When I became a legit adult—complete with my own home, car, checking account and fancy career that I hated—I thought all of that petty stuff I experienced as a teenage girl was behind me. You know what I mean. The cliques and the drama and the cat-fighting that are often the hallmarks of a woman’s adolescence.
And then . . . I became a mom.
Yeah, in theory we’re all adults, but sometimes in real life it can feel like we’re still in high school.
Very recently, a fellow “grown-up” was mean to me. On purpose. Hiding behind the anonymity the internet provides, she harshly criticized something I had created without providing any real feedback or basis for her opinion. She just wanted to hate on me, I guess. And it reminded me that those mean girls from high school are still around, and they’re still, well . . . mean.
You know what I’m talking about, right? Mean girl attacks happen all the time when you really think about it. Mom shaming. Competitiveness about our kids' accomplishments. Nasty reviews and rude comments on social media. These are all modern-day ways the mean girls attack. In my neck of the woods, two moms are even going at it with each other in federal court—over a dispute that started on the tennis court. (I can’t make this stuff up).
So what do you do when it happens to you? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here’s what my mean-girl slashings have taught me:
1. Experience Your Feelings.
Let’s be real. It sucks when someone is mean to you. It just plain doesn’t feel good. But as much as we’d all like to feel sunshine and butterfly kisses every day, the reality is that experiencing our lows is just as important as experiencing our highs. Truly, we couldn’t appreciate the good if we never experienced anything bad. So when someone is mean to you, be honest with yourself about how it feels. It’s ok to feel crappy about it. Don’t try to stuff it, resist it or push it aside. And definitely don’t distract yourself from feeling it. (Lying to yourself is never a good thing). Plus, as a friend and mentor once told me, pretending to be happy when you’re not is like painting over rust. The rust is still there, my friend.
Try a healthier (and more productive) approach: allow yourself to fully feel. Feel the anger, disappointment or hurt. Cry it out if you need to. Just remember that you get to decide how long you stay in that space. My advice? Fully experience it and then let it go.
I’m not gonna lie. After my recent brush with the anonymous mean girl, I definitely felt like someone had slapped me. I wallowed for a few hours in, “I’m not good enough,” and “No one likes me,” and “Why am I even trying?”
And then . . . I let it go. I chose to remember the absolute truth that how someone on the internet rates me doesn’t change who I am. It definitely doesn’t dictate my future. I’ve got a lot to offer this world, and mark my words: I’m gonna.
And you know what? So are you.
2. Find the Lesson.
Listen, as cliche as it sounds, there’s a lesson in every experience. It’s our job to find it. And not only for our own sakes, but also so we can guide our kids when this stuff happens to them. Because you know it will.
In my case, I learned a lot from my reaction. I realized just how important it is for me to be good at what I do—and to get validation from others that I’m good at what I do. I was desperate to know why the mean girl rated my work so poorly so I could rationalize it or defend myself in my own mind. The fact that she didn’t give me the satisfaction was bitterly disappointing.
But it also helped me to remember that not all criticism is created equal. Sometimes people criticize you because they’re truly trying to help you improve, or at the very least, want you to do better. Other times, they just wanna give you the finger.
My run-in with the mean girl was a great reminder that I can’t please everyone. Not everything I do or say is going to resonate and that’s ok. (No, really, it is ok). Let’s not ignore the majority of people who love and value you in favor of giving power and attention to the one who doesn’t.
I also learned not to make up stories in my head about why other people do the things they do. Seriously! When people don’t respond to your text messages or call you back; when they ignore your emails; when they give you bad ratings online, unfriend or unfollow you, don’t think for one second that you actually know why. In most cases, it ain’t got nothin’ to do with you.
And let’s not forget. Some women are just crabs in a bucket. They want to pull you down and keep you from rising up because they can’t stand the thought of someone else doing well. They just don’t believe they can shine if you do too.
Another thing I learned is that if I’m gonna stick it out as a content creator in this online world (and I fully intend to), I have to get used to people having opinions about what I create, and that those opinions won’t always be complimentary. Most of the time, their opinions won’t even give me much to go on. I have to draw on my own strength and self-worth to keep going. As one of my best friends said to me after the fact, weapons cannot be strong unless they move through intense heat and pressure. These bumps in my journey are applying heat and pressure to make me stronger.
Same goes for you, my friend. Unpleasant experiences are opportunities to grow. Plain and simple.
Finally, this whole thing taught me that I’ve probably been the mean girl to someone else. And chances are, so have you. Remember how it feels to be on the receiving end next time you’re tempted to dish it out. I know I will.
3. Give Yourself the Win.
Just like there’s a lesson in every experience, there’s also (almost always) something good you can create from it too. Why not divert your energy and propel yourself into action? In my case, the mean-girl experience resulted in this post!
Next time you endeavor to be open and honest about who you are and what you have to offer, ask yourself, how can I create something worth criticizing? For real. Give yourself the win. Honestly, if you’re doing something that other people are bothering to criticize, you’re doing something right.
If you’re putting yourself out there, whether you’re running for the PTA board, starting your own business, crushing it as a direct seller, creating content or serving others in any way, you know it’s hard. It is not easy to wear your heart on your sleeve and literally bear your soul to the public at the risk of them trampling all over it.
But keep doing it.
Keep showing up. Keep giving it your all. Keep believing that you can do anything. Because you know what? You can.
And you're showing your kiddos that they can too.
A version of this article was previously published on Your Ideal Mom Life.