Meryl Streep’s words at the Golden Globes struck a note. They made me think not only about people who bully other people, but also about bullying voices that occupy some people’s minds. In her speech, Streep said: “This instinct to humiliate…gives permission for other people to do the same. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”
Streep may have been talking about President Trump’s imitation of a disabled reporter. Yet, whatever your personal politics are, there is a deeper significance in her words. We all lose when a tone of bullying exists anywhere, because it comes with the presumption that some are better than others. To be seen as less, or not as good, can be devastating to self-confidence and morale.
There’s a movement of awareness against bullying in our country. The effects on vulnerable young people who are subjected to humiliation have become clearer. When you don’t have the confidence to stand up to a bully, especially internally, you can easily end up believing the bully’s words.
I see many people in my office with mocking voices in their minds. These bully voices have an extremely demeaning kind of rhetoric: “You’re overrated. There’s nothing good about you. No one wants you. You’re a loser. Look at what a failure you are. You’re ugly. You’re fat. You’re unlovable.” It’s propaganda, but it seems all too real. If you have a bully in your mind, you likely expect judgment or shame wherever you go.
Combating the bully voice takes a lot of work (and often help in therapy). You must realize this bully is not your ally. That may sound strange, but these bully voices often try to make you think they’re on your side: “I’m keeping you safe. Build up a wall against anyone who might hurt you. Stay in your cocoon. Don’t be so stupid to let anyone in. No one will love you, they’ll only leave you; opening up is not worth the risk.”
These words might sound logical if you’ve already been hurt. But, they’re not. The bully voice uses the past as predictive of the future. It makes you feel that everyone has failed you, you’ll be failed again – and only the bully can help. “I’ll fix it,” it tells you. Don’t trust anyone else.” But, really, it’s the bully voice that can’t be trusted.
If you have a bully in your mind, there are some very fundamental things to learn: Don’t take what it says as the gospel truth. Stand up to it and fight. And, if you can’t, get some help to stop all that self-criticism. Self-love trumps self-hate every time.