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Do You Have an Inner Bully?

Bully tripping someoneOne day, almost 20 years ago, I was standing on a corner waiting for the light to change so I could cross the street.

I was spaced out, not thinking about much of anything, when I suddenly heard a faint voice inside my head.

It wasn’t so much a voice as a feeling. But it had a definite message.

Out of nowhere, it said to me, “You suck.”

Short, but not sweet.

This was how I learned I had low self-esteem; I heard a bully talking to me, from right inside my own head!

After the bully showed herself like that, I knew something had to change.

Over time, I grew less self-critical to the point where my inner bully was replaced by an inner bystander, then an inner friend, and now I even have a part-time inner gladiator who defends against bullies, inside or out.

(But only part-time. It’s hard to get good help.)

Mostly it was being in therapy that helped me make headway.

As a therapist myself these days, I meet many people who are very much aware that they have a bully living inside their heads.

That’s the first step to overcoming self-criticism; you have to notice it to deal with it.

Some people enter therapy just to figure out how they can shut that inner bully up.

It’s easier said than done.

In this article that I wrote for GoodTherapy.org, I focus on the hidden downsides of ditching the inner bully. If you don’t address the reasons for the bully’s presence, you can’t fully commit to getting rid of it.

Here’s the post:

How to Deal with the Bully Inside Your Head

What do you think? Do you have a bully inside your head? If so, what’s worked for you in overcoming self-criticism?

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "Do You Have an Inner Bully?"

  • MB
    June 6, 2015 - 7:16 pm Reply

    Thank you for addressing the bully in our heads. I have struggled aend suffered severely with it all my life. What do you recommend when that bully picks up an actual criticism that someone else has made that we have taken on and ruminate on over and over? I swing from having extreme anxiety about the attack and believing it’s true to being angry that someone would be so mean as to shame and humiliate me. When I do eventually get over that slight, I will immediately look for another criticsm from the past and worry about that one. Sometimes it is actually an assumption of a criticism that someone is “probably” making.of me. It’s pretty continuous and it’s almost as if my bully is looking for allies to back her up. Mean ‘ol thing! I have a theory that it stems from being the youngest of five and having been actually bullied a lot, but I’d sure like it to stop now.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      June 8, 2015 - 9:12 am Reply

      MB, I always like it when people have theories about what’s going on, and why. If I were a medical doctor I would always ask my patients, “Why do you think your stomach hurts?” I think we have more wisdom about our insides than we sometimes realize.

      Kids who are bullied can develop the idea that they deserve it. That idea can be challenged as an adult, but it means paying attention to self-talk and evaluating it as an attack, rather than taking it as “truth.” Since you mentioned that you ruminate, you might want to see the post on How to Stop Ruminating on this blog.

      Good luck and thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

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