First published July 25, 2017, © David Gill
The feeling of being bullied is not a pleasant one. Yet it seems to show up in lots of places. I experienced it myself as a student. It sapped a lot of joy out of my education and deciding to deal with it actually led me into NLP coaching (Neuro Linguisitic Programming - or how to programme your mind effectively).
I'm happy to say, I have not experienced it again since I developed the "Bully Bubble". I've since shared this with people I know and they've found it really helpful too.
Often we think of the school playground, yet, for many adults, bullying can also be frustrating and frequent.
Whether it's being bullied by your boss at work, or a co-worker, or by an ex-partner, the negative emotions that result can be stressful and drain energy.
And the question sits there, almost like a bully itself "What are you gonna do to stop me?" It begs no answer for three reasons.
Firstly, it's a rhetorical question - it does not expect an answer. Secondly, the question itself is a trap. Thirdly, questions shape the way we search for information in the neural pathways of our mind and body.
This type of question has the effect of freezing us. This is because it feels like the choices are limited.
The way out of the question is not to answer it, but to ask a different question.
By doing this we change the conversation in our mind. We actually take charge of that conversation. And in doing so we put ourselves behind the steering wheel and get back that sense of control - it shifts our emotional state.
When we feel that sense of control, we regain our power to make choices. We can choose a different response And that power, over ourselves, is everything. That is, in itself, empowerment.
So how do you change the question?
Well, let me tell you a story. Years ago, when I was training to be an actor, we had this director/tutor who desperately wanted to create good theatre. It was a three year course and she was one of our main tutors on the programme.
Often she would shout at people, or reply to questions with a clipped tone of voice and it often felt like we were dumb or stupid for not knowing the things that she thought we should know.
When directing she would swear, use the "F" word, and demand that things were done "yesterday". She would often tell us what she didn't want, or what we shouldn't do, and I found it hard to get a picture in my mind of what she actually did want. I just felt wrong and bad most of the time.
And her words and tone of voice really got under my skin and I felt shaky and rattled a lot of the time. I wasn't alone - every single member of the group complained about her. Endlessly.
At night, lying in bed, the day would replay in mind. And I couldn't get her voice out of my head. I resisted the urge to learn how to make a voodoo doll, but I really wished I could find a way to make her stop and be nice.
So one day, I poured a hot bath and lay in it for a long time. I decided to ask a different question. Instead of asking, how can I make her stop, I asked myself:
"What can I do to make myself feel better, more in control of my emotions, more clear in my head"?
I realised that I was going to fail the course if I could not connect to my creativity, my emotions, my imagination and the character I was playing. If I just stood there and spoke the lines, with no characterisation, she was only going to get more and more frustrated and angry and yell "No, wrong, try again".
But her angry energy got under my skin and made me really nervous. So I couldn't think straight.
I also realised, from my NLP training a few years earlier, that if my happiness depended on changing her, I was in for a rough three years.
As I lay in the hot bath, the steam wafting round in the air, it felt like my mind began to drift and float. I imagined being in space, way above this problem, this tiny speck of a life. And then I thought of Star Trek.
I recalled how they put their shields up around the ship when the Romulan warships tried to shoot them. "Well, it's a metaphor" I thought. I know metaphors can re-programme our emotions and behaviour.
So then I asked myself another question: "What if I imagine her words bouncing off my bubble, like torpedoes bouncing off the shield of the Starship Enterprise"?
But then I realised I still needed her feedback and to work with her. I needed her observations and direction. But I needed to have it translated into Dave-friendly language, so that when it entered my brain it was useful. To me.
So, I decided to imagine her words coming out of her mouth like subtitles on a movie, except, they would fall on the floor outside my bubble. There I would read them. And I would translate them from negative to positive.
Instead of "Don't gabble", I would translate to "Slow the pace, use pause". Instead of "Don't look at your feet" I would translate it to "Pluck your thoughts from the sky".
