The inner bully?

Inside each one of us there is a constant monologue of thoughts. Sometimes these thoughts are just how we interpret the world around us and how we label experiences. These inner thoughts can be helpful at times, by helping us to implement and plan to make decisions. At other times however the thoughts can be confronting or attacking, turning each event of our lives into an indictment of our worth. This inner voice can make you feel upset, angry or down, and it may lead you to procrastinate, lack confidence or not take action on things that really matter to you.

Fighting the inner bullyThe inner bully is the voice in our head that tells us that we are not smart, not capable, not attractive or lovable. This voice tells us not to bother trying something new because we’re just going to fail. It tells us that we don’t deserve to be loved or respected. The inner bully says things like, “Who do you think you are?” when we dare to feel good about ourselves for something we’ve accomplished. This inner bully creates negative self-talk, which burdens us with guilt, shame and obligation. The inner bully blames us for everything that goes wrong, no matter whose fault it was, and tells us any success we achieve is done so by accident. This inner bully oppresses us, and makes it hard for happiness and success to be created.

The trouble with these inner thoughts is that over time they can occur more consistently and become harder to shake off, the inner bully can become so loud that it can drown out our more positive traits. Overtime this inner bully can have a powerful influence, and at times we may not even notice it. If someone spoke to your loved ones in the way your inner bully speaks to you, it is likely that you wouldn’t stand for it, so why should you? It drifts like a misty waterfall down the back of our mind, though we seldom recognize it the thoughts give us a steady flow of negative messages about who we are and what we are doing. Over months and years of listening we come to believe it.

It is important to note that this inner bully can be tackled. Once you start to notice what it says and how it works it begins to lose its ability to inflict harm. The first thing to do is pay attention, really listen to what this voice says. Then you will begin to question it and finally you will learn to distance yourself from it.

Silencing your “Inner Bully”

The media is fixated on reporting the diverse array of bullying in schools, the workplace and online. However, self-bullying can be just as frequent and sometimes more harmful. A huge part of how we talk to ourselves, relies on the influence around us growing up. Being surrounded by positive messages growing up can help us to develop confidence and positive self-worth. Being surrounded by critical and rejecting messages growing up can lead to the development of what we call the “Inner Bully”.

By being kind to ourselves, we can silence our Inner Bully and stop it from having power over us. Having strength to fight our Inner Bully does not happen by getting angry at it. The way to overcome the Inner Bully is through self-compassion and choosing to be kind and compassionate towards ourselves. Being kind to ourselves can lead to benefits such as better real life results, more perseverance, higher self-esteem, more inner happiness and stillness, more positive relationships with yourself and other people.  There are many ways we can be kind to ourselves. Here are some tips:

  1. Find the truth and exception when an inner critic or outer critic attacks. If you or someone else does this, ask yourself this question: “What is the exception to this though?” This is very effective to change your train of thoughts and to find the truth.
  2. Un-stress tonight. Take a long bath and read something to escape. Or work out. Or talk to someone about something that is on your mind and let it all out.
  3. Appreciate yourself. Ask yourself: What are 3 things I can appreciate about myself? It could be that you are a good listener or are doing well with your hobby right now. Or that you have a love for animals, people or music.
  4. Be kinder towards others. The way you think about and treat others is often the way you think about and treat yourself
  5. If you stumble, be your own best friend. Don’t beat yourself up, that will erode your self-esteem. Be a kind and supportive friend to yourself instead. Ask yourself: How would my friend/parent support me and help me in this situation? And then do things and talk to yourself like he or she would.
  6. Simply remind yourself of why it is smart to be kind to yourself. By knowing the reasons why it is smart to be kinder to yourself becomes easier and easier to be kind to yourself and to take the time for it every day.

 STAGE 1: COMPARING

This stage is focusing on one of the most vicious ways your inner bully can attack, by comparing you to others. If you happen to find someone who is more competent or more accomplished in a specific area your inner bully pounces and immediately and begins comparing you with this individual on ridiculous levels effecting your self-esteem and confidence. You have to realise that you can’t win if you compare yourself to others, you’re picking a fight that you’re trying to lose. The error of the inner bully through the self-attack is selective attention. Your inner bully only chooses to compare the qualities that you fall short in whereas there are many other abilities where you would be just as good or superior.

Exercise 1: Distance yourself from the comparing thoughts

Write/think about an experience where you were caught up in comparing. Describe the situation, what you thought and felt. Now look at the other side. How might you stack up well with this person? What are you proud of in yourself that remains true regardless of the ways other may shine?

