Dear fellow artist, courageous creative soul, I hear you say you “self-sabotage” over and over again.
I’d like to challenge this thought.
Featured Artwork by Nicola Taylor. Liberty, 2021. Archival Giclée. Limited Edition.
Self-sabotage is a myth.
The first thing you need to keep in mind is that it is not your fault. This self-sabotage you talk of takes many different forms and is here for a good damn reason. It is in fact your Self-Doubt doing its job as your inner protection mechanism. It is here to keep you safe. It is here to protect you from getting hurt again.
Because you most likely got hurt in the past, dear one.
There are seven main psychological risks our self-doubt protects us from you see: rejection, conflict, success, judgement, failure, complexity and disappointment.
I’m willing to bet you may have experienced one, two or all of them along your creative journey. And when I talk about creative journey, I mean the journey that started all the way back in childhood, when your creativity was at its purest, more potent and innocent form.
The path of creative living is a treacherous one for raw, tender-hearted humans like me and you.
Our society doesn’t particularly approve of nor favour our way of seeing and being in the world.
I see your burning desire to create and share your work with like-minded folks.
I hear your heart whispering softly that perhaps you could even make a career out of it.
Wouldn’t that be the dream?
But you sometimes feel stuck, trapped. Unfulfilled even, knowing your true potential lies so deep within your soul. You just wonder why you can’t seem to get out of your own way.
Remember, dear one. It is not. Your. Fault.
You are not broken, you do not need to question your worthiness as an artist.
The truth is, all artists have been wounded along the way. And just like a child who will be hesitant to play with a drawer again after having their fingers slammed, somewhere down the line, you have formed the belief that it can be unsafe to create or share your work.
That’s because somewhere, down the line, something or someone would have planted seeds of Self-Doubt about your ability or worth as an artist.
That’s what Julia Cameron calls “Creative Monsters”.
What are creative monsters?
In her critically acclaimed book The Artist’s Way, Cameron asks blocked artists in recovery to travel back in time and list their creative monsters: the people, situations, conditioning, that showed them along the way that it is not safe to create or share their work. The idea behind this is that oftentimes, we want to bury these past hurts far far below the surface, where they gather dust and fester thus creating “creative scar tissue”.
This creative scar tissue is made up of limiting beliefs you would have formed at the time and that you conjure up when things start to feel a bit too risky.
For creatives and artists like you, creative monsters can come in many forms:
- Parents who would have preferred you to pursue a career as a lawyer or investment banker as opposed to a career in the arts
- An art teacher who may have over criticised, or not encouraged you in a moment of doubt
- Peers feeling threatened by your talent
- Moments when things went terribly wrong in a performance
- A society that values toxic productivity and profit above all else and in which artists are not seen as contributing, often labelled as outsiders
- The myth of the starving artist
- The art world which has historically favoured the work of western white cisgendered men (ever heard of Mozart’s sister? Neither has most of the world.)
I could go on. The examples are as varied and numerous as there are artists and humans pursuing their creative impulses.
Why you may want to bring them into the light
When you embark on courageously exploring your own biography, dear one, you start to uncover your creative monsters and are able to shine a light onto their shadows.
This process can feel very raw and tender as it brings up memories of past hurts. It may even feel like waking up old wounds. But one thing I do know is that monsters don’t do well in broad daylight. They start squirming and shrinking away.
And then, the most beautiful thing happens:
- You start to unpack what you made these events mean at the time. About yourself and your art.
- You start drawing parallels with how this manifests in your creative life here and now.
- You start thickening the story. Add layers of compassion and understanding to yourself and those involved at the time.
- You start challenging those protective beliefs and creating new helpful ones.
- You start experimenting and gathering new evidence of what safety can feel like in your creative life.
- You start recognising your creative monsters for what they are, the instigators of your self-doubt, and respond in healthy ways when they poke their head out.
- You start healing.
A guide to start uncovering your creative monsters
When we work together, this is a process that I like to explore early on in our coaching relationship. Together, we delve into your biography to identify where the root causes of your self-doubt may have aroused, especially when it comes to your creativity.
I’d now like to share this process with you dear creative friend, so that you can start exploring this for yourself:
- The first thing I’d invite you to do is to ground yourself. This can be anything like meditating breathing, mindfully sipping a cup of tea, gentle movement. You know you best.
- Then, I’d invite you to consider the following questions:
- What did you learn from your family about being creative, or pursuing a career in the arts?
- If you could point out a single experience in your creative life which had a major impact on you, what would it be?
- Now I’d like you to take a piece of paper, and draw a horizontal line in the middle. This line represents your life. The beginning of the line on the left hand side is when you were born. The end of the line on the right hand side is the present time. Start listing all the negative events, words, experiences from your creative life below the line. Do the same above the line for all the positive events, words, experiences. Try not to overthink it, just jot down any big or small thing that comes to mind.
- Once you’re done, take a minute to shake your hands, legs and body vigorously (I do recommend a solo dance party).
- Look back at what you’ve written on paper. Can you notice any themes or patterns? Does anything surprise you? How does this make you feel now? Is there anything you’d like to say to your past self? Anything you’d like to say to any monsters you identified through this exercise? Feel free to journal away if that’s your jam, dear one.
You may be feeling resistance too. That’s totally to be expected. Our self-doubt would like to keep these monsters in the dark and our protective beliefs firmly in place. This is why going through this process with a coach is so helpful and transformative.
Where to from here?
I don’t need to tell you how creating and sharing art is an incredibly vulnerable and brave thing to do, dear one. Especially when you’ve had painful experiences of doing so in the past.
Restoring a sense of safety both in your creative process and sharing your work can make such a difference when it comes to nurturing a healthy and fulfilling creative life. Uncovering and airing your creative monsters is a really helpful place to courageously start facing and understanding your own experience of self-doubt, whether you explore this for yourself, or with the help of a creative coach.
And next time you feel strong resistance in your creative practice or business, dear one, instead of blaming yourself for self-sabotaging, why not ask yourself:
“I wonder where that comes from?”
This is a subtle yet powerful shift in perspective that will open the door to more clarity and self-compassion.
And if you’re curious about exploring the realms of your creative monsters and self-doubt in more depth, feel free to book a complimentary chat when you can ask me any questions and tell me what you’re hoping to get out of coaching, whether you call yourself an artist or simply someone longing for a more creative life.
I love nothing more than connecting with fellow creative souls looking to share their magic with the world.