The Catty Whisperer


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What to do when you’re your own worst enemy.

This is Part 5 of a multi-part series on judgmental comments in the belly dance world. You don’t have to listen in order, but if you want to start from the beginning, check out Walking on Eggshells.

In this series so far we’ve been talking about comments made by others. But sometimes the biggest source of negativity in your life isn’t other people.

So what can you do when that catty whisperer is YOU?

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This was professionally transcribed, but it probably still has some errors. If you catch any, drop me a line at I’d love to hear from you!

This is part five of a multi part series on judgemental comments in the belly dance world. This episode can stand on its own, but if you’d rather start at the beginning, go ahead and start from the episode titled, Walking on Eggshells.

In this series so far we’ve been talking about the danger of judgemental comments, but we’ve been focusing on comments that you hear about other dancers, or comments that are made directly to you by other people. But sometimes the biggest source of negativity in your life isn’t other people. So what can you do when that catty whisperer is you?

Now, I’d like to start by telling you about where that term, catty whisperer, comes from. In 2011 I was asked to teach at the MECDA professional dance conference and retreat. I was thrilled to be asked, but it seriously pushed my perfectionism buttons. I have a weird of perfectionism. I am totally fine with being a beginner. If I’m new at something, I can be awful, I can enjoy the process, I can mess up all I want to.

But once I get to that place of being competent I feel like I suddenly have to be perfect. Especially once I publicly own my own competence, whether that’s teaching something, commenting on it in forums, etc. I feel like I can’t ever make a mistake. This even was my first national workshop gig. I was also coming off of an injury. I had this feeling, like I needed to be 100% perfect at every style of belly dance and every topic in belly dance now.

Now luckily the PDCR also had a really special event going on, which was sessions with a life coach named Penny Collins, who’s also a dancer. Penny helped me to see that I was holding myself to standards that were higher than I would ever expect from anyone else. In fact, I was holding myself to higher standards than I would ever allow someone else to suggest for me.

One thing that really helped that Penny asked me to do was to name that critical voice, so I could separate it from myself. So I named my little internal voice “The Catty Whisperer”. She’s that dancer who stands in the back row and says, “I could do that better.” She even had me draw a picture of her, write down all the things she was saying to me, and then step all over it. It helped, a lot.

Perfectionism is still a struggle for me and The Catty Whisperer still tells me all the ways that I’m wrong and all the ways that I’m not good enough, but now that I see her for what she is, it’s a lot easier to not believe her. Chances are you have a Catty Whisperer in your head too. So how do you take away the power that it has over you?

Well the first step is to identify your Catty Whisperer. What kinds of things does it say? Believe me, writing them out on paper really helps them get out of your head. That helps you not believe them. What does this voice sound like? Does it sound male or female? Is it openly critical, dismissive, domineering or disdainful? Or more dangerously, is that voice sweet and couched in concern for you? Does it tell you how much it wants to empower you and make you better? When is it most likely to whisper in your ear? Is it before a performance? During a show? When you’re practicing? Or when you’re tackling a particular type of project?

Once you’ve identified your whisperer it helps to get down to the root of what’s going on. Does this voice sound like anyone you know? Sometimes it takes on the voice of someone from your life or from your past. That can be someone who actually said critical things about you. But sometimes your Catty Whisperer can take on a mask of someone who’s opinion you value, even if they’ve never been critical of you before.

Can you remember hearing similar comments at any point in your life? This might be recently or it might go back a really long way. Those comments may have come in the same tone or had the same content, or they could be totally different. But is there anything similar that’s happened before?

For example, I was taught at a young age that it’s important to present yourself to the world in a certain way. That if you dress just right and speak just right, then people will treat you with respect. That was taught to me as a life skill, as a tool to get people to treat you well and gain access to a better life. It did actually help with those things, but it also ingrained this idea in me, that people are constantly judging you based on how you look, and that any flaw in your appearance makes you less worthy or respect. Needless to say, that has not been a healthy force in my life.

So looking for these patterns in your life of other types of critical whisperings that you received can really help you separate and stop believing them. It doesn’t make them disappear, but when you can take that step back from those critical thoughts, instead of accepting them without question, they don’t hold the same power over you.

Another thing that helps is to externalize your Catty Whisperer. One of the reasons why this voice has so much power over you is that you think it’s you speaking. You think that it’s your best self giving you helpful constructive advice, but it’s not. This is your most fearful self, what people call your inner critic. The thing is, is that your inner critic actually speaks to you out of love. It’s trying to protect you. It sees that you’re facing something that you’re afraid of. It sees that fear and believes that you’re genuinely in danger, and so it tried to protect you from that threat by convincing you to avoid risks, by hiding out and playing small.

But the thing is that growth requires risks. You can’t learn to ride a bike or even to walk if you’re willing to risk falling. I recommend that you do what Penny had me do, and create a persona for your inner critic. Give it a name, describe its MO, what it looks like, what it sounds like. Maybe draw a picture. When you hear its voice, picture it as somebody else speaking to you, not as the messaging is coming from inside yourself. You can say, “Oh, that’s just The Catty Whisperer.”

Another thing to do is to thank that voice and dismiss it. Remember, your inner critic is trying to protect you. As hurtful and destructive as it can be, its job is to keep you safe. That’s what it’s trying to do. So instead of trying to squash it down just thank it and let it go. Say, “Thanks, I know you’re trying to help but it’s okay. I’ve got this.” You may never banish permanently but that can help a whole lot.

The last thing to do is to make sure that you catch yourself when you criticize others. Being critical of other people and being critical of yourself tend to go hand in hand. When you make judgemental comments about other people, you tend to internalize them. The opposite is also true. When you’re hurting you’re more likely to project your feelings of unworthiness onto other people. This hurts you and it adds unnecessary negativity to the dance world. So watch out for gossipy conversation, especially online discussion. There is something about the comment section that brings out this mob mentality in otherwise well meaning folks. Catch yourself when you say critical things.

Earlier in the series we also talked about a type of comment that’s particularly insidious, which is obviously judgemental comments with a caring tone, or this sense of false concern. Remember that your comments don’t have to be directed at anyone individually to be harmful and negative. When you catch yourself doing this, just stop. Interrupt yourself in the middle of your sentence. Or better yet, call yourself out on it. Just say outright, “Well, that got kind of judgemental,” or, “You know, I didn’t really mean to get so negative,” or whatever phrasing makes sense for you. Just stopping helps a lot, but actually saying out loud what was going on reinforces that you don’t want to engage in that behavior anymore.

Letting other people hear you say that helps set two important norms in your dance community. It sets the expectation that judgemental gossip is not okay, and also that it’s okay to make mistakes, admit to them and try to do better. Both of these things help you create a healthier dance community.

Your Turn

What does your inner critic sound like?

What has helped you stop listening to it?

Got a question or topic that you’d like me to talk about on the show?

I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, leave me a short voice message. Maybe I’ll even play it on the air!

Want More?

Here is the Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse episode I mentioned:

The Power of the Positive Dancer with Zahra Zuhair

And if you don’t want to miss a thing, subscribe to the Belly Dance Geek News. I’ll send you a monthly digest of these mini podcasts, plus invitations to our monthly online radio show, The Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse, and other geek-tacular resources.

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