Mean Girls & Grizzly Bears!

Mean girls. Sooner or later, we all run into them. I remember years ago when my baby girl had her first mean-girl experience! And at the tender age of seven, no less!

A classmate, whom she thought was her friend, gleefully announced to her in school that she was having a birthday party!  The girl went into detail about how it was going to be a wonderful theme party, all of their girlfriends in the class would be there, and then she cruelly added with dramatic effect, “but you are not invited!”  And to add salt to the wound, she continued to remind my daughter of this fact throughout the day.

That night at home, with a hurt, confused look in her eyes, my daughter told me what had happened at school that day, “Mommy, it’s not so much that I mind not going to the party; it’s just that I don’t understand why Haley has to keep telling me that I’m not invited.  It feels …. mean!”

I felt the mama grizzly bear rise up within, all eight feet of her, claws coming out, eyes narrowing… (one glance at her, and the life coach fled the room!)  The inner dialogue went something like this: “My baaaaby! How dare this girl do this to her?!  Oh, I’m going to do something about this!  Can Haley’s mother possibly know she’s acting like this? I’m going to call her mother!! Yes, that’s it, or perhaps I’ll call the teacher!  Or maybe a well-worded email instead…”

My daughter interrupted my thoughts with, “Now Mommy, promise that you won’t say anything to her mom, this is between Haley and me.”

With a deep breath, I attempted let go of my anger and focused again on my little girl. She wanted to handle this in her way. She was just wanting to talk it through. “Of course, sweet girl,” I replied.

A deep breath, and an observing moment later, we started talking about feelings, how people treat each other, and true friendship. And, the biggie, what others say, and how they treat other people is really a reflection of who they are on the inside.  (And in this case, a fun trip to the movies & ice cream the day of the missed party helped soothe hurt feelings as well.)

Odds are, during childhood or adolescence, each of us has been on the receiving end of a mean-girl dialogue in one form or another.   Even as adults we still have mean girls in our lives!

Sure, they look a little different now, but the concept is still the same. They might show up as the critical relative who seems to make it their life’s mission to keep an archive of your every misdeed, or as the angry neighbor who has nothing good to say on any day, the boss who just can’t seem to find the words to put together a true compliment, or the woman at work who has an endless supply of complaints and criticisms customized just for you.

The underlying consistency here is in the message which all of these people seem to be saying —- You are not good enough!  And what about that doesn’t hurt?

Well, it can only hurt if you believe the person to be a credible reflection of your makeup, or if you decide that the words are true and do mean something about you, and so you anchor them into your beliefs.  And once either of these things occurs, you start to be on the defensive, looking for the next situation which might hit that button.

So, the trick here is to not let the mean words of others register for long on your radar.  And to do this, first you have to step out of the situation as if you are the observer, rather than a participant.  Take a few deep breaths, let a moment or two pass, and ask yourself: How do I want to respond here?

Perhaps the best and healthiest thing would be to not respond at all!  Which of course is the biggest deflator to the egoic rampage of another.  To help you make that decision as to how to respond, a guiding principle applies here:


It’s pretty simple really, as most guiding principles are.  But to actually live that principle isn’t always so easy.   Case in point, my immediate internal reaction to my daughter’s predicament.  

Remembering the process (deep breath, pulling back & observing)  gives me the opportunity to respond instead of jumping right in and reacting with the hurt feelings, emotions, and actions which follow.

Having a process such as this puts you back in charge, instead of handing your power over to the person trying to pull your strings hoping to feed and support their ego.

And it’s their ego that is on display here.  A reflection of their experiences, their filters, their insecurities – which they are trying to project onto you hoping to make themselves feel better about, well, themselves!

And, as it turns out, the only place the words of “mean girls” can truly thrive is within our own judgments and perceptions.  Because those button-pushers wouldn’t even bother us if there wasn’t a button to push somewhere within us.  A huge concept for a seven-year-old to grasp, it’s even tough to master for those of us that are all “grown-up.”

So, try giving this principle a try with every conversation you have today.  Especially around those who tend to push your buttons.  Take a breath, detach, and remind yourself… what you hear is about them.  And on the flip side, what you say is about you!

I wish I could say that was the last mean girl my daughter encountered. Today, as a teenager she still runs into them now & then. But learning early on that the words and actions of others are truly a reflection of who they are inside has helped her navigate those interactions immensely.

Reclaiming your power feels amazing at any age!  But wouldn’t it have been great to figure that out at age seven, before the habit of reacting kicked in?!

24 Responses

  1. This is beautiful advice. Your 7 year old daughter is lucky to learn this for she will need it as she travels along her path. It took me a long time, but I have to say, it’s mostly easy now. Only when I’m really tired or stressed does it enter… but even then, that leaves me with a no response rather than a reaction most of the time. And I have to be honest, I also think it’s easy because it doesn’t happen a lot as there are no more mean girls in my life, unless there has to be (family ones and I don’t see them often at all) ….. So this is great confirmation for me ;) I love that you are sharing this here. It will help so many… and I love the title of this piece… Mean Girls and Grizzly Bears… !!!