Now give yourself some distance from the painful comparison. It’s just a thought, just the voice of your inner bully, nothing more. This thought it not important, it doesn’t change a thing and it’s just a harmless voice. Put the thought on a leaf and picture yourself placing this leaf on a stream, visual it drifting down the stream getting smaller and smaller as it drifts away until it is out of sight.

Exercise 2: Be kinder towards other people

Though we may not realise it, the way we treat others plays a major factor in how we think and behave towards ourselves. If you are one to judge and criticize others you will tend to judge and criticize yourself. A way to avoid this is to practice being kinder towards others which in turn will condition you to be kinder towards yourself, reducing the judging and criticizing. Focus your mind on helping people and being kind and this will allow you to appreciate what is positive in yourself and others.

The next time you find yourself in the situation where you are criticizing or judging someone firstly focus on acknowledging the fact that you are having such a thought and try to turn the thought around by thinking of something kinder about the person. Then project this through your mind.

Today, aim to help someone. It could either be carrying something for someone, helping a colleague complete a task they are struggling with or even just taking the time to say some kind words of thank you or appreciation to a close friend or loved one. This way you will become kinder towards yourself and the people in the world instead of comparing and ranking them while creating differences in your mind.

STAGE 2: FILTERING

In this stage you will focus on a process called filtering. We all have natural filtering systems that affect what we pay attention to, without these is would be impossible for us to pay attention to absolutely everything around us, but sometimes our inner voice filters in ways that only hone in on the negative aspects of the situation. During this your inner voice only talks about the negative, about your flaws and failures and your strengths are ignored. Selective attention is again what fuels filtering and through this a lot of the positive experience that was experienced is ignored leaving one to stew on the small negative detail. For example you have just finished a wonderful meal with your partner and you have a small dispute over whether to leave a tip after the meal, on the way home in the car all you can think about is this small detail excluding all the other details of the night. Focusing on this one negative thought will bring all the negative thoughts that go along with it. Challenge yourself to consider the whole picture, ask yourself if you are only looking at the negatives and ignoring the positives. Also consider if there is a more balanced way to look at the situation remembering the positive experiences and channel these thoughts instead of only the negative.

Exercise: Letting go of negative thoughts

Think/write about a recent experience where you especially found yourself coming out of a situation left feeling quite down because you convinced yourself it went terribly. Describe the situation, what you thought and how you felt. Now look at some of the balancing realities, particularly try to think of some of the positive emotions experienced in that situation. Think about some of your strengths/positive experiences that offset the weaknesses/negative thoughts that you focused on. What were some things in the situation that you handled well? What are you proud of in yourself that still remains true and present regardless of what your inner voice has told you about the situation?

Now build emotional distance from your negative thoughts, they are nothing more than temporary ideas, they are not important. See them as lies because the filter out your strengths and big parts of who you are. Place these thoughts on a leaf – think of another way to get rid of negative thoughts – let the thoughts float downstream and watch them get smaller and smaller until they drift out of sight.

STAGE 3: REGRETS

Regret is a key strategy that your inner bully will use to self-attack and push sadness onto you for a choice you made in the past. Your inner voice uses hindsight vision to often look back on the actions that we have taken in the past and think about how if we had known the consequences at the time we would have made other decisions and would be much happier right now. This is irrational because whatever we do, we cannot change our actions from the past or the consequences that have stemmed from it. We are also assuming that making another decision would have resulted in a better scenario but how to we know this for sure?

Make sure you understand that when you made a certain decision at that current time you would have stayed true to your hopes, fears and how you saw things then and there was probably the best thing that you could’ve done in the moment. Only after learning the consequences do you realize that the choice may have been wrong.

Exercise: Letting go of regret

Think/write about a situation you regret. But this time look at it as if you did at the time, what you fear was at the time and what you expected. Also think about the things you did and didn’t know in that situation as well as what you hoped for. Try to open some emotional distance from this regret. Remember that this is a moment in your past life, it’s in the past and accept that nothing can be done about it. Accept that you did the best you could do at that point in time and accept the pain of what was lost. Take a deep breath and pull away from this regret leaving it a place with all the other many events of your life.

