Overcome Shame and Criticism

by Barbara Martin

in How to Tips

What do shame and creativity have in common? Possibly lots. In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron ties the two together in many ways and offers methods for artists to use to cope with shame and learn to deal with criticism.

Shameful Secrets, Darker Thoughts

Making art can be a form of secret telling, a way of exposing ourselves, our inner selves and sometimes our darker side, to others and to society as a whole via our artistic explorations. Making this kind of art renders the artist vulnerable to shaming.

Some people, maybe your family or the neighbors or a professional art critic, might ask how you dare to show such a thing, or they might not like what you have brought to light.

Reacting to Shame and Criticism with Fear

Sometimes we fear such shaming reactions so much that we prefer not to show our art. Or perhaps we have tried to show it, and nobody noticed. Or they only noticed the slightest of faults in the work.

Eventually, in self defense, we might decide we’d rather not care about our art at all. In self defense, we might decide we’d do better to skip making it and just stop showing it rather than feel shamed by our art.

How to Protect Yourself from Shame

Julia Cameron recommends that we learn to be selective about when and how we show our work. Common sense tells us not to show the first draft of our writing to a nitpicky proof reading perfectionist. There are nurturing and supportive ways to share our art without exposing it to harsh and brutal criticism.

For further protection, we will learn to maintain a certain level of certainty about our work. At the first hint of doubt, she advises we reaffirm: “You are a good artist, a brave artist, you are doing well. It’s good that you did the work…”

When You Feel Ashamed about Your Art

We can’t always control the type of criticism we receive about our work. When we do feel shame, Cameron asserts that “the antidote to shame is self-love and self-praise” – meaning to practice good self-care, be especially kind to your body, be especially kind to your artist-self, remind yourself of past successes you have experienced, be patient with your artist self and remember, “You will heal.”

Not All Criticism is Bad!

This is not to say that all criticism is bad and useless. Sometimes there is a useful nugget to be gleaned from it; sometimes the critic points out precisely where a critical issue occurs. We can use this information to improve our work.

Julia Cameron’s List: Nine Steps to Coping with Criticism

Below is a summary of Julia Cameron’s pointers on how to deal with any form of criticism, as outlined in her creativity book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.

    1. Hear it out.
    2. Take notes on the parts that bother you.
    3. Take notes on the parts that seem useful.
    4. Remind yourself of praise your work has received.
    5. Keep in mind that sometimes making bad art is a prerequisite to making good art.
    6. Check if the criticism is retriggering old pain?
    7. In writing, defend your work and list any helpful points from the criticism.
    8. Commit to a next step doing something creative.
    9. Do it!

A Reptitude Modification: The Stomp and Spit Ritual Reset

In my experience, the hardest parts of this list might be the first and last steps. The first, because the temptation is to cover my ears and say “La-la-la-not-listening!” just as loud as I can rather than hear the criticism.

The last step is awfully hard too, because it means you have to pick yourself up and go on, regardless. I suggest stomping your foot or maybe spitting, or some other ritualized physical action to mark the end of all that negative stuff.

That ritual makes the re-start or reset point at number 9, doing the next creative thing, much cleaner. It also gives you a chance to laugh at yourself, just a little. And for creative types with Reptitude on their side, a little gentle laughter is always a good thing.

Check out 30+ Reptitude Posts on the Artist’s Way and Julia Cameron

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