Taming the Inner Bully 

By Kristen King, WRAP Project Manager and Certified WRAP Facilitator, Advocates for Human Potential, Inc. 

October 2019 is Bullying Prevention Month in the United States. We all know the statistics about bullying and how harmful bullying and intolerance can be. Bullying hurts the person who is being bullied, the bully themself, and witnesses to the bullying. It can have long-term effects and is just as common in adults as it is in children. But what happens when YOU’RE the bully and you’re bullying yourself?

We all have that little voice inside giving running commentary on our day. (If you just thought to yourself, “Well I don’t have a little voice,” trust me, you do—and that was it.) Sometimes the voice is helpful: Remember the milk. Concentrate. Watch out! But sometimes the voice is a real jerk. For many of us, we’re walking around with a personal bully who lives in our head and beats us down all day, every day. You’re so stupid. No one cares about you. You don’t deserve to feel better. You can’t do this. You can’t do anything right. Your friends don’t really like you.

Bullying includes teasing, name-calling, mocking or taunting, threatening, leaving someone out intentionally, embarrassing someone publicly, and more. How often do we say cruel things to ourselves? How often are insults and self-mocking part of our internal dialog? Instead of saying “thank you,” how often do we put ourselves down in response to positive feedback from others?

For me, taking personal responsibility for my inner bully was a tall order. I wanted to say, “It’s not my fault. I’m just being honest.” But when I explored my negative thoughts, I realized they weren’t actually true after all. My feelings would be hurt if another person spoke to me the way I spoke to myself. I would never say to a friend the things I said to myself. Those statements were mean. They were unhelpful. And they were keeping me feeling stuck and alone.

Standing up to our inner bully can be just as hard as standing up to an outside bully who’s hurting us or another person. And it can also make a huge difference in our lives. Here’s what has helped me stand up for myself when my inner bully starts in:

  • Address the bullying comment immediately. I often say to myself, “Wow, that was mean,” or “Whoa, not helpful.” If we ignore it, it keeps happening—so the sooner we respond, the sooner we put a stop to it. I can break the cycle of negative thoughts if I interrupt it quickly.
  • Challenge the negative thought. I love the “Changing Negative Thoughts to Positive” exercise that appears in many WRAP materials. Some of my inner bully’s comments are so automatic to me that I accept them as true. Through this exercise, I examine them and find out that they’re not really accurate statements about myself. I ask myself, “Okay, is this actually true? What is true in this situation?” This allows me to replace the negative thought with one that is both true and helpful.
  • Do something to build myself up. After I’ve addressed the comment and challenged it, I use whatever wellness tools I have available to help me feel more like myself again and to move forward. The same way we would encourage another person after they’ve been hurt, we can use our wellness tools to encourage ourselves. I often choose to accomplish something that makes me feel productive, such as making the bed or taking out the trash or something else I can actually see as a visible change.

How do you use personal responsibility and wellness tools to address your inner bully? What strategies have helped you change a pattern of negative self-talk? How does taking on your inner bully affect your self-esteem? Please leave a comment on our Facebook page with your ideas and questions.

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