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  • By Christy George, MFT

Just Between Us Girls: Dealing with relational aggression

mean girls, bullying, relational aggression, abuse

If you are a girl or a woman, chances are you have been a victim, perpetrator or at the very least, a bystander of relational aggression at some point in your life. You know, you’ve seen it, the whispers between two friends as they giggle and look at someone; the eye rolls; name calling; secret sharing; rumor spreading; gossiping; ignoring; hurtful comments; lies; manipulating; the silent treatment; and the most common and often most painful- - deliberate exclusion. This is relational aggression or relational violence. It is when someone’s behavior is meant to damage, attack or manipulate another’s social status, relationships and friendships.

While relational aggression can happen at any time, research suggests it peaks in middle school when kids experience a strong desire for belonging, and peer groups become very important, making people vulnerable to becoming an aggressor, victim or bystander. Typically, each player is experiencing fear, insecurity and a need to be accepted and liked. So, if you think about it, it makes sense that a woman might also have this experience at other points in her life when she is vulnerable and seeking belonging, such as moving to a new city away from friends and family, having a baby, starting a new job, being the mother of a teenage girl, and going through a divorce.

Relational aggression has been observed world wide, in different socio-economic levels, different cultures and different types of learning and living environments.

Whether you are a girl, a teen, a single woman or a mom, your life can be impacted in a plethora of negative ways. Aggressors and targets of relational aggression are more likely to feel short term effects of loneliness and isolation, have depression and anxiety, feel alienated, have emotional distress and low self esteem. Whereas long term effects, especially for young people, can be more serious, like suicidal ideation and attempts, self harming, poor relational skills, developing eating disorders, unwanted pregnancies and engaging dangerous risk taking behaviors.

If you are the parent or support person of a child dealing with relational aggression you can:

* Be a good role model. Teach and model relationship building skills. * Teach and model empathy * Help your child to identify her individual strengths * Learn, teach and practice good communication and conflict resolution skills * Encourage her to be involved in extra curricular activities where she can be successful and grow

And remember, these skills can be applied to your life as well. If you are an adult:

* Seek help and support in building positive relationships * Be kind to others * Notice your own strengths * Learn and practice good communication and conflict resolution skills * Develop interests you engage in regularly that make you happy and allow you to feel successful * Seek out supportive people with similar values to spend your time with

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