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Hey Adopted Girl: How can I handle mean girls?

by Laura on June 26th, 2013

Dear Adopted Girl,

Why am I so sensitive? Is it an adoptee thing? Why do I take it so personally?

When it comes to adoption stuff, am I wrong to think that my narrative is my narrative? Am I wrong to believe that my reunion is about me, the now-grown person who was a child and had no choice in the matter?

It just feels as if those quintessential Mean Girls think it’s okay to step on me.

How can I handle these mean girls?


Where Can I Purchase a Thicker Skin?

*  *  *

Dear Thicker Skin,

I’m definitely a late bloomer in this regard. I’m a sensitive person, too. I take things very personally, I over-think conversations, and I get myself worked up when I feel that I may have disappointed someone.

Mean girls don’t go away after high school. One nearly slayed me at my job just a few years ago! One of the most helpful things that I try to remember is this:

What appears to be embarrassing and/or devastating right now will seem just the tiny bit less catastrophic when you wake up tomorrow.

I’m not taking about denial, I’m just saying: try not to dwell on it, or rile yourself up too much.

Just give it a day.

Trust me on this one.

I’m not sure how much this sensitivity has to do with being adopted, but let’s see: desiring acceptance, loathing the idea of making anyone mad, allowing others to walk all over you … Okay, it’s possible it has something to do with post-adoption issues.

As a child, my mom tried to give me tools to stand up for myself. She couldn’t see why I had such a hard time telling people off, or at least giving them a piece of my mind. I was teased mercilessly in the third and fourth grades. Like, exit-the-school-bus-crying-every-day teased.

Mom: Laura! What are you afraid of? Just look them in the eye and tell them “I’m rubber, you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and goes right back onto you.”

Me: Mooooom. I can’t say that.

Not the exact gesture, but you get the picture, right?

Mom: Why? These girls are not smart, nor are they as pretty as you. They’re jealous. Okay never mind. Just do this gesture. <<< Grasp right bicep with left hand, perform Jersey-inspired “shove it” fist-pump with the right >>>

Me: I can’t do that, either.

Mom: *sigh*

Today I’m not going to go into a deep psychological analysis of why adoptees are sensitive, or what emotional damage mean girls experienced that cause them to be so sadistic take it out on others.

Neutralizing mean girls is not a one-size-fits-all solution. However, trying one tactic–even if it doesn’t yield the desired results, will give you the confidence to try a different one.

Methods for Neutralizing Mean Girls

1. Kill ‘em with kindness.

Fake smiles and a compliment or two may be all it takes to get a low self-esteem mean girl onto your side.

Down the road, she may even apologize for her bad behavior. Rejoice inwardly Accept it gracefully … but watch your back until you’re sure you can trust her.

2. Show ‘em who’s boss.

Witty one-liners, snide remarks and talking about her behind her back may work. In the short run. This method requires playing her game and with enough smart comebacks, you’ll to win battles, no doubt …

But you may end up losing the war.

This tactic will turn your self-pity into outwardly focused action, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. But it also means cheapening yourself. It’s not great for maintaining your dignity long-term.

Truly, becoming a bitch is always an option. However, if it’s not in your nature, this tactic will become a coping mechanism. It’ll feel fake, and once it stops feeling fake, that means you’ve become the thing you hate.

3. Ignore her and move on.

It takes some self-confidence on your part, but remember: Mean girls thrive on attention, it’s like oxygen.

Don’t forget about blocking meanies on Facebook who call you a petulant child when you insist you have the right to use whatever language you want when discussing your first and adoptive family…

Not that I’m speaking from personal experience <<< whistles and walks away >>>.

Ignoring mean girls = social suffocation.

4. Outsmart her.

There are instances when ignoring a mean girl does not suffice as it is equivalent to compromising your beliefs. Sometimes, you simply must speak your truth.

This tactic may be longer in development, it may take thought and considerable action on your part.

Hey, writing a memoir and calling out all the people who behaved badly towards you doesn’t happen in a day.

Actually, that’s what a blog is for.

Mmmmmm … Frustration cake with denial icing, tasty.

One final thought: Please don’t try to change your sensitive nature, it makes you an understanding and empathetic person. Plus, trying to hide your true self is a recipe for frustration cake with denial icing.

* * * * *

Image “Person Standing In Fighting Stance And Defense Position” by Iamnee, “Woman Hand Sign Isolated On White Background” by num_skyman, and “Chocolate Cake” by John Kasawa from

  1. Greg permalink

    Another great post.

    As someone who is overly sensitive, takes things too personally and tends to overreact at first I can empathize with you both even as a non adoptee. As a child I was picked on by my peers mainly because of things relating to my learning disability. I tried so many different approaches that ranged from ignoring people to fighting back. Sometimes one approach would work other times another would work. By the time I hit high school a lot of that went away as people grew up a little bit. I learned that a lot of the kids who picked on me have their own problems as adults which gives me some satisfaction now. As a child though I am not sure if there is one way to guide someone going through it. It seems that every person and situation is different.

    • Thanks, Greg — yes, remembering that those who tease often have some s— going on in their home life is important.

      I do think that all children are different, which is why we must guide them through what they *personally* feel might help the situation. I think that I could have gotten my head around the whole "their lives are really hard, too" thing, and that would have given me empathy/pity for them, and lessened their power.

  2. Laura – i LOVE this post . . .you are so funny!! Great suggestions . . . I got in touch with my inner bitch when dealing with my husband's narcissistic ex-wife for years. The ex and her attorney finally got sick of dealing with me after I personally wrote to her lawyer repeatedly. (He would send me letters saying "and you don't need to respond to this letter"). I wore her down, and showed her I would NEVER back down. It was great practice for standing up for myself at work, etc but I use different tactics with "normal people". I am super sensitive and have to tell myself repeatedly "this is not about you" when my paranoia creeps in at work. . . . Love you, Laura!

    • Yes–that's another thing that I didn't talk about — "it's not about you" … there is usually something going on with the bully. Maybe I WILL have to write a post about the origins of the sadistic tendencies of mean girls :) Love you, too!!!!

  3. Jackie Williams permalink

    Hi I find it interesting how I totally relate to this blog. Maybe it is because I was not wanted. Honestly I wasn't I found out from the next door neighbor what I had suspected for years. Kid's tend to be very perceptive. We learn that early in life it is a very important tool in the survival tool box.

  4. My parents used to tell me (and now I tell my children) that mean people, who often seem popular and otherwise together, are actually insecure and need to hide it by putting other people down, bringing others to their level.

    Didn't work for me then, either, but now I get it.

  5. I only wish I had Laura Dennis to guide me when I was in 7th and 8th grade…


    And being pushed down the stairs and bullied by Mean Girls.

    Excellent wisdom here.

    Love you

  6. Great post!! Bullies are always fearful and often crumble as I discovered quite by chance as a kid.

  7. zygotepariah permalink

    I loved this post! Although honestly I still wish I could develop some thicker skin.

    The one thing I dislike is that I can't hide my feelings. Any time I see a sad news story or someone getting hurt, I cry and cry. I can't help it. In fact, I've been summoned for jury duty and am seriously considering telling the judge about my "problem" during jury selection. I doubt s/he's going to want a juror sobbing away in the jury box during testimony. :P Yeah, I make a joke, but it's actually quite embarrassing.

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