Your Fear*Less Leader
Catherine Just

Handling a Bully in Five Steps

This past week a lot went on in the media. Sure, it’s right before the elections so of course a lot of mud slinging is going on. But one thing in particular caught my eye; the words that Ann Coulter tweeted about President Barack Obama.

Did you catch that? She said “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.”

Max at preschool looking in at the class
© Catherine Just

As a mother who has a son named Max who happens to have Down syndrome, this was especially tough to read.

I’m very aware when the r-word gets used to cut down someone else, or to describe themselves when they feel that they’ve been worthy of ridicule.  I used to use the r-word myself and have since replaced it with the word ridiculous as it makes more sense. To use the r-word as an insult is hurtful to those who have intellectual disabilities. When Ann Coulter called Barack Obama a retard, a lot of people lashed back. People tweeted back in anger saying that SHE was the retard. All I saw was the same insult being slung back and forth with no awareness of how hurtful the word is. No one addressed it as eloquently as John Franklin Stephens, who has Down syndrome, is an advocate for Down syndrome and a Global Messenger of the Special Olympics. You can read his incredibly moving response here.

What is remarkable about his response is the eloquence with which he spoke, and the stance of being a friend that she has not met yet. He didn’t attack back. He made clear what it means to have an intellectual disability, and how his life is affected because he has had to deal with a culture who doesn’t really believe that he, and others like him are worthy of the same things in life that others can have easily. He doesn’t agree with what she said, but dealt with it by showing up fully with love instead of with hate. He clearly respects himself and does not allow her words to pull him down.

So what does all of this have to do with being an entrepreneur? I think it has everything to do with everything. Honestly, when I read what was going on I was thinking to myself, this stuff is happening all the time between people in business. But even more so, I see it happening within the constructs of our own thoughts toward ourselves.

How many times have you caught yourself thinking that you are stupid, you’ll never make it, or that the success that you see in others will never be yours? How about the thoughts around not being good enough or fears that no one will ever sign up for your eCourse, coaching program or your big offer. How many times have you heard the thought in your own mind “ I’m such an_______________” (Fill in the blank.) I’m certain you’ve heard many a bully in your own mind.

Of course there are those people in business that throw verbal darts at us, just as she did.

I wonder what it would be like if we all changed the usual reactions we have and started to reply in a similar way to how John Franklin Stephens did. By taking the road of love, respect and friendship.

I think we could all be happier more productive entrepreneurs if we infuse what I’m calling the J.F.S. effect into our daily business practice. Every time I compare my business success to someone else’s and beat myself up about it, I am harming myself, not giving myself credit for what success I have achieved, and belittling myself based on looking outward in judgment rather than inward with truth and love. We have to start with ourselves and then radiate this love, respect and friendship outward. So what would it look like and feel like if our inner bully attacks us and we come back with only love and friendship?

road by moyan brenn

Here are 5 steps on how to handle the bully:

  1. Listen to what your thoughts are saying, and take a breath. This moment, or gap, between the thought and your reaction to that thought will help you to increase awareness of what is happening and you will have more choices about how to respond. That, my friends, is called a miracle. When you can stop, and shift your perception, you have become the one in charge rather than your thoughts.
  2. Take a look at what the inner bully is saying. Ask yourself “ is this REALLY true? “ And “ Am I taking this thought personally “ Just because it sounds true, doesn’t mean it IS true. Just because it FEELS true, doesn’t mean it IS true. I know for me, that my own negative thoughts are like old toxic friends that have a certain feel to them that can be familiar. I often embody what the thought is and believe it to the core. I waste time feeling bad about myself all because I have believed a lie. I took it personally. I forgot that it is really just a thought. I don’t have to take it personally. And if I do, I don’t have to judge myself for it, just notice and make a new choice.
  3. Create a new habit in its place. When the old thought comes up “ I’m not smart “, “I’m never going to make it happen “, “ Something is wrong with me” “ Look at her, she is amazingly successful, I’ll never get there “  I can say, “ Thank you, but I don’t believe you “ and replace it with a new thought “ I’m incredibly smart “, “ I’m already making it happen” “ I’m perfect with my imperfections “, “ I’m on my own path and there is nothing to compare! “ etc.
  4. Start a daily gratitude practice. Write down 5 things you are grateful for about YOURSELF. What you were able to accomplish today, what you like about yourself, what you enjoyed doing today. Whatever you focus on grows. When you focus on the inner bully, that voice becomes even stronger. When you focus on gratitude and love, guess what happens!
  5. Make friends with that inner bully. Instead of letting it rule your mind and how you think and feel about yourself and your business, shift your perception. You don’t need to be a victim of the thoughts. Ask it what it needs? “I hear you are hurting, what is it that you need? “ wait for an answer. It will come to you. Sometimes it’s just a break from reading other people’s blogs, websites and success stories. Sometimes it’s a walk in nature with your camera to take your mind off of the inner race to get to some finish line that feels incredibly out of reach. It might be that you need to go distract yourself with a movie, a good book, or a quick road trip.

