We all have a saboteur aspect within our psyche - that inner urge to upset, spoil or destroy just when things are going well for us. The saboteur lies in wait for a sunny day, and then rushes in with unexpected rainfall. It dampens hope and expectation, leaving us feeling muddy and washed out.
Our inner saboteur - which also goes by the name of inner critic or inner bully - believes it's there to protect us. Its roots are in childhood, and it gained power from the gaps left by our parents and early caregivers. It believes it's saving us from ourselves - from tripping up or making a fool of ourselves - but it's also preventing us from taking risks, stretching and growing.
In my work as a psychotherapist, I find that writers and other creative people are often at the mercy of their inner saboteur. They want to share their work with the world, but instead find themselves grappling with the well-known weapons of the saboteur: procrastination, distraction, shame and even self-loathing.
Frustrated creative people can feel as though they ARE their own worst critics. They can end up identifying with their saboteur, rather than seeing it as just a part of their psyche that isn't particularly helpful or supportive.
A creative and effective of way of taming the inner saboteur and reducing its power is to dis-identify from it. How? By creating a story about it. This is what I'll be focusing on in the workshop I'm running this week at City Lit's Mental Wealth Festival.
Storytelling is a powerful way to separate from your own emotions and to stop a destructive force from running riot in your psyche. You can set it free to run riot on the page instead.
A trick I recommend, if you're tortured by an inner saboteur, is to give it a voice, a face, a character. Not sure what it looks like? Think of the characters that haunt your dreams - the ones that chase you and scare you - and you might be closer to a visual representation of your saboteur.
Get to know the saboteur and what it wants. Keeping it locked away gives it more power. Make it the protagonist of a story, or even the victim or perpetrator. This process is about bringing it into the light so it has nowhere to hide.
Let the saboteur speak through dialogue. Let it take the pen or keyboard and craft a poem written in its own voice. Create a character for your saboteur and send it on a journey that you dictate. Devise challenges. Set it up to fail.
Coming face to face with your inner saboteur through rhyme or storytelling puts you back in charge. The process of writing down the pain the saboteur has inflicted can help release and heal the hurt that may be decades old. Seeing a character on the page can help you separate from the saboteur, rather than continuing to identify with it and give it power. This process can help transform that pain.
If your inner saboteur is knocking on the door demanding to be heard, don't shut it out. It will only knock louder and become stronger. Open the door and let it have its say. You then have the power and time to choose whether its opinion is valid, or whether you want to slam the door and get on with being creative.