Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 21, 2013

Turn off the bully in your head

— — I don’t usually say this but I have to this time: Shut up. Shut up because you are bullying yourself. And “you” can be anyone, not just the teenage girl who is cursing her thighs, calling herself fat. You are the high school football player who didn’t make first string. You are the adult man who feels like you botched that promotion. You are the peri-menopausal woman looking for new wrinkles every morning while ruminating over that second career you haven’t started.

I’ve noticed that sometimes the bully isn’t next to you in class or in the next cubicle. The bully isn’t texting you or commenting on Instagram or Twitter. Sometimes the bully is in the mirror and in your head.

Stop bullying yourself, stop berating yourself, and stop picking on your weakest link.

I’m bullying you about bullying yourself because I bully myself, too. I have started moaning about my belly fat and the wrinkles that start at my crow’s feet and slide all the way down to my knees.

Why do we do this? Why do we focus on our least attractive feature? Why do we obsess over imperceptible or inconsequential flaws? Why do we expect perfection and fret when we fail to excel?

A tape runs in our heads telling us we don’t measure up or we should’ve done this or that better. You may think you don’t have a tape running, but turn off all noise around you, shut your eyes and listen. See if some little tiny voice starts squeaking at you. If not, be grateful — and be especially kind to the person next to you whose tape may be running in stereo on high. 

I’ve discussed this with brilliant and accomplished people who should be able to revel in their successes, but still have a tape taunting them and telling them they aren’t quite good enough. Therapy may quiet the bully in their brain but it takes a conscious effort to silence the monster for good.  

My tape sometimes says, “Why did you say that? Did you upset that person? And, by the way, why aren’t you accomplishing more? Shouldn’t you be writing a book or going to graduate school?”

Maybe it was the unconditional love of my parents or the grace of my God but, in general, I’ve been relatively accepting of myself. “Yeah, well,” growls the mean girl tape in my head, “that’s because you’re lazy and satisfied by your mediocrity.”

Shut her up!

If we aren’t our own worse bully, a new study says, we may have shared a room and parents with one. The study released online this week, which will appear in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics, says bullying and aggressive behavior by a sibling can be as damaging as bullying by a classmate, neighbor or other peer.

The new study links bullying by brothers and sisters to increased depression, anxiety and anger among the victimized kids and teens. Our society battles bullying at school but the study says that harassment at home has typically been viewed as “benign and normal and even beneficial” for a child’s social development and ability “to learn to handle aggression in other relationships.”

The lead author of the study and an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, Corinna Jenkins Tucker, says “that sibling aggression is linked to worse mental health (for the victim), and in some cases it’s similar to what you find for peer aggression.” Tucker and her colleagues used data from The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. The survey questioned nearly 3,600 children and adolescents, with at least one sibling living in the household, about their treatment by their sibling in the past year. For children under the age of 9, a parent or adult caregiver answered the questions. They were questioned about physical assault, both mild and severe (with or without injury), property aggression (stealing, borrowing, breaking or ruining it on purpose) and psychological aggression (feeling bad or scared because a sibling said mean things, called them names or excluded them).

Those who felt like victims suffered “lower well-being,” whether they were young children or older teens.

Parents may want to pay more attention to this issue, especially because it’s summer. That could mean extra time in the car on a road trip or sharing tighter quarters while on vacation. It’s a good time to be alert for the bully in the back seat. It’s also a good opportunity to try to create happy memories between siblings by finding new shared interests, giving them the chance to team up in a game rather than compete against each other, and helping them appreciate the good qualities in each other and themselves.

Meanwhile, take a vacation from the negative tape that runs in our own heads. Replace it with one that promotes positive traits and qualities. And keep that tape running long after vacation ends.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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