My 10-year-old is getting bullied at school. I cannot tell you how much distress this causes me, as her mom. My heart breaks for her and I lose sleep trying to figure out how to make the situation better. I feel, in turns, angry, desperate, protective, worried, and deeply sad. It is crushing to see her come home from school, several days a week, in tears, as she recounts the latest relentless insults and taunts. She feels anxious each morning before school, as she tries to anticipate how she may be bullied that day. Despite strategies we’ve brainstormed to diffuse and deal with the situation, the bullying continues. I am watching my daughter’s self-confidence and worth shake before my eyes. This is absolutely unacceptable to me and I will do anything to preserve her confidence and build her up.
As I’ve been ruminating on this bully situation, a sad irony struck me.
Our 10-year-old Bully
How often are the bullies in our lives, ourselves? How often are those taunts and insults not coming from without, but from within? In fifth grade, the taunts my daughter gets are not especially unique. The most common insult is “you are so stupid!” and “You are dumb!” How often are those the exact tapes that play inside our own minds? And likely with even harsher labels attached?
And who is there to defend our inner-10-year-old? From ourselves?
Each of us has an inner-10-year-old. Before you roll your eyes, hang with me a second. That 10-year-old may show up in different ways but they’re in there. Mine is playful, fanciful, and sensitive. She is bold and a dreamer and believes the world is hers to conquer. I love that side of myself. And she is worthy of my protection and care.
I’ve worked for years on self-compassion and have come a long way. I used to have a very harsh bully inside of me, who was loud and ever-present. Through a lot of deliberate effort and time, that voice has long since gone quiet and infrequent. But this situation with my daughter has revealed more work in that area.
While I don’t bully myself anymore, I notice that I can expend so much energy and love on behalf of my daughter but that same love and attention would feel foreign and unfamiliar in regards to myself. I have lessons to learn on how to be my own advocate and ally.
We are all on journeys and each of us has made progress in different ways. I would wager that none of our progress can be attributed to beating up on ourselves…although this is a common misconception. Just as it is common sense that bullying deeply hurts people, it also makes sense that bullying ourselves only serves to hurt us. And I suspect that you are similar to me, in that, you didn’t lose any sleep worrying that you were being too mean to yourself.
But maybe we can change that. Maybe we can send ourselves some of the energy, protection, and love that we would send on behalf of someone dear to us, that was in need of that energy, protection, and love.
If rallying, on behalf of yourself, feels too much of stretch at this point in time. A place to start in this process is to turn down the volume on the harsh critic that resides inside.
Strategies to turn down the volume include:
- Notice the ways in which we speak to ourselves that may be harsh, cruel, and unhelpful.
- A lot of times harsh tapes are playing the background and we don’t even notice they are there anymore because they have been playing for so long. Tuning back into the message to build awareness of its content and influence is a first step in relinquishing its hold on us.
- Practice mindfulness
- Non-judgmentally observe that this is a pattern showing up for you. “Oh, there I go again” and “That’s a familiar thought.”
- Recognize that thoughts are not facts. You can do this by saying some helpful things like, “Thoughts are not truth tellers” and “The story I am telling myself is..”
- Decide to no longer give those thoughts energy.
- This can be difficult because those thoughts feel I’m not asking you to go to battle with yourself and offer alternatives like, “I’m not a loser, I’m amazing!” In the midst of distress, thoughts like that can feel far reaching and difficult to believe. Instead, I’m asking you to relinquish the energy you spend on unhelpful, harsh thoughts. You can do this by saying things like, “That thought doesn’t serve me” and “that’s not where I want to spend my energy.”
As you work to turn down the volume, you open the possibility to play a new tape; a tape that is more adaptive, and helpful. A tape that over time, can have tracks that include self-compassion, love, and self-advocacy.
I took a break, while writing this blog, to go on a walk with the mom of the girl who has been bullying my daughter. We walked and talked for an hour, in which I shared what was going on and we strategized together about how to make the situation stop. Fingers crossed that our conversation will bear fruit and this will turn a corner.
From this, I also hope I can recognize when I may need attention, love, and advocacy from myself as I continue my own journey.