We all have an inner bully which lives inside us. Some prefer to call it their inner critic. It doesn’t really matter what label you give it; its function is the same. To hurt you. Your inner bully has one major purpose throughout the day, and that is to taunt, berate, intimidate and scare you to pieces. It is most successful in accomplishing its goal when its consistent harsh judgments of who you are have eventually broken you down into a hollow emotional state of nothingness.
Your inner bully begins as an infant living inside your mind. Overtime however and depending on how consistent and copious it is with the breakdown of our internal world, it can emerge and transform into a lifeform resembling a mirror image of what you look like as an adult. Your life experiences of turbulent hardships and poor choices is how your bully pushes its way into your life without invitation. It is through the doorway of your hardships and poor choices that your inner bully builds a solid foundation on which to poke fun and beat you down as often and to whatever degree of pain intensity it chooses.
Similar to feeling victimized by a literal bully, most people reading this vivid description of the inner bully would struggle against, or even resist, pacifying this image of fear. You may ask yourself, “Why in the world would I calm or console someone who is taunting me?” The kind of pacifying that is being recommended here is not the kind which suggests placating or allowing the abuse to continue. By pacify, I mean to acknowledge the attention that your inner bully is attempting to get, much like the way you would a crying child who wants to be held because it wants to sleep with its parent. When an infant or toddler cries due to sleeping alone for the first time, it will continue to cry or act out until the parent takes notice of them. Taking notice and acknowledging the child’s frustration is the healthiest thing that a parent can do in this situation. However, it does not mean that the parent should feed into the child’s crying by turning on the light, lifting the child out of its crib, and carrying the child to their room to soothe and console them each time that they cry out. Doing this would only aggravate or intensify the next time the child seeks attention.
Likewise, in some ways your inner bully seeks constant attention. Giving it your full attention and feeding into the abusive thoughts and statements emanating from it, is not the antidote that will stop the bully from taunting you. However, emotionally detaching yourself (defusion), not “buying into it,” just noticing and not reacting (mindfulness) to what hurtful statements may be generating from your bully, may quiet it down somewhat to a level of calmness. This is not to say that the more you find healthy ways to quiet your inner bully, that it will suddenly stop taunting you forever. That would be such an ideal dream. Such a dream would not be realistic.
Your inner bully will never cease to miss an opportunity to break you down mentally and emotionally. However, healthy coping strategies, with consistent self-care activities have been found effective in warding off the long-term effects of abuse from your bully. The following strategies are Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and non-ACT approaches I have taught to others, used and applied to my own self-care regimen. These approaches of ACT are certain practices that I have found to be very effective in managing my own inner bully.
- Mindfulness: paying attention and noticing moment by moment what thoughts come up and how you react to them.
- Defusion: a strategy used to emotionally detach and separate yourself from your thoughts.
- Self-compassion: giving yourself the kind and understanding treatment that your bully is not offering you
- Acceptance: coming to terms with the fact that the bully will visit from time to time. However, how you choose to respond to it is totally up to you.
Non-ACT strategies would include things like distracting yourself with positive reading material, meditating, taking a brisk walk, exercising, and/or sharing your bully concerns with someone you find to be supportive. The objective to non-ACT strategies circles back to mindfulness. If you are more focused and engaged in positive uplifting activities, then you are less focused on what your bully is trying do to you.
The less reactive you are to the hurtful statements generated by your bully, the less intense critical thoughts and judgmental statements will appear over time. Pacifying your inner bully will provide you with a sense of empowerment and control. It offers a platform to choose whether to entertain your bully and its shenanigans, or to just notice it, laugh, and keep moving on with your day. In the end, the whole objective to pacifying your inner bully would be to help you regain the control and power you once had.