I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a Pollyanna.
I believe in love. I believe that if you treat others with warmth, it will be returned. I believe that when people take, they also give; that when I have a deep love and affection in my heart for someone, the people already in their world (aka their family and friends) will welcome me and love me, too.
OK, so that last statement goes beyond Pollyanna and becomes fodder for a fantasy novel. I’m not so full of happy optimism that I don’t recognize the reality that not everyone in the world is going to like me, let alone love me.
Overall, I’m OK with that reality and simply keep my distance from the people who are sometimes rude or dismissive. After all, everyone’s entitled to a touch of moodiness, or a really bad day once in a while.
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, these people 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.
It makes us feel empty, ugly, and sour.
It makes us feel alone.
And yet, as human beings we thrive on connection. Most of us also want people to like us. We enjoy being appreciated. We want to be seen as worthy. Most of all, we want to be validated – to be treated like we matter, and when someone trumps this, even in the subtlest of ways, it rocks us. 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?
How do you deal with the aftermath of a Mean Girl Encounter? How can you send the sour feelings packing and quiet the Inner Critic?
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.
Since that “eye-for-an-eye” mentality makes the whole world blind, what’s a gal (or guy) to do when those “mean girls” strike?
One – Feel It
The first thing to do when someone is mean to you 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.
Two – Phone a Friend
I’m not saying you should gossip. That certainly wasn’t a good solution in grade school and it isn’t a good solution in adulthood. 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 Person is wearing. Maybe your brother-in-law is envious of the sibling bond you share with his wife, 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
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 a person is being mean, their goal is to rattle you and make you feel less than you are. 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.
It’s easier said than done sometimes. I know—most times. But you can do it. Because you are THAT fabulous. 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. You are a perfectly imperfect soul and I adore you.
And to those in my life who value and validate me, thank you. I truly appreciate your presence, love and light in my life. You make me a better person and I feel truly blessed to know you.
What about you? What tips can you give for dealing with the Mean Girls in the world?