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May 1, 2023

The Outer Bully

Featuring Matthew May, MD

Today we are proud to be joined again by our old pal, Matthew May, MD. This is a special two-part edition of Ask David, focusing on two of the most important problems that trigger emotional and interpersonal suffering.

Last week, Matt led our discussion of the Inner Bully that causes the lion’s share of internal suffering in the world. Feelings of depression and anxiety always result from the harsh distorted messages we give ourselves, telling ourselves we’re “less than,” or “defective,” or “unlovable,” and so forth.

However, the world is also filled with Outer Bullies who can be threatening, even violent. Today we describe how you can often deal with the Outer bully with the Five Secrets of Effective Communication (LINK).

Today’s podcast was inspired by a question submitted by Guillermo, one of our podcast fans:

Hello, Dr Burns

I’ve seen some cases of bullying lately in schools. Would the 5 secrets help a kid who is being bullied in school? (Not physical bullying).

I have a son who will be going to middle school next year and wonder about this.

David’s Reply

Hi Guillermo,

Thanks, I might read question on podcast and address it. Might have two consecutive shows on the "inner bully" and then the "outer bully."

I know one thing for sure, although I am not an expert in this area, and haven't worked much with kids. But ultimately, only your thoughts can upset you. The words and criticisms of others will never upset you, unless you buy into them. So, the good old Daily Mood Log is always the first step.

Once you no longer find bullying threatening, it becomes much easier to deal with it. The bully relies on getting you all scared and terrified and hurt and so forth.

Warmly, david

Matt began today’s podcast with a real case description working with a violent, involuntarily hospitalized, 6’6” patient weighing 300 pounds snuck into his office while Matt was dictating his notes, locked the door, and announced that he was going to kill Matt because the involuntary hospitalization was “illegal.” The man had been brought to the hospital by the police in a psychotic manic state because of bizarre behavior at his home that troubled the neighbors. Matt was terrified and said, “That was just one occasion when the Five Secrets of Effective Communication saved my life!”

Link to Five Secrets

Here's what Matt said to the man. I will indicate the communication technique(s) in each sentence in parentheses at the end of each sentence:

“You’re right! (Disarming Technique) You served your country and fought for our freedom (Stroking) and now we’re taking away your freedom. (Disarming Technique) I feel the same way you do, (I Feel Statement). Can you tell me more about what you’ve been going through?  (Inquiry)”

The man was taken aback and immediately sat down and began to open up. Matt continued to empathize, using the Five Secrets, and after a few minutes the patient fell asleep in his chair. He was then transferred to a higher security hospital ward.

Essentially, Matt sided with him, rather than getting defensive or arguing, and saw the truth in what the man was saying, in spite of the fact that he was floridly psychotic, and treated the man with respect.

David summarized the case of a colleague of his who was kidnapped by a violent serial rapist. She also used the Five Secrets, which transformed the entire nature of the interaction, and the rapist gave himself up to the police.

He also described being bullied by two violent teenagers in a gigantic jeep when he was driving home from the drugstore, where he’d rented an enormous carpet cleaner. David’s use of the Five Secrets in response to violent threats prevented violence, but also turned a potentially hostile and abusive interaction into a joyous and warm one.

We concluded with Bullying Practice, saying the worst imaginable things to each other, like “David, you’re a terrible person,” or “Matt, you’re a bad therapist,” or “Rhonda, you’re an insignificant person,” and then responding with the Five Secrets. It was an unexpectedly fun exercise, and the Five Secrets triumphed big time every time! The Outer Bully had no chance at all!

However, this level of skill requires that you’ve mastered your own inner Bully, so you’re not buying into what the bully says to you. This gives you a sense of peace and confidence that makes the Five Secrets a piece of cake, so to speak!

David, Rhonda, and Matt want to emphasize that we make the Five Secrets look really easy and almost magical. Nothing can be further from the truth. We do hope to inspire you with examples of what’s possible, but mastering these powerful tools takes an enormous amount of dedication, determination, and practice.

If you’d like to learn more, I would strongly recommend reading David’s book, Feeling Good Together, and doing the written exercises while reading. This would be an excellent first step! (Include book cover with link to Amazon.)

Here, by the way, is an interesting link to a Ted Talk on bullying that you might enjoy. One of our colleagues, Dr. Daniele Leavy, found it and shared the link with our Tuesday group.

Link to Ted Talk on Bullying

Daniele explains:

The speaker does a good job of differentiating what is commonly referred to as bullying from assault or criminal behavior, and demonstrates how to playfully use Disarming and Stroking to deflect the bullying.

Thanks for joining us today!

Matt, Rhonda, and David