“You largely constructed your depression. It wasn’t given to you. Therefore, you can reconstruct it.” – Albert Ellis
Like most kids who didn’t fit in, I was bullied. I took it hard, and I hardwired those grunts of abuse into my psyche.
Now, the taunts are coming from inside the house.
As an adult, no one puts masking tape in my hair for fun. But I am haunted by an arrogant, spiteful, loud-mouthed Inner Bully. And the Inner Bully is vicious.
I suffer from chronic low-grade depression and rock-bottom self-esteem. The Inner Bully takes full advantage of that.
I am high-functioning, which makes it hard to ask for help. In order to get along in the world, I often feel I have to hide my true feelings. That leaves me alone with my thoughts most of the time, and at the mercy of the Inner Bully.
My interior monologue is a drill sergeant set on breaking my spirit. It knows all my sore spots and heaps abuse on me no matter what I say, do, or think.
If I am suffering, it’s because I am too sensitive and weak to handle the harsh truths of the world, which means I deserve to feel bad. If I am not suffering, I should be. If I don’t like myself, it’s because there is nothing in my insignificant mediocrity worth liking. If something good is happening, I will screw it up, because that’s the sort of loser I am.
It’s a repetitive, cliched stream of insults. I sit there and take it because I must be too weak and stupid to defend myself. It’s a pointless, endless, redundant redundancy.
As with any bully, to engage is to concede. I can’t win as long as I play by the bully’s rules. Fortunately, I don’t have to do that.
The Inner Bully is a brute and meathead. He is not an intellectual heavyweight.
Bullies depend on manipulative rhetoric and a thin illusion of high status. They are vulnerable to anyone smart enough to understand their toolkit and disarm them through humor and spontaneity. They live in fear of being outsmarted.
With the right psychological tactics, you can use the Inner Bully’s strength against it and reclaim its power for yourself. Here are a few tricks I use to outsmart the Inner Bully.
Try On a Completely Different Belief System for One Hour
If you’re a pessimist, spend exactly one hour rethinking each of your thoughts the way an optimist would. If you are a liberal, try being a conservative. If you are a cat, pretend you are a dog. You don’t need to take any action. You just need to revise your own thoughts from an entirely fresh perspective, for sixty minutes.
This is all about noticing the way you think and process information. If you consider what seemed true for you ten years or ten days ago, versus what seems true now, you’ll notice that reality take the shape of your chosen container. You’ll also begin to notice the system of beliefs that gives the Inner Bully its power.
Imagine how a different person might react to the Inner Bully’s abuse. And then pretend to be that person, in full, for one hour. You don’t need to keep this new worldview, but you may find that parts of it suit you better than what you’re used to.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a sense of what I should and shouldn’t take seriously. This sense grows stronger as I make a habit of testing my beliefs.
Write 750 Words
This exercise began as “Morning Pages” in Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. Write three pages, or about 750 words, without stopping. Do this every day.
Cameron insisted on longhand writing, but there is a digital version, 750words.com, that maintains the spirit of the exercise for people more comfortable with screens.
Start writing. Keep writing as if your pants are on fire and, at the end of page three, there is a bucket of ice-cold water. Just go.
If your Inner Bully is anything like mine, it will show up and tell you, you can’t do this correctly. Let the Inner Bully take over and give it free rein. Write out the Inner Bully’s monologue verbatim. Turn it from a subject into an object. Get it out of your head.
When I reread some of my Inner Bully’s writing, I noticed that inspected in tranquility, it read like satire. The Inner Bully’s words were so overheated and contained so many silly assumptions and contradictions that they made me laugh out loud.
It’s not as easy to take abuse from an inner voice when has all the dignity and integrity of a cartoon bad guy.
You may not think of yourself as a great writer, but give yourself some credit. With the Inner Bully, you have created a remarkable villain. This character in your head has the ability to inflict stinging pain.
Listen to the Inner Bully’s voice. What does it sound like? How would it sound if the voice were different? Would that take away some of its power?
I find that, by giving the Inner Bully a different voice, I can transform it from a scary bad guy into a comic oaf. See how this monologue sounds in the voice of a lisping blowhard like Donald Duck, or a strange and ridiculous character like Betty Boop.
By changing the way you hear the Inner Bully, you can bring yourself closer to seeing it for what it is. You will remind yourself that you control it, not the other way around.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Imagine, for a moment, that everything the Inner Bully says is true.
If you’re going into a job interview, the Inner Bully will probably tell you that you will make a fool of yourself and it will be a horrible experience. So let yourself imagine how bad it could possibly be.
As you walk into the chilly conference room, you realize that you are wearing clown paint and you have forgotten to put on your pants. Along with the HR director, you are greeted by all of your exes, each holding a can of silly string. The room is on fire, and when you point this out, everyone treats you as though you are losing your mind.
This wouldn’t be a good job interview experience, but it would make a pretty great story.
“Yes, And” is the core technique in improvisational comedy. Say “yes” to everything. Take what the other player offers and build on it. Then keep going. Take it to its illogical conclusion, where the every day becomes the surreal, and you can shift your perspective and amaze yourself.
You’re a loser? Fine! Think of how you can be the biggest loser that ever lost. You can undermine the power of the Inner Bully by taking it at its word and turning those words into a joke.
Humans often surprise themselves with how much grace they can muster when the pressure gets heavy. Prepare for the worst, and more mundane challenges will be a cakewalk.
Turn the Tables, Critique the Critic
If the Inner Bully has this sort of power to rain oppressive judgment on you, it must be very smart and wise. Well, where does it get its information? What do you know about the Inner Bully and what can you find out?
The Inner Bully is part of you – look for an external presence and you won’t find anything. The bully has determined that you are bad and wrong. So what gives the bully the power to make that judgment in the first place?
If you are as incompetent and stupid as the bully has led you to believe, and the bully is part of you, that implies that the bully isn’t all that trustworthy. So maybe it’s a good idea to call off the whole business.
What Does the Inner Bully Really Want?
Somewhere, deep down, the Inner Bully has a positive intention. It wants to protect you from hurt and shame. It wants to toughen you up and make you a stronger person. It is just going about this in a painful and counterproductive way.
Ask why. Then ask why again. And again. Keep asking why until you find out how the Inner Bully is there to serve you, and what useful advice it has to offer.
Find how the Inner Bully is there to serve you & what useful advice it has. @emersondameron (Click to Tweet!)
Then, you can thank the Inner Bully for years of loyal service, give it a generous retirement package with a pension and a condo in Nevada, and send it on its way, never to be heard from again.
If you are afraid to ask others for help, you can ask your own inner voices, the ones you don’t hear from as often as the Inner Bully. The Inner Bully is a humorless authoritarian, but it is not the only inner voice you have. It thinks it makes the rules, but the rules can change. Change is the only constant, and the Inner Bully’s power is never secure. Use your creativity to challenge it until it reveals what it really wants from you.
Image courtesy of Momonater.