A CBT look at the Mean Girls Bullying of Exclusion

“You will be shown your place – and you will see and accept my place.”

A CBT handout to understand and deal with exclusion bullying

Situation: a small group of women are out for drinks/dinner.

The behaviour: One of them sets out to belittle a woman in the group – ignoring them and / or talking over them. Keeping eye contact with a favoured member(s), directing conversation to the favoured member(s), flattering and love bombing the favoured member(s). Deliberately and repeatedly excluding the ‘bad person’ – laughing at and mocking the ‘bad’ person – challenging the ‘bad person’ about a perceived bad behaviour.

Feeling satisfied and happy if their status is validated by the favoured member(s), and the bad person is invalidated/excluded within the group.

Questions and ideas for the instigator/perpetrator of the behaviour:

Do you think you engage in mean-girls behaviour sometimes, but that you don’t realise it, or see it for what it is?

Consider that you may be attempting to gain status and power within the group – and that sometimes it is not enough for you to have reassurance that you fit in, you also think you should and must ensure the other does not fit in.

Do you have a perception of the other as a bad person who has behaved badly, somebody who must be punished and put in their place?

Some of your perception of the other may be true, and some things may be incorrectly assumed and over the top and unfair and not true – and is it healthy to have rules for how people must and should and ought to be, or you won’t tolerate it?

Is it possible your stress is a disorder and that this behaviour is self-sabotaging?

Is it possible that you are jealous of others and assume they are jealous of you, and that there is a ‘competition’? Is that healthy or unhealthy? Is it possible the object of your jealousy does not think and feel the way that you do, and is off living their lives?

What is it you want and need here?

Is it possible for you to earn what you want without taking away what others have?

Do you have a habit of this self (and other) sabotaging behaviour? Consider that it is ultimately self-limiting and self-defeating, and that you are causing yourself and others unnecessary upset.

Does this behavioural habit bring a poor culture and dynamic into the group, even though you may find it welcomed by enablers sometimes, (you will certainly also find it disliked and rejected at other times).

Even when this behaviour is ‘validated’ and enabled by others, do you really feel good about it? And does it really make you, and the enabler, look good?

Was this kind of behaviour ever done to you? How did you like it?

Suggestion: this is a behaviour – something you do, not something you are. If you can see it is an unhealthy behaviour, and if being deliberately unkind is not good for you (and it is not), set about redesigning it. You don’t have to behave this way. There is another way, that accepts others and their right to have a place within a group, even if you’re not crazy about them. There are other ways to communicate with a person that you perceive as deserving of your anger. Maybe your anger is the issue? Feelings are not facts. Confucius says that before you set out on a journey of revenge, dig two graves. Buddha says it is as if you have the intention of poisoning your neighbour, but really you are poisoning yourself.

Use this blog to work on catching and examining the thoughts and beliefs that cause you to feel and behave this way. And edit, edit, edit. Be cool, be kind. Think, feel, and behave different.

Questions and ideas for the victim of the behaviour:

When you are sure it’s a real thing and that you are being ‘mean girlsed’, step back, acknowledge it will have stirred up some caveman threat responses and instincts in you – challenge those instincts and cool them down.

Decide how to respond (many go quiet in surprise and confusion and just stumble through the evening – and some might walk away from the members of the group, and stay away). Many never let it go. They go over and over it in their heads. Upsetting themselves endlessly. And you can see why – we have ‘fear learning’, and negative events like that, situations and behaviour that indicate you are not safe and included and respected, are going to spike your adrenaline and fire up your threat response.

We might worry ‘Am I safe socially with these people? Do I fit in? Do I belong? Am I disliked?’. It is not irrational to wonder that – from an evolutionary point of view – when you are rejected by your tribe, who is going to metaphorically hunt and gather with you? Who are your people? How will your esteem and social safety needs be met if your group rejects you?

It is unfair and a bad situation for you. So, you set about ‘anticipating and problem solving’ – (also known as ‘worrying’). But, often, in stressful situations like this, we fall into dramatic exaggerated ’negative predicting’ and ‘negative mind-reading’ and ‘catastrophising’ because of our anger at the unjust mean behaviour – which cause you even more upset, and off you go in a dance of looking for reassurance, and you might dream and plot of having the mean-girl excluded instead. Caught in a vicious circle that you don’t have to be in…

It is not realistic to imagine you can tell your exaggerated thoughts and beliefs and feelings to float away on some meditation cloud – it is a negative situation, and a negative emotional response is perfectly human. But – it would be smart to consciously regulate your thinking and feeling and behaviour – so as not to automatically join in on the drama of others, because that will only cause you further drama and bad outcomes.

Ask: what would healthy self-talk about this situation look like? What self-talk should I design to deal with this situation? Write things down – and always give it a few days to cool down – often, when we do this, we adjust and regulate to a place where we can have a more proportional response – and maybe just let it go.

Tips for ‘smart worrying and analysis’ – let’s say your friend XX is the enabler who joined in with the perpetrator/leader YY, you’re going to try to work out how and why that happened:

Guesses about XX, the enabler:

“Why would XX do that to me? I mean, I’m not shocked at YY, but XX?!”

‘Because she’s obviously a bitch.’

Or (new self talk suggestions) – because she’s being thoughtless, and maybe it’s not planned or deliberately malicious. She can be an eejit sometimes, as we all can.

