Monday 17 October, 11.20 a.m.
Steve shook his client’s hand after what had been a great meet-
ing. The deal they’d concluded would shut his boss up for a while.
He looked forward to witnessing the silence.
Steve’s phone rang, displaying ‘BULLDOG’.
It was his unflattering nickname for his boss.
‘Hi, Dave,’ he answered. ‘Just going to call you with some good
‘That’s funny,’ replied the Bulldog. ‘Just when I was calling you
with some bad news.’
‘What bad news?’ asked Steve, his stomach tightening.
‘Only a complaint from our biggest customer,’ continued Dave
‘… about your drinking habits.’
Steve was speechless.
From his high of just two minutes ago, Steve now felt sick.
‘Drinking habits?’ he questioned to himself.
He sensed that the issue might have something to do with the
smell of his lunchtime pints on his breath. But a bout of self-jus-
tification left him building a sense of indignation about the ac-
cusation. He was entitled to have a pint at lunchtime like anybody
else, wasn’t he? And he would tell Dave that to his face.
Steve pressed Lynn’s number to speak to a friendly voice, but a
text lit up his screen instead:
Who are the bullies in your life?
Steve looked around him, expecting to see somebody who had
witnessed his call with the Bulldog. A mother was passing with
her toddler. A construction worker, sitting on scaffolding, was
biting into a sandwich.
To his surprise, the call connected to Lynn.
‘Hi, Steve. How are you?’
For the second time in as many minutes, Steve was stunned to
‘Steve. Are you OK?’ asked Lynn nervously.
‘Lynn, did you just send me a text about bullies?’ he eventually
‘Not me,’ she replied. ‘What about bullies?’
‘Who are the bullies in your life?’ Steve responded.
‘Well, Dave for one,’ began Lynn.
‘For one?’ questioned Steve. ‘Who else?’
‘Well, your dad, Steve,’ was the blunt reply.
‘Now, don’t speak ill of the dead, Lynn,’ said Steve.
‘Well, you asked, Steve. You know he always bullied you. And you
know he’s still doing it from beyond the grave.’
Steve knew she was right. But the part of him that loved his dad
refused to concede to the other part that resented him.
They spoke for several minutes about Dave’s call. Steve felt a
bit better. Lynn was right – Dave was nothing but a bully. Yet he
seemed powerless to tell the Bulldog to back off.
A couple of lunchtime pints took his mind off the six o’clock
meeting. Another couple at five helped relax him enough to
reach Dave’s office a little less nervous than he’d imagined.
To erase the smell of alcohol, he consumed the remainder of the
packet of Polo Mints he’d used all week to keep the distinct odour
of lunchtime beer from his customers.
Steve was barely in Dave’s office when the Bulldog barked.
‘Arriving at customers’ premises reeking of booze is unprofes-
sional,’ started Dave.
‘Who’s complaining of that?’ asked Steve defiantly.
‘Peter Wilson of Dawsons,’ came the quick reply.
‘That uptight prat,’ hit back Steve.
‘Yes, otherwise known as Your Biggest Customer,’ snapped Dave.
‘And if he would like you to abstain for the next ten years and
drink only milk, I would suggest you do it.’
‘Since when was there a law saying you couldn’t have a pint at
lunchtime?’ replied Steve, deciding to dig in.
‘There isn’t one,’ came back Dave. ‘Just as there isn’t a law saying
you can’t sack a so-called Sales Director whose customers have
stopped buying from him.’
‘Sort it out, Steve. Now. And by the way, I’ve had one of your staff
complaining about the way you’re treating the girls in your team.
I suggest you sort that out too … because nobody likes a bully.’
‘Me, a bully?’ exploded Steve. ‘It’s not me who’s the bully.’
‘Why – who else is?’ demanded Dave.
Steve paused for a second and stared right into Dave’s eyes.
‘Well?’ demanded the Bulldog.
Only it wasn’t Dave that Steve saw. It was his father, demanding
an explanation as to why he’d lost his house key.
‘Well?’ his father pressed.
Steve left Dave’s office without speaking, almost knocking over
Vicky from his team.
‘Can I have a word tomorrow?’ she shouted after him.
‘Only if I can have a sale from you tomorrow,’ growled back
All the way home, Steve’s mind flicked between his boss and his
‘You’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer,’ sniped his father,
‘are you, Steven?’
His father would always wait just long enough for an answer to
his rhetorical question before allowing Steven to go. Young
Steven would stand there transfixed, never sure whether to de-
fend himself or agree.
Whenever he had stood up for himself, his father would just grow
angrier and sustain the attack. So, Steven learned that submis-
sion made the pain disappear quicker.
Only it didn’t disappear. It just hid at the back of his mind until
incidents like today’s with Dave.
There he was, aged 39, unable to answer, unable to defend him-
self. So what did he do? He just ran away, like he used to when
he was 9.
Steve had a blinding headache when he arrived back at the flat,
brought on by the row, the driving rain and the difficulty of see-
ing through his watery eyes. He knew he needed glasses, but he
wasn’t ready to give in to middle age, as he saw it, just yet.
Two aspirins and a beer from the fridge had been consumed by
the time Lynn walked through the door with Nicky.
‘You’re home early,’ said Lynn, clearly with some pleasure.
‘Yeah, well, traffic was lighter tonight,’ offered Steve, unwilling
to give a full explanation. ‘Nicky, clear up all those toys before
dinner,’ he continued.
