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As I prepared to write this post I offered up to Google the search term: “silencing the outer critic”.

Google responded with a question: “Did you mean: silencing the inner critic?”

This shows how pervasive is the influence of the pop-psych world. So I intend to redress the balance by talking about the original type of critic and the one that isn’t susceptible to meditational extinction: the external one.

No-one’s immune from the carping critic

We are all exposed to criticism from outside, but none more so than those gifted and creative people who reveal their spirit in the public arena.

I'm sorry about those ships but I was in despair over all these split ends.

"I'm sorry about those ships but I was in despair over all these split ends."

Each time they expose their work or their performances they run the risk of notices like these from carping critics:

  • “Ms Camberwell’s ‘Helen of Troy’ couldn’t float a rubber ducky in a tub let alone launch a thousand ships into battle. “;  or:
  • “Josh’s vast canvas, ‘Death Valley Invitation’ is astonishing evidence of his inability to use his eyes and wield a paintbrush at the same time.”

There is a popular idea that there is some truth embedded in every negative criticism. I don’t believe this is true because we can’t be constructive and destructive simultaneously.

Even if you believe it to be true, I’d suggest that any embedded value is not worth the expenditure of intellectual and emotional energy necessary to uncover it. If it’s valuable it’s probably already been obtained more easily elsewhere.

Self-protection must come first

It is essential for all of us that delicate creations are fostered rather than crushed. It is therefore imperative that creatively gifted individuals find ways to silence the outer critic.

One way, adopted by Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Madonna, Hayao Miyazaki and Joseph Rafael among many others, is simply not to read ‘reviews’.

Another, for those whose ‘friends’ make sure they see the worst, or whose own awful curiosity compels them to seek out the insulting words, is to understand the nature of the critics and thus to dilute the impact of their insults. To do that, start by looking at the critic him or herself.

Look to the source

What kind of people are compelled to be nasty in public? Ones whose inner critics (ho ho) are nasty to them.

The carping critic says: "You'd be hateful too if you saw yourself like this."

The carping critic says: "You'd be hateful too if you saw yourself like this."

Far too much of “critical review” is nothing more than personal opinion wrapped in rationality. As such, it reveals more about the reviewer than the reviewed so that the more vitriolic it is, the more self-hating we know the reviewer to be.

And why would we listen to the opinions of a self-hating person? That would be like taking a lick of a lollipop we found on the ground.

A constructive critic or advisor will draw your attention to aspects of your performance – in life, in work, whatever – and will show you how you can modify your actions so as to achieve more of whatever it is you’re pursuing.

The emphasis here is on your role, your desired path and your outcome. Your work is not used as a platform from which to project the brilliance of the observer. At no time does an empowering mentor condemn you as a person, as in: “You’re lazy, stupid, derivative, ugly, etc”. It’s just not useful.

How do we know it’s toxic?

Not all poisonous criticism is clearly highlighted as such.  To help you spot the hidden underminers there is one key rule:

  • Any criticism is negative unless it incorporates some form of objective measure to support its expressed opinion.

And all negative criticism possesses one or more of these qualities:

  • It is projection. The critic is seeing in ‘you’ a negative quality s/he is denying in him or herself.
  • It is personally restricted. The context in which the critic’s opinion is being expressed is a context entirely limited by his or her own understanding. If s/he doesn’t understand what you’re trying to achieve s/he has no right to critique it.
  • It is coercive. We cannot express an opinion without either supporting or rejecting a path of ideas or actions. A toxic critic will inevitably seek to suppress that which makes him or her uncomfortable or which in some way seems not to be in their own best interest. e.g. If they have a big investment in the world being flat they’re not about to support your contention that it is in fact a sphere.

So if your manifest thought or feeling threatens the destructive critic’s worldview, omniscience, gender beliefs, self-image or whatever, s/he will be compelled to denounce you.

Please don’t take it in

It’s tempting, when the outer critic strikes a chord with our own fears, to add their words to our own feast of self-denigration. To help you not to do that I’m going to offer up a gross analogy:

A constructive critic keeps his toxic waste under wraps.

A constructive critic keeps his toxic waste under wraps.

When you walk toward a piece of dog-poop on the sidewalk you don’t contemplate dissecting it to find the undigested proteins within. So why would you do the same with some self-hating person’s projected toxins?

Leave the poisonous detritus where it belongs: in the sewer.

And go out and create fearlessly and joyfully.

One Response to “Protect your gift: neutralize the outer critic”

  1. Lorraine says:

    A lesson well worth learning – both in the taking in and the giving out –

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