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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Relational Aggression: This is Bullying Too!

When I was in eighth grade, I was part of a clique run by queen bee, Christine Earle.  We had slumber parties, mall trips, skating parties, and long phone conversations.  I loved my friends, and I really loved being part of a group.

That was until the day I found out I was suddenly and mercilessly kicked out of the group.  One day I had friends; the next day I didn't, and it was all because of a pair of jeans.

Calvin Klein designer jeans were the thing to have in 1980. At the time, Brooke Shields was starring in her famous jeans commercials, and pointing her butt toward the camera to show off her label.  At the slumber party, three of us decided to put on our Calvins and pose for a Brooke like picture. 

The problem was, Christine didn't have a pair of Calvins.  She happily snapped the photo at the moment, but was apparently seething inside.  I had no idea what kind of Pandora's box of  anger we had opened with that silly little picture.

Since I had suggested that we take the picture, I was the one to feel her wrath.  My first indication of trouble was when I went up to chat with the group at their lockers between classes; they ignored me. They wouldn't even speak to me.  Soon after, I found out that the group had planned to go out to lunch together following an early school dismissal.  This time I wasn't invited.

I was devastated.  I spent many lonely walks home debating with myself. What did I do?  I spent the rest of the school year feeling very alone.  I found other people to eat with, but we were not really friends.

One member of the group was still my friend when the others were not around to notice.  She started walking home with me.  She gave me a poem to help me through.  Still, she couldn't talk to me in public.

Suddenly, a boy started calling me inviting me to a non-existent party.  Of course it was Christine's boyfriend disguising his voice.

My self-esteem soon plummeted to zero.  On April 1st the girls gave me a note apologizing and telling me they wanted to make up and be friends again.  Of course, it said April Fools at the end of the letter.

Relational aggression is, according to,  "(R.A.) is a form of bullying common among tweens, and especially tween girls. The behavior describes an individual, or a group of individuals, who try to hurt a peer, or sacrifice another's standing within their peer group. "

As discussed in the book, Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, Girls who dole out the R.A. often do so to exert control over their peer group.  A target is chosen as sort of a sacrificial lamb so the queen bee can show what happens when another questions her power.  Once a girl becomes a target, in my opinion, the relationship can not be repaired.

This type of bullying is harder to detect.  Moms who have been through themselves it can often recognize this bullying immediately.  Teachers usually don't notice.  It is not like the typical bullying portrayed in the movies where one student physically harms another.  This type of bullying is silent.  Most of the harm comes from excluding and ignoring the target.  

However, the pain can last a lifetime.  Women like me, who have been excluded, often find that they don't trust other women.  Relational aggression does not always end during the tween years.  Women can be victims of it well into adulthood.

I will never know what happened to Christine.  I don't care.  Her bullying did affect me for years, and it probably subtly still does. It took me well into my 30's to find a true best friend.  Even if your daughter isn't being hit, pinched, or tripped does not mean she hasn't been bullied.  

Moms, watch your daughter for behavior changes.  If she suddenly goes from being a social butterfly to an introvert, there is a problem.  Hug her.  Take her out on a mom/daughter date.  Watch a movie together.  She will need you.

1 comment:

  1. I had a similar experience of being bullied by a girl who would tell everyone she could not to be my friend. it was very difficult for me!