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

Updated on November 1, 2016

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?

See results

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.


I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    Rhonda Marshall 19 months ago

    This particular woman at the workplace was acting in very unkind ways, ridiculing me, gossiping about me to the other workers, spying on me, encouraging her "friends" at work to shun me and /or berate me. I had mentioned it to my husband. His reaction was that it sounded like "Mean Girls" (the movie) to him. The more I think about it, it was an apt description. It put me in a most uncomfortable situation. I could not complain about being excluded and treated badly, because the co-worker giving me all the flak was my supervisor. She and the most senior board member went out to eat together and were great "buddies." So what was I to do? And to make it even worse, I was working for a Christian place of employment. It was stressed that we were to be humble as workers and do all that we did as unto the Lord!! It would have been much easier to do this if my supervisor had shown any humility or understanding at all!!

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    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.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

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

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

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

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    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.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

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

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    No problem. Hope I helped.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

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

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    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.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    You are too kind. Thank you so much.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    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.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

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

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    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.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 4 years ago from USA

    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.

  • Writer Fox profile image

    Writer Fox 4 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 4 years ago from USA

    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.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 4 years ago from USA

    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.

  • Crystals-view profile image

    Crystal Lobato 4 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!

  • CrisSp profile image

    CrisSp 4 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.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 4 years ago from USA

    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.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 4 years ago from USA

    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.

  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 4 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.

  • Barbara Kay profile image

    Barbara Badder 4 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.

  • ologsinquito profile image

    ologsinquito 4 years ago from USA

    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.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 4 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 4 years ago from USA

    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.

  • CraftytotheCore profile image

    CraftytotheCore 4 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.


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