Friend of Faux?

Over the last few weeks we’ve talked about bullying in children and how childhood experience can shape us as adults, both in our interactions with others and also as parents. In this post I’ll be examining some of my own experiences in the hope of making sense of them, talking specifically about toxic friendships – and more generally about when mean girl ‘friends’ become bullies.

My Friends Bullies Me; Now What?

For a start, I’m not a fan of the word ‘bully’ when it’s applied to adults. In my experience, it somehow undermines what can be a serious matter. I’ve found that when this word is used, associated issues are often viewed as juvenile and petty instead of being treated with the gravity they deserve. If ever you find yourself asking ‘are my friends bullying me?’, there’s definitely a problem which needs addressing. And yet…

Whether in the workplace or among friendship groups, any suggestion of unkindness raises eyebrows and hackles – defensiveness is deployed as a reaction. Personally, I’m perplexed as to why there appears to be such refusal to accept and discuss when somebody feels poorly treated.

Perhaps it’s only true of my personal experiences and doesn’t apply more widely – I’d be intrigued to hear from others as to whether this is something you too have observed?

I’m also noticing a general trend towards many people defaulting to ‘offended’, rather than extending a degree of common sense to a given situation. If you have something remotely controversial to say in the public arena, you’d better be sure you choose neutral, diplomatic language – because if there’s any vague possibility of a word or term being misconstrued, you can bet it will be.

Where does this apparent predilection for conflict arise from? A symptom of online anonymity, perhaps.

Bystander or Bully? Are My Friends Bullying Me?

Away from the internet though, something I find equally disturbing is that whether people care dare to admit it or not, it’s very obvious that outsiders/bystanders/cliques – call them what you will – are (usually) aware of what is taking place – it’s just not spoken about. And in not openly acknowledging it, unacceptable behaviours are condoned and become endemic.

My Friend Bullies Me - Woman Looking Desolate

In many cases, the passivity of bystanders aggravates the problem; even those who are seemingly mild-mannered and inoffensive at the best of times are vulnerable to/guilty of it. It’s like a lesser form of deindividualisation, as explained in this study.

Here’s an example of what I’m referring to:

I recently ditched some ‘friends’ who I believe judged me on my behaviour during an especially difficult time. I was struggling with anxiety issues and desperately needed some support – I accept this made me difficult to be around. It only took for one of the alpha women to stop making any effort with me for the whole posse to freeze me out. Eventually it became embarrassing for me to keep trying to remain one of the crowd, whilst actually no longer being accepted.

It was very apparent to all that I was no longer an active participant, initially through their rejection, but ultimately through my pride. The elephant in the WhatsApp group was that they wanted me out, and I wanted to be out.

I quietly removed myself from the situation, but while the majority ignored the fact altogether, one girl reached out to me.

The Blame Game

When I received a message from my old pal – one of the kindest in the group – I naively thought she was contacting me to check I was okay. However, over the course of several messages, it became increasingly obvious that she was looking for a) gossip, or b) absolution. Because in finally walking away I’d forced her to confront behaviour she was uncomfortable with – and she needed to find a way to make peace with that.

I was dumbfounded to realise that she was not contacting me for any noble reason at all. When she failed to get me to ‘talk’ and name names, she very quickly ended the conversation – and I’ve not heard from her since.

Are my friends bullying me

Essentially, she was quite content to be passive in my exile, but she was unwilling to accept any part of it as her responsibility. At least that’s my view of what took place – and inadvertently discovering she’s since deleted me from Facebook only stengthens that view.

At the time I briefly felt chastised, and a sense of shame came over me for being juvenile and confrontational. But I quickly realised that I’d done the very opposite – I’d attempted to retreat quietly with minimal fuss and my head held high.

Intent vs Sensitivity

It seems clear to me that as some people are particularly sensitive, and others are perhaps inclined towards being blunt, there’s inevitably going to be a crossover of unintentional hurt feelings somewhere between those two personality-types. So why can’t we talk about it without it becoming confrontational and divisive?

In fact, this brings me onto a fascinating point… Several years ago I reconnected with an old chum. With hindsight, the friendship would be best described as ‘toxic’ – put it this way, when I mentioned to my mum that I was going to meet her, she looked horrified and exclaimed ‘but she used to bully you!’. Why did I meet her? Curiosity I suppose, and the fact we had at one time been ‘close’.

Meeting up was fine, though I was wary of her intensity.

But imagine my shock when a short time later she emailed me to ask why I had bullied her more than a decade previously! I was utterly bemused and mystified about what she was referring to. My mum was certain she had treated me badly, I felt she had treated me badly – and here she was suggesting it had been the other way around. Not only that, but I’d damaged her so comprehensively that she’d never got over it. Clear signs of a toxic friendship, I think you’ll agree!

I was mortified. I apologised for the misunderstandings and hurt caused – but as she was unwilling to accept any other version of what had taken place, I swiftly brought an end to what was once again developing into an unhealthy friendship.  I’m not sure what she was looking for, but I couldn’t give it to her.

It sure did give me food for thought though…

Do you ever ask yourself if your friends are actually bullies? Do you feel like you're living Mean Girls within your cliquey friendship group? Maybe it's time to be brave and ditch your posse.

Gaining Perspective of Toxic Friendships

I don’t think I am or ever was a horrible person. But I accept that the friend who claimed I’d ruined her teenage years truly felt that way. So what was the truth?

Taking the insight my brother gave us, Sarah’s views on posture, and my own history, I’m beginning to see that bullying can be a far more complex ‘dance’ than simply one person harassing another.

