The self is such a paradox. On the one hand, it’s perhaps our greatest differentiator from all the species that share our planet. It allows us to plan our future, deliberate and decide, control our emotions and connect with empathy and compassion.
But it’s also is a personal tormentor, bombarding us with brutal and demeaning chatter, often for the most minute of personal flaws. This is because its world is about the self, but not in isolation. Its concerns are about its reputation, and hence rife with social comparison. Its self-evaluations lie in approval, and are intricately intertwined with the subtle messages of its environment.
Combine this with the evolutionary tendency to focus on the negative, and we’re all drifting through life’s journey with an inner commentary box that makes us feel insecure and keeps us from opening up to life’s possibilities.
Challenging it and arguing with it has its place. But given that it’s largely a product of the emotional right brain, logic and rationality are often a waste of time and energy. Instead, knowing that it’s the essential byproduct of our rise to the top of the food chain will allow you to pay little heed to its spiteful and mindless chatter and move on with what’s important in life.
Recognize the Critical Voice
This is perhaps the most important step. The inner bully has likely been with you for very long and it’s easy to mistake its voice for your own. The ability to take a pause will give you just the time you need to distance yourself from it and acknowledge the experience for what it is—a passing moment of anger, insecurity or fatigue. You may want to bring curiosity to it by asking yourself: “Interesting that I feel this way. I wonder why.”
Connect to a Larger Purpose
Without needing to banish, rationalize or challenge your inner bully, all of which expend precious mental energy, remind yourself of your larger purpose. You can ask yourself: “In this situation where I’m rejecting myself for my apparent flaws, what is the one thing I really want to achieve that’ll make a difference?” The science of positive psychology shows that it’s by connecting to something that’s outside our “ego-system” that we live a life of meaning and fulfillment.
Let Go of Its Mindless Chatter
Once you place the incident in the larger scheme of things and compare it to the bigger dreams that excite and fulfill you, it will be easier to let go of it. To move past negativity and anger, you may want to remind yourself that your inner bully is there for a reason—it protected you at a time when you were vulnerable. But it has outlived its value and you’re no longer the weak and helpless child you once were. Thank it and let it go.
Breathe into It with Compassion
Needless to say, the inner bully won’t leave that fast, or actually leave at all. Unlike the playground bully who’ll find others to pick on, the inner bully has nowhere else to go. It’ll throw a fit, become louder, or speak through painful bodily sensations. This is when breathing into it with compassion helps. Focus on where it hurts and as you breathe in, you may say to yourself: “I’m safe and all is well”. As you breathe out, say to your bully: “You can sit back and calm down” as you imagine its chatter getting more and more distant. Nurture a Wiser Voice In his book, The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg writes that successful change lies in replacing old habits with empowering ones. The inner bully is a habit—the result of years of strengthening its condescending pathways. It’s now time to replace its voice—but which voice would you choose? What would you want to say to yourself to feel secure, capable and lovable? By practicing this voice often, you’ll make it your new self-talk so that you have the strength to live a life true to your authentic dreams.
Letting go not only saves mental energy, it allows us to focus our attention on what really matters. And what matters is always far bigger and brighter than the trivial concerns and egocentric thoughts of an inner bully that is desperate for little other than a loud argument and wasted attention.