Mean girls exist far past junior high and high school, which, unfortunately, is something that many women (and likely men too) are all too familiar with. Chances are, you've come across many mean girls, at all stages of life. And while interactions with them are complicated and stressful, to say the least, you've probably wished, at least once or twice, after the heartache, stress, annoyance, and emotional exhaustion (depending on the extent of your interactions with them), that you'd known some ways to spot a mean girl early on, so that you could have attempted to avoid all of that drama in the first place, rather than have had to go through it. There likely were signs, you just may not have interpreted them as such or known what to look for.
If you have to continue to interact with someone you've deemed a mean girl, at work, your kids' school, or elsewhere, it's important to summon the courage to stand up for yourself.
"[M]ean girls and bullies are mostly insecure and unhappy," Lena Derhally MS, MA, a licensed and Imago-certified psychotherapist, tells Romper by email. "That's why they engage in nasty behavior that hurts other people. Because they feel so small and insignificant they want to make other people that way and they want to feel a sense of power so they try to have control over other people. Often they pick on people that they think are too nice or who won't stand up to them — easy targets. So, the more you stand up for yourself and not react, the more they will leave you alone."
Knowing how to spot the mean girls who might be lurking in all different environments before getting drawn in or bullied yourself can help you more confidently navigate all manner of situations and keep the impact from dealing with mean girls to a minimum.
1. They Prioritize Being Or Getting Ahead
If this person focuses on all the ways in which they personally think they're doing life better than you — better job, better relationship, higher-achieving kids or partner, nicer house, or whatever else it might be — that could be a somewhat subtle early sign that they might be a mean girl.
"These individuals are focused on them being better than another person — it's like they will always try to one up someone else so that the focus is never taken off of them, no matter the cost," Lakiesha Russell, licensed professional counselor of The Evolving Chair, tells Romper in an email exchange.
There's no trying to compete with them or switch the focus to someone or something else.
2. They Leave Others Out
Even if they don't leave you out, at least, at first, if excluding others is part of their typical operating process, that's yet another sign that they might be a mean girl, Derhally says. It can be difficult to acknowledge that or pick up on it if you're still part of the included group, but intentionally leaving some people out just isn't the sign of an overly friendly person.
3. They Can't Manage To Be Honest Or Straightforward
Mean girls aren't always obviously mean, manipulative, and aggressive, but that doesn't mean that the way they try to come across or the things that they say are exactly that way in actuality. "These individuals appear sweet and charming, however they are willing to twist facts and situations to benefit them — to appear innocent and avoiding any consequences," Russell says.
4. They Don't Seem Overly Friendly, Even When You're Friendly To Them
Not everyone is bubbly and outgoing when meeting someone new. Some people take a bit of time to warm up to others and feel comfortable around them. But even in those cases, they're often at least polite. If they seem cold, withdrawn, or completely indifferent to you, even though you're being perfectly friendly toward them, that might mean they could be a bit of a bully, Derhally notes.
5. They Can't Handle Emotions
"These individuals are quick-tempered and may yell and scream a lot," Russell explains. "They are more likely to use tactics of insulting, name-calling and trying to overpower conversations or meetings with arguing, criticizing or using sarcasm with insults."
You might not automatically associate behavior like this with being a mean girl, but it certainly can be a sign (because mean girls and bullies have an awful lot in common) — and a startling one at that.
6. They Don't Respect Boundaries
Boundaries can be very important parts of any relationship, not just when it comes to dealing with mean girls. But if they simply refuse to respect or go along with the boundaries you've set and clearly communicated to them, that could be a sign that you have a bit of a bully on your hands.
"You may ask them not to do something but they will totally disregard you and do it anyway," Derhally says.
7. They Speak Unkindly To Others
"Sometimes someone can be nice to you but they may exhibit bad behavior in how they treat others," Derhally says. "For example, a mom who may be nice to you at school may talk disrespectfully to teachers. A general rule for spotting mean behavior is observing how people treat others — even if they aren't treating you that way they most certainly have the potential to if you get on their bad side."
Dealing with mean girls can, unfortunately, be a lifelong thing. But knowing how to spot them, how to interact with them, attempting to keep your distance, and standing up for yourself can make all the difference, especially at a time by when you thought your mean girls years would be long behind you.
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