When we struggle with depression, guilt, anxiety, low self-esteem, or any other debilitating mindset or thought pattern, the natural response for many of us is to attack ourselves. We’ll snap at ourselves to “get over it” and “be normal.” We’ll tell ourselves to “stop throwing pity parties” and “get it together just like everyone else.” We’ll ask “Why can’t I just do this?” and “Why am I so weak?”
We believe we can and should bully ourselves onto a healthier path. If that doesn’t sound silly, I don’t know what does, yet I’ve used this technique myself for years.
We bully ourselves because we believe we deserve it. When someone is lazy, they often encounter harsh words and anger. When someone chooses not to keep a promise, they are met with the same. Somehow, we’ve come to equate our struggles with laziness, dishonesty, and selfishness instead of realizing what they truly are: roadblocks which allow us to grow.
Having depression doesn’t mean you’re lazy (on the contrary it takes up huge amounts of energy!), having anxiety doesn’t mean you like drama, and having low self-esteem doesn’t mean you throw pity-parties.
Bullying, as I came to understand it for myself, was fueled by shame and the inability to accept what I was going through. I didn’t want to accept I struggled. I wanted to pretend I was fine and strong and wonderful and smart like everyone else. Somehow, I’d come to equate inner struggles with weakness, and that was a false association.
Inner struggles are how we grow, and our growth depends on the way we respond. I can tell you right now that bullying yourself will not work. Just as a kid bullied at school sinks deeper into depression, bullying yourself will cycle you deeper into whatever struggles you are facing. It will not give you the tools to address and learn from those struggles.
So what do we do? Especially when the tendency to bully can be so innate and instinctive?
One thing we must do is break the cycle. I do something bad, I bully myself, I do worse, I bully more. That cycle leads ever downward. Try to become more aware of your thoughts and notice that cycle. Practices like meditation can help you better observe your thoughts and tendencies without immediately feeding into them.
You can also try replacing some of those negative, bullying words with positive, fair ones. Instead of, “I can’t believe I need another mental health day,” you can respond with, “Everyone has their own thing to overcome. Anxiety is mine, and I’m happy I’m putting self-care first.”
It’s certainly not always that easy, but maybe these ideas will get you thinking about other things you can do to bring more compassion to yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions.
Challenge!: Brainstorm for a few minutes on different ways to show yourself more compassion and get beneath the bullying thoughts. Then choose a technique and work with it this week. Maybe try meditating and observing the bullying thoughts from a distance. Perhaps pretend to interview the bullying voices and ask what they need or why they are so harsh—maybe they are trying to protect you. You could choose a mantra such as “I respect and honor myself” and say it over and over like a prayer, or you could simply choose to acknowledge the bullying thoughts (ignoring them altogether may increase their power) and then decide to say aloud something different or choose to take a loving action toward yourself.
What about you? What are your experiences with bullying yourself, and what helps you choose compassion instead?