This week I had the opportunity to see Mean Girls the Musical in New York City. Because I love anything Tina Fey does, I fully expected to like it. I was wrong; I LOVED it. It contained the themes from her blockbuster movie of the same name: human sexuality, bullying, hierarchical structures of the animal kingdom, and the possibility that people can change. The musical was updated with current political one-liners as well as the newest female relational aggression tool: cyber bullying. I was elated when I heard the myriad of adolescent girls and their mothers sitting in the audience clap and cheer to the messages the show contained. It was a feel-good evening filled with song, dance, and inspiration.
Little did I know that between the time I boarded my plane home to Seattle and touch down in the Pacific Northwest, I too would become a victim of what Tina Fey calls “girl on girl violence.” My social media, website, and email inboxes had exploded with horrifically abusive and aggressive messages from a woman using six different aliases who had clearly been trolling and stalking me. I felt my hair blow back as I read her words, my stomach knot, and my nervous system’s fight-or-flight response initiate.
Then I stopped. I thought. I breathed. I instigated the tools I teach my patients and students. Before I had gone to bed, I had forgiven her and set as good a boundary as I could by blocking and reporting her. Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to really set good boundaries with this sort of violence, because like this woman did, people can use fake names and accounts. However, I also set up an energetic boundary around myself that can no longer be penetrated.
Relational aggression between women is on the rise. Researchers studying it have found its four key components:
- It’s internally motivated.
- It’s driven by a sense of threat or fear.
- It’s used primarily by women.
- It’s a behavioral dynamic that can be changed with effort.
Researchers say that the patterns of female relational aggression are developed in elementary, middle, and high school and continue into adulthood, impacting our relationships, self-esteem, health, and parenting. There are three different classes of girls who are played out in Mean Girls in Tina Fey’s adroit observational and comedic way:
- The Queen Bee
- The Middle Bee
- The Afraid to Be Bee
Watch Mean Girls and you will see who plays each role. Each of these Bees is ultimately driven by a lack of worth. They each use passive-aggressive language and full-out-aggressive language to manipulate the world they live in to get what they believe they need to be loved, respected, and to get their needs met. As the “girl on girl violence” reaches a zenith in the movie and on stage, the principle and Tina Fey’s character, a high school teacher named Ms. Norbury, gather all of the high school girls in the gymnasium. She asks them to all close their eyes. She then asks them to raise their hands if they have been a victim of gossip or mean behavior from another girl(s). They all raise their hands. She then asks them to open their eyes and look around the gym at all of the raised hands. She then asks them to close their eyes again and to raise their hands if they have been mean to another girl(s), gossiped, or been aggressive. Once again, they all open their eyes to see a gymnasium full of raised hands. The point she was making is that we have all been victimized by other women/girls, and we have also been the perpetrator in acts of aggression against other females.
The Drama Triangle
In this era of #MeToo, men are being called on the carpet for hurting women. But what about “girl on girl violence”? In a time when women ought to be banding together to support one another, we are farther apart than ever. Women who stay at home raising children judge working mothers. Women who work judge those who choose to stay home. Women who have children judge women who choose career over childbirth. Women who center their lives around careers judge those who have chosen to be Mothers. And this is only the beginning. We also have religion, politics, money, gender issues, and sex that divide us. In our day and age, what does it really mean to be a woman? This can only be defined by each woman for herself and it is up to each of us to then respect the paths our sisters have chosen to express their own femininity. If we do not respect ourselves and each other, how can we expect and even demand that the rest of the world respect us? We are a house divided and are viewed as “drama queens,” “high maintenance,” and “emotionally unstable” by our male counterparts as a result.
It is true, where there is drama there is usually a female present. There are three roles people take when dramatic events are playing out: the rescuer, the victim, and the perpetrator. In any given conversation, we will shift from victim to rescuer to perpetrator as the drama escalates. If you find yourself in the middle of uncomfortable drama, you can just check in and see which role(s) you are playing. The solution? Hop off the Drama Triangle and leave all three roles behind. Move instead to the Durable Triangle. The three positions on the Durable Triangle include being a resource (rather than rescuer), staying vulnerable (rather than a victim), and persevering (over being a perpetrator). I often hear my patients tell me how much they hate drama, and yet they cling to their life-long script of playing out the roles on the Drama Triangle.
