Over the course of your life, you’ve encountered your fair share of “mean girls,” and every single time, trying to figure out how to deal with them is a total headache. That’s just one reason why learning how to deal with toxic people without being affected by their funk is essential. Because even once you manage to get rid of one asshole, you’re probably going to encounter the same terrible personality traits in someone else—likely someone, female or male, you’re forced to interact with through work or family.
The first step in figuring out how to handle mean girls—y’know, so you don’t end up in their burn book—is identifying them. There are at least 7 different toxic personalities you could encounter. “All these types have one thing in common: They are all insecure [and] feel deeply flawed and unlovable,” licensed psychologist Jeanette Raymond, PhD explains. Bearing that in mind, here’s how to identify—and deal with each toxic troublemaker.
Related-ish: 8 Stages Of Breaking Up With Your BFF
1. The mentally abusive mean girl (Regina George)
Reginas are the worst, because they get inside of your head like a parasite and eat away at your self-esteem. They earn your trust, learn all of your insecurities, and then use those things to their advantage.
A Regina may try to sabotage you via insults and mind games. They talk down to you, go back on something they’ve said or pretends not to have said or done something so as to make you feel crazy—aka gaslighting—and constantly assert their dominance and superiority over you.
How to handle the Regina in your life: “People can be emotionally abusive, but they rarely recognize it,” Raymond notes. “From their standpoint, they are simply trying to protect themselves from what they fear most: rejection, abandonment, annihilation, and feelings of not being lovable. You experience it as abusive, because any such strong defense on one person’s part will of necessity wound the other.”
Don’t hesitate to call them out on their shit and give them concrete consequences for their actions. “Unless you let them know how awful it feels to you they will not appreciate the consequences and won’t stop,” Raymond says. “If you take the risk of being open, you can create a new understanding by learning about their experiences and sharing your own. You can write a letter sharing how you feel, and giving them choices, i.e. ‘If you do or say X, I will walk away. On the other hand, if you share what you’d like without ordering me around, then I’m going to want to be available.'”
2. The Debbie downer mean girl (Gretchen Weiners)
They’re a cold, wet, rag on your happiness. You want to make a downer in your life feel better about their problems or insecurities—until you realize you’re constantly having to do so. It gets annoying and tiresome having to assure someone and then reassure and re-reassure. The more you play into their endless need of validation, the more they crave. They’re emotional vampires who can leave you exhausted and blue.
How to handle the Gretchen in your life: “Let them know that you are feeling exhausted and turned off by their constant need for validation,” Raymond recommends. “Let them know that they are in danger of losing you as a friend. Share that you get they are very needy in this area and that counseling can help boost their sense of self-worth.”
3. The one-upper (Trang Pak)
Oh, lawd, brace yourself. Do you have a really cool story or accomplishment? It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, a one-upper has done that too and done it better. Nobody likes a one-upper. Nobody. But a one-upper doesn’t care because they are oblivious. Their life is a movie and they are the star.
How to handle the Trang in your life: “Just say, ‘It’s a pity that the only way you can feel good about yourself is by putting me down!'” Raymond says.
4. The passive-aggressive mean girl (Janis Ian)
Have you ever been interacting with someone when all of a sudden, you feel slighted? It’s like a truck hit you and it came out of nowhere. You’re probably unsure of what to think. Was that a joke? Are you being paranoid or sensitive? Careful. You’re probably in the company of someone who reeks of passive-aggressiveness. You can almost see them making a mental note the moment you say something they find offensive, like they’re playing a game of chess and have decided on their next move which will result in a check-mate. And actually, that’s exactly what they’re doing. These people are constantly playing a game in their heads and trying to come up with the perfect way to take you down. Probably when you least expect it.
How to handle the Janis in your life: “Call them out, and let them know they are as human as you are, but you can see their anger even if they want to pretend otherwise,” recommends Raymond. “Tell them to get real!”
5. The frenemy (Karen Smith)
Oh no, she didn’t. The frenemy is a holy shit combination of passive-aggressive and one-upper traits. Maybe you honestly believed—at one time—that they were genuinely your BFF, so it’s even more upsetting when they eventually stab you in the back.
How to handle the Karen in your life: “My sense is that those in this category are extremely envious,” Raymond says. “They seem to want to take/destroy what you have—personality-wise, accomplishments, material things, or a lover. Point them to ways they can get things for themselves and go to therapy to understand why they believe they can’t have them. Be prepared to stick by the consequences you put forward. You have to feel like you took care of yourself in the moment and for the future.”
6. The fair weather friend (Damian Leigh)
Damians are always there in good times—or when a bad situation benefits them—but once you need an actual friend to cry to or some drama rears its ugly head, they turn their backs in an instant. These friends are not dependable, and they won’t be in your corner when the going gets rough.
How to handle the Damian in your life: “Not a true friend, so don’t even think of them [that] way,” Raymond says. “Rather, ask yourself why you’d want to make someone in this category a ‘friend.’ Express your hurt and disappointment that you are not being taken seriously.”
Sad to say, but you may have to just cut ties with this one.
7. The “what can you do for me?” mean girl (Cady Heron)
Think a Gretchen who’s not a downer, or a Regina with a bit of warmth. This narcissistic vampire is able to fool you into thinking you’re BFFs, but your friendship is actually very much one-sided. All of their needs are met, and yours? Not so much. You might grow to be very, very close until you realize, “I do a lot of favors for this person, but they’re never there when I need them.”
How to handle the Cady in your life: “Once again, these are not friends,” Raymond notes. “These people haven’t developed the capacity for friendship. Let them know that you don’t like it when you are used to fulfill a need and then dropped. The best thing they need is honest feedback, so that they are motivated to grow.”
It sucks. It sucks a lot, an entire bag of dicks, in fact. The only thing you can do is to just stop. If a “friend” isn’t reciprocating the amount of energy or effort that you are, it’s time to let them know—and move on.