The bully is the part of us that lashes out when something doesn’t go our way. We act from anger, conjure petty arguments out of thin air, and bark uncompromising and condescending commands toward our partner, family, friends, colleagues, dog – and, most destructively, ourselves.
The boy: That’s the part of us that’s predisposed to complain, blame, make excuses for what we did or didn’t do, rationalize our behavior, pout and shut down when we don’t like the way things are going. Just like the bully, the boy can show up in our behavior toward others and/or towards ourselves.
Universal (in American culture, anyway) as the bully and boy might be, there is a no need for men to behave either bullishly or boyishly – as so many of us do. When the going gets tough, we have a third, and better, choice. Let’s just call it “being a man.”
Being a man means not denying the existence of the bully or the boy, and dealing with them appropriately when they show up. These men – with the skill of self-restraint – are far more likely to thrive and be satisfied in their relationships and their careers as well as with their emotional and physical health. As for the dudes who aren’t aware and don’t know what to do. Watch out. They are going to cause problems – for themselves and others.
It’s important to understand that the existence of the bully and the boy are not mistakes and that men don’t willfully choose to be ruled by them. Rather, both are aspects of men that that were established, for very good reasons, early in life but haven’t received the memo – from the man – that their services are no longer required.
For men new to and interested in this bully/boy distinction, here are a few do’s to prevent them from running the show.
Pay attention to your body. Suppose you just got some bad news or “feedback” from your partner or your boss, something you didn’t want to hear. Is your face warm? Heart pounding? Jaw clenched? Eyes focused? Yes? Well, that’s a little something we call anger. And when you speak or act from this place, you’re bound to do bully-like things. On the flip side: You breathing faster? Thoughts racing? Stomach knotted? Impulse to crawl into a hole? Welcome to fear. Your little boy has revealed himself, and, if you act from this place, boyishness will be the result (not in a flattering way).
Name your emotions. Before you get some image in your mind about forking over your last paycheck to spill your guts to a therapist, I’m asking that you find a word to label the experience you’re already in the middle of. No. Big. Deal. Are you pissed? Disappointed? Confused? Hurt? Ashamed? Happy? Don’t know? It’s cool. Guess. Throw out a word, see if it fits. Over time, you’ll get more accurate. If you really struggle, check out one of the internet’s many handy lists of emotions.
Note your thoughts. Our minds are always on. When we’re triggered into being our bully- or boy-selves, our minds are likely to shift into overdrive. Instead of acting on the mean or cowardly thoughts we are likely to be having, though, we can make a game out of just noticing the thoughts, judgments, opinions, memories, thoughts about the future, or whatever. We can treat them all like a baseball thrown hard, high, and inside – a bit threatening, for sure, but there’s no way in hell you’re going to swing at it.
Do nothing. Yeah, that’s right. Nothing. This is going to be counterintuitive to many guys who believe their job is to “fix” whatever they don’t like. For starters, think it through. Nothing’s actually broken. Just because some sensations, emotions and/or thoughts are unpleasant, doesn’t mean they have to be wiped off the face of the planet, flyboy. Doing something in these difficult moments will help no one. So. Stop. Wait it out. Count to ten. Recite the alphabet backwards. Anything. Just wait for the feeling to pass.
Remember what matters. While bullies are all about hurting others and boys are all about hiding themselves from insignificant threats, men are all about taking action based on commitments. Once the unpleasantness has abated, reflect on what you are committed to. Are you committed to being a good man or defending your reputation? Are you committed to punishing people or being merciful? You get the idea. If you don’t use these painful moments to remember your best self, when will you remember? If you don’t understand what I mean by commitments, or you don’t know what yours are, invite a trusted guy friend out for a beer and work it out.
Speak the truth (if necessary.) Now that you’re cooled off and you are in touch with your commitments, you can make a reasoned – manlike – decision about what, if any, action to take. Once you sort it out – and you’re certain its not just petty revenge you’re after – go do what you need to do and put the whole thing behind you. If you can’t seem to sort out why you responded the way you did or what to do about it, again, call a guy you trust to help you sort it out.
Our bullies and our boys are our oldest companions, men, and they’re going to be within us for the long haul. It’s in our best interest to understand what triggers them, what they feel like in our bodies and our hearts, and what thought patterns they kick into gear. When we’ve done all that and we get clear on what we’re committed to doing and being, our relationships and our jobs are going to run a hell of a lot more smoothly, and, in time, we’ll become the happy, satisfied guys we always wanted to be.