Why Women Can Be So Mean to Each Other and How to Protect Yourself

Shocked and Betrayed

Some women don't play by the rules. Many times, though, we realize this only in hindsight.

We assume her warm overtures are genuine, so we extend our friendship and trust.

However, instead, she betrays us, often at great personal and professional cost.

We may wonder what happened and why we didn't see it coming.

But we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves. Some women haven't left behind the childish games they learned on the playground in elementary school.

Little has changed as they've gotten older, except they've become much better at bullying others, under the radar. They've become masters at creating chaos without tipping anyone off, except the unfortunate victim who's still pinching herself to see if this really happened, and wondering if anyone else would believe what she's just experienced.

A few social scientists are now beginning to study and publish ground-breaking work on adult female bullies, because, for too long, most people assumed they didn't exist.


Undercover Agents

Women who want to discredit another woman use what's known as “relational aggression.” This is just a fancy term for bullying. They operate under the cover of darkness to spread malicious lies about their adversary, whom usually hasn't done anything wrong. Or they may include a grain of truth in their accusations, and then blow it exponentially out of proportion.

In a group setting, bullies maneuver and manipulate to isolate the person they want to marginalize. For instance, they may host a series of cookouts or parties at their house, and invite everyone but their target. Others are forced to choose whether to excuse themselves, and possibly set themselves up to suffer the same fate, or join in the fun. (Most people will choose the latter.)

Women discredit rivals with gossip.
Women discredit rivals with gossip. | Source

Here's Some of the Latest Research

Dr. Cheryl Dellasega, PhD., is an authority on the topic of relational aggression. She attempts to answer the question of why this happens in her book, Mean Girls Grow Up. This destructive behavior, she notes, occurs when women do not move beyond the roles they adopted in childhood.

This extremely disordered way of relating to others stays with them as they age. They continue to push people around in other settings. A very common venue is the workplace. But it can happen anywhere. Dr. Dellasega has even seen female bullies mark their turf in old age communities.

Bullies, she has found, are highly competitive “Queen Bee” types who command attention and demand respect.

Queen Bees are often abetted by females known as “Middle Bees.” These mindless drones assist her in doling out punishment. For instance, they may deliver messages back and forth, and they may feed the Queen with unsavory bits of gossip. Or they may participate in shunning the target.

“Afraid-to-Bees” are the victims of these stings. These women can't stand up for themselves and they also lack social supports. Bullying is largely a crime of opportunity. It generally won't happen unless the aggressor finds a weak spot

The effects may be devastating if this plays out in a professional setting. An ongoing hate campaign, started by one Queen Bee, can destroy someone's career and livelihood.

Female bullies slander their targets.
Female bullies slander their targets. | Source

What's Your Experience

Have You Ever Met an Adult Female Bully?

  • Yes
  • No
  • She better not pick on me.
See results without voting

Predators on the Job

Nearly 40 percent of corporate abusers are female, and most of the time, they pick on other women, according to figures supplied by the Workplace Bullying Institute, an advocacy group that's seeking to push legislation that would make this type of behavior illegal.

The European Union, right now, has much tougher laws when it comes to on-the-job bullying.

Employee bullying can rightly be called an epidemic because it affects more than one in three US workers at some time in their careers.

Most targets are powerless when a co-worker is hellbent on making life difficult, notes the WBI. That's because it's rare for anyone to come to a target's defense, since it means they could be putting their own jobs in jeopardy.

The outcome is predictable. Usually, the target is either fired or she quits under pressure. Attempting to take action, such as speaking with Human Resources staff, is largely useless. The WBI has found that only 3 percent of the time does the bullying get resolved in this manner.


How to Tell if You're a Target

It's not always easy to immediately know if you're being bullied, although the problem eventually reveals itself in a most dramatic fashion. You may not notice any overt hostility. If a woman is striking out, she's probably going to hit you socially.

If you work in an office with a group of other people, you may notice you're being excluded from important meetings you used to attend.

Every Wednesday, a group of co-workers may head to a restaurant during their lunch hour. Although they used to invite you along, they haven't done so lately.

You're also finding it more difficult to complete your work on time, because deadlines keep moving. There was a key report you needed to read, but no one will let you see it.

