Bullied as an Adult: Making Sense of Mean-ness ?

Mental Health Blog Party Badge

For the American Psychological Association’s Blog Party for Mental Health Month, I decided to write about being bullied as an adult. Here’s my experience in a nice middle class neighborhood in northern New Jersey.

Eleven years ago, we stretched our budget and moved to our nice neighborhood with a good school system.

My husband & I drive a Chrysler and a Ford.

Into the ground, by the way…a car needs to be downright WORN OUT for us to buy a new one.

(outright GREEN of us, egad!)

Lots of people in the neighborhood drive, well, foreign cars.

And we don’t have a new kitchen. What we have is perfectly fine.

(considering the statistics on hunger in America, I figure we are good to go).

When I moved in, I wanted to fit in with a group of people.

Like most people, I wanted some friends.

My son was in second grade (he’s now 17).

I thought, well, let’s be friendly and make some playdates.

I called one woman. She said she was too busy putting in a new kitchen and her son couldn’t come over.

I felt bad, but thought, well, ok, try again with someone else.

I tried to call a few other women over the next few weeks/months.

Same responses, different circumstances.

I felt bad. It hurt. I felt like I was back in junior high school, on the outside looking into the cliques.

It was not easy to be rejected over and over again.

I cried at night. I was confused. What was wrong, anyway?

I was persistent, I volunteered as the class mom, did some other volunteer work.

Finally, I got some truth from the last woman I called.

She told me people here already have enough friends and don’t need anymore.

Ahem, this is New Jersey in the year 2002.

Not Salem in the 1600s.

I persisted, even though I felt bad.

I joined a Women’s Club.

(Maybe I should’ve enlisted to go to Afghanistan instead).

I was invited by one of neighbors up the street to go to a luncheon, She was taking her elderly mother who was visiting from Florida, whom I’ve never met.

It will be fun,she says.

I was happy to be included!

It was a nice spring day. We walk into the luncheon, and she guides us to our table. Her mother sits down. I sit down.

She quickly walks away to another table, where her friends are.

She takes the last open seat, sits down, and starts laughing.

Let me just say that her mother was a perfectly nice lady for me to have lunch with.

But how would you feel if that happened to you?

I felt bad. I felt alienated.

I cried a lot, those first few years.

And I was an adult, with a strong intact identity, strong ego and a secure family life. 

I empathize with those children and teens who are excluded.

Young people who are just trying to develop their identity and grow into the adults whom they want to be.

These experiences have made me a better counselor.

BULLYING HURTS.

One in four women suffers depression at some point in her life.

Geez, wonder why, huh?

What do you think suburban bullying is all about?

How about internalized sexism?

How about gender socialization?

How about internalized messages of inferiority from birth?

Fight to keep those pervasive sexist messages out of your psyche.

Mental Health is a work in progress, self-respect is hard won, healthy boundaries need to continually be refined and healthy relationships enhance mental health.

Have a Beautiful May and Celebrate Your Mental Health!

Today I sure know who my friends are.

Reference

Holiday, E. and Rosenberg, J.I. (2009). Mean Girls, Meaner Women.  New York: Orchid Press.

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24 Responses to “Bullied as an Adult: Making Sense of Mean-ness ?”

  • Thanks again kathy for your sharing.
    I do wonder what makes people mean, or unfeeling.
    I have been an outsider/foreigner and even an alien in many situations ( I actually had an official alien registration card in japan) and your experience rings true!
    I think my teacher Akong Rinpoche would say that the answer is compassion, for oneself, and for ‘them’ if they are negative, hateful etc.
    Not easy but gives a different perspective.
    but definitely being isolated doesn’t help things—on the other hand it takes courage to share.
    So thanks again! m

    • Hi Miriam – thank you for your reply, my friend! You have travelled all over the world, and I guess people are people everywhere.
      I guess I didnt expect this as a young mom in NJ, many years ago.

