Are you struggling with a creative block? Do you hear a voice in your head criticizing everything you think? Every idea you have? Or anything you’ve already tried? Here’s the #1 tip for unblocking creative blocks: Get that bully out of your head!
Ok. It’s easier said than done. There’s no question about that. Maybe it’s the hardest thing of all. But, then again, you can’t write or create with a constant barrage of internal criticisms, can you? So, isn’t it worth a try?
If you’re caught in the middle of one of the worst harangues you’ve ever had, you’re probably thinking: “Yeah, sure, how is that even possible?”
Here’s the thing: hopeless convictions are a part of the propaganda the bully spews.
Yes, propaganda. And, the worst part is, you believe it. You believe all of it when it has you in its grips. And, the bully has endless weapons in its arsenal to sabotage your creativity and bring it to a halt:
“You think this is any good? Who do you think you are? You can’t measure up to him, or her, or that person…so why are you even bothering?” The assaults go on and on. So where do you even start, to stop it?
Ask yourself this:
Who Does The Bully Remind You Of?
Has your bully been around a long time? It probably has. Usually, the seeds for bullies are planted early. Mostly in childhood.
Either you had experiences of actual criticisms that made you think you are never good enough. Or you felt a lot of anxiety about doing things right. And this makes you try very hard to be perfect. But perfection doesn’t exist, so you constantly feel you fail.
If there was someone who actually bullied or criticized you – that’s a good place to start. If you look back, can you see that that voice in your head is his or hers?
That voice etched its way inside you. Now you’re stuck with it. Now it seems like yours.
Or maybe you didn’t have such obvious criticisms. Let’s say you had experiences of deprivation or neglect or sibling rivalries, that made you feel you weren’t favored, wanted, or loved. You were always comparing yourself to someone else.
And no matter how hard you tried, you never felt good enough, or that you were ever even “seen.” At least not in a positive way. And, you really thought you weren’t as good as that person you measured yourself against.
That’s enough to plant a bully in your head. Maybe that bully even believes that if you’re hard on yourself, that’s the way to make you “better.” You try and try.
The problem is: you believed these actual criticisms. Or the fantasies you had about not being good enough. Children always blame themselves for what has nothing to do with them. The bully grabbed hold of these things and uses them when it can.
That child still lives inside you. The bully takes away anything good.
Hold On To What’s Good
Try not to listen to the bully. Do your very best to see what’s good in you. And hold on to it tight. Even when insecurities hit and the bully is ranting away.
Remember. It spews old propaganda. Old Beliefs. And, criticisms that had nothing to do with you. Try to believe that. And, not the bully.
Bringing into your mind what’s good about you is one of the most important things you can do to dismantle the bully’s power. It may not be easy, but give it a try.
Think of the creative work you’ve already accomplished. The successes you’ve had. Remember the times when the work has flowed. And know that that will and can happen again.
Take a deep breath and ponder your talents.
That may seem a tall order if the bully has you in its grips and if you had a difficult past. The bully in your mind only wants to speak the language of failure. Telling you the ways you “aren’t any good.”
Its voice is not the voice of the truth. Especially in these moments when you sincerely believe it is. The bully brings back old feelings from childhood.
Try to remember, you aren’t your past. And the past isn’t now. But, if you believed those judgmental and critical voices then, it’s hard to conjure up what’s good.
Don’t forget: when the bully takes hold, you’re reliving an old belief from your past. And, as soon as you think you have something, it’s taken away by a hopeless or negative thought.
The truth is what you’re capable of. Not what you (or the bully) think you’re “not.” And, if you imagine trying to be perfect is the answer; it isn’t.
In fact, striving for perfection is your worst enemy.
Let Go Of “Perfection”
Perfection is an unachievable goal, for any of us. One of the worst things is when you think other people are. They aren’t. And you don’t have to be.
Just strive to be your own best creative self.
And, you know what? It is an unusual and rare gift of inspiration if something comes out pretty much the way you want it on the first try. Yes, rare.
Most of us, edit, edit, edit. And, revise, revise, revise. Or, practice over and over. And, that can be the fun part. It really can. If you let yourself take the plunge.
Tell the bully to get out of your way, and just get something on the page, or on the canvas, or let your voice be heard or the first note played, however, it comes out.
One of the best forms of advice is Anne Lamott’s in her book, Bird by Bird. Write “Shitty first drafts,” she counsels.
And, she’s right. It’s a great start. Even if the bully tries to tell you something different.
Don’t Believe The Bully
That bully voice in your mind. It’s not the voice of truth. Try to remember that.
Tell the bully to get out of your head and out of your way. That is the #1 tip for unblocking creative blocks.
Yes, of course, that’s a tough assignment. The toughest. After all, it’s very convincing. It thinks it knows better than you. But, it doesn’t. That’s the real truth.
So, tell the bully to “take a hike.” You want that voice as far from your mind and creative life as you can get it.
And, if it’s still bothering you and making your creative space impossible, take a nice hike yourself. Or a bath. Watch a movie. Do something really nurturing for you.
And, when you’ve had a good breather, go back and write a “shitty first draft.” Then, after you do that, have fun shaping the final product. You’ll be glad you did!
What If The Bully Is Still Winning?
Did you try all these suggestions and still can’t get a break from the bully in your head? Here is something else to think about:
Some mental bullies have a stronger hold than others, especially if you had early trauma. There are also certain times in life that a bully is harder to stop.
Maybe you’re under a lot of stress for various reasons. Or you had a recent disappointment or breakup that you can’t shake.
If something has happened that stirs up old feelings or traumas, then trying psychotherapy is a good solution. A therapist who understands creative minds, internal saboteurs, and mental bullies can help you get out from under its domination.
So, think about that as an option. If you can’t get free from the bully or are having a hard time holding on to what is good – a therapist who has an objective view will help.
Choose a therapist that is kind and sensitive to childhood trauma and knows how mental bullies develop from hurtful and difficult childhood experiences. Psychotherapy can free you.
You don’t have to live with a mental bully holding court in your mind. Don’t let it have the last word.
I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Los Angeles based psychologist and psychoanalyst and writer. I work with creative people to undo creative blocks, especially when you’re struggling with a bully in your head. You don’t have to let that bully have the last word.