“I struggle against the demons—I struggle for light—desperately—against disease, ugliness, fears, madness, monsters, nightmares.”  —Anaïs Nin

There’s a little meanie who lives in my brain; you might have one, too. This meanie is mean. He knows just what to say to get me to feel badly about myself and to give up on my creative projects. Things like, “Who cares about your dumb story?” or “You’ll never be as good a writer as [fill in the blank].” He says things about my appearance, my intelligence, my work ethic, and about everything I produce. The worst thing about him is that he sounds just like me.

But he isn’t me. I know that because I would never be as mean to anyone as he is to me. For a long time, though, I thought he was me, and I believed him.

How Did He Get In My Brain?

Why do we have these mental meanies? I think that my meanie is trying to help me; he wants me to do my best, he wants me to work hard. But, mostly, he’s trying to protect me from failing. And the only way to be 100% certain that someone will not fail is to make sure that the person never does anything at all.

Often, people try to help me by saying, “Why do you give that mental meanie room in your mind?” or “Stop being so hard on yourself!” But that actually isn’t helpful, because now I feel bad AND I feel bad for feeling bad. So: Double Fail Points!

Maybe This Instead

Personally, I find it a lot more helpful to simply remember that many creative people struggle with a meanie like mine. I like to take a moment to imagine him as a little green and purple monster. Imagining him in a physical form makes it easier to realize that he isn’t me. He might be part of me—my fears—but he’s not all of me. I then imagine telling him, “I know you’re trying to help me, but this is mean. I’m doing fine. Now shush.”

And One Step Further

At a certain point that if I could have a mental meanie, I could also have a mental sweetie. So I deliberately created a sweetie who can function as a foil to my meanie. I like to imagine her as a round, pink smiley-faced creature a bit like the Pokemon Blissey or a talking pink lollipop. She is all enthusiasm and likes to tell me that I’m doing great. She wants me to keep going so that she can see what happens next. She is also part of me, and I get further when I listen to her.

There is nothing wrong with having a mental meanie. The trick is just to remember that’s all it is. It isn’t controlling you. Just tell him to be quiet, and then look over at your mental sweetie. You can roll your eyes together and keep moving forward.