      Much love to you across the ocean, my long term friend, Love Kathy

  • Hi Kathy,

    I’ve never seen a discussion of suburban bullying before, but wow, it makes total sense. I tend to be the one who is hesitant to initiate friendships, so I am very grateful for the people who have reached out to me in friendship. I’m new in our neighborhood, too, but I will be sure to welcome new folks as they arrive.

    Thanks!
    Rachelle Norman recently posted..Take Off the Pressure: 7 Creative Experiences to Try with Your Loved One with DementiaMy Profile

    • Hi Rachelle – Thanks for your reply. You are fortunate, my friend! In my suburban practice I see alot of things, and ALL the women I see tell me about “cul-de-sac” “tennis” and “PTA” fomrs of bullying. So I was heartened to hear that it isn’t just me. I hear it all the time…I love the book I used as a reference point, Mean Girsl, Meaner Women, there is alot of research literature about internalized sexism/ female bullying. take care, Kathy
      Kathy Morelli recently posted..Bullied as an Adult: Making Sense of Mean-ness ?My Profile

  • I relate to your plight Kathy. Sometimes it seems like life is a never-ending high school, only we don’t maintain our adolescent weight and the responsibility-less existence.

    I think women are much crueler than men when it comes to gossip, excusion and general snarkiness. I try and avoid the cliques around my ‘hood, and focus on my work and family.

    Keep calm and carry on in suburbia :).
    Linda Esposito recently posted..The Head Case Against Mental HealthMy Profile

    • Hi Linda – Love the Keep Calm & Carry On in Suburbia! LOL ! I have observed that women are much more cruel as well! The book that helped me most understand the phenomena is the Mean Girls, Meaner Women book, very well researched & referenced! I pretty much have a wide range of friends in my community and beyond and also all over the world, plus a large family, so I just re-adjusted myself to the reality of the situation and the strong re-enactment of jr hs & hs behaviors. take care, Kathy
      Kathy Morelli recently posted..Bullied as an Adult: Making Sense of Mean-ness ?My Profile

  • Kathy,

    This is so much more prevalent than we talk about. I’m putting the book you referenced on my reading list. I am often baffled by this phenomenon, and I certainly see it as we are entering the school years with our kids. We have been so grateful to find a smaller group of parents that we seem to click with. Thanks again for bravely sharing your story.

    Warmly,
    Ann
    Ann Becker-Schutte recently posted..Blogging For Mental Health :: My Time in the DarkMy Profile

    • Hi Ann – It’s interesting to me to see all the Mental Health Professionals alluding to the phenomena, and not having much research about it….and the best thing I did was read that Mean Girls, Meaner Women book. At first I thought it w/b sensationalist material, but it is really well thought and well researched informationn about internalized sexism.

  • Mollie:

    I guess you were just busy trying to fit in what for them is already an airtight group. It is just a waste of time trying to win the hearts of such closed-minded people.

    I know this is hard, but I guess you should look around and see like-minded people who you think you will get along with. When you find them, treasure them.
    Mollie recently posted..the best scrubs for menMy Profile

    • Hi Mollie – thanks for your comments! It was a long time ago, about ten years, and of course I moved on, I was just so surprised about suburban bullying, it is not just for kids, it is alive & well in adults, and it seems to be more so in women than men. As I said, as a professional counselor, I hear about these things all the time with women who come to see me, it is not isolated to me. And I love the book, Mean Girls. Meaner Women
      to help put a mental health / culture perspective on the girl.women bullying issues. I think what is happening now it that inclusion is going to be
      talked about more and more….especially since President Obama came out for same sex marriage and also now the reality is that
      caucasians will not be a majority in the US in a few years. So inclusion will be the new social model.

