Shame, Anger, and Getting Over It

My current “listen while I walk” book is Brené Brown’s book on shame, I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn’t). I’m nodding my head so much in agreement I look like a bobblehead walking down the street.

Doesn’t this look exactly like the naive rural girl right from the Main Street of Shame?

What had me nodding like a drummer in an 80s hair band is the way Brown links shame to excuses, blame to anger—and then breaks the links so you can breathe again and feel whole.

When I started to write my new book, The Inner Hero’s Art Journal: Conversations with Your Inner Critic, I thought it would be a big, inventive idea to ask some well-known people to contribute to it. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if art people could be introduced to some well-known people who have big inner critics and hear their

story? Wouldn’t it be even cooler if those well-known people tried some art projects in dealing with their inner critics? And then shared those stories? I was so excited. I did not for one nano-second think that maybe those well-known people would shrug it off.

In fact, when a friend said, “Sure, what’s the worst that could happen?” I said, “They’ll say ‘no’ and I’ll survive.” But that was not the worst that could happen. The worst that could happen is that not a single one of the four well-known people responded to my several emails, Twitter and Facebook contact, and a written-on-paper letter.

My first reaction was, “Well, Well-Known Person (WKP) #1 just had a serious health scare in her family; WKP #2 just bought a new house in California to create an environmental safe haven. WKP #3 is writing a book, and WKP #4 is on a book tour for her new book.”

My next reaction was, “Well, c’mon, most of these people have staff or at least an

The big, negative mind of the Inner Critic. (Pitt Pen on paper, © Quinn McDonald)

assistant, they can’t even take time to say ‘no’ or ‘thanks’?”

And my next reaction, was, yes, shame. Who was I to think that those people would think my idea was cool? My ideas wasn’t cool, it was dumb. And who am I to think that any WKP would care about appearing in a book that won’t sell as well as theirs, and give up their time when they won’t get paid.

There I saw it—just like Brené Brown said:  excuses, anger, blame and shame. Just like in the book. If I hadn’t been so involved with my shame, I would have laughed. But I was consumed by the pain of shame.

And then–and I’m telling you this because it’s so vividly real—one of my ceative ideas from the book came to mind.  I grabbed a Pitt Pen and a piece of watercolor paper and did the exercise. (No, you won’t find it here, it’s still in development for the book).

This whole shame thing is part of a conversation I’m having with the Inner Critic. The one that goes, “I’m not good enough for WKP to care about me, who am I to write a book?” I did the exercise, and I realized that while I would love to have those four WKP in the book, the books worth, ideas, and usefulness don’t depend on it. That’s my job. I was worrying about someone else’s job. Someone I couldn’t control. My job was to create exercises that worked. That resonated with readers. And I smiled, because I have a group of people whose Inner Critics I know because they’ve told me about them. They are also contributors.

And just like that, the shame steamed off. Of course I would have liked the four people I asked to respond. But they didn’t. And I don’t know why, and can’t guess. And I’m actually OK with that. I don’t have to approve their reasons, I have to move on. I have a really good book to write.

—Quinn McDonald is writing a book on he Inner Critic. She writes what she knows.

31 thoughts on “Shame, Anger, and Getting Over It

  1. I am reading Brown’s latest book, Daring Greatly. All of her work applies to art-making and innovation! Your book is going to be great. And reading Brown’s book will make it even better!

  2. I love this post, Quinn, and find it refreshing to hear you (a professional!) worrying about things that plague me. Not that I’m glad you’re experiencing that, but you know what I mean, right? Thanks for the good reminder today–it’s my job to do my work and not worry about what anyone (everyone!) else is doing.

    • Yes, Joy, I totally get what you mean. Which is exactly why I wrote it and made it public. It was hard, because, you know, I was ashamed that I couldn’t get WKP to respond, but then when I realized that “getting them to respond” is not my work, it was easier to share. I’m not alone, for sure, but is sure feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?

  3. Send them an autographed copy of your book with the inscription “This is the book you could have been part of”. They{ll certainly regret not having answered. <– This is not politically or even spiritually correct but a gut reaction. {big love for you}

  4. I think it was a courageous thing to ask the WKP. I think it was courageous and a real sharing of self to write your truth here. It must have felt awful for awhile. And it’s a gift you’ve offered, showing there is a way through the awful. Show don’t tell — works every time.

    • Thanks for seeing that, Bo. I DID feel awful for a while, even though I could see the Inner Critic plainly, I could still here him telling me that I was SO silly. It’s sharing that incident, that thought process out loud that helps others (I hope) see that they are not alone.

