How to spot... and stop... a bully.

bullying empowerment Jan 26, 2020

"For the already-deeply wounded and traumatized person, they will not understand unfair treatment or behaviour is unacceptable, and will tolerate it, without knowing how to either recognize it or stop it". 

Sometimes it can be really hard to spot a bully. They come in all shapes and sizes.

I don't mean literally.

I mean they can be anyone: a friend, partner, parent, child, work colleague, teacher, mentor... anyone.

And one of the problems or challenges with trying to manage bullies is this:

Managing and resolving the confusion and doubt caused by their behaviour.

The mind and body are often sent into a whirlwind of confusion and self-doubt trying to work out 'is this behaviour acceptable or not? Should I be tolerating this or not?'

Having been on the receiving end of bullying and abusive behaviour during my life, and having had to discern between what is and isn't 'fair or respectful' treatment, I can say from personal experience that this can be one of the most challenging tasks we can face in our journey of self-empowerment: hot to spot and manage a bully.

Overt and Covert Bullying

Sometimes the behaviour is really obvious and clear: for example, when someone is overtly psychologically, emotionally or physically abusive.

Examples of this would be being shouted at, put down, ridiculed, humiliated, chastized either in private or in public, hit, beaten, sexual abuse...

Even so, for the already-deeply wounded and traumatized person, they will often not comprehend this behaviour as unacceptable, and will tolerate it, without knowing how to either recognize it or stop it. 

And when the abusive or controlling behaviour is more subtle, which it often is, then it is even harder to recognize and manage. We could call this covert bullying or abuse.

So why is it so difficult for us to recognize if someone is disrespecting us?

Why is that we can allow someone to blatantly mistreat us, and not do anything about it, or not be able to do anything about it?

The answer is simple: 

Because we have experienced a similar trauma in the past and it is not yet resolved within us. 

When as a child we are on the receiving end of unfair treatment (aka bullying, abuse, mistreatment), we do not have the mental, emotional or physical resources to deal with it. This has a number of consequences:

1. Confusion

Our mind goes into confusion over 'what is right and wrong', what is 'acceptable or unacceptable', as far as treatment from another person is concerned. 

Why is this?

Because we are getting mixed messages from the body-mind which sets up a dissonance inside us.

So let's explore these messages.

Firstly body messages:

The 'body intelligence' (heart and gut) know what is right for us. They are our truth barometer and will instantly tell us if something is not right, fair or respectful for us.

How do they do this?

By feeding back messages to us through 'felt-sense' sensations in the gut and heart area of our body. This is our innate, body intelligence system which is built-in (like a pre-installed software program), designed to keep you emotionally and physically safe.

If this body intelligence system (also known as the heart and gut brains) notice anything coming towards you from the external environment which poses a potential or real threat, it will respond through 'felt-sense sensations' as well as emotions. 

Examples of felt-sense sensations will be a 'gut feeling', constriction or tightness on the stomach, nausea, a feeling of sickness, something doesn't feel 'quite right'.

Examples of emotions are fear, anxiety, hurt, upset, disappointment, betrayal...

This communication from the body intelligence is not in words: it is in body language and sensory feelings or emotions, which we need to learn to recognize and interpret.

So why is that we end up with confusion?

Because of the mind:

Mind and mixed messages

As a child, if we are mistreated in some way, we will try to make sense of the behaviour with our mind. 

On the one hand, the body is automatically generating body intelligence feedback through the gut sensations and emotions, telling us 'this does not feel right'. The great thing about the body intelligence is that it cannot lie - it only knows the truth.

On the other hand, the mind is coming up with reasons and excuses as to why this behaviour should be tolerated. The problem with the mind is that it can lie. It can make up stories as to 'why this unfair treatment should be tolerated'. These lies are called rationalizations or rational lies. And the interesting thing about these lies is that we won't even know we are lying to ourselves. We will just be accepting what our mind is saying without questioning it.