  • Hi Kathy,
    I think it’s true that this happens more than people are willing to discuss. It made me remember my attempt to be active in the PTO in my son’s school. I volunteered to help out at a fundraiser, and no one spoke to me. So, I didn’t do anymore. Later, I learned that other women had had the same experience. Luckily, I had other networks to fall back on. The book you mention sounds quite interesting.
    Best,
    Carolyn
    Carolyn Stone recently posted..Juggling the Many End-of-Year Events: Some TipsMy Profile

  • Hi Kathy,

    I used to think that I had an issue with American women. Now I am not so sure what it is all about. It is a fact that I feel more comfortable with my Swedish, Dutch, Canadian girlfriends (except my husbands friends from high school that have taken me in as one of their own – I sometimes forget that we did not go to school together – these women are sweethearts!
    What is the book Mean Girls Meaner Women saying about the cause? Competitive mindset?
    irenesavarese recently posted..“One Plus One Is Greater Than Two” – Are You Ready To Do What You Need To Do To Save Your Marriage?My Profile

  • Hi Kathy, Thank you for sharing this painful experience. I also often feel left out in connection with the school and the PTO and have often pondered the irony of the constant requests for volunteers etc and the pervasive feeling that breaking into the inner circle of the PTO is kind of like breaking into the popular girls clique (a clique I was never a part of). I have decided in the case of our particular school it is more about busy-ness and insecurity, than meanness. And I am slowly making connections and getting to know people. I try to make it a point to be friendly to everyone when we are on the playground (this is what I tell my kids– at school include everyone)– but it is slow going. I often think, how will we help our kids navigate all the social dilemmas they will face if the parents are doing so poorly with their own.

    Thank you for raising this important topic. Best, Allison
    Allison Andrews recently posted..WorryMy Profile

    • Hi Allison – great points, how can parents who can;t be inclusive really model inclusive behaviors for their children. I have never been able to reconcile that dichotomy either: the asking/need for volunteers yet the concurrent rejection of help. The dynamics are quite like a dysfunctional family, being played out in an arena where there is no clear guidance, a person’s personal negative family dynamics can take on large proportions.
      Kathy Morelli, LPC (@KathyAMorelli) recently posted..Bullied as an Adult: Making Sense of Mean-ness ?My Profile

  • Kathy, thank you for sharing so much of yourself on what is such a painful situation. Sadly adult bullying is alive and well in many situations. I have experienced it on the job once. I went home in tears more times than I care to remember. I was so happy to move on from there. I had to work hard to have support from people outside of work. To know that others have faced similar situations helps me realize it is not just me and not so personal.

    • Hi Barb – Thanks so much for your feedback. I am not glad you experienced workplace bullying, but it makes me feel better that others describe similar scenarios, so it does de-personalize things. Yes adult bullying is alive and well, and it makes me wonder what people are thinking as they model social behaviors for their children. Yes,good response you had….work hard to build an alternate support group. That’s exactly what I did, and also I became a business owner, which is a source of pride.

  • Kathy – Thanks for sharing your heartfelt story. I have a friend and many years ago, her neighbors went out their way to exclude and be really mean to her and there wasn’t anything that I could have said then that helped ease the pain. The meaner they got the more desperate she was to be friends with them. It just didn’t make any sense why they’d gang up on her in such a manner.
    Agnes Ikotun recently posted..You are confused…My Profile

    • Hi Agnes –
      Thanks so much for your comment! I’m so sad to hear abt your friend. I have heard abt these stories happening in such as suburban cul-de-sacs. I heard of a fistfight breaking out between women in my former town in a cul-de-sac. Very sad. take care, Kathy

      • mplo:

        Ouch! The fact that a fistfight broke out between women in a cul-de-sac in your old suburban hometown isn’t the least bit surprising, Kathy. Women fight too, sometimes just as viciously as guys, if not moreso. Living in the suburbs or the boonies doesn’t make one immune to becoming a victim, let alone a victimizer. Sorry that happened.

