Woman to Woman: 7 Ways of Dealing with the Adult “Mean Girls” in your life

There are times when I still feel it. Do you?

Every once in a while we feel that “mean girl” vibe coming from a woman in our life.  We somehow feel awkward, and small and school-girlish despite the fact that we haven’t done anything of which to be ashamed or apologetic.  But it’s there.  Others sometimes pick up on it too.

Which is absurd, isn’t it?

I mean, here we are, grown women, and the passive-aggressive tones and implications somehow haven’t completely dissipated.  I’ve discussed this with some of my closest friends and they tell me they feel it too sometimes.  They still are in situations where they experience that icky “cast out” or “overlooked” feeling.  It feels empty and ugly and sour. It makes us feel alone.

Many of us are in love relationships in which we feel cherished. Some of us have the most beautiful friendships with women as well. And yet, when someone makes us feel less than, even from across the miles—even if they don’t know us all that well, sometimes, we buy into it. Our stomach flips a bit. You know that feeling? Ugh; I do. We may ruminate for a while: What’s wrong with me? Why don’t they SEE me for who I really am? Why don’t they like me?

We thrive on connection.  And while many of us wish it wasn’t true, we do like to be liked.  We enjoy being appreciated.  But most of all, we want to be validated.  Feel worthy.  And when someone trumps this—even in the most subtle way—it can rock us.

It certainly has happened to me.  Has it happened to you?

When this happens, I try to keep this in mind:

(1) Be grateful for the ones you got: I feel fortunate to have women in my life who I truly feel a sense of connection.  There is no fake pretenses and time spent with them is easy.  We talk. We laugh. We share. We wear our hair up and sit there in our PJs. It’s a good thing. Let your mind linger there when you are feeling “less than” and realize that there are people in your life who see you for the beautiful, amazing, interesting person you are and wouldn’t want to change a thing.

(2) Realize that it may not be what you think: Sometimes this feeling comes from your own past experiences with a completely different woman or girl.  We place what is said or done in a context of a completely different scenario—because that’s the way it was with someone else—but it may not be that way in this case.  Of course, it may be a direct dig on you too—but that, too, may not be due to anything you did.  It may be something having to do with that person, her insecurities, pet peeves, or jealousies. It’s a hard one to accept, of course, but the problem is likely not you.

(3) Approach them about it: This is not grade school or middle school.  We are adult women and each one of us has the ability to be assertive and expressive. I’m not saying it’s always easy.  However, there was a women in my life who approached me about something that was bothering her some time ago and it was wonderful to be able to discuss it out in the open, be accountable for my contribution to it, and move on from it. The opportunity to talk and connect is a gift—share it.

(4) Pin point your contribution to the problem: If you have a fall out with a woman, ask yourself how you might have played a part in it.  It is rarely ALL someone else’s issue.  Your contribution may have been skewed or misinterpreted. You may have done something hurtful without realizing it.  You still may have had a role in the breakdown of communication or connection.  Think about it.  Then discuss it.

(5) Discuss the general issue with other women: I’m not saying you should gossip.  That certainly isn’t a good solution in grade school and it isn’t a good solution in adulthood.  But I am finding that so many of us experience similar feelings of this sort and yet rarely admit it. Why? I spoke to one of my closest friends about this feeling and we both were so relieved that we weren’t the only ones—that we weren’t just being sensitive, immature, or weird.

(6) Ask yourself; why do you need validation from THIS woman? Sometimes it’s because you admire something she does in her life– other times the person is well-regarded, well-liked, and attractive in some way. Perhaps it’s because, at one point, you felt like you had a true connection and it somehow disappeared. But do you NEED this person to make you feel worthy? We can’t hand over so much power to one person such that she governs how we feel about ourselves. Look at all that you contribute to those around you.  Take ownership of the ways you positively affect those you care about both at home and outside of the home.  Pretty great, huh? This all remains true whether this one person in your life recognizes it or not.

(7) Step away: When I was younger, I admit I would just keep going back to those who made me feel inferior and try to elevate myself in their eyes.  You don’t need to do this.  Or, let me restate that—you shouldn’t have to do this with real friends.  There are too many amazing, giving, beautiful women out there who simply ask you to be who you are without flash and without trying.  When I present to girls, I call this “spring cleaning.”  Because at the end of the day, a person who makes you feel “less than” is toxic to your well-being and to your ability to shine in your own life.  Cut this mental anchor loose and move on with your life.

It’s easier said than done sometimes.  I know—most times.  But you can do it.  Because you are THAT amazing. You can’t assume your rightful place in this world when you feel dragged down by someone else who doesn’t see you for the beautiful person you are.  You’re not perfect but you are pretty darn great.  I mean it.

And to those in my life who validate me- thank you.  I truly appreciate you and pray that I do the same for you.  You make me a better person- you lighten my load—and I feel truly blessed to know you and have the privilege of being your friend.

Note: More on Mean Girls and relational aggression? Check out Rachel Simmons and Rosalind Wiseman.

