I’ve always loved the holiday seasons. The call to peace, good will, kindness, and gratitude hit me smack dab in the middle of my heart. At times, I’m a bit of a Pollyanna and believe that if you treat others with warmth, it will be returned. Unfortunately, not everyone feels like I do. And while I do understand that the holidays can be stressful, what gets me is when the holiday gatherings are scattered with mean girls.
You know what I’m talking about. The office mates who make catty comments about what others are wearing at the office party. Or the sister-in-law that makes nice and then you catch her talking about you behind your back. (Or as once happened to me: unkind words were done straight to my face.)
It’s as if the call to peace on earth causes the mean girls to revolt!
Though I know that good boundaries are important when it comes to dealing with less than lovely folks. And that it’s understandable that the stress of holiday demands can cause someone to be moody or just have a really bad day once in a while. That’s easily forgiven if you’ve had good interactions with these folks, right?
What startles my heart, though, are the folks that seem to go out of their way to be downright mean. You know who I mean: the gal in the office who belittles you in every meeting; the girl in your yoga class who makes snide comments about your lack of flexibility; or your husband’s sister, who uses every passive-aggressive trick in her book to make it abundantly clear that you are not welcome at family gatherings.
Whatever the relationship, the mean girls have the same message: you are unworthy, icky, cast-out, or meant to be overlooked. And what I can’t understand is why anyone – any adult – would expend so much energy to treat other people – other souls – as if they weren’t human.
While I know that we are responsible for our own feelings, dealing with a mean girl makes us feel empty, ugly, and sour. It makes us feel alone and unimportant.
And yet, as human beings we thrive on connection. Most of us also want people to like us. We enjoy being appreciated. To be reminded that even if we are loving and joyful in our own company, others treat us as if we matter to them. When people make us feel like less than we are, even if it’s from a distance, or the people doing it don’t know us terribly well, sometimes we buy into it. We get that sinking feeling in our stomachs and our Inner Critics gain power, asking those nagging questions: What’s wrong with me? Why don’t they see me for who I really am? Why don’t they LIKE me?
I would love to tell you that you can opt out of every holiday gathering if you need to. Because protecting yourself from dealing with the mean girls in the world is important. However, I know that you cannot avoid every gathering. And that sometimes, one of those mean girls is going to take you unaware.
What’s most important for me to share now, though, is how do you recover after an encounter with a mean girl?
First, let me assure you that I completely understand the urge to strike back at those who are hateful toward you. It’s incredibly tempting to identify their flaws and shout them to the world, or make catty posts about them in our Twitter feeds or on our Facebook pages. No matter how much you think you want to do that – DON’T. Sure, it’ll give you momentary satisfaction, but all too soon, you’ll feel guilty and end up flagellating yourself for either becoming a target, sinking to their level, or both. It’s not a cycle I want to be in, and I’m betting you don’t, either.
And, in all honest, this is an energetic way to feed the mean girl inside YOU.
One – Feel It
The first thing to do when you encounter a mean girl is to stop and breathe. Just step back from the situation, take a deep breath (or two) and allow yourself to assess your feelings. In addition to being disquieted, you may feel angry, awkward, disappointed, humiliated, or just out-and-out heartbroken. Whatever you’re feeling, though, don’t attach judgment to it, just feel it.
Allowing yourself to feel those emotions will prevent you from doing something self-sabotaging, like eating an entire pint of ice cream. Or an entire tray of those Christmas cookies.
Two – Phone a Friend
We all have our go-to people who love and accept us for who we are. So don’t be afraid to reach out to your support structure. While talking it out is usually the best way for me as an extrovert, I can also send a text or a quick Voxer message after dealing with a mean girl encounter. That’s what bathrooms are for at the holiday gatherings sometimes: a place to escape and reach out!
Now, this isn’t about gossiping which was not a good solution in middle school or adulthood. Or slipping into complaint after complaint. I’m not saying you should gossip. But talking it over with someone who loves you will soothe your heart. And a really good friend (or coach) will be honest with you and tell you if you’re over-reacting or being sensitive.
Three – It’s Not About You so Change Your Shoes
In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Take Atticus’s advice, step out of your own shoes and step into the shoes the Mean Girl is wearing. Maybe your sister-in-law is envious of the sibling bond you share with your sisters, because he doesn’t have that and admires its beauty. Or maybe, just maybe, the gal in the office who constantly sticks it to you is actually insecure about her own performance and hopes that by making you look bad, she’ll look better. Maybe their meanness has nothing to do with you at all.
Insecurities and fears make many people do less-than-nice things. You simply trigger a negative response because of their past interactions with other people. If you step back and apply compassion and empathy to the situation, you can re-frame this person in your mind. 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.
Four – Own Up to Your Contribution
If you had a falling-out with this person, 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. And if you discover you’ve had a role? Write a note of apology or have a heart-to-heart over coffee.
Five – Count Your Blessings
Don’t let an encounter with a mean girl make you feel like no one likes you. Rather, take stock of the beautiful people in your world.
I feel fortunate to have so many lovely people in my life with whom I truly feel a sense of connection. There are no false pretenses and time spent with them is easy. We talk. We laugh. Let your mind linger on times like that 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.
Six – Mentally Step Away
Perhaps 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.
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.
Seven – Focus on Feeling Nothing – Then Connect
I’m going to give you a visualization trick. In these situations, Nothing will be defined as time where you allow your thoughts to simply flow around you without any attached emotions. The best example of this is to picture yourself as a boulder in a stream, and all the thoughts in your head are the water. And Connection is exactly what it sounds like: fulfilling the desire of humans to connect with others of their species.
The boulder just is as the water flows around it. It’s a pretty peaceful existence to be that boulder. Now, the next time you are in this person’s presence, put yourself in Nothing mode for a moment and Connect. . This “nothing” space will allow you to perceive and understand this person more clearly, and you will find that doing this on a regular basis will bring you to a place where you just can’t help but fall a little bit in love with the person you are connecting to. The Nastiness will flow on by like the water and what will stick will be the pure stuff like compassion, kindness, and love. When you are in this Place of Peace, living with an open heart, it’s amazing what good will come into your life.
Eight – Speak Up
There is nothing wrong with a non-confrontational conversation. Ask this “mean girl” if there’s something you’ve done to contribute to her words or actions. Go into the conversation with the intention of love, connection and understanding. And if it’s a family member or co-worker, asking an authority figure to mediate the conversation is always an option.
Nine – Ignore It
Now, I know this is easier said than done. But if you’re dealing with a mean girl, her goal was probably to rattle you. Or make you feel less than. Hold your head up high. Treat everyone in the area with as much love and enthusiasm as your heart can allow. And refuse to fuel the beast.
While recovering from dealing with an encounter with a mean girl may feel tough, I know that you can do it.
It’s important to remember that what you put out in the world eventually returns to you. So, choosing to be kind, loving, and forgiving is always the best path forward. So, even if dealing with the mean girls at the holiday parties make you feel less than, remember to keep loving yourself. Because all that kindness, love, and forgiveness should be directed at yourself as well.
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 soul that you are. Besides, my dear, life is too short to focus on the ugliness in the world. Especially when there is so much beauty. Just continue to have faith.