How to Beat the Bully Within—and Stop Beating Yourself Up on the Inside


The other week, my husband and I actually went out to a nice restaurant to celebrate a friend’s birthday.  We never really “go out.”  But this time, we got a babysitter and found ourselves sitting at really nice Thai restaurant.

There were several people there I didn’t know.  “And this is Lisa McCrohan,” my friend said as she introduced me. Two women there excitedly cozied up next to me and said, “Lisa, I read your blog. Your posts really speak to me, Lisa.  They are uplifting with genuine authenticity” and “It’s often just what I need to hear.” 

Their words were kind and genuine.  I smiled this time, now practicing over these last few years to “take in” a compliment, to not dismiss it when someone says something kind.  It’s a nod to the Divine.  It’s not “of the ego.”  I’ve learned to see that when we dismiss such genuine kindness, THAT’S “of the ego.”  THAT’S the “bully within” quickly trying to “keep me in my place.”

So I smiled and said, “Thank you.”  And I said a little prayer of “thanks” to the Divine.

Well, as women do, we got to talking.  In the middle of dinner, one woman, after saying such lovely things about me, said, “I’m such a sh*tty mom.”

I looked at her.  I wasn’t expecting that.  In an instant, my heart became heavy.  I thought of all the women, myself included, who have had those words stuck in their throats at some point, who speak those words every day as they look in the mirror, after they’ve spoken harshly to their child or grabbed their child a bit too hard, or just lying there wide awake late at night thinking about how they screwed up yet another day.

I thought of all of us who have a “bully within” – whose voice creeps up when we least expect it, watching everything we do, waiting in the shadow for us to slip up.

And my heart ached.

I gently put my hand on hers.

No,” she said, “I’m like the worst kind of mom.  I’m really a sh*tty mom.”  But then she changed the subject and started talking about something else.

But I was lost back in that moment. I don’t know her fully story (do we ever?).  In that moment, I wanted to stop the world.  I wanted to get up and go to the other side of the crowded table, sit next to her, take her hands in mine, look her in the eyes, and just BE WITH HER.

It would NOT be to say something like, “Oh you are a great mom! What are you talking about?!”

Why?  Because when you are full of shame, nothing anyone SAYS is going to change how you feel.  You could easily come back with “If you really knew me, you’d know just how shitty I am.”

It would NOT be to go to battle with the “the bully within” with brute force, with pitchforks and armor.

No, what heals shame, what heals the “the bully within” is taking off the armor.
What heals shame, what heals “the bully within” is radical loving presence.

With every cell within me, I know this.

So I just wanted to sit alongside her, hold space for her to feel whatever she’s feeling, maybe say, “Me, too. I feel like a crappy parent at times, too.” 

I wanted to communicated, “I see you. I really do.” 

I wanted to say to “the bully within” that I see her, too, and I see she has been hurting for a very long time now, and that I will just be here, alongside you, holding space.

Space for shame.  Space for the “bully within.”  Space for that Sacred Part of us that remembers our truth to come forth and remind her of her innate goodness.  Space that includes, rather than excludes.  Spaces that holds it all with no judgment.

That’s what I wanted to do.  I could see the shame and sadness in her eyes.  Though I didn’t know the details, I could see the stories of her own hurt, her own past.

I thought about how all of us try to keep these feelings at bay – with sarcasm, talking a lot, sex, food, alcohol, exercising.  We attack the bully, the bully attacks us.  We get nowhere.

But I sat there, still sitting across the table, hearing the sounds in the busy restaurant. I had my hand on hers for a bit.  Not saying anything.  For a moment, I felt defeated.  Here she could see my loveliness, but not her own.

I sat there looking at her blue eyes as she talked.  They are stunning.  She has such a heart for working with children with disabilities.  She’s so courageous and passionate. And yet, here she is, like so many of us, with “the bully within” saying, “You’re really not good.”

I didn’t have the words that night.  It was crowded and loud.  And to be honest, I was a bit shy.  I didn’t know if this was really the place to try and put to words what so often can’t be.  So I just gave my presence.  I had regard in my eyes.  I listened to her stories and the stories others shared. I made it my intention to show her, “I regard you. I see you. I’m here listening.”

Later that evening, getting ready for bed, I was quiet. I thought, “What will it take for us to believe in our goodness?  What will it take to lighten up on ourselves, to remember our goodness, to live with ease?”

Brian must have known there was something on my mind and heart.  He came over to me, sat next to me, and undid the clasp of my necklace for me.  He kissed my forehead.  “You really are a good friend, you know that, Lisa?  I see how you care for others.  I also see how you carry a lot,” he said.

It’s amazing – a true soul treasure – to be so “seen.”

I shared with him what was on my heart.

When I was finished, he said, “Well, you preach this, Lisa.  What ‘saves’ – both the bully and the one being bullied?”

I looked at him and I said these words with a sureness in me:
“Deep regard.
Little moments of self-compassion.

This is what saves us.

~  Moments of putting our hand on our cheek and saying, “Dear One, I see you.”

~  Moments of regarding “the bully within,” the one being bullied, and the Wise One.

~  Believing in the radical power of gentleness and practicing it in EVERYthing we do.

~  Practicing kindness to every single part of ourselves.

~  And yes, dear God, how we need community, how we need each other – to hold space, to not quickly fix things, to hear our story, to hear, “me, too.”  No judgment.  No quick fixes.  Just, “I’m alongside you, sister.”

My first teacher, my mom. She taught me about compassion, being alongside someone, and the radical power of gentle presence.

My first teacher, my mom. She taught me about compassion, how to “just be” alongside someone with no judgment, and the radical healing power of gentle presence.


Dear Sisters, Brothers, friends, soulful ones…all of us have a “bully within.”  Maybe it’s time to hold space for that bully to heal.  No, there aren’t quick fixes.  Deep, lasting healing happens in little moments.  It’s in practicing deep regard, gentleness, and kindness.  It’s in the everyday ways you treat yourself with compassion.  It’s being in community with others who “see” you.

For another post on healing “the bully within,” please check out Rachel Macy Stafford’s post. It’s an honest reflection and story about how she is healing the bully within her.

Healing the “bully within” begins with pausing.  It begins with slowing down. It begins with extending compassion to yourself, in little ways.  I have created some meditations that are all about nourishing that sacred pause, this slowing down, arriving right here and healing what needs your attention.  You can find them in my Shop.

And the Facebook community is growing. Please come and join in. I’d love to see you there.

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Lisa McCrohan
Lisa McCrohan, MA, LSCW-C, RYT is a Psychotherapist, Compassion Coach, writer, and mom. Her mission is to inspire a deeper sense of delight, compassion and connection to flourish in our hearts, homes, and world. You can read more from Lisa at her website,