None of these incidents alone mean you're being bullied. Rather, it's the pattern of everything put together, along with a growing feeling of being uncomfortable in a certain setting. Bullying is defined as repeated incidents of harassment or aggression over a period of time.


Malignant Narcissism and Other Personality Disorders

There's a very good chance the woman causing you so much grief has a personality disorder such as malignant narcissism. Although we can't go around diagnosing people, it doesn't take an advanced degree to recognize someone who's disturbed.

Well-adjusted people don't relate to one another with aggression, whether it's out in the open or veiled. They are able to work productively and strive to resolve conflicts.

It might be useful to educate yourself on what psychologists consider unhealthy narcissism, so you can learn to protect yourself. People who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder are not grounded in reality. They also have a propensity to lie and to distort the truth. They are also lacking in their ability to empathize with others.

Oftentimes, they are charming and highly likable. People are drawn to their gregarious personalities. Narcissists are also prone to raging if their needs aren't met.

Protecting Yourself from Adult Bullies

The best protection is prevention. Read all you can about adult bullies, workplace bullying and malignant narcissism. This way you'll be able to exercise discretion, especially when you're first getting to know someone.

One red flag, I've noticed, is coming on too strong during the early stages of a friendship. For instance, someone you've just met may want to meet you for coffee, several times in one week.

It's best to develop relationships slowly. Don't trust anyone with sensitive information unless they've earned that trust. Be especially cognizant of sharing too much with people at work. This can have serious ramifications if someone turns out to be not trustworthy.

Also, beware of women who gossip incessantly about others. They'll do the same to you. Although most people are well meaning, not everyone always has your best interests at heart.


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More by this Author


CraftytotheCore profile image

CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

This is an outstanding Hub and hits on exceptional common points in life. I knew a woman when I worked in an office that was the biggest office bully. She was jealous of all of the other women. A girl was getting married and this woman was so jealous, she started telling all of the guests that were invited in the office to wear shorts to the wedding because it was going to be outdoors. She also tried time and again to sabotage this girl's wedding out of spite. So sad, but true.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA Author

It is so sad, but unfortunately very true. This aggression seems to spring from envy and it causes so much damage. Thank you so much for reading and for commenting.

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

Excellent hub! I personally experienced some of the points you mentioned in the office and wrote about it in a hub (Memories Of An Office Mean Girl). As a word of warning to you because your hub is so well done -- my Office Mean Girl hub was COPIED on the Workplace Bullying Institute website within days of being published. They tweeted it Facebook shared it, all linking back to their site, not my Hub site. Although they did have a byline that indicated my authorship and said it was a "guestpost" why would someone need to click over to HubPages if they can get the full story there? I share this with you because your article is so well done and because it is a perfect topic for them to copy. Just be cautious. To their credit, they did remove the copy months later when I discovered it but the damage was done and there was no apology.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA Author

Thanks for the heads up. I will make sure this doesn't happen here.

I'm glad you found this rogue copy and they deleted it. I'm hoping this was done "innocently," without them knowing they were violating any copyright regulations. All of that traffic should have been directed right back to Hub Pages. We have to be so alert about so many things nowadays.

Thanks for reading as well.

Barbara Kay profile image

Barbara Kay 3 years ago from USA

I had an incident like this happen at a job. I've had other jobs and never had this problem and didn't realize it was so widespread until I read your hub.

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 3 years ago from Dallas, Texas

Very informative and interesting observations here. I found it interesting that the poll indicated 100 percent of those who voted said they've experienced this type of aggressive behavior. My first time to encounter it in the workplace was at eighteen when I worked at a bank. The other new accounts representatives were in their mid 40s and all but one conspired together to either get me in trouble with the VP or to push off the Friday weekly report on me while they went to dinner together during the break before the bank reopened in the evening. The one kind woman, Bea, I'll never forget her kindness when I needed it most.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA Author

Hi Barbara, it is so widespread, unfortunately, and not just at the office. I write from the personal perspective of running into church bullies. But the dynamics are exactly the same. Thanks for reading.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA Author

Hi Peg, these situations seem to be happening everywhere. I honestly think we are living in a very mean culture, and this is one symptom. Sorry this happened to you. I feel so sorry for the people right now going through something similar.