This is a practice, it’s not something that happens once and you are finished. The inner bully wants attention and needs it to thrive. When you start to give attention to loving that place inside that is afraid and feels less than, it might get louder for a while until it settles down and realizes you mean business. The same is true with the bully’s around us. When we don’t retaliate or engage, they don’t have anywhere to go but to go away.

Need more actionable advice?
Get your FREE weekly marketing “to-do” list
straight to your inbox every Wednesday:
About Catherine Just

Catherine is an award-winning photographer with a passion for helping others achieve their dreams. Her photos have been published on the cover of National Geographic Magazine and inside She leads Soul*Full Retreats and eCoursesfor women merging creativity and personal growth. Find out which one is the best fit at, and follow her on Twitter.


  1. Catherine, I loved this piece and I think your advice is spot on. One thing I always remember in order to practice compassion with others is this, “They’re doing the best that they can with the tools that they have at any given time.” This includes people who are careless, cruel, not terribly intelligent, acting out of ignorance….the whole gamut. And so when I feel any negative thoughts come up from my internal bully, I turn that inward. I am doing the BEST that I can with the tools that I have *right now*. It’s an awesome neutralizer! Thanks for a great post.

  2. I have to say that I deeply appreciate this article as well as your suggestions of mindfulness in order to distance oneself from the emotional charge that can result by being verbally abused. I was bullied as a kid… probably up until I was about 15 and it’s not fun. I think that truly helped me get through situations where I was bullied was a tiny belief that I was not who the bully thought I was. That their opinion of me didn’t really matter.

    About 8 years ago, I ran into someone who used to bully me every day about how I dressed in high school. He thought I was now cute enough to want to talk to and so I took the opportunity to politely ask him if he remembered how he made fun of me in front of our classmates daily back in school. Not only was he shocked that I brought this up, but denied that he even did such a thing. I wasn’t doing it to make him feel bad, but I really wanted to understand why he did that to me. And I think on some level, he never realized that what he was doing was wrong and hurtful. Though I’ll not forget, I did forgive him.

    Anyway, my point is that I think many people have no clue how hurtful their language is. They’ve no clue how to have a civil conversation with people. They’ve no idea how to assert themselves in a productive and positive way in this clamoring society that seems more focused on how loud you can yell. And though none of this excuses their behavior, I think it’s important to be the shining example of REAL inner strength and light in the face of those who have no idea how to wield real power. Hopefully some day they will change their ways after seeing that their harsh words are merely foam daggers that do nothing but tear themselves down.

    Great post!

  3. Catherine, what a fabulous post! It’s interesting that we often bully our own selves. I realized that I had a negative sound track in my head a few years ago and have been working diligently to re-record that sound track.

  4. Julie Wedewer says:

    Beautiful article from a beautiful person. Love you Catherine! Thank you for reminding me that we are hardest on ourselves, more often then not we bully ourselves with our own thoughts and also make assumptions about what others think of us. <3

  5. Words of wisdom Catherine. It’s time business uplevels the game it’s playing and it can only start with how we treat each other. Thank you for the clarity and awareness. Great post!

  6. Elizabeth Cottrell says:

    Catherine, this is a beautiful piece, and you put it in perfect perspective from a business standpoint. Learning to return love when we’re given hate is the powerful response modeled by Christ, Ghandi, ML King and others. We can’t separate our heart’s instincts from our business.

  7. Catherine your blog post is filled with wisdom, love and compassion to mankind. You are an incredible messenger to all of us… as we become more aware and start this process with looking and changing things within ourselves in order to make this a better world. I love your idea of a daily gratitude journal of 5 things that I am grateful for about myself.

  8. Thank you Catherine. I found this post very uplifting, it’s a very gentle reminder that in order to change the world and make other happy, one must start with himself.

  9. Catherine, that’s a beautiful post; gentle and to the point. So true! What I learnt about bullies is that they always come from a place of pain. Their anger and aggression is not an expression of my lack, but rather of theirs.
    I also love your mission to rid the world of the r-word. It’s a great reminder to watch one’s own words too…

  10. Melanie Lundheim says:

    Great reminder to take the high road, not only during interactions with others, but also with ourselves.

  11. Thanks for a fabulous post Catherine. Good to be reminded of that taking the road of love, respect and friendship first towards ourselves and then outward towards others is always within out reach when we slow down enough to become aware of and choose that path.

  12. Love this! A lot of my yoga students struggle with this as they’re practicing…they look around the room and seeing the more advanced students lifting effortlessly into beautiful poses, tend to get discouraged and beat themselves up. Same with my nutrition clients, they beat themselves up because they’re not at their ideal weight, or make one wrong food choice, and immediately bully themselves internally.

    My favorite yoga teacher always says that rather than reacting to your thoughts and taking them literally, just see them as temporary, as clouds just passing by for the moment that you can wave at. What’s more important is to joyfully see the beauty of whatever you are doing right NOW.

  13. Gracjana Kulig says:

    Thank you Catherine! This post is indeed beautiful. I also work on being kind to myself and to accept my imperfections. :)