Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Inner Bully

“Why aren’t you more careful?”

“You’re an idiot.”

"You’re such a loser.”

I got bullied the other day at work. You would think that someone with my background wouldn’t have a problem with bullies.  People often joke with me when they find out I have multiple black belts with comments like, “Note to self, be nice to Richard.”  Yes, somebody actually said that.

But, the person that bullied me was just as accomplished as me in the martial arts.  In fact, he has taken the very same classes as me.  He holds the same rank and is in every way my equal.  You guessed it, the bully was me and I was the target.  The bully was my inner bully.  There are other names for this person such as “the critical voice” or “inner parent”.  But the commonality amongst them is a complete intolerance for my being human and showing human weaknesses.  This is true, to a greater or lesser extent, in all of us.

One day a few weeks ago, I was tasked with several high priority assignments that I knew nothing about prior to coming in to work that day.  With very little preparation, I began to work on the tasks in order of importance.  But, I began to run up against a time limit.  I had to leave work early in order to pick up my son from school.  I had prearranged this with my supervisor, who is sensitive to my family commitments.  I worked faster, put more pressure on myself and then I began to cut corners.  I failed to have a document proofread prior to sending it out.  In my haste I did not see some very glaring errors.  I was quickly made aware of the mistakes by some understanding colleagues.  Retractions and corrections were made and there was very little problem in the company except inside my own head.

I began to beat myself up for my mistakes and honestly suffered a mild depression for about two days.  Eventually, I got mad at my inner bully, put him back in his place and got on with my life.  It was then that I had an epiphany.

I have often read comments attached to news articles on the web about the young people that commit bullycide (suicide in response to extreme bullying) to the effect that the target was weak and probably would have found some other reason to do something to themselves if it wasn’t for the bully.  I didn’t want to believe these rather heartless commenters until I realized that they were almost right.

It isn’t the bully that kills these children.  They, figuratively speaking, provide the gun.  But, it is the inner bully that pulls the trigger.  When children are in their teen years they become increasingly outer directed, especially with their peers.  They are no longer as interested in what Mom and Dad say.  After all, they love me because they are too stupid to know what I am really like.  To most of us, this is just a passing phase that we grow through.

But, to those children who are absolutely outer directed, who need the opinions of others in order to create any kind of a self image, negative input will be mulled over thousands and thousands of times until that is the only voice they hear.  If the comments from their peers are extremely negative or if there is a threat of violence against which the target feels defenseless, the inner bully will drone on until nothing is left of their self-esteem or self-respect and they ultimately feel they are doing the world a favor by removing their presence from it.

Let’s not be mistaken, this is the devil’s voice (or something analogous to it) that these children are hearing.  It speaks incessantly and will drive anyone who listens to it insane.  Couple this with the fact that bullies can reach their targets even at home through the use of cyberbullying , it is no wonder that teen suicide seems to reaching epidemic proportions.

The only way to combat this negative din is with a positive message of love, understanding and positive reinforcement.  Once again, it is the responsibility of the adults in each child’s life to be aware about what is going on in their world.  We cannot sit idly by if we know that a child is taking everything they hear about them directly to heart.

If you know someone that is in depression, thinking about committing suicide, or is in the midst of doing it; these are the two things you should say to them:
  •  We will get through this together.
  • You are needed right here, right now.
The first statement tells them they are not alone.  That at the very least they have you to depend upon.  The second tells them that they have a purpose in this world and that they need to fulfill that purpose.  It also tells them that they are loved by others and those others need them.

Only with the power of consistent, powerful and loving actions for all these children (bullies, targets and bystanders) can we hope to begin to counteract this deadly disease.  We are responsible to be the role models that children look up to.  We must be a shining example so that they can see us and know that the world can get better.  That there is hope, that we are that hope and that they are that hope too.

1 comment:

Milan Richard Milenkovich said...

My wife, Cynthia Milenkovich has some interesting comments that support the original post.

Some other facts about teens that come into play--neurologically speaking, their brain bio-chemistry is very similar to that of a three-year-old. I learned this in an educational neurology class I took when I was working on a special education credential. That being said, we now know that when raising up a three-year-old negative messages--in other words--negative reinforcement is far less effective than positive reinforcement in training behaviors. Seems that in the mind of a teen, with all of the puberty hormones in flux, negative messaging resonates and resonates. The volatile nature of the pubescent brain chemistry and growth chemistry may be a contributing factor as to why they are so vulnerable and why so many in this age range seek bully-cide as a solution to negative messaging.

These same factors may drive the pubescent bully to be more caustic and impulsive in their approach. In their case, perhaps making them quicker and deadlier--like young rattlesnakes who cannot control their venom.

All the more reason to focus on this age group for behavior modification and social facilitation. As you've suggested, if we can teach a kid how to get the target off their back, they can shield themselves and others from attack.