The Voices of Bullies

What are your core beliefs and how are they shaping you - and you may not even know it? Peace Amadi opens our ears to hear and learn.


The Voices of Bullies

By Peace Amadi

"I remember when I first became aware of some of my own core beliefs … and how they were rooted in the voices of bullies from childhood.”

Core beliefs reflect how worthy we think we are. They reflect how lovable, significant, and capable we think we are. Core beliefs reflect what we expect from people. Will they show up for us? Will they be there when we need them? Will they stay? Core beliefs reflect what we believe the world has to offer. For some, the world feels generous and plentiful. For others, the world feels scarce and dim. Whatever the case, core beliefs impact every part of our lives. Though they were once just thoughts we entertained, our life experiences have made them feel like personal truths.

I remember when I first became aware of some of my own core beliefs. I had noticed some unproductive patterns in my work and relationships, so I sought out a therapist to help me understand them. As expected, we spent some time diving into my childhood, which unfortunately included years of being bullied by different kids at school.

I knew these experiences had influenced me somewhat, but I hadn’t realized the gravity of that influence. The bullies of my childhood weren’t just sore memories of the past. I’d internalized their voices. You can’t sit here. You don’t fit. Something is wrong with you. Everything you do is wrong. You don’t belong. These were the kinds of messages that drove some of the unwanted patterns in my life. These were the voices of those bullies.

I have to admit that when I first realized this, I felt a little bit of shame. I couldn’t believe that common childhood bullying could have such an effect on me. “This is lame!” I would say to my therapist. “It’s not like I was abused or abandoned!” I struggled to accept that my personal experiences were significant enough to cause any kind of real emotional damage. This, of course, was also the result of these beliefs. If something was wrong with me, if everything I did was wrong, my feelings had to be wrong too. My feelings about the past were just another case of me being “too sensitive,” and I needed to get over it.

But time in therapy and a decade’s worth of my research as a psychologist showing the deep, enduring impact of verbal abuse from peers helped me find the self-compassion and grace to accept that this was my story. And it was a valid one.

The first thing I needed to do was stop blaming my sensitivity. Sure, I had always been a sensitive kid. I’d always felt things more deeply, intensely, and for a longer period of time than most people around me. As an adult, I still do. But my sensitivity wasn’t the problem here. It wasn’t a liability as I’d allowed myself to believe. My sensitivity only meant that things really mattered to me and that I needed tools to work with it. “The problem in our world isn’t too much sensitivity, it’s too little,” my therapist would say to me, and she would challenge me to see it as my gift.

Looking back on her words, I believe they were God speaking his own words of love and acceptance through her. I believe God was trying to show me that the soft parts of me reflected the soft parts of him. This moment felt like it was an invitation to welcome my emotions as an opportunity to connect more intimately with him. I’m thankful for how that moment has changed my life and work.

The second thing I needed to do was acknowledge that the internalized voices were driving patterns of paralyzing perfectionism, a need to be in control, and deep fears of failure that stood in the way of some of the things I wanted most. I would mentally play out scenarios of taking new steps and trying new things and immediately hear mocking laughter and humiliating remarks in my head. I was extremely self-conscious because growing up I had to be. Deep down I believed the bullying wasn’t the fault of the bullies; it was mine. If I could finally do everything right, it would stop. If I kept doing everything right, it would never happen again.

These beliefs formed at an early time in life but stayed with me. Becoming aware of them was my first step to freedom and healing. It isn’t just our brains, bodies, and life experiences that give power to our negative emotions; it’s our core beliefs as well.

Adapted from Why Do I Feel Like This? by Peace Amadi. Copyright (c) 2021 by Chynyere Peace Amadi. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

Peace Amadi is a psychology professor, speaker, children's book author, content creator, and host. She holds a BA in psychology from UCLA and a masters and doctorate in psychology from Azusa Pacific University. She is the author of the newly released, Why Do I Feel Like This? Understand Your Difficult Emotions and Find Grace to Move Through. As a woman of faith, she uses her various platforms to bridge the gap between mental health and faith for the purposes of engaging a deeper healing journey. As a woman of Nigerian descent, she calls for reflection on how healing is affected by culture and family.