“How many of you have ever felt personally victimized by Regina George?” asks the principal to a sea of high school students in the 2004 movie, “Mean Girls.” For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, this movie highlights the ways teenage girls go after one another. Regina was the ringleader of a group of mean girls who left a wake of victims behind them.
For some of us, this may bring back memories of our own high school experiences. You may have thought you left those types of people in high school (or even college), but anyone who has spent much time in parenting circles knows bullying doesn’t end there.
Whether it’s a parent in your child’s classroom, playgroup or a parent next door, everyone knows women (and men) who make a point of seeking out and bullying others. Case in point, the HBO hit TV show “Big Little Lies.” These moms are trying to protect their children from bullying, all the while they are bullying one another.
So, what should you do if you have encountered a mom bully? How do you react and gracefully navigate those types of relationships? Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, provided steps to handle a mom bully or anyone who is exhibiting bullying type behavior.
First, let’s define bully.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior” that involves a power imbalance, whether real or perceived, against someone else. According to Dr. Fox, bullying can take the form of physical words or subtle actions to physical or verbal abuse.
Adult women who bully are very similar to teen bullies. “They want power, and they do this by pushing buttons to keep someone off balance and then repeat this behavior,” Fox said. “This makes them feel strong and in control, while the victim is left wondering what is happening.”
How should you respond to a mean mom?
Dr. Fox shared five tips to handle any type of bullying behavior, whether it’s a mean mom, parent, coworker or anyone you may encounter.
1. Know Your Fundamental Human Rights
First, and foremost, know your human rights, Dr. Fox said.
“You have the right to be treated with respect, the right to get what you pay for, the right to protect yourself from being threatened physically, mentally and emotionally and you have the right to say ‘no,’” Dr. Fox said. “If this relationship isn’t meeting those human rights, it is best to remove yourself from that relationship.”
2. Seek Understanding and Sympathize
When you are in a good place (once you’ve given yourself time to cool down and think clearly), empathetically, calmly and assertively seek out understanding of her emotional perspective, whether personally or introspectively. If speaking with the mom in person, set clear boundaries with her but be prepared to keep your cool and avoid impulsive behavior if she doesn’t respond favorably.
Research shows that adult bullies lack self-esteem and confidence. So, their negative behavior has everything to do with them and nothing to do with you. Don’t waste your time trying to figure out how you need to change or how to make her like you. Instead sympathize with what she must be going through to bully others.
3. Document the Behavior
Whether the mean mom is verbally or physically bullying you, document the behavior. Write down when it is occurring and ensure there was a witness to the bullying. If this bullying is occurring at work, Dr. Fox says to report up to a manager or human resources. If it is occurring on school grounds, report to school administration.
4. Cultivate Other Friendships
Social groups are a breeding ground for cliques. As with class parents and playgroups, know that you don’t have to be friends with everyone in the class – particularly if there is someone bullying you. You can be friendly but don’t have to try and force a friendship that isn’t mutually beneficial.
If this mom is in one of those groups, consider reaching out and making plans with other women that you have just met. As hard as this may be for you, keep in mind that someone has to take the first step. Who knows? It may just be the start of a beautiful friendship.
5. Speak with a Therapist
If you are unable to resolve through conversations with friends, family and work situations, Dr. Fox recommended you absolutely engage in talk therapy. A therapist can help you process your feelings and arm you with the tools to effectively navigate this toxic relationship.
“Ultimately, life is too short to spend with people who treat you poorly,” Dr. Fox said. “Surround yourself with kind, compassionate people who aren’t self-serving. These types of people will lessen the impact of the mean moms.”
If you are struggling with a bully and need the help of a behavioral health professional, visit bannerhealth.com to find a provider near you.