  5. What a grand idea it is! Was, and still is, whether it got the response you expected or not doesn’t take anything away from that.
    I think the icy touch of the IC is common in all walks of life – I know mine pretty well. I know how it started to gain strength so I know how to work with it – with varying levels of success I might add. I know it won’t go away, it has a purpose sometimes other than to just try undermining me, and when I work out what it’s trying to do, poor misguded thing is never direct, I can counter it.
    If I think I have it beat it lurks around sulking and then comes out and hits me over the back of the head with a dead fish – oh, that would make a good cartoon!

  6. Very timely – I am having “one of those days” – my feelings of shame further compounded by a plumber who refuses to work at my home implying that I live in an “unhealthy environment.” I just need to rethink, revise, and get on with it. Thanks for sharing.


  7. I am really anxious to have your book when it is ready. It is exactly what I need …….. some help to counteract my critic! You have already helped me to counter him, yes, it is a HIM, some of the time but he has been around a long time and is very skillful. Sigh!

  8. Those pesky inner critics just keep popping up where you think you have already got them under control. It is an on-going issue for most people, especially creative people. Mine is always seeming to work overtime! And perhaps those people who didn’t respond to you were listening to their inner critics as well.

  9. curious..why did you feel you needed/wanted 4 well known people to add to your book?
    i am quite sure that among your circle of friends [both internet and physical], there is an abundance of creative ideas to share…

    • We often think that WKP don’t have Inner Critics or have some secret to overcoming them. I wanted to show that even when you have become well known, even if you write about shame or the importance of right-brain work, you STILL struggle with the inner critic. Including them would show one of the major points in my book–that we don’t get rid of the inner critic, we don’t have one big fight and then banish him (or her), it’s a life long process. And frankly, while we say we don’t care about celebrity, we do. That’s how come there are WKP. So I thought hearing from creative people whose writings acknowledge the potential of creativity and growth would bring encouragement and inspiration. But it’s not the only way to do it. And yes, the book will also have contributions from talented people of every stripe. That’s the purpose of all my books–you don’t have to be a WKP or even an illustrator to create deeply and meaningfully.

  10. Another parrot badge for you! (See, I’m trying to make the phrase stick ;D And I’m getting more and more interested in your book. Must add it to my wishlist. I sure could use some good tools for keeping my inner critic silent. Well, I would settle for an ability to shrug off its comments.

  11. Caatje is right! The shame is on them! A text, email or comment on FB only takes a few seconds, and no-one is THAT grand in these days of instant viral success!
    I’m also glad you worked through it, because its such a common problem, putting ourselves down for wasting someone’s time, or feeling we are not interesting enough, or good enough or don’t fit in, etc, etc! The IC hits in far too many ways without anyone else’s problems helping make it worse, and you do have the talent to help us through it. Its a wonderful gift!
    Its taken me all my life to feel comfortable with who I am, and I still have to fight to retain my individuality and the characteristics that make me me, and to own my artistic and creative nature. I still get knocked for six occasionally, and while I’m better at getting back up, I’m not too proud to say I could do with a little help! We all do at times, so anything that helps overcome the nay-sayer is a worthy cause!
    as the song says: “I get by with a bit of help from my friends!” All too true!

    • See? That’s why I’m writing the book. We–all of us–know so well that the Inner Critic speaks up, but we keep believing him. And yes, the whole idea of success is getting up again when we get our pins knocked out from under us. And so do the people I wrote to–even if they didn’t answer. Meanwhile, I’m getting up and noticing that there are a lot of people getting up with me.

  12. First of all, you’re idea really IS cool. I think it would be very good for us average folks to see that those who have ‘made it’ in our eyes suffer from the same insecurities as we all do.
    And isn’t it interesting how we manage to make other people’s behaviour about ourselves? If I were in your positiion I would have felt the same way, but being on the outside looking in all I’m thinking is “those people are rude”. They didn’t have to accept your offer, they could just turn it down. The point is if someone asks you a question you (or your fancy assistant) answers it or simply states that they’re all too busy to answer it. It’s common decency, nothing more. It’s a pity things like that can influence us so easily. Good to know you worked it off through art. Looking forward to your book (even if the inner critic and I are not such enemies really, haha).

    • This post was hard to admit to. You got my motive exactly right–we assume well-known people don’t have inner critics, and I thought hearing them talk about it would be a good thing for readers. I asked four assuming two would say no. And you are right, it has nothing to do with me at all. But we jump to that. And meanwhile, our culture is saying “dare to be great!” and “Leap and the net will appear!” Well, not always, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t worthy of a net. My inner critic and I are getting to know each other pretty well. And I’m not so scared of him anymore!

        • Paula, you make me laugh with recognition. Last week I confessed to a friend that I felt petty and said, “My petty self walks in front of me in red velvet booty shorts and Laboutin heels. It’s annoying.” And now our inner critics are flirting!

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