Drama and how it Impacts Your Karma
Face it, as a general rule, women are more emotional than men. It’s what makes us more nurturing and compassionate by nature. However, according to Ayurveda, it’s also what makes us sick. According to this 10,000-year-old sister science of yoga, autoimmune disease is undigested anger. Yes, we have to digest the things we put in our minds, such as our feelings, beliefs, experiences, and memories, the same as we have to digest the things we put in our mouths. Ayurveda also talks about how what is in the mind crystallizes in the body. The mechanism of this could be called karma.
Karma is not what is traditionally thought of in Western culture as punitive judgement. Instead it is more like the Newtonian laws of physics: for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. It’s not “bad” and it’s not “good.” As I mentioned, I was just in New York City speaking at a conference. I was gone for nearly a week, and while I was away two of my orchids died. This is not bad or good. I am not bad or good. My orchids are not bad or good. The result of not watering the plants is that they die. We as humans then insert the judgement of “bad” or “good” into the outcome. There is no such thing as bad karma or good karma. There is only karma. Karma is the sum of your actions and their outcomes or consequences. In fact, when people think they have been the victim of bad karma, they are usually wrong. Most of what we experience as challenging is actually quite good for us. Most of what we enjoy is likely not really that great in terms of helping us become better human beings.
As my Tantra teacher, Swami Anandakapila Saraswati, recommends go back and review 10 lottery winners and what their life outcomes were over the year following their supposed “good karma” of sudden wealth. Over 2/3 of them will be worse off than they were before their “good fortune.” Why? Because we have to feel worthy and deserving of “good karma.”
There are several different kinds of karma, but I want to highlight three that are relevant to this discussion:
SaBija: karma created before and during birth.
Agami: created at birth and after.
Prarabdha: created as we make our life choices that set consequences in motion.
You can think of SaBija karma as seeds (bija means seed). You can think of Agami karma as the seeds planted in the soil. Prarabha karma is the seed sprouted and the fruit available for harvest. What waters the seeds and crystallizes the impact of the karma? Emotion. You can say that emotion sets your karma in motion. So if you eat a bunch of sugary snacks you run the risk of gaining weight. But if you eat a bunch of sugary snacks because you are emotionally upset, you also run the risk of an inflammatory reaction on top of your weight gain. Strong emotion makes all of it so much worse.
Circling back around to this woman who felt the need to post vitriolic hate on my website, email inboxes, and social media platforms: She is clearly emotionally imbalanced. If I followed her actions up with my own emotional upset, then I would have physical repercussions of my own. In other words, my karma would get linked to hers. By not engaging with her, not following her onto the Drama Triangle, I can keep my own heart, mind, body, and spirit clear of her karma. This will ensure that I stay healthy and at peace. What she thinks of me is none of my business.
Forgiveness of Your Own Female Aggressor
Now take this a step further. Not only can I set good boundaries and keep my emotions equanimous, but I can also learn from this woman. She is playing out a role that every single one of us has played at some point: that of the abuser or aggressor. She is acting from her shadow and therefore giving me an opportunity to turn the light on in my own shadow closet.
In my book, Solving the Autoimmune Puzzle: The Woman’s Guide to Reclaiming Emotional Freedom and Vibrant Health, I provide worksheets for the Reflection, Mirror, and Forgiveness Exercises. Here’s what I did last night after reading her messages to me:
- Pulled her up in my mind’s eye to stand in front of me so I can see her heart center. I do not know her or what she looks like, but I can just use a woman from my imagination.
- Used her heart center as a mirror to reflect my own heart. She is part of God, just as I am. In doing this exercise, I remind myself of this fact.
- Asked the key question: What ego trait would drive her to do this act of violence? Every single one of us have the same personality or ego characteristics; we just do them differently, which makes us look like we are different from one another. The trait I chose was “judgmental.”
