outreach: peer drama

Every day, Jackie* ended up in tears over issues with her friends. Her parents were concerned she wasn’t enjoying her freshman year. However, when they urged Jackie to try to make new friends, she refused. Jackie agreed to talk with a counselor at Outreach Teen & Family Services.

Jackie explained that she had a mix of old friends from middle school who she was close to and some new friends who were harder to get along with, but they were all a part of the group. Jackie felt she had a good relationship with some of her longtime friends but became the “invisible girl” when around the more dominating members of the group. In the past, when she had said how she felt, the girls talked about her behind her back, often texting or using social media to keep the drama going from one day to the next. Jackie said she felt constantly on edge and was worried about the status of her friendships. Her counselor, Christina Hostutler, explains, “It used to be that drama would occur in school, dissipate in the evening and return to a somewhat mellowed state the next day. Now peer drama can occur continuously through social media, not allowing for any relief from having to navigate the social world.”

Jackie’s parents reported that her grades were falling and she was not participating in family functions, claiming that she had to text her friends or she would be completely kicked out of the group.

Jackie and her counselor talked about her strong need for peer approval. Hostutler let Jackie know that the need for attention and a sense of belonging to a group is normal and healthy. However, some aspects of Jackie’s relationships with her friends and how she was going about meeting these needs were unhealthy. Jackie realized that she had been doing things she was uncomfortable with in order to fit in, and she was appeasing the girls she thought had social power over her. Jackie got pulled into a cycle of creating a crisis in order to receive attention and support from her friends. Sometimes she would incite a fight with another girl just so that she could be a part of the after-school texts but not the target. She even found herself lying about problems at home in order to gain sympathy.

Hostutler worked with Jackie on identifying her values and creating a plan so that her outward behaviors and relationships aligned with the person she knew herself to be on the inside. She suggested topics of conversation Jackie could bring up with her friends and things they could do together to have fun that did not involve drama. She worked on creating a more responsible online presence that included avoiding negative comments and posts, and not contributing to gossip via social media or text. Hostutler also worked on developing Jackie’s emotional intelligence. Jackie learned how to identify and communicate her emotions, get a sense of how others are feeling and what is provoking their behavior.  With this understanding of herself and others, she was able to make better choices in her relationships. Putting what she had learned through counseling into practice, Jackie’s friendships improved overall and deepened with the girls who mattered to her most.

*Jackie represents a typical Outreach client. Details do not correspond with any specific case in order to protect client anonymity.