It’s Tough to be a Girl Tim Jordan, MD “It’s hard work to be popular; it’s a 24/7 job with no vacation!” ~ Middle school girl I work with a lot of girls in my counseling practice, groups, weekend retreats, and summer camps. So I feel safe in stating that I’ve heard it all when it comes to girl friendship issues. And I really feel for them, because it’s a tough road to hoe. The following are some of the internal tensions girls feel because of friendship pressures: • • • • longing to connect vs. protect yourself from pain, loss and rejection need to be liked for yourself vs. need to please and fit in be loyal and not gossip or betray a friend’s trust vs. be included and in the loop the impulse to reach out to anyone to avoid being alone vs. only reaching out to friends who are good for you and to you • protect self by not revealing too much vs. feeling lonely because no one really knows you or your true feelings Girls also ask themselves a lot of questions, and the nature of these questions reveals a lot about where they are emotionally: Am I okay? Good enough? Pretty enough to deserve friends or a boyfriend? Will I be left out, alone, rejected, teased or bullied? Who will talk to me when I walk into school or in class? Why don’t people call me to do stuff on the weekends? What would happen if I let everyone see the real me? Why don’t boys notice me like the other girls? Do other people think I am as ugly as I think I am? Does anyone understand what I am going through? Am I the only one? Unfortunately, many girls answer these questions with negative responses, i.e. I am ugly, there’s something wrong with me, etc. And these negative beliefs about themselves tend to attract more negative experiences, creating more evidence that they are no good. When girls share their real feelings in my groups and camps, they are so relieved to know they aren’t the only one who feels that way. Girls need safe places to share and vent and get good feedback from their peers. It feels great to have your peers affirm your positive qualities and to be accepted fully, warts and all. Girls need to learn to quiet themselves and to look inward. Through tools like art work, journaling, dancing and poetry, girls can tap into their innermost feelings, intuition, and their desires. They can learn who they truly are and what’s right for them. And they can then base important decisions on this internal wisdom. Girls need to become aware of the costs to them when they give their power away by reacting to teasing or changing themselves to fit in. If you are true to yourself, don’t engage in the gossip and drama, and stand up for yourself through your values, you will probably not be included in the “popular group” and may very well be on the outskirts of the social loops. I saw an 8th grade girl a few years ago who became uncomfortable with her best friend’s risky behaviors; i.e. drinking and boys. After much anguish, she stopped hanging out with them because “I didn’t like who I was becoming when I was with them.” I saw her because she went through a mild depression as she was in between groups. In the end, her courage and integrity were appreciated by a new group of friends and she was off and running again. Listen to their stories; let them know you understand; empathize; share some of your friendship stories when you were their age. Help them talk through and problem solve friendship conflicts without doing it for them. Create opportunities where they can be with friends for a higher purpose (being of service vs. being cool and looking good.) Love them unconditionally, and trust that they will get through it, stronger and wiser for it. Tim Jordan,M.D. © 2010. All rights reserved.