The Secret Bully

As Iʼm sure many of you have noticed, there has been a ton of education, awareness, and discussion on the topic of “Bullying” in the news and media recently. While the concept of bullying is not new, it seems there is a powerful movement developing by people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, and gender identities who are screaming loud and clear “We are sick and tired of this and will not put up with it anymore!!!!”

There are many types of bullies and the unfortunate reality is that most people have been bullied at some point in their lives whether it was subtle or extreme. Some of the more obvious ideas that come to mind are children being bullied by peers, minorities being bullied, and adults bullying one another to get their way, feel powerful, etc. As you read this article, think about any personal experiences you have had with bullying even if they were not directly targeting you. Perhaps you are a parent who has been terrorized by witnessing one of your children being bullied. Many of us have also experienced being bullied by peers, lovers, colleagues, bosses, etc.

It is likely that any of the incidents you have identified have deeply impacted your self-esteem and have been a contributing factor and ongoing trigger in your eating disorder. If you havenʼt looked at and worked through these incidents in therapy, it will be critical to do so at some point when you are ready. That said, all of the above are what I refer to as the “External Bullies.” They are external from you as the bullying is being committed by other people.

What happens when we have these experiences is that we internalize much of how the external bullies make us feel and begin to believe the cruel things they may have said. At this point, these ways of feeling and thinking become a part of YOU. I refer to this as the “Internal Bully.” Yes, this is also ED (also known as eating disorder), but make no mistake. Many of the thoughts and feelings you suffer with as a result of this internal bully may often go unnoticed by you as you have become so accustomed to them.

When you recall any of your experiences with bullying, think about what you may wish you had said to that bully at the time. Think about how you have felt when you have seen others being bullied. I recommend taking a moment to write down one or more of these incidents, what thoughts you had and may still live with, and what feelings came up for you.

As you consider this, think about or write down what you would have said or would say now if this is currently happening. This is how you begin to stand up to the internal bully. The awareness that often the way we think and feel about ourselves is NOT our truth, but rather a history of external and internal bullying is Step 1. Step 2 is becoming more aware of when the internal bully is beating you up. Step 3 is experimenting with saying to yourself or writing down what you would say to this bully if it was another person treating you this way.

As with any work that you will do in recovery, this takes time, patience, and practice but it is also an important part of the healing process.