some of her creative hobbies include dance, graphic design, music composition, and photography. For more about Bronya and Creative Cocoon, visit her website and Facebook page, or follow her on Instagram and Twitter.