One of the most common misconceptions about girl bullying (and bullying in general), is that it disappears after the adolescent years. It’s an unfortunate reality I’ve faced that this is just simply not the case. I’ve encountered my fair share of adults who never quite shook the habits of exchanging nasty looks and indulging cattiness.
For me, the height of my girl bullying experience took place in middle school. But these demons continued to follow me into high school, and even into college. Naturally, there were countless moments where I was convinced I must have been the problem; this is something I like to refer to as the “common denominator effect.”
It always amazes and baffles me when I come across women in their twenties and beyond who are still engaging in behaviors I battled so many years ago. The problem with adult bullying is that it’s written off as someone just being a “bitch,” or the victim just “overreacting.” I’m not denying that there are instances where – let’s be real – this is the case. But it’s stemming from a culture that does not acknowledge and shut down these habits in our youth and adolescence.
As adults, we’re also expected to handle these disputes and to have the skills necessary to navigate them in a healthy manner. But how can we expect women to possess these skills when we’re not actively teaching them to the younger generations? When we continuously hide and deny the fact that girl bullying is a serious epidemic, we’re teaching girls that these actions are innocent, normal, and justifiable. What’s even more dangerous is that we’re teaching the victims of these bullies that what they’re experiencing is typical and not worthy of intervention. All this will result in is women who carry this negative, detrimental attitude into their adult relationships and work environments, and others who continuously accept friendships in which they are undervalued and abused – all while reminding themselves that they must be the problem.
So how can we set these matters straight? First, we need to educate and empower the women of tomorrow. Stop writing these behaviors off as something all girls do. We must bring light to the problem, but cannot and should not normalize it. These actions are common, but not normal, nor safe.
Next, we need to look inwards. There is a healthy and necessary side to questioning if you are the common denominator. Self-awareness is a critical skill to navigating life and your relationship to the people and challenges you face. Nobody can be blameless 100% of the time, so it is essential that you continue recognizing and reevaluating your role.
If we put these two key steps at the core of our approach, not only can we begin to eradicate the problem at its source, but we can ultimately reframe how our mind views issues like being the common denominator. When we have knowledge and rationality to support these thoughts, we can slowly move away from the shame, confusion, and guilt that often accompany them, and begin to put such worries in their proper place.