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2 Evidence-Based Ways to Handle Your Internal Bully

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We all have a playground bully in our minds. Typically first formed in childhood and then shaped by our life experiences, our internal bully calls us mean names (“loser”) and insults our character (“You’ll never amount to anything”).

For some people, this bully is just an occasional presence, easily dismissed or ignored. But for others, the bully is constantly there, berating and criticizing and belittling at top volume. If your internal bully is on an endless tirade against you, please know that you don’t have to stand there and take the abuse. This article will teach you two evidence-based techniques for handling your internal bully.

1. Talk back to the bully.

Therapists call this technique “cognitive restructuring,” and it means disputing problem thoughts instead of simply accepting them. When your bully makes a critical comment about you, stop to consider the evidence for and against this assessment.

For example, is it really 100% true that you’ve accomplished nothing in your whole life? Can you come up with any counter-examples? What about caring for your grandmother in her final years? Or holding down two part-time jobs to provide for your family? Is it possible there’s a more balanced perspective available than the harsh one the bully has offered you? If so, let the bully know that. Instead of accepting your thoughts as facts, the task of cognitive restructuring is to actively examine these thoughts and then question and challenge the ones that might be distorted.

2. Go play on the monkey bars.

Sometimes, no amount of arguing with your bully can stop its cruel rants, so you’re better off going somewhere else on the playground. This therapeutic technique is called “cognitive defusion,” and it means creating space between you and your thoughts so that you’re less bound to them.

You can try labeling the thought, “here’s body loathing again,” putting a frame around the thought, “I’m having that repetitive thought about being unlovable,” or visualizing the thought as one of many clouds traveling across the sky. Some people even find it helpful to rhyme or sing the thought until it loses its meaning. All of these are ways to put more distance between you and your bully. The point of cognitive defusion is to communicate to your mind that this thought is not something to put any energy and attention intoit’s just one of the thousands of thoughts passing through your mind every day.

Even though our internal bullies are just facets of our minds, their words can hurt us deeply and cause immense damage to our self-esteem. The next time your internal bully starts laying into you, I hope that you’ll try these two techniques. The more you practice them, the more likely you’ll one day be able to play on the playground in peace.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Originally published: February 25, 2021
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