One of my voices I named Ed. He used to tie my fingers up in knots and breathe dry ice into my brain. He doesn't do this so much any more, because I found out that I could diminish Ed's power by simply writing – about him. Here is one paragraph I wrote about Ed:
Ed is a middle-aged man with a sunken chest and a long thin nose through which he sniffs and snorts. He squints his beady eyes whenever he looks at me, suspicious that I will again try to write something. If I do, he’ll tell me I have nothing original to say, so why waste my time? His voice is usually sharp and piercing but he is capable of hissing his words, especially when he spots a mistake – any mistake, even a misplaced comma or a typo such as “teh.” He notes all mistakes in a black accountant’s ledger notebook that he always keeps with him. He reads the entries to me out loud.
And so on. As I wrote more about Ed, it eventually dawned on me that Ed is not my friend. And the more I wrote, the more obvious it became that Ed was a nasty, mean-spirited, chickenshit bully who did not want me to be happy. So why was I listening to him?
Why indeed. Nowadays Ed just pouts in the background, waiting for me to notice him again. But I no longer have to. Writing about him took away all his power. I saw him for who he was.
I teach a writing workshop titled “Finding Your Voice.” One of the in-class exercises we do is to write about our internal critic. Give it or him or her a name. What gender is it? Is it human or animal or a black scary cloud, like the monster in Lost? What does it look like? Is it tall, short, fat, skinny, pock-marked? What does it wear? Is it sloppy or tidy? Does it speak in a loud booming voice, or hiss like a snake? Does it wear too much perfume, or sweat profusely? Is it older and wiser than you, or is it one of those know-it-all popular teenagers who used to inhabit your high school? You know your critic doesn't admire you, so who does it admire? Who does it hate? Finally, ask your critic — and write down its answer — why it says the things it says.
You’ll probably find out that you don’t much like this guy, and his reasons for abusing you are lame. When he shows up again (and he will), regard him with compassion and thank him for sharing. Then tune him out.