This creates a huge battle inside us, because what the body is saying ("this behaviour doesn't feel right and isn't ok") is diametrically opposed to what the mind is saying ("I have to tolerate this behaviour"). 

So why do we lie to ourselves, without even knowing it?

Because it all comes back to safety and survival.

As an infant or child, we must do whatever we need to to stay safe and survive, and if this means 'rationalizing' away the unfair treatment of another person, this is what we will do.

Why do we do this?

Because of the deep human nature instinct to stay alive.

And almost even more because of the deep human need to be loved and accepted.

The need to feel accepted, acknowledged and loved is so strong that we will compromise ourselves in order to avoid anything which might deny or threaten this deep desire and need.

These patterns of self-protection are set up at a very early age, and entrenched by the age of 7. Hence the saying 'give me a boy (girl) until he's 7, and I'll show you the (wo)man'.

The end-result of this battle inside is confusion, doubt, anxiety, fear, worry, which leads to an erosion of self-esteem, trust and self-belief. 

2. Inability to meet own needs and unhealthy choices

This internal dissonance also leads to certain behaviours which we unconsciously set up to manage the internal body-mind responses.

For example, if we are being emotionally abused by a parent, we will develop a set of behaviours to manage our feelings in order to not lose their love and approval.

If we were to look at process of what this looks like, it might go something like this:

  1. Mummy or Daddy shout at me / are really mean to me for no apparent reason. This happens quite often.
  2. My gut brain automatically responds with contraction and fear in an automatic survival response, to alert me to the fact I feel afraid and threatened. The child mind unconsciously tells itself "I am afraid they will not love me, which may lead them to abandon me, and then I'll die". 
  3. My heart brain automatically responds with feelings of hurt, upset, sadness to alert me to the fact that this type of treatment doesn't feel good and isn't kind.
  4. My mind steps in and says it's not safe to speak my truth or stand up for myself because if I do, Mummy or Daddy might not love me anymore, and may withdraw their love, or shout at me even more, and that would create even more pain, so I'll just stay quiet. Instead, I will rationalize away their behaviour, make up excuses, and even make it my fault. The mind therefore takes on the role of the 'protector'. 
  5. I end up feeling confusion and doubt because my body is telling me one thing, and my mind is telling me another.
  6. I start compromising my behaviour around Mummy or Daddy by making sure I'm a 'good girl or boy', never speaking my feelings, keeping quiet, staying out of sight, swallowing my feelings (or whatever the learned behaviours are). 

Unfortunately, these behaviours of:

  • how we manage our feelings
  • how we rationalize in our mind
  • how we stay stuck in confusion
  • and how we behave towards others

...continue on into adulthood and become so automatic we don't even know we're doing them or how detrimental they are for us... until life brings us situations which bring us an opportunity to heal and change.

What type of situations?

A repeat of the past in a different form. With a different person. A partner, friend, work-colleague...

We will find ourselves faced with a similar situation, where the same feelings and internal body responses from the past are triggered (doubt, confusion, hurt, upset, fear...) as the current situation re-triggers the unresolved pain and trauma from the past. 

If we do not know how to recognize what is happening, and that we are tolerating unfair or disrespectful treatment, instead of putting a stop to it, there will be further consequences:

Initially we will feel stressed, unhappy, confused, in turmoil, fearful and basically unable to feel a sense of inner harmony. And if this continues on, the levels of stress we are experiencing will turn into physical discomfort which becomes symptoms of illness. 


Because the body knows what is right, and it does not want to tolerate such emotional discomfort. Until we resolve the internal disharmony, we will feel ill at ease, as the body demands a resolution of the situation. 

The way out

So what can we do to resolve such a dilemma between the head and the heart?

There are several steps we can, and must, take to achieve resolution.

