10 September 2013

Dealing with the Mean Girl Inside

I had a long evening a little bit ago, talking the Princess Girl down from another of her Emotional Catastophes. Goodness, that poor child has such Big Feelings about everything! However, I understand better than I would have in the past: I live with Big Feelings all the time now, and have, lucky for her, been learning new coping skills that I can share. :)

We discussed how to talk to “the Selfish Whiny Girl inside” and the “Mean Girl who says awful things to you about yourself”. You see, it’s possible to say, “Listen here, Selfish Girl, you are whining. You do not NEEEEEED the thing you are fussing about and we are NOT going to throw a hissy fit because that would be unkind and we will just feel guilty afterwards. You need to go in the corner and stop your whining.” You can say, “Mean Girl, we do NOT talk to anyone that way - not even ourselves! You be quiet now.” And you just keep telling them to be quiet and sit down until they obey.

Most of us grownups also know the Inadquate, Not Measuring Up Girl … she shows up to tell you how useless you are, and before you know it, the Scared Girl is there shouting, “We CAN’T be less than perfect! Someone will be angry and it won’t be safe! hurry, hurry, try harder!” and then Mean Girl shows up saying “you insert-nasty-words-here … you are never good enough … insert-self-deprecation-and-beat-up-words-here…”

And before you know it you have a big ol’ nasty party in your head.

And they ALL need to be told to get to their corners and behave.

Because we sometimes need these Girls - but ONLY when we REALLY need them. We need the Selfish Girl to protect us from people who will use us up with no regard to our feelings or needs – then it’s her job to come out and say “Hey, I need to be heard, I need this and you need to pay attention to me right now!” If we truly ARE NOT trying, then it’s okay for the Inadequate Girl to say “you know, we could do better if we gave this a little more oomph.” And if we are truly in danger, we need Scared Girl to say “RUN! RUN! RUN!” and if we are being bullied, we need that Mean Girl to come out and tell other people to buzz off in no uncertain terms.

But we don’t need those voices turned in on ourselves in destructive ways.

It turns out that the simple step of asking the Girls if the situation really warrants their involvement seems to help.

“Is that something we need, or just something we want? Right, we’re just whining and being unfair to the people around us. Quiet down now, Selfish Girl.”

“Am I doing my best? Yes? Well then, Inadequate Girl, you be quiet - all anyone can do is their best.”

“Is this situation actually dangerous? No? Well, then, Scared Girl, thank you but your input is not needed right now.”

“Do we EVER speak to ANYONE in that kind of language? No. Right. So Mean Girl, you need to apologize and behave.”

It sounds silly but it really works.

I told the Princess Girl that I knew about talking to these ‘Girls Inside’ from dealing with my PTSD, and explained that mostly I have a Scared Girl I need to talk to. That when I start acting strange, it’s because the Scared Girl inside me is screaming that we need to HIDE RUN DO THE THINGS THAT MAKE US SAFE! And I have to tell that Scared Girl that the things she wants me to do don’t help, they make it worse, and we really are safe and she needs to just take a few deep breaths and stop shouting. Of course, I explained all this with the full play-acting experience of me speaking sternly to the Scared Girl and the Scared Girl cowering and squeezing her eyes shut and stomping her foot and covering her ears and saying “NO NO IT’S NOT SAFE WE HAVE TO RUN AND HIDE AND ACT ALL WEIRD THAT IS HOW WE STAY SAFE!” I startled the Princess Girl, but I could see that she could relate to having such Big Feelings about things.

I explained my Big Feelings, the ones that come with my PTSD, are like when you have a nightmare and you wake up but you are still scared even though the lights are on and you know you are safe, you are still shaking and terrified: my nightmare happened in real life, and the scared from that time still comes to me, and that’s what is happening when I act so strange: my Scared Girl is shouting that we are not safe and we need to do these weird things because then we will be okay.

“I didn’t know all that,” she said, big tears in her eyes. “Is there anything I can do to help when you get like that?”

Bless her. Such a loving heart that girl has.

I said that she was very, very kind and I appreciated it very much. I suggested that when I start acting all weird (best description for it, at her age – everyone in the household recognizes it when it starts, it looks a lot like grumpy, but mostly I think it’s recognizable at a visceral level as ‘stay clear of this person, they are volatile’) … when she sees that, she can say “Hey, it’s okay, you really ARE safe now” … and then just get out of the way, in case I’m not in a place where I can hear, but it would at least be a good try and I wouldn’t get mad if she said it. :)

She promised to do that. Such a sweet kid. And then she went to bed, calm and collected, with new coping techniques.

Her brother overheard the conversation and told me that he has a Scared Kid inside sometimes, and he thought the way I suggested talking to the Scared Kid might be really helpful.

Yay for increased return on investment for therapy: sharing what I learned with others! Win all around!


  1. Anonymous1:48 pm

    Very touching and absolutely wonderful.

  2. Love it. And you're right - it's great ROI! Also the kids are super, super sweet (clearly being raised well).

  3. And we (your loyal readers) probably are getting something out of it too. I am.

  4. I am amazed at how well the technique of 'naming the Girl (or Boy) inside' works. By giving that nasty voice it's own name, it's somehow easier to recognize: you hear the panic starting and go, "Oh, hi Scared Girl, I see you."

    You gain distance from the overwhelming emotions - you "foster your observer-self", in psychology or meditation terms ... you gain space between your Self and the Big Feelings that are currently making noise in your head.

    You have the opportunity to speak to those feelings with gentle firmness, like you would to a recalcitrant or terrified child - which is helpful, really. The 'scared' needs to be acknowledged ... and then dealt with. The 'mean' needs to be recognized ... and stopped. So much easier when those voices can be 'other' instead of 'me'.

    And recognizing that those voices DO have their place in our lives - that's so important. I think especially for women, our 'self-defense' voices get muffled by cultural expectations so readily, and it's essential to remember that sometimes, that Mean Girl is all that stands between us and a big bully who is out to hurt us - she'll tell him exactly where to go and give him directions in case he doesn't understand. That Selfish Girl will keep us from being doormats to every abusive idiot in our lives. They have their place.

    And the names give us such an awesome short hand way of having conversations. Just the other night, Princess Girl had some issues with her Selfish Girl. I noticed, and suggested she have a talk with her Selfish Girl so that I didn't have to do it - and she modified her behaviour immediately, and there was no drama, and it was all awesome. How cool is that, eh?


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