Our internal bully


We all know about the bully, we are inundated with literature on what bullying is, who is a bully, technically what you should do if you are being bullied and who to report bullying to. The bully is the mean kid in the school yard, the tyrannical boss, the cyber coward behind a computer screen but what about the invisible bully that lives in your head? Perhaps it is time to consider this invisible bully and the impact that not addressing it has had on how we see and hear the world.

The most pernicious bully there is, is the bully that lives in your head.


​You know those voices that tell us we are fat, we are ugly, we should have done better, question if we were good enough, what others will think, if we are up ourselves, tell us to be better, tell us don’t be so great, go kill yourself and so on and so on and so on? When we think of all the mean and nasty things we can say to and about ourselves, we really need to question where it is coming from and how it is possible for us to speak to ourselves in this way. ​

Imagine if someone else was speaking to us like that, would we really allow it?

​Would we just accept it? Or would there be a part of us that would say, whether out loud or not, “Hey it is not okay to speak to me like that”. Chances are, we would speak up. So why don’t we censor that bully in our own head? Why do we continue to allow it to talk to us as if everything it says is an absolute truth? But wait, it gets worse, not only do we not silence it, we start to believe that others are confirming what it is saying. The bully in our head warps our hearing so when other people speak, we hear it through the cloud of abuse that we are already saying to ourselves. For example, your internal bully is always telling you, you are overweight and need to lose weight and then someone asks, “did you cut your hair?” and you automatically think critically, “why, is my face round?” Your inner bully will never say “Hey, they like my hair cut, I agree, I look great!” No, your critical inner bully takes anything and everything as a negative and even makes you apologise for yourself. In your next sentence, you hear yourself say back “yeah I know this hair cut makes my face look fat.” If you stopped long enough you would see the look on the person’s face, they have no idea what you are talking about! They may express that confusion, or they may not, depending on what their inner bully has to say… Conversely, if the person you are talking to contradicts the critical inner bully, as in, they have good things to say about you, then our inner bully challenges that, such as, “they are wrong,” “they don’t really know me,” perhaps, “they have to say that because they are my parent,” or, “that is my counsellor, of course they are going to say nice things.” The inner bully will have anything and everything to say to offset the positive that is being said – an inner combat that you can’t seem to win. Is this a way to live? ​

Do we not have a responsibility to ourselves and others to shut down that inner bully?

​As you can see, the impact on us when we allow this inner bully to continue is harsh! Our self-esteem and confidence suffers, our ability to care for ourselves suffers, our ability to engage with, and commit to the world suffers. We, in general, become lesser versions of ourselves with the constant diatribe from that inner bully, we are worn down and our care for ourselves and others pays the ultimate price. ​

So how does our inner bully impact on others – I am only hurting myself ... right?

Wrong! If we are being hard on ourselves then we will naturally be hard on others. It is impossible to treat another differently to how we are with ourselves. We may seem to be more tolerant, loving and accepting of another, yet there will be a point where our ability to express our care and love is capped and worse, we may find that we become irrational, critical, judgemental or harsh for no apparent reason. ​

Not only that, the bully in our head makes us ‘central station’, as life becomes all about us.