One - Discernment

Firstly, we have to recognize and understand what is going on - ie, that we are on the receiving end of unacceptable behaviour from the other person. This can be one of the most difficult steps, because of our childhood conditioning and inner mental confusion. Often, until we are familiar with recognizing both the internal (gut sensations, emotions and feelings) and external signs (unfair behaviour), we will need help from a third party, usually someone who understands this topic deeply from personal experience. This can come from reading a great book on the topic or seeking help from a therapist. 

Essentially this discernment needs to occur on two levels:

1. We have to be able to discern our own internal responses to what is happening. This means we have to be able to notice, identify and label the emotions we are feeling, as well as the automatic 'gut responses', because these are all part of the body's natural intelligence system of self-protection. The emotions, sensations and feelings are valid and need to be recognized as such. 

2. We have to be able to discern and identify the external behaviour from the other person. We have to learn the types of things people say and do when they are overstepping boundaries.

Examples of psychological bullying or controlling behaviours include:

  • Putting one down, being mean or condescending
  • Scathing comments, constant criticism
  • Making fun of others, superiority, silent treatment
  • Making others wrong and themselves right
  • Disregarding others' feelings and needs
  • Controlling and inflexible behaviour
  • Telling you your feelings don't matter, negating feelings
  • and much more

Both these types of discernment take practice. 

Two - Emotional Intelligence

We must be able to acknowledge the truth of how we are feeling, label those emotions clearly, and then self-process them out of our body. Unless we are able to do this, those feelings will build up inside causing havoc inside the body, eventually leading to mental or physical symptoms.

Three - Choice and Action

Then we have to be able to decide what is the right 'action' for us to take in order to:

a) put a stop to the unfair treatment

b) create clear boundaries

c) take care of our own needs

This takes great courage, and needs to be learned and practiced over time, because we are literally re-programming our unconscious conditioning from the past in the process. We are going to have to unlearn past behaviours, replacing them with new healthy habits of thinking, feeling and doing. 

In the EAA Emotional Empowerment Training, this is precisely what people learn, and once learned it transforms everything:

  • We will know how to recognize the signs of bullying, because we learn how to read and our own body intelligence
  • We learn how to interpret the internal feedback our body is giving us through our gut feelings and emotions
  • We learn how to recognize that what is happening in the present is a repeat of the past, simply because we have not healed the past
  • We learn to TRUST our feedback and not fall prey to the LIES coming from the rational mind (rationalizing - rational lies)
  • We learn what is right for us, and how to honour our needs
  • We learn to respect ourselves, perhaps for the first time in our life
  • We learn how to bring ourselves back into harmony
  • We learn how to re-empower ourselves and not give our power away

The Secret Key: Harmony

The key is to recognize that our body only wishes harmony for us, and that if we are not experiencing this, then something is amiss.

Either we are mistreating (aka harming) ourselves (which is often the case, eg, through over-working, perfectionism, over-achieving, pushing ourselves too hard, being hard on ourselves, neglecting our health and many more things) or we may be experiencing mistreatment from others.

In either case, the body will experience internal imbalance on an emotional-mind level as a result of this harmful behaviour, which will translate into disharmony on an energetic-physical level (ie symptoms). 

One of the biggest causes of symptoms of chronic pain and fatigue is unresolved hurt from the past and ongoing unfair treatment in the present. Once clients learn how to create boundaries, say no to others, yes to themselves and up their selfcare, their symptoms disappear, because the body no longer needs to send the warning signals. 

We will experience uncomfortable emotions, disharmony and even illness until we rectify the situation, both internally and externally.

Such is the wisdom of the body: to keep giving us the signs until we take notice and do something about it. The power really is within, and the more we are able to honour our needs and our innate body intelligence, the happier and healthier we will be. 


Recommended EAA Self Help Programs

EAL4 Emotional Empowerment Training

Learn how to create clear boundaries, say no to unfair treatment, say yes to you, prioritize yourself without guilt, put yourself first, take care of your needs

EAL5 Return to Health Training 

Learn how to reduce symptoms of illness created by unconscious self-neglect or harm from others

You can find details of all 7 levels of EAA training at

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