How to Deal With an Adult 'Mean Girl'

adult mean girl

Not all "mean girls" are super-thin, super-pretty, super-trendy high schoolers. (You know, the ones who carry a teacup poodle in their purse, have power-monger parents with money to spare, and display a natural talent for cruel gossip.) Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a "mean girl" can also be a mom in yoga pants who drives a minivan.


That's right. Mean girls grow up. And have families of their own.

And then, instead of preying on victims in the cafeteria or at prom, they're making your life miserable at a PTA meeting, at a block party, or while you're trying to cheer on your kiddo at a soccer game.


Just like your mom probably told you when you were a kid, mean girls are driven by high insecurity and a serious lack of self-confidence, explains Irene S. Levine, PhD, a psychologist and producer of

"They try to build themselves up by knocking other women down," says Levine. "Although [this behavior] can be outgrown, some women never grow up and display these tendencies throughout their lives."

So yeah, prepare yourself when it comes time to move into an assisted living facility. 'Cause you might even meet a mean girl there.

But unlike a playground bully who might take the straightforward approach and simply kick the living s**t out of you on the blacktop, a mean girl is all about subtle, but equally painful, emotional abuse.

"She gossips, talks behind your back, and goes out of her way to exclude and demean you," Levine notes. "She makes you feel humiliated and uncomfortable -- as if you aren't good enough or are an outcast from the group."

This tactic is known as "relational aggression," says Levine. "She may not fight you with her fists but makes every effort to knock you down."

More from The Stir: 10 'Mean Girl' Quotes We Still Use 10 Years Later

And if you're a super-nice person, unfortunately, you're likely at higher risk of encountering a mean girl.

"They tend to prey on someone who seems vulnerable and easy to attack -- someone who will not respond to her aggression," Levine says.

Sound familiar? Then now you need to know how to deal.

And again, just like your mom told you and just like you've probably told your own kids when it comes to bullies: The best tactic might be avoidance.

"The mean girl's problems are so deep-seated that you won't change them," says Levine.

You're better off steering clear of her crap.

But let's say you can't. Maybe your own personal mean girl is a neighbor, for instance. Or her daughter and yours are besties. Maybe she's your coworker. Then what?

"If you're in a group, ignore her inappropriate behavior or comments," advises Levine. "If she can't elicit a response from you, she's lost some of her power."

Poker face, got it. (And yes, it will take some practice.)

And in the meantime, says Levine, "Strengthen your relationships with people who treat you respectfully instead of those who don't."

Image via pathdoc/Shutterstock

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