My friend and I were both damaged in different ways, and I believe damaged personalities are inexplicably drawn to one another. Sadly, this leads to destructive relationships, whereby both parties behave inappropriately and both parties feel hurt by the way they perceive they are being treated.

Age, Maturity, and Wisdom

Ah, all things which – allegedly – come with time…

While none of us can escape age, maturity and wisdom come to each of us in different ways, and are more greatly influenced by experience than by years.

I used to believe that being two-faced was a very undesirable trait. It has particularly negative connotations, and though I still believe it’s wrong to be sweet to somebody’s face and spiteful when their back is turned, I also think that oversimplifies the issue.

If I don’t get on with somebody, I first try to resolve our differences: I’m so soft that in 98% of circumstances all it takes for me to forgive and forget is a sincere and heartfelt apology, which I’m happy to reciprocate if I’m in the wrong (and sometimes even when I’m not!). But if that fails then I remove myself from the situation – if I can. However, inevitably in life, there are circumstances where we dislike others and have no choice but to be around each other.

It took me a long time, but I now appreciate the value in ‘getting along’ with people I may not like or choose to associate with. Being polite to their face rather than telling them what I truly think of them is not ‘two-faced’ in the traditional sense – it’s called being a grown-up.

Are my friends bullying me

Confrontation vs Resolution

That said, I do not shy away from confrontation, however difficult I may find it.

Many people misunderstand my motivations and find me strange or combative. But here’s the truth about me:

If I say something uncomfortable to your face, you can rest assured I won’t be saying worse behind your back. I call it as I see it, good or bad.

If there’s an issue between me and somebody I care about, I try to resolve it. Because I can’t stand the mentality of sweeping it under the carpet, only for it to rear its ugly head the next time a tiny disagreement occurs. Far better to resolve it properly than leave it festering.

So if I do say something which could be interpreted as confrontational, then it’s probably because I think our relationship is worth rescuing from the same fate as that of the group I left.

This makes perfect sense to me, and I’m left baffled by anybody who doesn’t handle their own differences in the same way. Yet I feel like the odd one out…

Too Good to Be True

Over the years I’ve learned that much like a romantic relationship, friendship takes time to flourish; it can’t be rushed – it must be nurtured.  I liken it to a fire: a slow burn is far superior to a blaze which, while intense, doesn’t last.

True friendships which stand the test of time are built on history and shared experiences, mutual respect and understanding. Compassion should be a given, not a liberty.

Ultimately, if a friend is willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, then they’re worth investing your time, belief, and love into. But otherwise, what’s the point? If you find yourself asking ‘are my friends bullying me?’ then chances are your situation is not a healthy one.

Next week is the penultimate of the series, and I’ll be turning the issue over to some fellow blogger pals who will be sharing their experiences and wisdom.

How do you approach misunderstandings and disagreements?




An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is a huge advocate of personal growth, focusing on journaling to increase positivity and facilitate mindful motherhood. With a wealth of experience in breastfeeding and CMPA, Kate is also an expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.


  1. Great post, and good on you for leaving that group – cliques are awful, especially with the alpha female almost wanting to show off at the time. They usually hate it if you don’t retailate x

  2. Amy @ Mr and Mrs T Plus Three Reply

    So then, I’m actually really proud of you for leaving the group. I agree that as adults we are often in a situation where we may not like or get along with others but to avoid unnecessary bad feeling we shut up and put up and sometimes we play nice because it serves us well to do this. I also think that when you belong to a larger group or clique and it’s not clear to the others that one particular person is not your cup of tea then it can look as though you are being hostile towards them for no reason and would end up with the others getting a bad impression of you. Am I making sense so far?

    However, I feel that with the group you left that is they were at any point sucking the joy from your life and treating you as an outsider then there is no point in pursuing relationships that are not worthwhile. I have learnt with age that I am the type of person that refuses to be around people that a. make me feel uncomfortable or b. I don’t particularly like. This would apply if there was no *need* for me to see them e.g., in a professional situation vs a standard friendship. I think you did the right thing.

    On another note, I can’t really understand why any group of people wouldn’t see you for the positive, charismatic crazy intelligent and loving girl that you are. You’ve only ever been completely supportive and wonderful to me and part of me always comes back to the feeling that when there is a group of women, one will always unsettle the others more than anyone else and jealousy is invariably the reason for this, I’ve experienced it myself, sadly. But there you go, there’s nowt as queer as folk. Much love xxxxx

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      Thank you for your support as always my love. A lot of what you say is very insightful. I’ll say no more here…but look forward – SO much – to catching up over vino at BML! ? xxxxx

  3. Kate Tunstall Reply

    Yes, me too. With hindsight I should have got out much sooner.

  4. Kate Tunstall Reply

    Sadly yes. I find myself more and more sticking with friends of old these days – people I know I can trust and who have no agenda. Kind of sad maybe, but I have a tight group of friends who I love. And I know they’re there for me too!

  5. Kate Tunstall Reply

    Thank you. It never fails to amaze me how spiteful some adults can be. But I’m not completely jaded – I do think usually there’s something more behind it… Usually insecurity, jealousy, guilt, etc.

  6. Friendship is just as hard as an adult as it is as a child! I tend to just sit back and let things happen nowadays, I know those that are important to me and I don’t tend to forgive those that betray me very easily. I’m not one for confrontation so tend to just walk away from people. x

    • Kate Tunstall Reply

      Sounds a lot like me. I’ll fight for a friendship if I think it’s worth saving, otherwise I just slide away quietly. I agree, friendships are often hard work! X

  7. Kate Tunstall Reply

    Thanks Kaz. It’s never easy being in that situation, I hope the post hasn’t upset you x

Write A Comment