  2. Marci, love this and YES, wish I would have known this at seven!!! This is a tough topic and one we have to deal with always. Sometimes it’s still tough to look at things objectively and know that it’s not personal – thank you for this, needed it today as I think about going back to the office tomorrow. {and why is it always the girls?}

    xo Kathleen

    1. Yes, why is it always the girls? Hmmm…that has my mind racing… Kathleen, I think you’ve just prompted another blog article :) And here’s to staying in your own power at the office! Much love, xo

  3. Marci–I love the “what you hear, what you say” line. It puts the situation in perspective very clearly. That being said, I think it is so much easier to follow that rule with yourself then it is with your baby cubs. I have three daughters and I find them going through the growing pains of mean girls harder than my own experience of it. I’m sure that says something about me too. This article is a great reminder to keep the faith. Thanks.

    1. Lorna, I hear you, it is sooo tough when it come to our children. Thankfully, your girls have a mom who is so aware and supportive. I know for me, it is a daily thing to keep the communication going with my daughter so I can continue to assure her she has all the love and support in the world, and to help her deal with issues as soon as possible before they set in as a belief about herself. But I know even that is no guarantee she won’t be hurt. In the end, we just love them with all we’ve got, right? And as women, supporting and empowering each other and our girls is what will change things . Sending much love to you and your girls, and please let me know if I can offer any support around this.

  4. Oh Marci, how hard for you to have to witness your daughters first mean girl experience. And how amazingly wonderful are children with their innate clarity. I love this…”what you hear is about them, and what you say is about you”. That’s so clear. I’ve heard a variation of it…”What you think of me is none of my business”, but drawing attention to our own words just adds power. Thank you for this simple but powerful tool. X.

    1. Marg, thank you so much, and I love that quote! Another of my favorites is by Abraham Maslow, whom Wayne Dyer quotes as saying “it’s necessary for the self-actualized individual to be independent of the good opinion of others.” Always makes me smile. :)

  5. We are going through this in 4th grade. We were at choir after a particularly mean string of mean-ness and the girl bully was being talked to by her mom. It is sad, with children, it is more of a reflection of how they are treated at home. Our nice girls will recover much faster than the mean girls. Thanks for the post!

    1. Oh yes, with children so often it is a reflection of home. Thanks for stopping by, Cathy! xo

  6. Whoa. This stopped me in my tracks: What you hear is about them, what you say is about you. Powerful, powerful, powerful. You need to turn that into a Facebook “poster”, Marci!

  7. Mama Bear Marci, I have been down this road. My daughter is 18 now and I used to teach my kids from a very young age that when you see someone being mean to someone else to make themselves feel better it’s because they don’t feel good about themselves. Someone is probably even doing it to them somewhere in their life. To step back & be a spectator is a gift.
    When I wonder how I should react to something I also think, ‘how would I want my daughter to react’…and do that ;)
    PS. The friends that are mean at a young age…usually repeat the pattern (be prepared).

    1. Susie, your comment reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Albert Einstein: “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.” xo

  8. okay, as i started reading your story, the mama grizzly bear was rising up in ME as well! and you know what held me back? this incredible statement: “Now Mommy, promise that you won’t say anything to her mom, this is between me and Sadie.” what a brave, sensible, incredible 7-year-old you are raising – congratulations to you both! she’s obviously internalized this statement already: “WHAT YOU HEAR IS ABOUT THEM, WHAT YOU SAY IS ABOUT YOU.” bravo and hugs to you and your daughter, marci. well done.

    1. April, what a lovely thing to say! My daughter is such an incredible gift and teacher in my life. I believe our children come “through” us, not “from” us – regardless how they come to be in our lives. She has her own beautiful spirit – discovering her unique journey to travel, and my job as a parent is really as a steward to nourish and protect the best I can as she finds her way. A true joy to witness. :) Much love xoxo

  9. Ah yes, when the Mama Bear (or the wounded child) overtakes the practitioner: know this one. How wise to distinguish between what the other says and what you say. Takes the steam out of the reaction, and allows you to step away more easily. Thanks for your wisdom…and the reminder that the mean girls continue to show up in different ways…

  10. Ummm – I want to go talk to that little girl and her mother! I know I know, but wow. Being kind was the number one rule in my house when my kids were growing up. I think it stays with them!

    1. Oh yes! Any mom who makes kindness priority one in their home completely rocks. Our world needs more like you, Karen. And I had to smile when I read your comment, believe me, a wary eye is still on the situation… :)

  11. Marci, I love your statement. “What you hear is about them, what you say is about you.” I consistently tell my children the first part of that. i want to drive that home to them at their young age. My daughter, at 5 years old, had already experienced mean-ness and of course so has my 8 year old son. I ask them to pray for those children, because they don’t have enough love in their hearts..

    1. Tania, what a great next step – sending prayers. And such a great lesson for your children, giving them something they can do about the situation to help shift the energy, rather than just feeling victim to the situation. Much love!

  12. Although I do not have daughters, I do have nieces. I guess I will be called the auntie bear when they experience situations like this. Such a young age to have to go through such meanness. It’s a never ending battle that migrates into sports activities, the office and even in church. I go by the rule: “You can’t control other peoples actions, but you can control yours.” And, I will always choose to be kind.

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