Are You Your Own Bully?
When most of us think of the word “bully”, we can easily conjure up memories of that rough obnoxious kid at our school who terrorized the playgrounds, cafeteria, hallways and even lurked around in the bathrooms.
I bet you remember his/her name.
That mean kid who did mean things.
And while the image of that school bully is easy enough to imagine or remember, many of us are unaware of the bully that lives within us.
The bully in our heads.
Our own worst critic ~ ourselves.
Many of us say meaner things to ourselves than we would ever consider saying to anyone else.
I’m an idiot!
I’m always messing up!
What is wrong with me?
Everyone is going to laugh at me
Everything bad always happens to me…
And while this language is pretty strong, research suggests that various levels of negative self-talk is common. Some of us can actually go round and round like a boxer in a ring beating ourselves up with harsh hurtful words about our slightest mistakes throughout an entire day.
Why do we do this?
We learn at an early age that harsh language is a form of punishment for unwanted/imperfect behavior:
You were such a bad boy today. You’re so lazy. You remind me of your stupid ______.
Kids are impressionable. If they hear negative messages about themselves repeatedly by their parents, relatives or significant others in their environment, they may eventually take these messages on as “truth” about their character. These messages can develop into beliefs that become the building blocks of how they conceptualize their lives. Children look to others to help them discover who they are and how they fit in.
What this all means is this:
If we’ve grown up with issues of low self-worth due to childhood experiences or other factors that have contributed to low self-esteem, we’re more likely going to spend more time listening to and being dictated by negative self-talk. Our own form of punishment for our own imperfect behavior.
Here’s the good news:
Negative self-talk can be redirected and become less intrusive when:
*We first acknowledge and become more aware that we’re allowing ourselves to be held hostage by our own internal enemy – our negative inner voice. When we do our best to identify the origin of this constant self-criticism (childhood? family? or other influential factors like trauma or anxiety) we gain clarity as to why we think so little of ourselves. We can seek out support, work from there, and decide that this habit of self-harassment is no longer acceptable and that our inner bully has got to go into permanent after school detention.
*We can then challenge our inner critic by answering back and questioning our negative inner voice. We can call out our inner bully by asking ourselves questions like the following:
Is what I’m saying about myself really true? Really? Seriously?
Am I exaggerating?
What are the odds that this is as bad as I think?
Questions like these can help de-catastrophize and neutralize thoughts/feelings about whatever mistake has triggered our voice of negativity.
It’s also helpful to avoid absolute all or nothing terms like always, never and every time.
Words like these when used in a critical negative voice only exaggerate the feelings of self-criticism and judgment.
*From here we can begin to practice replacing negative words with more positive forgiving words and phrases when we’re stressed out about something we did like:
Even though I made this mistake today, I see what I did wrong and am going to try to change it (make it better).
Even though I was totally off today, I’ll try harder next time and see if that makes a difference.
Identify the error and then balance it out with self-compassion.
It’s about allowing ourselves to be human, flaws and all, yet continuing to strive for our best.
And yeah, maybe you have to fake it till you make it but with practice good habits can be created.
“So reason with it. Tell it how strong you are. And remind it that kindness trumps criticism,” Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D.
Thanks for reading,
M.Ed., Mental Health Counselor, Life Coach, Advanced Certified Hypnotherapist, Reiki Master and Author of eBook, Finding Happiness Even Without a Fairy Tale Childhood