CrisSp profile image

CrisSp 3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

Skillfully done hub! Very insightful with great info that we should all keep in mind.

I've met this creature at work and I was once a victim. It was hard because she's in the position higher than me. I never knew until then. Your descriptions fit to a T: charming, highly likable and gregarious. *sad*

Now, I know better and I stay away from them.

Voting up and sharing this interesting hub!

Thank you.

Crystals-view profile image

Crystals-view 3 years ago from Colorado, USA

This hub was very well done and a great read. This is why I work mainly with men...less drama. Sharing!

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA Author

Hi CrisSp, You really do have to live through one of these encounters to understand. (I wrote it for everyone who's been entangled with someone who has a disordered personality.) Once you've been there, you never want to go back. Thanks for reading.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA Author

I know just what you mean. There is much less drama with men, and it's often much easier to work with them. Thanks for reading.

Writer Fox profile image

Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

I think you are so right that envy is at the root of a lot of bullying. After all, it's why Cain killed Abel. Some things never change. I thoroughly enjoyed your insight here and voted up.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA Author

Hi WriterFox, envy has been a problem ever since Adam and Eve sinned and had to leave the Garden of Eden. You are correct. Thank you for reading and for voting up.

toffee 2 years ago

I think the root of all bullying is insecurity. Why does a fat person get bullied by a person who is not fat? Because that person is AFRAID of getting fat....and making fun of the fat person makes the slender person feel in control of their fear.

Why does a nice woman get bullied and taken advantage of by a manipulative woman? Because that manipulative woman mistakes that other woman's kindness as a weakness and tries to take advantage of the nice woman. If/when the nice woman defends herself from the manipulative woman, then that manipulative woman excludes her and isolates her from the group.

Most women are just insecure bitches. This is why I have only a couple of true gal pals who are just as direct in speech as I am. With all other women, it's constant drama. It's sad.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA Author

Hi toffee, insecurity plays a big role, as does envy. Sometimes very attractive people get bullied as well. You hit the nail on the head about bullies mistaking kindness for weakness, and then tries to take advantage of the situation. Then, when the nice woman stands up for herself, the bully goes into overdrive to isolate her. It does seem to be difficult to find true female friends nowadays. Sometimes it's just easier dealing with men.

Jennifer 2 years ago

Make horrible people psychologically. AND awful friends. sick people whom need their own help natures predators. some men are no better too if you ask me. time to grow the fack up!

peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

seriously, some women had to win the other and show who is in power

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA Author

Hi peacepurple, I've seen some amazing and horrifying behavior. Thanks so much for reading.

Bob 24 months ago

I've seen my manager at work been bullied not only by other female managers but women on her team. i've seen managers undermine her decisions, not been helpful with her and speak to her in an angry tone. I've often notice they would laugh and joke with other managers and very rarely with her, it's not that she's not approachable she is . I've seen ladies on her team talk to her aggressively, ignore her and ask other girls what they are doing for lunch and not her. Twice I've heard girls tell her she was a weakling. First time she agreed, second she tried to stick up for herself but ended up looking even more weaker. The problem is others in the team sees her as weak and that she's afraid of certain individuals. I believe her physical weakness carries across to her being made look like a weak leader so easily. It's a pity she has good acumen and if she was stronger willed she could show her full potential as a business woman.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 24 months ago from USA Author

Hi Bob, this is so sad to hear, but, unfortunately, so typical. Women seem to be at their worst at work, or anywhere else where there's an opportunity for rivalry and competition. It's my personal belief this meanness has gotten worse as society has become more disordered. Thanks so much for reading. At least she has you support.

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 20 months ago from USA

This was an especially good hub. I'm back to pin. I love that cat photo with them doing their fisticuffs and posturing.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 20 months ago from USA Author

You are too kind. Thank you so much.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 20 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

March 6

ologsinquito: Loved this piece. And I am a male. Voted Up and all the buttons. Very useful and good advice for our sanity.

I wanted to ask you if there were such a thing as "Secret Queen Bees?" Women in co-partner management such as the wife of a church pastor. This species, I have been told, is automatically recognized as being next to the church leader and always gets her way no matter the project and all without any resistance from female members or male members.

Your advice would help.


ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 20 months ago from USA Author

I think you're talking about the notorious church ladies. They are a very special breed, and not to be tangled with, or else. That's probably why they get little resistance. Also, most people also assume they are saintly.

From my own personal experience, it appears as if what some psychologists call "covert narcissists" or "stealth narcissists" gravitate toward churches, where they can run things and push people around. They also find a plentiful supply of targets.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 20 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

March 6


Wow! That makes sense. Thanks for the info. But the rub here is the church woman is the pastor's wife and her record is so clean that she squeaks. I am not lifting her up above anyone, but I have noticed since I have been a part of this body, that she just speaks and things happen.

And she can be so angelic that I melt with admiration.

I am keeping my armour polished.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 20 months ago from USA Author

That's a tough situation. Stay on her good side. :)

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 20 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama


I have so far and have not been verbally-thrashed. I have though seen her wield her power and it is something to behold. I feel as if I am sinning by confiding in you, but I had to ask someone who knew about this. Thanks so much.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 20 months ago from USA Author

No problem. Hope I helped.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 20 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Dear ologsinquito,

You did. Thank you bunches.

anan 12 months ago

I have a female friend at work whom emailed me very upset during the week. She was given a query to look into, the lady that caused the mistake on her team wouldn't even look at her when she asked her for help and sent her an unfriendly email with limited information. She's to do all the research while the other girl gets off scott free. She told me she's always very helpful to the other lady and it seems so cruel that the other one could treat her almost like a lesser being by not even looking at her or acknowledging her with a no. She also told me in her team is a clique of 4 women that gossip and whisper and she keeps out of it. Once or twice she'd make a comment or join in and she'd get snapped at. She couldn't sleep at night over it and took the day off work the following day. I do see other women in the office fall out over the stupidest of things. Its shocking what my friend has gone through and now wants to leave. I think Sisterhood in some situations will only allow some sisters in.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 12 months ago from USA Author

Hi anan, unfortunately this is an accurate summary. Women can just be so mean to one another.

moonlake profile image

moonlake 12 months ago from America

You can find bullies everywhere even in senior or nursing homes all ages. I have seen women act like school girls when they start trouble with one person. The worst kind is the woman who gets you involved in her gossip when you haven't said a thing, but she includes your name.

Men can also do the same thing. Most of the gossip in our town come from a place where mostly men work.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 12 months ago from USA Author

Hi Moonlake, this is so sad when you see older people acting this way. Someone else once noted that they haven't learned anything at all in all the years they've spent on earth. I'd have to agree.

Jennifer 6 months ago

Employment bullying needs to become illegal. People should feel safe at work and not get forced out of an unhealthy environment. Enough.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 6 months ago from USA Author

Hi Jennifer, I couldn't agree more. Thanks for reading.

Jennifer 5 months ago

Hi ologsinquito, May I also add that this is a cycle that is filtered from the persons' personal life. If you notice bullying clique behavior comes in 4 where either the woman in the clique fights to want to be like the queen bee or subservant to her. Then the parrallel is at the workforce where if you work with women in a hateful environment they all are forced into 4's again. Then the last in line is cut loose and then the clique is in 3's. Happened at my last job the first words said to me was "women are catty". I knew it wouldn't be pleasant road. Then after 1 month of work was cut loose. People need like myself need jobs and work and I have no time for this as am mature. Hopefully, these environments will change so people can do what they are suppossed to do and work productively. Thanks for listening as no one takes responsibility any more for this behavior in other adults or may I say grown children. uggh Thank you for your blog. Take care.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 5 months ago from USA Author

Hi Jennifer, I'm sorry to hear of your experience. Thanks for reading.

5 months ago

We have a Mean Girl neighbor who has been bullying one of my other neighbors, mainly through use of the HOA. The pattern you described fits her and her enabling posse perfectly. As someone who has stood up for the target, I am now in the crosshairs. But standing by and letting someone lie and distort in order to demean and undermine is not an option.

I grew up with a mean girl narcissist. I know one when I see one. There's little she could do that I would care about.

I passed this article on to the person being targeted so she could see it's not her fault. Haters gotta hate. But there are people willing to stand against.

ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 5 months ago from USA Author

Hi J, it sounds like you have a pretty good insight into how these adult female bullies operate. I'm so happy to hear you stood up for the target. Thank you so much for reading.

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