What do I mean by your inner bully? Simply put, it is self criticism. And why would you want to put a cork in that beast? And furthermore, why bother, since no doubt you think being self critical is a valuable habit that will improve your performance and keep you safe. The paradox is that the self criticism will stop you from doing something that you fear failing at, or that might result in a painful consequence like rejection.
Recipe for Resentment
This recipe is simple. It only has two ingredients: fear and self-loathing. So you exist constantly with this self-limiting fear, and suppress your own needs in the process. That is a surefire recipe for resentment and dissappointment over the long haul.
The voice of anxiety has your ear, and oh boy does it know how to trash talk you!
What is it you are not doing when you hold yourself back? Our culture teaches that being vulnerable is a weakness, especially for men, but women get this translated early by being trained to be pleasers, or obligers, as Gretchen Rubin terms it in her book on habit change Better Than Before. Being vulnerable involves risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure.
What happens if you tell your bestie you really don’t want to go on that cruise? How will your mother in law react when you explain how her criticism undermines your parenting? Will your partner feel threatened when your express a preference for this over that in bed? Saying those things out loud takes courage—which is what being vulnerable actually demonstrates. Brené Brown’s valuable research is clear on this.
One of the driving forces behind our inner critic is to keep us safe. And this applies even when the fear is only perceived—not real. We fear the unknown. What will happen if we go to the interview for the job we don’t feel qualified for? What will happen if you tell your partner how you really feel? Your body will actually produce a chemical reaction to the mix of uncertainty and risk you feel that releases cortisol and other hormones to amp you up. It will activate your limbic system. That is when you feel the fast heart beat or the knot in the pit of your stomach.
So How Do You Unlearn Your Inner Bully?
- Learn to recognize your anxious voice when it is whispering in your ear. Increase your awareness of it when it shows up.
- Slap a label on it ASAP while gently thanking it for doing its job—it’s just trying to keep you [overly?] safe. Say “Oh hello anxiety, my friend. What’s up? What are you working so hard to protect me from?” Then wait for the answer.
- Ask your anxiety: “What if your mission is a bit out of date?” I mean, isn’t it possible you will experience a different outcome from what the old, long-stored message your brain is telling you? What if the new outcome is amazing?
- If you are about to take a big leap, maybe a couple of safety behaviors are in order. Are you safe? What happens if things don’t go as you planned? Sometimes contingency plans are a good idea, as long as they don’t become avoidance behaviors because you remain too afraid to risk.
- Actually writing out a plan is very useful. It gets your brain to stop swirling about like a whirling dervish. And you can list all of the reasons why this is a good idea. You can also list how you’ll celebrate if all goes well! And if your venture into risk does not go exactly as planned, then you have the opportunity to give yourself an attagirl for trying.
Surprise yourself. Learn that you can actually create new pathways of courage in your brain when you begin to take emotional risks. You will become more alive when you walk through life this way.
There is the very real likelihood that you will fall down on occasion, and perhaps temporarily feel a bit broken. Mistakes are the proof that you are trying! But if you choose to stay safe all of the time, you will not experience the fullness of courage, love, belonging and empowerment this stance will bring you.
So unlearn your inner critic, your inner bully. Render it impotent and fly.
If you need some help with this, I am in your neighborhood and ready to help you get started. Call or shoot me an email. Remember–the heart of this work is to practice discomfort over discontentment.