Relational aggression is the most common among girls and women in terms of anger and expression of negative emotion. What it boils down to is that when a woman is upset with you she will not necessarily tell you – she will punish you with various forms of withdrawal.
It may be as simple as waiting a few hours before returning your message, or it may be as extreme as walking out of your life forever; possibly without ever giving you the chance to ever really understand what happened or why.
Commonly within female friendships there is a range of tactics used that fall under the relational aggression umbrella. While a woman may remain sweet to your face, she may be quietly poisoning your other relationships by talking to your other friends about you in a negative context, or sharing your secrets with them behind your back.
Alternatively she may start being extra sweet to you – keeping her enemies close, and be working to sabotage you in ways you can’t even imagine, from telling you something is fat free when she knows damned well it isn’t, to lying directly to your face while she sleeps with your partner.
The most common form of relational aggression is bullying by exclusion. One of the hardest things about this type of bullying is that the excluded party can feel it, yet it can be difficult to prove. In an older post about group friendships I have spoken about a time when my friends all arranged a girls weekend without me and then accidentally emailed me about it. I have trouble thinking about that moment even now and the feelings of hurt and anger and confusion that swept over me all at once. Of course I pretended to be cool with it – they were allowed to be friends with each other without me, right? Except I wasn’t cool with it.
I wondered what I had done wrong that they wouldn’t invite me, and if they had decided to not invite me on purpose or just forgotten me. Not that one was better than the other. If I was really their friend I felt neither would be true. Of course I allowed myself to indulge in some pretty negative thought spirals where they all sat around agreeing to conspire against me, how they would keep it from me, and the lies they would tell me, or not tell me at all. I imagined them all discussing all the ways I would ruin the trip if I went along and basically laughing at my expense about what a loser I am and how they didn’t like me anymore and were better off without me. I felt excluded. I didn’t express it at the time, but I felt bullied.
Bullying by exclusion is real, but yet I felt I couldn’t express it. If I did they would minimise it and call me petty and jealous and tell me that they were allowed to have friendships with one another and that I didn’t own them. And they would have been right too. I told myself it was the secret nature of the event that bothered me, but really; had they sat me down and explained they were going without me I still would have felt excluded and sad. The fact that they didn’t directly tell me though, plays into it – they knew what they were doing was going to hurt me, and they knew they were going to do it anyway. This was my problem not theirs. Relational aggression is indirect in nature, because then we don’t have to hold ourselves accountable and it is harder for other people to hold us accountable. I regret not saying “I feel bullied and I am questioning your loyalty and all of these friendships as a result. I expected more from you.”
And therein lies the problem. I expected to be invited and included on a trip I knew nothing about. Part of the reason relational aggression is so rampant is that the rules of friendship, female friendship especially, are so undefined. I had never sat with the group of women over wine and said “Ladies, if you are ever planning a girls weekend away together I expect to be invited.” Yet I was let down when the unspoken law was broken? Similarly my friend at the time had never said to me “If you or anyone in your family has a health scare or issue, I expect to be one of the first to know.” And similarly that did not stop her from being upset by her unmet and unspoken expectation.
Bullying by exclusion is real and isolating a person is permanently damaging to her sense of self-worth.
However, recently I have found myself in a situation whereby one friend may feel that my friendship with someone else is taking away from our friendship, or perhaps taking me away from her. Or possibly, the issue could be that she feels that my friendship with the other person involved is disrupting their friendship with each other. (Which once felt closer than it does now to my friend.) I find myself feeling guilty that while my friendship with someone grows closer, as a result of this another much loved friend feels hurt and further away from us both. I never intended for one friendship to take away from the other. I also question how much responsibility I can assume over the fact perhaps their relationship is not as close with each other as it was before?
If I am doing all I can to maintain both friendships, to ensure both people feel valued, heard and loved, is it not my friends' responsibility to do the same with each other? Just because I happen to be close with each of them, does that mean their friendship break down is my fault or my responsibility to fix it? If I try; will I be thanked for it or be scolded for meddling and speaking out of turn?
Unlike my younger self, my friend was able to express her hurt and jealousy directly and instead of justifying my reasons, I wanted to hear her and let her know regardless of what happens in her other friendships we are still solid. This is true even though I intend to maintain a friendship with both of them regardless of their relationship with each other. I did not want to minimise what is a very real issue. If she has said I am hurting her, rumour has it that I don't get to decide that I haven't or that what she feels is silly. It isn't. I value that she trusted me enough to express her emotions and gave me a chance to apologise and reassure her.
All I know is that I don’t want to feel like I am participating in relational aggression. My question then becomes – Is it still bullying by exclusion if I continue to spend time with each of them exclusively; knowing that my friend feels deliberately left out when I am hanging out with our other friend alone? My immediate solution is to arrange a group event, and make sure we keep making them in the future so everyone feels as important and liked as they are, and make sure I am spending as much time as I can with each of them, exclusively, whenever we both can. I have to surrender responsibility for how much time they spend together without me though.
Does that sound like a fair and reasonable solution to you? Should we have a group meeting to discuss jealousy and expectation and how to manage it? What are your suggestions for managing jealousy in friend groups of 3 or more? I am seriously interested in your help ladies. Lol
Your Best Friend ForNever