Ask Dr. Merry: Mean Girls

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mean girls

I’m having some problems with an ex-friend I knew in high school. We’ve had a rocky history together because she would be nice to me when we were alone, but would make fun of me in front of other people. It seemed like she would only hang out with me when her other friends weren’t available, but as soon as they came around, she would ditch me.  I was always there for her when she needed a shoulder to cry on but she was never there for me.  After high school we never talked, and lost touch.  Recently, she tried to friend me on Facebook, but when I didn’t respond, she apparently got upset with me.  Now I’m hearing through the grapevine that she’s saying nasty things about me and it’s really upsetting me.  I don’t understand why she wanted to friend me in the first place and why she’s being so vindictive now. When we were friends in high school, she treated me like garbage, and still does the same thing now. I just want to move on with my life. I don’t get it: why does she hate me so much?

Unfortunately, given today’s easy access to social media and the public way in which some people like to air their dirty laundry, this type of “mean girl” bullying tends to go viral.  And as you’re experiencing, it’s a problem that extends beyond high school kids to infect even “mature” adults.  So I can see why it bothers you that she seems to hate you so much and has been public with her nastiness.  But I think the more important questions are:  Why do you care what she thinks? Why does it bother you so much that you don’t feel like you can move on with your life?

Her behaviour sounds appalling and it seems like she was rarely a good friend to you back in high school and certainly not now. Good friends treat each other with respect and kindness, they prioritize spending time together, they support and nurture each other, and they have each other’s back. It doesn’t sound like she did any of this, so I don’t blame you for not keeping in contact with her after high school.  I’m glad you realize that she really wasn’t a friend to you and took steps to maintain your distance from her even though she appears to be punishing you for “rejecting” her.

The challenge for you now is to set some boundaries for yourself emotionally, so that you refuse to let her bad behaviour dictate how you feel about yourself or your life.  You have no control over what she says or does, so choose to stop giving her power over your life by denying her even one iota of your emotional energy and attention.  You can choose to take control over your own emotions and well-being, and refuse to allow yourself to dwell on her behaviour.  Don’t follow her postings online and don’t torture yourself imagining what she’s thinking of you or what others are thinking of you.  Focus instead on the relationships in your life that are supportive and uplifting and spend time doing positive things that help you feel better about yourself and your life.

Adolescent girls in particular seem to believe that it’s acceptable to treat their friends poorly — the “mean girl” syndrome — and far too many girls let them. I’m not certain why that is the case but it may have to do with a combination of wanting to be accepted by the mean friends (who may be seen as popular), not knowing what true friendship looks like, or not thinking enough of themselves to insist upon respectful treatment. I know that the high school years can be very challenging for many young girls because of their insecurities, their desire to fit in and their inexperience in handling interpersonal conflicts or relationship challenges.  I do wonder if some of your current distress is a trigger for some unresolved hurts from your past experiences as a young girl, so it may be worth your while pursuing some counselling if you’re having a hard time letting this go.

I’m a huge proponent of boundaries, so I wish that girls like you would stand up to the mean girls and let them know in no uncertain terms that if they want to be your friend, they have to treat you well.  And if they choose not to respect your boundary even after repeated attempts to respectfully enforce your line in the sand, then it’s okay for you to back away from that toxic relationship.  Don’t tolerate this ongoing meanness from anyone in your life.  I don’t believe that when Jesus asks us to “turn the other cheek” he means for us to tolerate abuse from anyone.  While I know that we aren’t supposed to retaliate with our own mean or vengeful behaviour, we also aren’t meant to be doormats.  And we’re certainly never meant to define our worth by how others view us or treat us.

Please know that this ex-friend’s behaviour is more about herself than it is about you.  As I described in my series on boundaries, boundary crashers (which she clearly is)  often suffer from insecurities and a need to “power down” or manipulate others so that it elevates themselves.  Don’t interpret her actions or words as any indication of your worth but recognize that she is the one with the problems, not you.

Whatever her reason for doing what she’s doing, it is important that you move on. Given that this person is no longer in your life, don’t waste another minute trying to figure out her toxic behaviour.  Even if you could answer your question about why she hates you, it doesn’t solve the problem with her mean behaviour and only keeps you stuck wondering why she does what she does.  Instead, focus on making certain that future friends treat you with the respect and dignity that you deserve.


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