As a drama therapist, I always have identified with numerous roles; some frequenting more often than others. However, there is one role that repeatedly rears its ugly head, making me question myself and my abilities – the role of the critic. Most often my critic takes the form of a persistent voice inside my head, judging my thoughts and choices, causing me to carefully examine every action and motive. Confronting my inner critic has always been a struggle and at times has acted as a catalyst for me to seek out further guidance.
At other times, the critic is met in opposition by the role of the optimist, who spins the dark sided questionings of the critic and allows the perspective to shift. It is in these moments when the two roles exist together, that I feel most authentic, vulnerable, and most importantly in my role as therapist, present.
In my training to be a drama therapist, I learned about the danger of ‘should.’ For example, drama therapy ‘should’ look a certain way, or a client or group ‘should’ be able to do this by now. Despite being told by my professors and supervisors to let go of the ‘shoulds,’ I continue to battle these thoughts.
I realize how affected I am by other people’s ‘shoulds’ and how listening to their ‘shoulds’ fuels my inner critic. Just as I start to find a comfortable balance within myself, I feel other peoples ‘shoulds’ being projected onto the group. In these moments, our ‘shoulds’ collide, and visceral reactions are evoked complicating my ability to navigate the duality of roles and the needs of the group. When I listen to these voices, I feel my presence slipping away, pulling me from the here-and-now. It is in these moments that I attempt to find common ground and look beyond the projections of ‘should.’ I take the time to sit with myself and do my best to separate my own feelings, judgments, and thoughts but the critic is determined, so the fight is real.
At CANY we co-lead trauma informed drama therapy groups in locations across the city with diverse populations. I am currently working in a residential treatment facility with children and adolescents who have experienced a tremendous amount of loss. This is one of the most challenging groups that I have worked with, and the battle between my inner critic and optimist is in full force. My inner critic has been taking center stage while the optimist waits in the wings for its cue. Within the chaos of this particular group my co-leader and I try to provide as much structure and ritual as possible. However, what ‘should’ be a simple task, i.e. staying in the room together, sharing our names, or standing in a circle, proves challenging. A simple check-in seems unobtainable and nearly impossible to get through. My critic’s negative comments about my abilities to contain and hold this group begin to creep in, loudly whispering in my ear, the ‘shoulds’ standing tall in front of me.
“You ‘should’ know what to do!”
“You ‘should’ be able to fix this mess.”
But when I am able to take a breath and step back making space for the optimist to enter in, there is a shift. The optimist reminds me to look deeper and not focus on what the group ‘should’ look like, encouraging me to recognize the small moments of success. I remind myself that checking in with the group takes only 10 minutes now, as opposed to the 20 or 30 minutes it once did. I can celebrate all of the group members sharing their names, in their own way. Though the circle may be more of an amoeba; we have a shape, and the group members are able to tolerate being in the space.
I now recognize the shared space between where the critic and optimist live. In that shared space I am able to be vulnerable and explore what lies beneath the surface for myself and the clients I work with. I can accept the group where it is and that the group is ‘good enough.’ This is the group, and there is no particular way a group ‘should’ look; there are multiples ways to look at the group.
I am reminded of group dynamics and the possibility that what I am feeling may also be true for other group members, who may be experiencing similar struggles within themselves. It is that reminder that helps me realize I am not alone and I can find a mutual place of being. With this recognition, other roles emerge in this battle space, roles that are both mine and not mine a place for empathy and understanding to grow. Where I once encountered these moments with fear, I now see them as an opportunity for a change, offering me a sense of freedom. In that instance, I am able to break the vicious cycle of negativity and accept that none of these answers are black and white; I look beyond and see the many shades of gray. I am able to accept there are areas where I need to grow and areas in which I have already grown. I am able to trust myself and try again rather than let the critic discourage my persistence, positivity, and my faith in myself.