Thank you for visiting. Here you will find posts based on my book The Power of Your Other Hand: Unlocking creativity and inner wisdom through the right side of your brain (new edition, 2019 Conari Press), featuring excerpts from the book, success stories from readers and students, my own experiences, and drawing and writing prompts using this technique. Enjoy!
~Lucia Capacchione, Phd, ATR

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Enter the Dragon: Inner Critic as Sparring Partner

Where there’s a creative muse, there is a dragon lurking right behind. Whenever I am inspired, feel the urge to create, or try something new in some area of my life, then boom! Fear and doubt follow right behind. My brain starts chattering: “I can’t do this. What makes me think I can succeed? I’ll look stupid and others will laugh at me or at what I create. I’ll just fail, so why bother. This is a waste of time. Stop now.” That is the recipe for a creative block of any kind.

I’ve lived my life chasing after new ideas, and making most of them a reality. As a pioneer in the arts, education and psychology, I’ve had to take on the dragon of inner criticism and self-doubt on a regular basis. Whether I am making art, writing a book, creating a new school curriculum, or starting a new business project, I’ve learned that the dragon of inner criticism and self-doubt are inevitable. Taking on the dragon has become a way of life, a necessary part of the game. It is a form of mental martial arts. Fortunately, I found my Inner Bruce Lee years ago. My dragon has become my ally.

The martial arts metaphor came to me in a journaling session. I was curious as to why we needed the dragon of self-put-downs when engaging with novel ideas and new directions. It had become clear that this was an inevitable part of the creative process. But why? I turned to my non-dominant hand for the answer. My inner guide (writing with my left hand) told me that my Inner Critic is my “sparring partner,” just as boxers have a sparring partner who prepares them for the ring. That is how they get tested and toughened up.

Like sports, and like Life, the Creative Process is not all sweetness and light. Brilliant ideas and inspiration are not enough. The creative process is not for the faint of heart. Giving birth to the new is not for sissies. There will be labor pains. There will be gut punches. But most of them are coming from our own critical mind.

If we understand how the Inner Critic operates as a character assassin, destroying our self-worth with negative thoughts, we can combat it. If not, it can obliterate our creative urges, block our creativity and contribute to depression and low energy. In my private practice as an art therapist, I’ve found that creative blocks can cause depression and anxiety. Not the other way around, as is commonly believed. Once the blocks are removed, using my method of inner martial arts through journaling, the depression and anxiety disappear.

By standing up for ourselves and defending our creative urges against the dragon of self-criticism, we open the floodgates to huge amounts energy. Our natural life force moves us naturally into the flow of the creative process. This is our birthright. Like little children, we regain our inborn ability to experiment, and we explore new territory within ourselves and out in the world. Our souls guide us with a message of light and new possibilities. We gain the strength to grow and express our true Creative Self. We take the risk of being our authentic selves and not settling for less.

The Dragon’s Agenda

In the creative process, the dragon’s agenda is the opposite of adventure and new growth. It follows left-brain rules, colors inside the lines, and sticks with the same-old-same-old. It describes our new ideas with words like strange, crazy and too “out there.” It hypnotizes us into blindly believing its judgments. Creativity is dangerous territory. Do NOT venture forth into places others have not gone before. Forget about pioneering anything. Innovation has no place in a tidy, safe little world. It goes nuts at the thought of breaking new ground and predicts the worst possible disasters. If we veer off the trodden path by flirting with the idea of an entirely new career, a different lifestyle, or starting a new business or hobby, it warns of danger at every turn.

The tricky part is that this dragon may start out sounding benevolent, like a well-meaning friend, a protector who has our own best interests at heart. It says stuff like: Things are fine the way they are. Why rock the boat? I’m just trying to protect you from being hurt. Just stay with the tried and true. Taking risks is too dangerous. All kinds of terrible things could happen. I’m only saying these things for your own good.

But if we persist in following our heart and our creative urges, this self-styled “friend” becomes our “foe”. It resorts to bullying, name-calling and doomsday prophecies. Who do you think you are anyway, thinking you can pull this off? You’re not smart enough. You’re too old (or too young). You don’t have enough talent or education or experience (or whatever). You’ll fail and be disappointed. You don’t have what it takes to do what you dream of. You will look stupid. Others will laugh at you. Worse yet, you will be rejected. If that doesn’t discourage you from moving ahead, it often returns to posing as your friend. I’m only saying these things for your own good. 

If we let the dragon of self-criticism control us, our lives shrink and we are severely diminished. The dragon will suck all the juice out of our existence. We stagnate, risk being depressed or even getting ill. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can literally unmask the dragon of self-criticism and inner bullying and get to the other side of self-doubt and paralyzing fear.

Mask making and journaling with the dragon

Materials: paper plate (plain white) or large brown shopping bag (big enough to fit over your head). Fat markers or crayons. Optional: scissors, glue, colored paper. Your personal journal or 8 ½ X 11 bond paper, pen and markers.

Make a mask depicting the face of your own personal Inner Critic dragon. Portray the character behind the voice that puts you down and discourages you from trying anything new or creative. You can draw it with your non-dominant hand or make a collage with colored paper or both. There is no right or wrong way to do this. Only YOUR way. Make this mask as fierce as you can. This is your sparring partner that tries to stop you from being creative, from trying new things, from venturing forward in life. Enjoy creating this mask.

Put your dragon mask on and look in the mirror for a few minutes. Be aware of how you feel being looked at by the face of your inner dragon.

In your journal or on bond paper, using your dominant hand let your dragon mask talk. What critical things does it say to you? How does it stop you from being creative in life? How does it block you from following your heart’s desire? Let it talk.

With your non-dominant hand, let your Creative Self talk. How does it want to be creative, adventurous and innovative in your life? Is it a new project? A different direction in life? A hobby you are drawn to? A new travel adventure? Let it say what it wants.

With your dominant hand, let your Inner Warrior speak on behalf of the Creative Self. What will your warrior do to help you be more creative, adventurous and innovative in life? How will it help you from letting the Critic dragon get in your way? You may even want to draw a picture of your Inner Warrior. Maybe it looks like a favorite sports star, warrior or superhero, like Bruce Lee, Serena Williams, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.

For detailed information and procedures for making more elaborate masks, see my book The Art of Emotional Healing (Shambhala 2006), chapter 9 – Facing Ourselves: Mask Making and Inner Dialogues. For more on breaking through creative blocks, see The Power of Your Other Hand (Conari Press 2019), Chapter 3.


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