How to shut down a bully

Even when that bully is in your head.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Who are we kidding? We are human, and words hurt. I don’t know about you, but far too often I value other people’s opinions much more than my own.

If I’m honest with myself, everything I have done in my life has been partly for me, but mostly to gain approval and acceptance from those around me. From my parents, to my teachers, to my peer group.

Saying that out loud makes it sound like they all must have been demanding, and that I have absolutely no mind of my own. Which isn’t true. It is just that I have a very strong ‘pleaser’ within me. I have always wanted to make those around me feelgood. So I have always done things that I think will make them feelgood.

I don’t think that makes me a bad person. Or even unusual. Come on… you know you have a pleaser in you!

But as I grow older I realise that this is not the way I want to continue living.

I used to believe I was empathetic. But more often than not my idea of what someone else may be feeling is based upon nothing more than my imagination.

And after a lifetime of imagining what other people may or may not be feeling, my imagination is very strong. In fact, she has become so strong that she ruthlessly dictates what I do and how I behave.

My imagination is at best ‘bossy’, and at worst a complete bully.

And the transition between the two can be scarily fast!

It can start with a simple thought like:

“No. Don’t go sit over there with them. You don’t want to disturb them.”

and quickly escalate to

“You lazy, worthless, piece of shit. You think they want to spend time with you? You are fat, disgusting, and completely uninteresting. They are probably laughing at you right now.”

These words sound ridiculous, written down. But when the bully gets going she is relentless and pretty darn nasty. She knows exactly how to push my buttons, and ruin my day completely.

Which is why I am having to create and practice strategies to handle her, and shut her down completely. It is an ongoing process, one I face everyday. But over time the process gets easier and easier.

So how do I shut down a bully?

1. Acknowledge her

“Hey. I see you there.”

For a long time my strategy was simply to try ignore my bully. And sometimes, when you just need to get things done, you can ignore her for a little while. But be warned… you can’t ignore her indefinitely.

If a bully doesn’t get attention it can lead to more and more aggressive behaviour in order to command your attention. So the sooner you deal with her the easier it will be.

2. Show an interest

“How are you? Why all the angst? What is it that’s got you all worked up?”

My inner bully is part of me. And she has gotten worked up for a reason. If I can understand what has triggered her, it will better help me calm her down. And armed with a better insight into what is going on I might even be able to prepare for or even prevent flare ups in the future.

Did something happen to trigger the onslaught? What does my bully believe about the situation? What events have led her to hold those beliefs? Are they really true? Or is it possible that she jumped to a conclusion to try and protect herself.

3. Say thank you and goodbye

“I’m really glad we had the chance to chat. I know that in your own way you are just trying to protect me, but I’ve got to go now.

And with that I go over and sit with the people who she is adamant were laughing at me. Because the truth is rarely as bad as I imagine. In fact most times it is the complete opposite. And the more I show the bully that her fears aren’t actually real, the less ammunition and power she has against me.

So what about you? Do you ever face a tough inner critic or bully? If so when is she most likely to come out to play? And what can you do to shut her down?


  1. Nigel

    Thanks for sharing:)
    I like your way of dealing with her, you have some wonderful insight Cat

    • Cat Townsend

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Patricia

    Wow Cat! I also have a bully in my mind. Thanks for the insight. It could have been me writing this post. If I had been as talented as you to express myself.

    • Cat Townsend

      I know you to be particularly talented Patricia, so maybe it’s just that you just haven’t needed to express yourself so publicly at this stage. 🙂

      It’s good to know that other people do experience these things though. Sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me for having these thoughts. Other times I simply worry that there is something wrong with me for ‘sharing’ these thoughts.

      • Patricia

        Ha ha, I know the feeling. I actually have a blog… so it might be something wrong… or not… with me as well.


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