- Searched to see how I am judgmental. I found it instantly. I had judged her for being judgmental. I did not center on the behaviors of slander, libel, or gossip. You go beneath those to the motivating personality trait that drives the behaviors that you usually believe you “would never do.” And it’s true; I would not act out in this way, but I have certainly done it in other ways. Focusing on the behaviors rather than the motivating trait is what usually makes this Mirror Exercise difficult for people to do.
- Could see us as the same and equals, not me as the victim and sitting in the self-righteous judgement seat that makes forgiveness impossible.
- Now that I had turned the light of judgment on in my shadow closet, I asked the Divine to help me to work on this ego-trait so I can evolve past it. I then forgave this woman quite easily, and had a great deal of compassion for her pain.
- Noted that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. I will not reach out to this woman and ask to be her friend. She has demonstrated she is not safe. The forgiveness work you do is for you alone. It releases bitterness, anger, and resentment from your heart, mind, body, and spirit. Reconciliation only happens when the perpetrator demonstrates contrition, apologizes, and outlines to you how they will keep from hurting you again in this way. This usually only occurs in relationships you consider “valuable.”
Keep the energy of forgiveness flowing by doing a four-part forgiveness process every night before you go to bed:
- Forgive yourself for taking on the hurt in the first place. It wasn’t yours and didn’t belong to you.
- Forgive yourself for hurting others from this same character trait you have now identified in you and the person who hurt you.
- Forgive the person who hurt you and thank them for showing you your own shadow.
- Finally, if it’s possible, ask for forgiveness from those who you can now see have been hurt by you from this same motivating personality trait.
Music that Helps You Heal
One of my all time favorite movies is called The Greatest Showman. There are several show-stopping songs in this movie that are inspirational, but the one that can help heal the hurts done by others is called This is Me. Upload it onto your listening device and settle into the lyrics. See what happens inside of you. This song is a beautiful anthem for all women who have been gossiped about, slandered, cast out of the friend-group they belonged to, hurt, abandoned, or otherwise victimized. It’s a song of self-empowerment and an acknowledgment that we are all unique and special in our own ways. Embody it and then use the message to accept all of your sisters and the choices they have made and the paths they have taken. Know that if they have hurt you, it’s because they are unskillful in a certain aspect of life. The good news is, you can always learn new skills, no matter how old you are. And the hurt? It’s a catalyst for your own evolution of consciousness. It’s meant to be a lever that propels you into your next stage of adult development, one that sees God in all. Your hurt is a gift. Make sure you bow in appreciation to the giver…but also hold a strong boundary.
Letting Go of the Need to Gossip
The three triggers that put your karma in motion are: strong emotion, impulsiveness, and undue temptation. I know that all of us have been tempted to gossip about others when we are hurt. We gossip to make ourselves feel important, share news, and subconsciously tear others down. This sets some serious karma in motion. Resist the temptation. Just ask yourself the next time you are tempted to say anything negative about someone or something else:
- Is it absolutely true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary?
This will stop a lot of hurtful conversations and violence against other women, as well as keep your own karma clean. Let’s pay attention to our own lives and the things we can work on to improve ourselves and let others do the same for themselves. This will go a long way to dispelling the stereotype of women as gossipy drama queens. We must first respect ourselves if we are to respect each other and have others respect us. It’s time we came together in the figurative Red Tent and showed support for one another.
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Susan Madrid says
Thank you Dr., Keesha, you have given us a map to follow to help each of us understand the role we show up in and a way to transform our role to support ourselves with an open heart and to also support the other. Wow! Inclusion and love for all with clear self care boundaries. Reading your article gives me hope. I choose to practice your tools. Thank you for allowing us to witness your process.
Nuria Mubeen Cathy says
Thank you for this insightful sharing! I love how you used self awareness and compassion, rather than division and more seperateness. I’ve printed off your article and saved it on my computer, will refer others as is appropriate. Such a healing account to read, hopefully the attacks will run their course shortly. Meanwhile, you’ve provided great self service and community awareness. Hugs, Nuria Mubeen Cathy