As sure as the sun rises and sets, every year in each and every middle school and perhaps even in some elementary and high schools, countless girls will be traumatized by a mean girl. Whether the mean girl chooses bullying, ostracizing or leaving a former friend with a broken heart by cutting her off from friendship, victims have to recover from a sad time when their self-esteem is most vulnerable. For moms whose daughters are struggling right now with this, read to the end so you can give your daughters a true long term perspective.
Not every girl is the target or victim. There are plenty of perpetrators who will never get to experience this, and there are those who are so popular they are immune to this. There are those that coast through the years so secure with intact friendships because they never attempt to ascend the popularity hierarchy - who stay out of sight of those who might harm them. There are also the types that were beautiful and sought after and never had a mean bone in their body.
Although I am in my fifties, I have never forgotten the names and faces of my mean girls, even though that term was not even in our lexicon back then. Neither were code-words like self-esteem or bullying. There weren't any school counselors or teachers who talked to you when you were sad or depressed. Thankfully, there was no social media back then, so girls like me just got kicked to the curb, and we had no choice but to pick ourselves up, and go on.
My own story resulted from my error of befriending a very extroverted and friendly girl (popular) from a different elementary starting my first day of junior high. "A" and I just clicked, even though I was younger and a bit immature. I had a heady first year of junior high with her as my best friend, going to boy/girl parties, experiencing slumber parties at her home, being introduced to all of her neighbors and friends and becoming part of her crowd. We shopped together too. For my birthday, she lovingly collected from a group of friends to buy me a purse that I desperately wanted all school year, but couldn't afford. We stayed inseparable even through that first summer after our first school year together.
I was growing too slowly, nowhere near puberty. My braces and glasses and chopped off hair made me a nerdy sight for sore eyes. I had just a few friends at that point.
When the next school year began, we were separated into different advisories. With that, "A" met a new best friend, who in classic mean girl style, decided I was unworthy and way too nerdy to be acceptable as a friend for "A" or herself.
Since there was no media, no written materials, no counselor or understanding parent, or even a term "mean girl", when I was dumped unceremoniously, I had absolutely no understanding of why a friend could do such a thing. I begged for a reason, for an answer, for a return to friendship. My pleadings were met with laughs or disdain. It was my first experience with a broken heart, far before my first romantic one. I went through that entire school year without a clue as to what transpired to make my former best friend hate me so and shun me. Finally I just grieved.
I was a voracious reader but there wasn't reading material on the popularity hierarchy, and so I remained clueless until the next school year - one and a half years after being dumped. A classmate explained to me that I was a nerd and that no one popular wants to be friends with a nerd. With that explanation I finally understood.
I blossomed by high school, and my witty, fun personality had me making friends with some of the most beautiful and sought after girls in my high school - who came from another middle school and did not know my sad history. (Many have remained dear friends.) I also landed the cutest boy in school for a steady boyfriend. It was obvious that they peaked in middle school and I was on the fast track to success in life.
I forgave them years ago, but never forgot. I came to realize that they lost out on a true blue friend.
With Facebook around, I know their whereabouts and can keep tabs on them if I wish. I am not connected with my elusive one year best buddy, but I am with the other girl who forced the breakup and we have lots of mutual friends.
The other mean girl who forced "A"'s hand now seems a nice enough woman, with lots of friends and she often posts platitudes about the meaning of friendship. Did she outgrow her meanness when nerdiness didn't matter anymore? Does she have any idea or memory of the hurt and pain she caused me or is this just part of my memory bank because I was the one traumatized?
I learned that I am much more accomplished in life, with multiple advanced degrees including one from a premiere university, and a rewarding career. Both of these mean girls also never had the greatest and most rewarding gift in life (in my opinion) as neither bore or adopted any children. One never even ventured away from our original neighborhood, now in an appalling state of decline.
A friend once asked why I connect with people like her on Facebook, or even act kind at reunions or such. It gives me satisfaction to show my evolution from a junior high nerd, and to share my success. These are photos of me at age 17, 19, 21, 44 and 58.
For some of the haughtiest junior high mean queens, it's been all downhill since then. Not for me.
That's because for every diss-er and detractor, I became stronger and a little bit more determined to succeed. I learned resilience in adversity. I learned to be more discerning of friends, choosing only those with good hearts from then on.
So my message to moms helping their daughters cope with this ugly phenomenon is that with determination and fortitude, the victim can absolutely lose that victim label and instead become the true victor. Keep blooming and striving to be better, because those at the top now may just peak early and have nothing more to show later in life than some popularity in middle school years. It may mean the world now, but in the long run, it adds absolutely no value.
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