‘You might at least say “hello” to him first,’ reprimanded Lynn.
‘Look, whose side are you on, Lynn?’ snapped Steve.
‘I’m not on any side,’ she retorted.
‘Well, you never discipline him, Lynn – and you don’t back me up
when I do, either,’ fired back Steve.
‘I just don’t think you can treat your five-year-old son like one
of your junior sales staff,’ replied Lynn. ‘Not that you should be
treating them that way in the first place!’
Steve said nothing, but the words hit a raw nerve after Dave’s
accusation. He picked up his paper and strode through to his
bedroom to channel hop, alighting accidentally on the latest goal
to sink his beloved United. He switched off in disgust.
Steve just sat staring at the blank screen, rerunning the vivid
and depressing events of the day. The phone call from Dave, the
stormy meeting in his office and now the row with his wife.
Steve is struggling with the agonizing mixture of feelings he’s ex-
periencing as a result of being bullied at the hands of Dave the
That sickening, churning sensation deep in the pit of his stomach
is a poisonous cocktail of fear, hurt and rage.
The experience of being bullied can make us feel ill, both physi-
cally and emotionally. It’s happening for Steve like this:
• Fear arises because Dave the Bulldog does have a degree of
actual power over him. After all, he is his boss. Steve doesn’t want
to risk losing the job in which he has invested so much of his life
and himself. In addition, Steve’s self-esteem is over-invested in
his work, making him feel all the more vulnerable right now. He
clearly has a lot at stake both professionally and personally.
• Hurt is gnawing away at him too, because a good deal of the
content and manner of Dave’s attacks is fundamentally unjust.
There is no question that Steve is good at his job and his award-
winning track record reflects that fact. Sometimes Dave attacks
him head on and explodes angrily in his face, while on other oc-
casions he snipes at him from behind cover, taking advantage of
his superior position – or worse still – when in a group. Yet, at the
back of his mind, Steve knows that there is some truth in what
Dave is saying about his drinking and his recent attitude towards
his female colleagues. Cleverly, but unfairly, Dave is working and
twisting this grain of truth, forging it into a weapon to use against
him. Steve’s struggling to get his head around the situation, both
on a rational thinking level and emotionally. And this is making it
doubly confusing and painful for him.
• Rage is also bubbling away underneath all these other emo-
tions. Anger is a natural human response to being attacked and the
urge to react aggressively in defence is strong. But Steve dare not
let his anger show – at least on the surface – for fear of the conse-
quences. It’s an agonizing dilemma for him to be in. And Steve is
in inner torment.
The inner bully
Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. The worst bully in your life
may even be yourself!
Some are easy to identify such as managers at work, like Dave
the Bulldog or colleagues. Others are less obvious, such as Lynn’s
Bullies can be in our past, like school bullies, perhaps even some
of our teachers.
Steve was bullied at school for being a ‘swot’.
But bullies can be closer to home, too. Or, worse still, even in our
Bullying of all kinds occurs in many families and in this setting can
be very destructive and difficult to deal with when you are on the
After all, how can you escape from it?
And who do you complain to or confide in?
Family members often bully one another.
It can be partner-to-partner or parent-to-child or between broth-
ers and sisters.
Living side-by-side with the destructive force of bullying erodes
self-esteem and slowly destroys self-confidence.
Steve clearly remembers his father bullying him. Those jibes about
his school grades, the sarcastic remarks, the embarrassing touch-
Even now, as an adult, he hears his father’s ‘voice’ inside his own
mind, criticizing him and running him down: ‘… not the sharpest
knife in the drawer!’
It’s as if Steve’s brain recorded and edited these comments and
experiences and played back excerpts and snippets from them in
the back of his mind throughout the day.
But Steve’s grown accustomed to this inner monologue because it’s
happening on the edge of his awareness.
He’s unfortunately come to accept his inner critic as being normal.
For some people this inner ‘voice’ is so clear and distinct and even
so loud that they give it a name: my ‘green goblin’ or my ‘black
abbot’ are common descriptions.
And Steve’s inner critic just won’t leave him alone!
This experience of a critical inner voice or thoughts is, for Steve,
a persistent background noise. It’s constantly running him down,
questioning his decisions and undermining his self-confidence.
Steve’s inner critic has become his own internal bully.
In that sense, he’s become his own worst enemy.
To make matters worse, Dave also reminds him of his father. At
times, his voice appears to sound just like him.
Steve can sometimes feel like that little boy again, being chastised
by his dad.
Steve’s inner bully and Dave, his external bully, are working to-
gether to gang up on him!
This adds more power to what Dave is saying and serves to intensi-
fy the experience for Steve. No wonder he is taking it all so badly!
Steve is now really having a hard time.
Lynn shouted that she was off to see her mother with some shop-
ping – that she’d be back in an hour – and could he switch on the
oven in half an hour?
‘Right,’ said Steve in a uninterested manner.
‘Some chance of her being back in an hour!’ he thought.
He returned to the lounge to find Nicky playing with his PlaySta-
‘Look, Nicky, I told you to clear up this mess before supper. Are
you stupid?’ he snarled.
Nicky ignored him.
‘Well, are you?’ demanded Steve. ‘Honestly, you’re not the sharp-
est …’ He froze on the last syllable.
Steve quickly brought his right hand to his mouth, as if to stop
the words coming out. But it was too late. He had started to say
it. Just as his father had said it to him so many times over the
A look of horror crossed Steve’s face, followed by the saddest of