Our world becomes centralised and focussed to the point that we lose sight of others and what must be going on for them or what it is that they are truly trying to say or express, because our internal bully is making everything come back to us. When we clock that when we are living with a bully 24/7, we can’t but lose focus on others, because our own, and another’s inner bully, keeps us separated, they keep us focussed on ourselves and lacking in the ability to consider what is going on for the other. This is the same as in war; there is no time or space for others, the battle for survival is far too strong. We are in a constant state of stress and or anxiety. This starts to bring some understanding to the fact that we feel we are in a never-ending battle to keep ourselves safe. We are constantly on alert to what else can come in and hurt us. In reality, we have an innate yearning to be with others, love others and support others. But if our world has taught us to protect ourselves and shutdown, constantly reinforced by the internal conflict and battle, we stop wanting to connect to others and instead, we put ourselves into protection and self-preservation mode. All of this at the expense of being able to feel, sense and connect with others and what may be going on for them and what they may need support with. Perhaps it is an opportunity to stop and consider what is going on for someone else, as in, why they may be speaking or acting in a certain way. In truth, it may have nothing to do with us after all, but all to do with their own inner bully and internal conflict and battle to remain safe. ​ How are we able to support ourselves or others if we cannot see past these internal bullies and the barriers they create? The challenge of not recognising the inner bully and the abuse we accept as normal, means that we can’t recognise when abuse is being directed towards ourselves or another because we have a standard of abuse towards ourselves that prevents us from viewing abuse as abuse.  We may call out the extremes of abuse to another, but the subtle layers and the root of the abuse goes unchecked because it is not recognised in our own behaviour. In that case, even when you call out abuse for another, sometimes it doesn’t change anything. Case in point, consider how our politicians act, Politicians strive to make policy about bullying and abuse, yet, the way they act towards each other in parliament is nothing short of abusive and bullying. How can we have bullying policies that work when those that are implementing that policy, those that are setting the standards, do not live by or act according to those policies and standards themselves. This double-standard makes more sense when you consider that we have not been taught to address this inner bully and the vile abuse we throw at ourselves. Therefore, when politicians, police and even teachers for that matter, call out abuse for us and make policies around it, there is only so much we listen to, or so much that will change, because the lived example, as in the foundation it is set in, is not solid. Have you ever tried to get someone to clean their room when your room is also messy? Or our all-time favourite, telling someone to stop shouting whilst you are shouting at them to stop shouting…yep… it doesn’t work!

The long and short of it is: If we have not considered how we speak to ourselves and clocked the tone and phrasing of our own inner bully, it is going to be a given that at some point we are going to bully another because the language and behaviour we use towards ourselves will not be considered abusive, it will be considered ‘normal’

Practical Tips to deal with the Internal Bully

  1. Question yourself, if someone else was speaking to you like that would you allow it, if the answer is No, then Say No to the voice that harms you.

  2. Question yourself, would you speak to someone else like that, if the answer is No, then say No to the internal Bully and send him/her on their way

  3. Question yourself would you talk to a precious child like that, if the Answer is No, then it is No.

  4. And finally, regardless of whether you use tips 1, 2 or 3, always adjust your body, adjust your movements. Negative thoughts and thinking have a way of making us move in a defeated, slumped given up way. You will notice that when you are having negative thoughts, you are not moving your body in a supportive way. Always correct your posture, shift your movement and you will find it will be easier to shift your negative thoughts and send the Internal Bully on its way.

Important note:


Tips 1 to 3 support us to Challenge our Negative thinking. Questions 1 to 3 are important because they support you to rationalise your thoughts, support you to see that they are far too harsh and, in essence, don’t make sense. But because they are “ours” and they have been said over and over, we consider them to be “normal” and we stop challenging them. Some people even express to zoning out from that voice, expressing that the insidious whispering becomes so intrusive, they desensitise themselves to the point that they ignore it altogether. Imagine what that is like, having a constant bully on your shoulder and giving up to the point that you don’t even recognise it is there. Imagine that playing out in a movie and watching that occur. Imagine what that would do to your self-esteem, confidence and love for self. We always need to challenge them because that voice, that internal bully does not play fair and will never give you anything positive about yourself. To change this, you have to actively work on it, just like you would if the bully was human. ​

Tip 4 looks at behaviour change: changing your movements is a very important step and the first one to pay attention to. Watch how you move, sit and walk when you are having negative thoughts and pay attention to how you move, walk and sit when you are free from the Internal Bully. You will find that when you are free from negative thoughts your body has more of an ease and flow, start to enjoy this so that when the bully comes you are more likely to send him/her packing because you can feel the negative impact the bullying thoughts are having on your movements and hence body. Just like if a real bully was in front of you, your movements and posture would change, you would go into anxiety, panic and or stress, all of which puts the body into hard protective behaviours, this is no different to when that bully enters your head. The more aware of your body you are the more aware you will be when the Internal Bully enters your space.


If you enjoyed this article, read more on The Basics of Communication, or our audio on criticism in families.

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Have you ever found the 'rule book' doesn't fit your child or family. So did we. So we decided to make a website that offered practical skills to build a way of living that could be responsive to whatever might present itself in family life.

That way rather than needing a 'rule book' there is a sense of being equipped to deal with whatever situation is in front of you.

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