Some steps to work through to ease regret:

  1. Use the opportunity to become better adapting – if you have done something in the past that you may have regretted, if ever confronted with the same situation again, you’ll be better equipped at handling it with better judgement due to your past experiences. Certain regrets you have
  2. Strengthen your ability to understand that there are things you can’t control – if you are able to accept that what you “should have done” or what “would have happened” if you had done something else is irrelevant right now because you can’t change what you once did it’ll be easier for you to focus on moving forward from where you are. This is an invaluable skill as it empowers you to take positive action instead of falling into a shame cycle
  3. Embrace temporariness – if you hold regrets due to loss of something, perhaps let that remind you of all the things you do have and appreciate everyone and everything in the moment further as there are no guarantees in life. Using these positive thoughts can be useful to offset the negative thoughts or regret.
  4. Ask yourself what you are doing today – today is what is important, if a regret from the past simmers up ask yourself what you can do to move forward and focus on today, not the regrets in the past. Continually practice this
  5. Understand that you’re not the only one that has regrets – everyone makes mistakes and everyone has regrets. Know that you are not alone and acknowledging this can help you deal with your own regrets

STAGE 4: EXAGGERATING

In this stage we’ll focus on your inner voice exaggerating thoughts. Your inner bully uses exaggeration through the over-generalizing and magnifying. You will hear your inner voice say things like “You always do something like this… everyone saw you do that… you never get anything right… no one wants to spend time with you”, using such extreme words disregard all the times when you have done well by generalising behaviour, these exaggerating words blow thoughts out of proportion and really damage one’s self esteem.

Magnifying is when your inner voice uses words like ‘awful’ and ‘horrible’, you must understand that these words are rarely true because it ignores all the parts and experiences of our life that were positive.

Exercise: Altering exaggerating and magnifying thoughts

Think/write about a recent event where your inner bully exaggerated certain negative thoughts, now again describe what happened without using over generalising and magnifying words as if you were recounting the event in an objective manner. Now put the event into perspective, recognise that you have been through some difficult moments that may have been one of them. Also recognise that you have experienced successes and accomplishments. Make sure you think about the experiences of your life by taking into account the proud moments you’ve had.

 

STAGE 5: MIND READING

This specific type of thinking uses any self-criticism you may have about yourself straight back onto you. This type of thinking uses your inner voice to portray the way you assume other people may judge or see you. You imagine that others see all the self-criticism and react in the same way as you do. This inner voice can make you form beliefs without any actual evidence. For example you may be having a conservation with someone and your inner voice could say things like “she’s already bored of me… those group of people must be laughing at me… I knew I shouldn’t have worn this dress everyone is staring”. It is important to note that when you are carrying about your day you barely have time to think about others or judge people that you may come across. In the same way others are not thinking about you, instead they have their own lives to worry about.

Exercise: Mind reading

Think/write about a past experience where you found yourself assuming what others thought of you. Describe the events as well as what you thought and felt. Now think about what the other person could have been thinking and what actual evidence you had for this. Now try to imagine alternative thoughts that the person could have been having, in particular the reasonable positive or neutral thoughts. Looking back on it now, does your mind reading seem accurate or does it seem highly negative? Try to make it a projection of the event in an objective voice.

Give yourself some distance from the negative thoughts. Make sure you remember that the assumptions you had may not be true. Let it be in doubt and let it be uncertain. You must understand that there is no way for you to know for sure what the other person is thinking unless you ask them. Drift further from the painful thought and leave it in its place in the past. Let in shrink in size and importance.

Stage 6: SELF-BLAME

In this stage we will focus one of the most toxic forms of emotional abuse your inner bully can use to bring you down. This is how your inner voice amplifies our perceived inadequacies, whether they are real or imagined. It likes to blame you for everything, whether you’re at fault or not. The issue with self-blaming is that it can lead to self-shaming that further brings us down and makes us feel devalued. When something may not go according to plan your inner bully always manages to trace it back to some error on your part. This type of negative thinking makes you think that you have total responsibility over everything that happens. Of course one thinking they have total control over everything is quite silly. No one can have 100 percent control of everything that happens around them. Everything happens due to a long chain of various events, you may contribute to some outcomes but it is important to understand that you are not totally responsible.

Exercise: Clearing self-blame thoughts

Think/write about a certain experience where you blamed yourself for something. Carefully think about his situation. Ask yourself if you’ve blamed yourself for someone else’s behaviour? Try your best to be objective, now think about how much of the blame really belongs to you. Now pull away from this experience. Notice that this event may be sad but notice that is also has multiple causes that have led to the particular outcome. See it as one of many moments in your life and accept that although it was disappointing accept it and know you can’t change the past. Let the thought recede further and further among the rest of your regrets and successes.

Take your time to work through these stages and know that whenever you may notice your inner bully awakening you can always refer back to any of these stages and give yourself a moment to rationalise these thoughts are turn that inside voice into one that will support you and push you towards your goals!