And I would say these words in my mind, in a kind, slow voice, and I would turn it into a mental movie of me doing the action in the desired way.
Well, the next day I tried this. She shouted out an instruction. And I paused. I saw her words bounce off my bubble, fall on the floor and there I translated them. This took twenty seconds.
I noticed her eyes went wide. She seemed to bite her lip, staring at me impatiently. She looked like an old style pressure cooker about to explode with steam. But I allowed myself to feel calm and safe in my bubble.
I made a movie in my mind of what she wanted. I felt the character, I changed my posture and I slowed my speech. I noticed then, that I could get the accent. And my feel shuffled, just like an old man does - because my character was an old man.
She sat back in her chair. She relaxed. And after I finished my lines, she clapped. Well done, she said. More of that.
Then she shouted "Next..." - as my time was up.
But I felt amazing. Off I went and I never looked back. It was a turning point not only for that character I was playing, but for my acting overall. And for me as a person.
It was the last chapter in a long series of incidents that had peppered my life from a very young age.
A few years later I shared this story with other people. One person had a boss who was bullying them. They came home at the end of the day amazed. They had felt calm, the boss was nice to them and smiled, yet for their co-workers nothing had changed. Another person tried this with a workmate who had been bullying them. Same result.
There's a few other things that are important here which NLP has to share. One of them is that it helps to assume, however implausible it seems, that the other person is trying to achieve a positive higher intention.
Whether this is true or not does not matter. But if you act as if it's true, it changes the response in your brain. Instead of going into defensive mode, with a fight-flight response, it helps you to relax. When you are relaxed, you can access all of your thoughts and emotions and you can create options more easily.
When we relax, it sub-consciously helps relax other people around us. They pick it up, whether from changes in our breathing, posture, body language, voice tone, or they just somehow smell it - like instinct.
Likewise, a bully is looking for a heightened emotional response in their perceived victim. When they don't get that response, when they can't sense it or smell it, they lose interest. They move on to the next one.
We can only guess as to what their positive intention might be. Maybe they want to feel more in control. Because in some area of their life they feel scared and out of control. Maybe they want to feel the pleasure that comes from power - the power to make others do something. Maybe they are in pain, and just want someone else to feel that pain so they don't feel alone? Who knows - this is not where your focus needs to be.
Your focus needs to be on you and on having a good life. Feeling sorry for this person is likely to be used by them, as a fish hook, to pull you in. And this can become a very unhealthy cycle.
The power to break it is with you. It's about taking the sting out of the negative emotions.
We do that by reinterpreting their intentions, or the meaning we give it, until it no longer gets under our skin. Or simply by putting up the shields and having our bubble.
It's not a wall. It's a filter.
Information can still get through. But we get to translate it into something useful first.
If you or someone you know is facing a challenge like this, try out the bubble and let me know how you go. I can also refer you to specialists in Health & Safety and workplace contracting/mediation.
If you would like to be guided through this process and/or find out about in-house workshops, coaching or some other communication techniques that can be used in situations like this, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
[Further note: edit 23.10.19 I would also add that the Bully Bubble process came to me several years after first doing the NLP protocal for ptsd (reconsolidation of traumatic memories) for the years of bullying that I experienced as a high school student. The school I went to hit the national news at the time for bullying after complaints by other students were laid and this all occurred whilst I was at University. The helpful thing about this was it revealed a culture of bullying within that organisation and it helped to lift some of the sense of blame that I had internalised - I could realise it was not my fault, and in my mind's eye 'give that shame and blame back'. Sometimes I find it necessary to guide clients through the ptsd protocol and some other process to release negative emotions from the past and to instill new boundaries at the unconscious level. If you try the bully bubble process in this article and afterwards still feel you have concerns that need to be resolved, then do contact me about some coaching sessions as there are processes that help build resilience that I can share with you and guide you through.
You can contact me email@example.com