We all know that bullying is a huge problem in America. We hear about on the news, through the internet, and on the radio. Some–probably more than we would admit–witness bullying of some type on a regular basis, whether it be in school, or perhaps more subtly, in the workplace. October is National Bullying Prevention Month. As one who was bullied as a child and teenager, I am thrilled the subject is receiving the spotlight it deserves.
However, when the media searchlight illuminates the bullying landscape, there is often one area that remains undetected. One area that few of the pundits discuss, mainly due to the fact that it doesn’t draw the ratings. And yet, it is one of the more common and perhaps more debilitating forms of bullying. Self-bullying.
As a wellness coach I have written numerous posts and articles about the dangers of negative self-talk. We all do it. It is a natural reaction to any form of change. Self-bullying occurs when negative self-talk is allowed to run unchecked. Most of us experience periods of self-bullying without even recognizing it. We don’t realize it because it seems normal and natural, even if it is a detrimental behavior we wouldn’t stand for should we see it happening to someone we love.
Self-bullying often stems from a sense of perfectionism. In any given situation, the perfectionist has a preconceived idea of what that situation should look like. It could be about creating the perfect home, or the perfect family, or that amazing career. There isn’t really any surprise to that. We all know society places enormous pressure on us to look and act in certain ways. And of course, many of our benchmarks are fictitious, found in advertising, movies, and weekly television shows. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing an ad about how to lose fifty pounds to feel good about yourself or about how virile you need to be to have a successful relationship. There is no way we can possibly reach the level of perfectionism we are given as commonplace, yet we continue to try. And that is when negative self-talk can turn to self-bullying,
I recently fell victim to a bout of self-bullying. Like so many mid-life boomers, I decided it was time to reinvent myself so I accepted a management position in a completely new industry. I was looking for new challenges, new ways to grow, and obtain new skill sets. Well, I definitely found all of that.
I also found myself completely out of my comfort zone in every way. From simple things, like how to order supplies, to the more complex over-arching goals of the position, I felt more like I was just entering the workforce out of college instead of confidently bringing twenty-six years of managerial experience to the workplace. And while no one was in any way criticizing me, my self-bully saw an opportunity and jumped at it. I could take care of the criticizing very well on my own, thank you.
It began slowly, with simple little comments such as, “ you should have known that”. These comments then morphed into “I can’t believe you didn’t know that”. It wasn’t until I heard myself thinking while lying awake at 3:00 one morning, “No idiot would have done that” that I knew I had reached critical mass. I had allowed my inner bully the power to affect all of my actions. I was second guessing all my decisions. My desire to perform perfectly and create the perfect solution for this company was, in fact, having the opposite effect. In addition, my inner bully was robbing me of the joy I should have been feeling about starting a new career after fifty and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.
This is not an uncommon situation. It can happen in the workplace–as in my case–or on a personal level, such as trying to achieve certain fitness goals. And it can happen to just about anyone, and usually does at some point.
So what can you do if you find yourself harassed by the one person who should be the strongest member of your cheering squad? First, take a breath. When the internal comments turn insulting, ask yourself if you would say that to your best friend. Or even to a working associate whom you only see in passing. If the answer to either question is no, you definitely shouldn’t be saying it to yourself. There are times, especially in times of change, when you must be your own best cheerleader and not working for the other team. It’s much harder to do than it sounds since we are built to focus on negative instead of positive issues, but doing so will only rob you of the joy of the situation, not to mention sleep.
Another way to put your inner bully in his or her place is to change the subject. Literally. When we are going through periods of change, we tend to give that change all of our attention. It is very easy to become obsessed with making something happen, and that is fertile ground for your bully to jump in and take root. So at least two or three times a week, take a little time and focus on something different, hopefully something creative. It can be writing, or drawing, playing the guitar, or even knitting or a crossword puzzle. Whatever you find to be a creative outlet. By focusing on a different area of your life, you defuse the bully’s power to continually nag at you twenty-four/seven. It helps you regain a sense of perspective when you remember there is more than just one facet to a life. That is, if you want a life that sparkles.
One more way to quiet the bully is to quiet your mind. Taking time each day to slow your overall all thought process and focus on stillness is an amazing way to shut your bully down. When you recognize the bully is really just one of your own thoughts, you give yourself the power not to react or engage with negative thinking. Meditation is one way to achieve this. Prayer is another. So is a quiet walk, observing the world around you without engaging in it. A hot bath is also a favorite way to quiet and focus the mind.
There is still a lot of work to be done if we are to erase bullying in our society, just as there is a lot of work still to be done if we want to eliminate self-bullying from our lives. If you feel you are a victim of self-bullying, try some of the steps mentioned above. We all want to be happy and enjoy our lives. If you find yourself facing down your bully, you may just rediscover some of the joy you thought you had lost, or thought you didn’t deserve. And that is critical, because each of us deserves to have joy in our lives.
Ready to quiet your inner bully once and for all? Contact me for a free thirty minute consultation on just how to make that happen.