  • mplo:

    Women and girls can certainly be mean and spiteful, but in a sneakier way. I know, because I experienced it firsthand and close up, for myself. There were two girls in my grade, who lived on my street, one next door, and the other diagonally across the street from me. These two girls, who were the closest of friends, played together, did everything together, and, more often than not, when I wanted to be included, they’d pull an excuse, ignore me, tell me they didn’t want to play with me, or even run away when they saw me coming. I was the “odd girl” out, it hurt, and I haven’t forgotten it.

    However, many years later, during our 20th-year high school class reunion, the girl who’d lived next door and I became friends, while the girl who’d lived across the street from me remained her snooty self.

    Fast forward to middle-aged adulthood, when I held a job for 16 years, in the Customer Service Department of a small local publishing company in my area. Most of my years at the company were good ones, but during the last few years, a new supervisor was brought in to reflect certain changes that were taking place in the company. She became overzealous, monitoring people’s every move. In my case, she started out friendly, bubbly and complimentary, and broke down my defenses, and affectively got me to confide in her about certain issues I’d had in the past. Little did I know that the new supervisor was gathering information so that she could build a case, and then get me fired from the department. The woman made an about-face, especially when I refused to become her stooge, and rat on other co-workers. She’d pepper my desk with unnecessary notes, make up false stories about me, and, in general, harass me over nothing. To make a long story short, I ended up filing a grievance against her, because the harassment became too hard to tolerate.

    I was not the only one that this new supervisor did this with. Three people in my department, including me, ended up filing grievances against her, and leaving, for it was clear what “Evelyn’s’ motive was.

    Fortunately, however, our union was there to back me up, and I managed to get a nice severance package, with a letter of reference from another supervisor (not “Evelyn”), and some retraining money from the company, which I used to go to piano tuning school. What happened was a blessing in disguise, for I’d not only bought time and peace of mind, but I learned a new skill, to boot!

    • Hi there – Wow, thanks for sharing your stories, it makes me feel less alone in this! It’s so disheartening to experience workplace bullying. How sad that your ex-supervisor got you to trust her and then used the information against you! It can be difficult to keep a positive outlook on human-kind sometimes! Such great news that you could retrain and get to learn a new skill and move on withe your life! Best wishes, Kathy

  • Liz:

    Hi Kathy,
    I am a nurse and mostly it is women. Most nurses are very positive and upbeat people. But I seem to keep running into problems with my female nursing supervisors. That is how I found your blog, because I was advised by someone that if it is a pattern it could be me projecting something from my childhood onto the supervisor. I think a lot of times authority articles and bosses are males so it is interesting to think about from your post that not only are the women dealing with power monger issues, but they are females acting out in girl bully behavior.
    An article ‘How can I overcome my problems with authority’ by Gill Plimmer Dec. 2011 online has suggestions for dealing with projecting and perhaps it will help you to think a little about some solutions. I am certainly going to try some of these things.

    Also, I recommend the audio book by Nicholas Boothman, How to Make People Like you in 90 Seconds or Less. I actually checked it out online from the library and downloaded it to my tablet. It really is fascinating and you might find it useful in connecting. He has another audio book at the library, How to Make Someone Love you in 90 Minutes or Less and you might find his suggestions for networking and entertaining a good way to make connections. I don’t know if I am ready to entertain like he suggests but I think you might be ready.

    Finally, after last week, I had a horrible run in with a hiring manager while looking for work, I earned a Negativity Reversing Ionosphere. I think this is very important because I no longer have to let things come inside me – the negativity of other people bounces off it and lands back on them. I suspect I have had some energy vampire bosses stealing my chi and goodness for their benefit which leaves me without my goodness and my own power. Now I am safe and the backstabbers can’t get to me anymore. Even all of their own thoughts, mean words and gossip can just bounce off of my force field, only true love and positivity can really get through. Even my angels have mirrors to send these evil thoughts back to their senders. It is not my job to be taking these things inside me and freeing those people of them. Their own angels and their own psyche must deal with their issues.

    Best to you, and I hope this helps. I liked reading about your story and it helped me to put together somethings about female bosses that might be unique as opposed to male bosses.
    – Liz

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