Because she was drinking, and people can lose judgement and behave aggressively with alcohol. They are not their best selves.

Because she’s being immature, and is getting little dopamine hits when she is favoured/preferred within the group like this. That’s an issue for her, not for me.

Because she’s a human with faults like anybody – there are no perfect people – and there have been lots of times I enjoyed being with XX and was ‘safe’ – I’m sad and disappointed about this, but I’m going to aim to accept it as just one event in our history, and let it go and not make a huge drama about it – unless it happens again of course, in which case I will discuss it with her using careful language to tell her I’m upset, and to ask if I had done something to upset her, and ask how this happened. (Be prepared for her to say ‘what are you talking about?’ – and what are you gonna do about that? You might fall down a rabbit hole of reliving the whole event in a hyper way to her. Instead, prepare cool short statements, and say them if you must, and then, knowing it’s out there and you have gently and undramatically established expectations and boundaries, let it go, and change the topic).

Guesses about YY – perpetrator/instigator:

“Why would YY do this?”

‘Because she’s an evil jealous bitch.’

‘Because she is deliberately malicious’

Or (new moderate rational cool self talk suggestions for self-talk): because she has low self esteem and thinks she must be validated and given reassurance this way.

Because it seems it is not enough for her to be doing well within the group, she feels a need to ensure another is doing badly within the group, and is excluded to confirm her dominance and validate her view of the other as a bad person behaving badly who should be punished.

Because she requires special consideration, – even though I believe this behaviour is appalling and unfair, she is doing it based on what she’s thinking and feeling at the time, she is doing her best as all humans are, even when they’re making a mess of tings and causing themselves and others unnecessary upset.

When people are drunk they are an exaggerated version of their ‘feelings’, with poor judgement and no inhibitions. They can go feral. It’s not nice – but it is manageable if I cool myself down and apply rational reasoning and planning. It is not healthy for me to respond with rage, or despair, I’m ok, it’s ok.

Goals for self management:

In CBT we aim for unconditional acceptance of the self, and others, and the world – no matter what. Why? Because that’s reality – humans are messy, and communication sometimes has to be worked at.

Design a new no-drama-Obama version of ‘you’.

What self-talk would she use in this situation? She might advise you as follows:

Even if somebody thinks little of you, you do not have to agree with them – and you do not have to join in with them.

If somebody thinks little of you, consider why that might be – maybe they’re being very unfair, or maybe it is an over the top consequence for a poor behaviour you may have done previously, (or that they have perceived you as having done).

If the mean girl has a stress disorder it will cause her to behave negatively and unreasonably, what would you advise a friend to do to handle a situation with her? Become your own best friend (and therapist!)

If you react viciously what will it cost you, and is it worth it? (I call it ‘Burning the house down’. Some things can’t be undone, be careful.)

Avoid silly hyper language like ‘evil’ and ‘bitch’ – replace with more thoughtful descriptions – labelling the behaviour, not the person, with cool clear language – it will cool you down.

Maybe you’ve also had good experiences with the mean-girl in the past – maybe you can again, maybe she’s just a messy friend, where you like some bits, and dislike and disapprove of other bits.

How can you manage her and her drama without making it worse? Can you mollify her to make the situation go away? Can you deliberately continue to be pleasant with her, to make it so that you are safer and less uncomfortable with her. It won’t mean she’s ‘won’ – it will just mean you have redesigned the situation to avoid drama and to manage her and the situation if it happens again.

Some people are very volatile and require ‘special consideration’ and kid gloves. Think of them like cats. ‘You don’t negotiate with a cat, you admire it’ (that’s a quote from the baddie in the movie Tenet, thank you Christopher Nolan). An eye roll and a sigh might be enough.

Nobody is a perfect person. Have you ever behaved badly toward others? Have you ever been mean to somebody and and felt justified about it? Does this experience teach us how to be more inclusive of others and keep an eye on our own behaviour and how it affects others? And how to forgive and understand others when they’re being messy? This unfortunate situation could be a learning moment for us to evolve, and to do a little ‘anthropology’ with cognitive science, to consider how humans (including us) get themselves into these messes.

If you jumped into the shoes and looked through the eyes of the mean-girl, what thoughts and beliefs do you think she might have had that caused her to feel justified in behaving this way? Is there an merit in those ideas? Anything useful for you moving forward?

Or you might decide: no way, I’m just never going to be in her company again. And sometimes it is ok to avoid these kind of people – but often it is not realistic and we cannot – they could be family members, colleagues, or friends of friends, so ‘managing’ the situation is a better goal than feuds and estrangements and drama. Never be a feuder, even if others are.

Design healthy expectations and boundaries, script some things to say (that are not incendiary grenades) – things to say to yourself, and things to say to others, if the situation happens again. Have a little rational (kind calm and dignified) tool-box for yourself. Design a cool you who can handle adversity in healthy ways by writing down your key ideas in a journal, and edit the self-talk where you find problematic dramatic thoughts and beliefs and plans of behaviour – and edit new self talk and design new plans of responses and behaviours. Be rational, be cool, be kind. Don’t ‘burn your house down’.

Humans:

God love us!

Wander through my free downloadable CBT homework to set about making your ‘happy easier life’ toolbox.

Good luck and enjoy!

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