Me And My Critic

Aug 18 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Claire Robertson

That's what my critic looks like, what's yours like?

This Autumn, I am delighted to be offering 2 versions of my Inner Critic Inquiry 8-week course. To help you understand what might happen to you if you sign up, I’d like to tell you the story of where it came from.

Once upon a time I was a touring performer. For over 20 years (I started young!), I travelled all over the UK and Europe with various circuses, theatre companies and bands. I performed in big tops, small tops, street theatre festivals, green field festivals, theatres, village halls, weddings, schools and a public toilet (only once), making a living from doing what I loved, bringing joy and laughter to thousands upon thousands of people.

Yet there was always a nagging voice in my head. However much I rehearsed, however much I trained, however much positive feedback I received, I was never good enough for my inner critic. The constant putdowns put pressure on my performance, effecting me both in the rehearsal room and on the stage. My critic liked to let me know, in a myriad of devious and sneaky ways, that I was a massive fraud and not worthy of this life of joy, play and creativity. To guard against being found out as a fraud, I would either make myself small, insipidly offering less than I’m capable of, or I’d make myself massive, hard, defensive and unyielding. Either of the extremes made rehearsals incredibly difficult for me and the other artists in the room as well as creating a wedge between myself and audiences. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

In my mid 20’s I started going to therapy and exploring my inner world through creative writing and meditation. I got to know my inner critic intimately, discovering its particular areas of concern to be taking creative risks and emotionally exposing myself. I became increasingly aware of its fiendish methods for trying to keep me safe.

One of the curious things I discovered, was that I had been projecting my own inner critic onto fellow creatives in the rehearsal room and then onto audiences during live performances. I had created an incredibly hostile environment for myself and my creativity, which made taking creative risks and emotionally exposing myself very dangerous and often very damaging.

I have so many memories of shaking and weeping on cold, hard dressing room floors, followed by days of self-hatred, punishing myself for having ‘failed,’ when audiences had had the opposite experience. I was taking bigger and bigger creative risks, trying to fight the demons by attempting to conquer increasingly difficult levels of adversity, “When I’ve achieved this thing, THEN I’ll feel good about myself!” and sure enough, the critic upped its game accordingly.

I was stuck in this loop until I hit 30, when desperate for some peace from the critic, I completely let go of everything. I quit my own band, left my own theatre company and started training as a dramatherapist. 

Dramatherapy training is 3 full-on years of grappling with theory and philosophy, undergoing intense personal and group therapy, whilst also facilitating real clients through real therapy. It’s totally transformative and I loved every minute of it. 

I began focussing my client work on adults with mental health issues in my second year of study, which allowed me to integrate my performance training (specifically clowning and fooling) into my practice as well as allowing me to draw on my own mental health journey. My critic lurked in the shadows, watching and waiting for me to fall on my arse, but I was learning to accept support, to be gentle and to care for myself in a way that I’d never been able to before and most importantly I was learning to be vulnerable. The critic was losing its grip.

In my third year, for my final 2 placements, feeling stronger and healthier than ever, I decided to pilot dramatherapy workshops exploring the inner critic, first for circus students and then for women with mental health issues. The feedback let me know that what I was developing through my own suffering and softening was valuable to others.

That was 6 years ago and since then I’ve offered various versions of The Inner Critic Inquiry, met and melted a multitude of inner critics in a million rehearsal rooms, in my role as director of devised theatre and during my Fooling courses and as for mine…. 

It’s still here, but my position has changed. Rather than be beholden to the crippling criticism, I can hear the voice with curiosity and compassion, grounding myself in the here and now, before entering into a dialogue to find out what my critic is needing. Mostly, it’s something around safety. Through these chats, my critic is starting to understand that I have to take risks and emotionally expose myself in order to live a meaningful life and these days, my little critic helps me to measure those risks wisely.

Sometimes it doesn’t all go smoothly. Very occasionally, I fall back into old, self-destructive habits, especially when I’m tired or overwhelmed. But the recovery time is quicker than ever. In committing to the gentle, nurturing path, my life has changed beyond recognition. Two years ago, I even got back on the stage, making 3 shows in 3 months exploring stage fright, vulnerability and connection. You can read about them here on my blog. Since then I've been performing and public speaking with a new level of ease.

Last autumn’s 8-week Inner Critic Inquiry courses integrated my deeper understanding of the inner critic, with an increased focus on self-nurture, resilience and group bonding, before we launched into the transformational work of exploring and embodying our critics. The course is ever evolving and will continue to draw upon my personal discoveries. Taking the course back to it's original 8-week format (instead of the weekend version) has allowed participants to practice what they're learning on the course throughout the week. Whenever your critic rears its head, you'll get a chance to report back to the group each week for shared investigation, empathy and celebration of your triumphs.

2019 Inner Critic Inquiry info 

The Inner Critic Inquiry will be running on 8 consecutive Thursdays 8 consecutive Thursdays, starting Thursday 24 October (with a half term break on 21st Nov), at The Bristol Improv Theatre in Clifton, Bristol.

Afternoon version 2-5.30 pm

Evening version 7-9.30 pm

Spaces are limited, application is essential. Deadline 20th September.

For more information or to apply have a look at the course description here.

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