Facebook comments:

8 replies
  1. Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth
    Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth says:

    REALLY important post, Robyn…and yes to all of these tips, as I’m particularly prone as a recovering “disease to please” person and need to learn more about #2 and #6/7 fully. All too often we mix up our passions/projects with our personal worlds creating a seamlessness that shouldn’t be there.

    Just because you adore someone on a personal level doesn’t mean you can support their actions on a business level and vice-versa. It’s important to differentiate fully, or end up with wounded hearts and stomped on souls w/feelings of betrayal that needn’t be there.

    Nothing is black and white, it’s all hues…sometimes rainbow hues, other times that grey fuzzy static when communication lines are clipped. Either way, it’s imperative that it comes to the surface with transparency and candor vs. going underground in ‘block and bury’ mode.

    I try to be a straight shooter w/consistency and understanding of nuance, both personally and professionally, as no one should feel they need to walk on eggs in ‘lockstep agreement’ in order to be friends. Great read…tweeting this out now.

  2. New Moon Girls
    New Moon Girls says:

    This is a very difficult issue. One everyone has to deal with as well as one that everyone experiences. New Moon Girls works, everyday, to combat negativity on our site so thank you for the advice.

  3. DrRobyn
    DrRobyn says:

    Thank you, my friends. I appreciate your comments. @Amy- yes, I have that disease to please too. But what I’ve realized lately is; spending emotional time with someone who makes me feel “less than” isn’t pleasing at all. There are too many other amazing people in this world and too many beautiful ways to spend our time to waste it on someone who doesn’t “get us” or who feels the need to elevate themselves by bashing you down. And what kind of example does this set for our girls? So, while it is difficult, I’m working on it and finding some success. I admit that I still at times think about those people who I wish played a bigger role in my life as friends or colleagues but I quickly catch myself and move on. This article was just one more way to be accountable for what is allowed to move into my head space and I have to say, it’s been quite cleansing. And it has been truly wonderful to have this conversation with women I admire– one of them, being you.

  4. Dana-Marie Thomas
    Dana-Marie Thomas says:

    Dr. Robyn, this is a great topic!!! Sadly I have and still encounter adult “MEAN” girls. I bet if we went back to their childhood they were “MEAN” little girls. I don’t like negative energy so when I encounter a mean girl I actually ignore them if I can. Now if I can’t (coworker; family member; etc) then I mentally prepare myself to deal with the person. Many times these “MEAN” girls know exactly what they are doing or attempting to do – to validate their own insecurities. They want to belittle you; pick on you; show you that THEY have the power (esp in a job scenario). For many years I often tried to rationalize how someone could be so mean intentionally to another. I have since stopped. Now I simply feel sorry for the person; pray for her/them; and don’t let her/them steal my joy. While you made many gr8t points in today’s BLOG topic I resonate with the part where you mention “Ask yourself; why do you need validation from THIS woman” I think that is a KEY question. I think once we as women ask ourselves this question we will begin to realize at the end of the day “‘MEAN” girls don’t matter. We (and that included ME) need to be confident in who we are as woman (the way we look, things we like ..dislike, our opinions, they way we dress, whatever makes us uniquely fabulous) then we will be able to address the MEAN girls – we will wear our “MEAN Girls” ARMOR: The Shield of Self-Confidence and fabulous Stilettos of Self-Acceptance so that we will be able to keep on stepping (or moving forward) no matter what those MEAN girls say or do to you. MEAN girls need to understand that unless they get a new MEANing on life – they will continue to be misarable. MEAN girls need to learn to play nice, if not then they need to leave the playground! x&O Dr. T

  5. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Dr. Robyn, Thank you for digging deep and sharing this piece. It truly wowed me. In addition to helping women to think a bit differently about friendship, you likewise have offered a powerful tool for women to model strength for our girls. Women forget that how we deal with our friends truly sets the tone for the girls in our lives who struggle to deal with their emerging friendships. Whether or not we have daughters does not define whether or not girls who observe the dynamics of women-to-women relationships and take notes! We hear it every day on iTwixie – and this feature is simply a gift. Thank you!

  6. DrRobyn
    DrRobyn says:

    Thank you, Rebecca! I truly appreciate your comment. This is a topic that so many of us can relate to and yet we barely speak about it. Perhaps because the people pleaser in us doesn’t want to admit the issue or perhaps we perceive it as our own failure. What this article has done for me is brought my personal gremlin out of isolation- others feel similarly and the power dissipates in numbers. What a treasure to hear from all of you. Hopefully this starts a great deal of new conversations so we can address the problems in our adult friendships and, like you say, model healthier relationships for our girls.

  7. DrRobyn
    DrRobyn says:

    Thank you, Dr. Thomas, for writing your thoughts here. You have moved so far forward when it comes to this issue and that must be so liberating. I think the idea that “mean girls” need to find “meaning” in their lives is a really interesting aspect for our girls to explore. We are all looking for validation– but how we get it is in question here.

  8. Rebecca Tishman
    Rebecca Tishman says:

    Meaning girling- wish it didn’t happen but of course it still does and does not go away after high school like the movie portrayed. what a shame! Anyway, thank you so much for shedding light on what we can do when we are in situations like these. Great post as always Dr. Robyn.

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