She accuses us of ‘leaving her out’

Dear Suzie, I am 16 years old and in year 11 at an all girls private school. this is a very important year for myself and my friends, with exams, so we definitly do not need more stress at this time. However, there is one girl who accuses us of ‘leaving her out’, and has told us that she refuses to be friends with us unless one other particular girl leaves our group. She has been extremly unkind to a lot of my friends, and although i like this girl i know that her behaviour is unacceptable and is turning into bullying on my one friend. We tried to sit down and talk about it rationally, however this one girl became hysterical and screamed and cried and refused to talk to us. this puts us in a very difficult position because to an outsider it would look like my friends and i are ganging up on her, (a theory which she is beginning to encourage) and that really is not the case, we just want to sort things out and are trying to handle the situation responsibly. Please help me and my friends because we dont know what to do when this girl refuses to talk, or puts the blame onto us. we realise we are not perfect, however this girl does not seem to think she has done anything at all out of what she should, when really, her behaviour is unacceptable. please help me to help her realise her mistakes and so she can learn from this and we can go back to the way things were before everything happened.

You say this girl accuses you of bullying by exclusion – and leaving someone out IS as much bullying as hitting, humiliating, calling names. But that her solution is for you to exclude someone else. And that she reacts to what you say is rational discussion as if it were a Kangaroo Court.

So it’s clear that there is a wild mismatch going on between the way you see it and the ways she sees it. And you’ll understand that I, not being clairvoyant, can have no way of knowing which way the balance lies. You’ll notice I don’t say “which way the truth lies” because of course, that’s the point. She may sincerely believe she is right in the way she is experiencing the situation, as do you. Which means that the first thing you have to do to find a solution is to recognise all of you need to learn and think, not just her.

That you’re all under stress, in a hothouse situation, is almost certainly significant. You don’t tell me whether this girl is new to your school, or class, or group. Nor, if she has been there some time, whether this behaviour is new.

The question to ask, always, when someone is in distress is “What has changed?” Someone might suddenly find a familiar situation stressful because events at home have altered – family break up, illness, new arrivals. Someone might come back to school after such an event and take it out on another girl – because they remind them of a sibling or another person in the situation. Someone might feel school friends were excluding them when the real issue could be that they were feeling left out, rejected, let down, unloved at home. I call it “kicking the cat” – taking raw feelings out on one set of people because you can’t take them out on those who have actually upset you.

Or it may be the fear of letting herself or family down in the impending exams has made her feel “left out”, angry and afraid so she hits out at you to blame someone else rather than herself. Or the school friend you are defending may, unknown to you, be taking something in her life out on this girl when you aren’t looking.

So maybe you all need to understand why any of you may be bringing issues from other parts of your lives to make the dynamics in your group so difficult at the moment.

I think you’re trying hard and being very responsible, but this sounds to me like a situation that is neither your responsibility to fix nor within your power to do so. I would imagine you have a pastoral tutor or house mistress whose job it is to look after the well being of your group. Please, take the situation to her and do so without fear of being a “snitch” or an incompetent. Ask the tutor to help all of you have that discussion, without it breaking down into accusations or tears. Look at my answer to the previous letter “She says I’m a bully” for some ideas on having a discussion with someone mediating. Once you can at least begin to understand ALL the various elements that are affecting all your feelings and your actions at this time, you should be able to sort this out. Good luck!

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