It’s National Bullying Prevention Month. For those of us with children who struggle socially, we know how important it is to raise awareness about the dangers of bullying in the veritable playground of children’s lives.
But, what about adults? Is bullying a relevant discussion for us? We’ve all heard about Cyber-Bullying, Road Rage, and workplace Anger Management issues (grown-up language for bullying behavior). Bullying is one of those themes that starts in childhood and persists throughout our lives.
The worst bully, though, is the one who resides within us. That’s the hardest one to avoid – and the ONLY one you can actually do something to change!
I confess to being a big, bad bully. Not necessarily to my friends (who definitely get the kindest me), or to my family (at least, I hope not). I don’t scream a lot, and I make an effort not to avoid controlling others. That’s not the kind of bully I’m talking about.
Where I lack compassion, however, is for myself. If I spoke to my friends or family the way I speak to myself, all too often, I’d be identified as someone to fear or avoid.
So, I’m a bully. So are you, by the way. And no bully is more dangerous than the one who lies within.
Most of us live with an internal bully, the ultimate gremlin voice who tells us what we’re doing wrong, and how we can do no right. (Diane wrote a great blog on this. See: Silence.) It is a common refrain for me to tell my clients to “Put the Stick Down.”
Really, have you ever noticed how much time you spend hitting yourself over the head?
“I’m such an idiot.” “How could I have been so stupid?” “What was I thinking!” or maybe, “I can’t do anything right.” “There’s no way I can do that,” or “Why would they want me, anyway?”
Of course, the bully does not act alone. Like Malfoy and his goons in Harry Potter, the internal bully is protected and energized by the world of popular culture — television, movies, magazines, etc.
Consider those messages of the pop culture – you should be… thinner, smoother, smarter, sexier. It doesn’t matter what should be more, our internal critic only wants to remind you that you are not all that!
Our gremlins internalize these social images, and then cruelly turn them back on us like the button on a bomb—it’s going to explode, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
So how do you tame the bully within?
- First, recognize it. Pay attention to the messages you tell yourself. If you hear yourself saying things you’d never say to someone you love, then stop. What’s true? Are you really stupid, or did you make an honest mistake? Don’t let your bully get away with speaking lies and pretending they’re truth.
- Second, commit to failing forward. When you vow to learn from your mistakes without making yourself “bad,” you’ll disarm your inner critic. Mistakes are a critical part of the learning process. Cut yourself some slack.
- Third, stop making excuses, or blaming others. When you begin to take responsibility for your “stuff,” it becomes simple to separate the “stuff” from your personal worth. When you “own your stuff,” you’ll earn greater respect from others, and you’ll naturally start to put the stick down. In other words: accept life’s “whoops” factor: mistakes happen.
For pop culture-induced bullying, try curiosity. You might want to pretend to be a reporter and ask yourself, “Is it REALLY true that everyone else is thinner and smarter than me?” Substitute your particular gremlin voice, but you get the idea.
The bottom line, here, is that you can change a bully’s behavior when that bully is you. When you do, you’ll teach your children to do the same. Now THAT’s what I call standing up to a bully!
Note: A variation of this blog originally appeared on ShareWIK.com, where Elaine writes a regular column called “Living on Purpose.”