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Why Are Some Women Nasty to Other Women?

For most of us, it is hard to fathom why women wouldn't be supportive.

Why are some women so nasty to other women, especially at work where we’re supposedly being paid to achieve the same organizational goals?

Essentially, there are three main reasons women are nasty to other women:

  • Because they project their unwanted parts onto the other women — especially their fear, envy, jealousy, suspicion, resentment, rage, anxiety, or lack of self-esteem and confidence.
  • Because they can get away with it — as a sport, fun, panacea to boredom, delight in spite, or because their lack of curiosity/tolerance of difference suggests they probably don’t like people anyway.
  • Because they don’t have the interpersonal and intrapersonal communication skills to recognize or alter their behavior.

With nasty women, it is usually their unconscious fear or need for control being triggered by the new staff member, or the different woman at work who threatens them.

If we aren’t predisposed — or lack the time and inclination in our stressful work lives — to be curious about the "other," we’re far less likely to tolerate difference or modify our behavior in relation to someone who may irritate, annoy, disgust, or perplex us.

We are social creatures, and we live in work villages or team ‘families’ where women live a tension between their positive and negative selves – the duality that enlivens us when acknowledged, but can damage relationships when it isn’t integrated in our personalities. It is easier to suppress introspection about our motives, unlived parts, malevolence, or primitive emotions that can erupt.

We have an archetypal dark side: The "nicer" we purport to be, the darker the shadow we cast. It leaks out in our manipulative quest for power and control or satisfaction in spraying viciousness towards another woman. The more "powerful" we purport to, or wish to, be, the more haunted we are by self-doubt or the potential exposure of our deficits.

Myths are metaphorical projections of what is happening in our lives; our shadows are our hidden or unlived parts that can leak out in vicious power plays or cruelty toward other women. Contemporary myths may include “There can be only one," “I slayed the dragon and now that I’m in the castle I won’t be lowering the drawbridge for newcomers," “Our posse likes mediocrity so scram," "To be the in group we need someone who is out,” or whatever.

When we are disconnected from ourselves, and our emotions and true needs, we can become narcissistic and oblivious to our impact on others; it doesn’t enter our consciousness to even consider that we need to be adult, reasonable, inquiring, and celebrating of difference.

In the office – our "village family" – most of us mirror each other for comfort and ease. We like things how we like them, and we have ways of heading off potential challenge that we may have perfected in our family of origin or in the schoolyard. Nasty women protect themselves against their own fears, hurt, or scars and become the aggressor or the two-faced manipulator.

If you’re targeted by such a woman — usually for being not-the-same or not guessing the unspoken protocols of how to blend in, then the rest of the village pecking order are likely to unconsciously mimic the nasty woman’s behavior toward you as well. Survival usually means staying safe, and most village members align with, rather than speaking out against, the perpetrator of something insidious, complex, and confusing. Cultures can turn against the whistle-blowers, the "dobbers," the rescuers of the targeted.

The fear of ostracism or attack if others confront the nasty woman on behalf of her victim may render them oblivious to the situation.

If you ask nasty women who do it for sport, they usually discount it: “Oh, It’s my sense of humour. Why doesn’t she lighten up!” or “It's my sassy nature; she is too sensitive!” or blaming the other, and insisting, "Other women should be tough enough to cope or piss off.” They don’t confess to their joy in cruelty.

Given the complex reasons for nasty behavior, I researched women’s experiences in detail. I have identified 8 common, easily recognized, different types from two thousand women’s felt experiences, and tailored protective strategies for more sensitive women who may be targeted.

Sensitive women – really, the women who are more aware of their self, their feelings, emotions, and their bodies – receive the wound more deeply than less aware women who are more likely to brush aside or shrug off the meaning of the cruel encounter.

The critical first step is to speak with someone who can help; there is no shame in seeking support. Read blogs, self help books, digital media; view films, training DVDs — and gain confidence.

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