If we find ourselves a part of a young woman’s support system, most of us have experienced thoughts about her at some point that goes something like this; “When did this happen? When did she start doing/saying/behaving like/dressing like this?” Maybe this is accompanied by feelings of dread, fear, anxiety, anticipation, sadness or a combination of any of these. You’ve probably also noticed that these moments build on each other and increase in number.
Listening to One Direction last month, but suddenly she’s wearing pentagrams, and you can barely make out her features through all that dark makeup? Did you find those pictures on her Facebook account in which red cups adorn every hand, and she is wearing skimpy clothes you didn’t know she had ‘til now? Maybe you’re worried because you found a bag in her room with a patch in the shape of a marijuana leaf safety pinned to it.
These scenarios could be something, or they could be nothing. And they could be anything in between. Doesn’t make you feel better? Fair enough. That young woman is a)exploring her interests in a world of information b)what her interests mean (to herself and others) c)the relationship between her interests and their meaning. It can be tough to navigate for her. And for you. She wants to know if her interests will become her identity if they are supposed to, and if she wants that. Here is where her cohort members come in.
They are in search right along side her. They are feeling just as unsure and insecure. The young woman wants both to be able to explore and find out about herself about the world and have her group to come back to and report what’s out there. She wants to be allowed to change and experience things and remain loved and accepted by her members. Her hope is for her group to hold her accountable in a loving way if she falls too far down the rabbit hole. There are many girls who have this experience and their ability to continue to bond with others, with other women, flourishes. They enjoy the stability of healthy friendships, understand the impact of their choices, and experience confidence in relationships.
There are also plenty of girls who have not experienced this kind of bonding with their cohort members. In fact, they have experienced an exiling. This exile can take place in the form of the young woman’s fear that she will be rejected so, she leaves her group before they can leave her (though she still experiences it as a rejection). It can also take shape as the group actively rejecting her. As a rule, have a tough time watching our loved ones change. We don’t know what it means so, we find it threatening, and we don’t allow it. And this is how the exile can begin.
The group sees that the young woman is somehow changing and they resist it, either by poking jabs at her newfound style/other friends she has found/new music preferences, etc. Maybe they do this directly or indirectly (girl culture isn’t known for its direct nature, but more for its passive yet very aggressive torment). They can do it to her face, behind her back, or both. They begin to distance themselves from her. This behavior escalates. Eventually, either they will not tolerate her presence in the group or she will find her membership there intolerable, and she will leave. When this happens, it is most common for the young woman to find a group of boys to replace her group rather than a new group of girls because a)she has lost trust in her members and b)it can be brutal to enter a new girl-group. There might be a few peripheral girls in her circle. She has experienced her cohort as unsafe. She has taken a severe blow to her confidence and sense of power. Many of the girls I see who have experienced this suffer from depression, anxiety, tend to isolate, and engage in some form of addictive behavior such as drug addiction, alcohol addiction, cutting, or eating disorder.
So what can you do? Start with being curious. When you see that she has changed her style of something, her presentation, her friends, etc. be curious about it. Don’t automatically assign meaning or judgment to it. She’s not sure what it means yet so, how can you know? Allow her to change. Not only will this will give her some breathing room, but it will show her the compassion she needs in addition to giving her a template for how it looks to allow someone to change so that she can pass it on. Trust your instincts. This can be tricky for some people who have a tough time seeing the difference between anxiety and instinct. The more in touch you are with your instincts, the more in touch she will be with hers. If you need a tune up or feel like you want some help deciphering between the two, feel free to call or email me, and we can discuss this further. Know your negotiables and nonnegotiables. Some things, like partying, can be a phase but if this is nonnegotiable for your family, don’t be afraid to hold a calm, firm line here. Lastly, if it seems like there are things your family needs sorting out let’s talk about it. This can be a scary time, but I can help you figure it out.
Love and Be Loved,