by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW
My children had their first experience with a bully this week. They told me stories of an older boy scratching, kicking and grabbing them in the swimming pool. Visions of violence towards a minor filled my head.
They were attending a day camp for spring break. I spoke with a camp counselor, a young woman who looked utterly bored when I explained my concerns.
“They tell me the bullying is happening at the pool,” I said.
“Well…I don’t work in the pool,” she said.
“Could you tell a staff member who does?”
“Yeah,” she said, stretching and yawning.
I resisted the urge to shriek and instead requested to meet with the director. I’m happy to report that he listened carefully, discussed the matter with the staff, discussed it with the kids, separated the boy from my boys, and thus (insert sound of wood being knocked upon) took care of the situation.
Ah, external problems! Would that all of life’s challenges were so simple to solve. I’m not trying to diminish the real emotional impact of bullies, who can damage self worth and safety long into adulthood.
But for most of us grownups the worst bully, the biggest monster in our collective closet, is the bully in our head. The one who criticizes all we do and judges our best effort as worthless. People will often say things to themselves that they wouldn’t dream of saying to their worst enemy, much less a friend.
And unlike the child who was attacking my children in the swimming pool, we often don’t recognize self bullying because it happens invisibly and silently. Self bullying is self talk run riot.
I have written about self talk before, but it is a topic that bears the repetition of a refrain. Quite simply, there is nothing more important than this direct pipeline into and out of our subconscious: Imagine there is a place inside that is young and frightened and in need of comforting. There is. What should you do about it? Would you strike a crying baby? Of course not! Be kind to you. Say nice things to you, about you, and for you. Positive self talk is like applying baking soda to acid: it neutralizes the inner bully.
Do it a lot, over and over, until it feels good and true. And then, keep going. Far from inflating you and making you vain, positive self talk makes you healthy enough so that you can be emotionally available to others as well as yourself.