Can I punch mean kids at school?

Can I please punch the mean kids in my class?  They drive me crazy. I try to be friends with them from time to time, but just end up more frustrated and hurt. The girls remind me of the movie, "Mean Girls". I want to be popular and accepted, but I hate feeling so awful around these people. What should I do? I have to deal with them everyday! - Frustrated


Dear Frustrated,

Thanks for being so honest with me about your feelings toward the girls in your class. Since I am a girl and have been friends with mean girls, even considered a mean girl myself, I will focus on the ladies in my response. However, all of my tips below can relate to guys as well. Mean guys have the same issues and needs as mean girls.

I first think it's important to adequately understand why people are mean and then I'll suggest things we can do to best deal with mean folks in our lives. Punching is really unnecessary with God's perspective and grace.  Hopefully what I write below will help you see these individuals differently and maybe even love them!

Fear & Insecurity
I was a bit of a mean girl in middle school, and for a while in high school. And, the motivating factor of my life was...fear. I was scared to death of being alone or being uncool. I thought I would be hated if I wasn't cool - I thought my life would end if I wasn't like my older sister - popular, smart, athletic, cool. And, most importantly, I didn't think being myself was enough. I was insecure and didn't like who God created me to be. So, I tried to change it and thought cool clothes, an attitude and popularity would help fill that void. I clung to the leaders of my group - following their lead on everything, including what was funny, who wasn't cool, etc. And, they were mean - so the fear increased that if I did anything weird I'd be ostracized by them too (not to mention the whole rest of the world that I was scared would reject me).

Fake Friends
Don't be jealous of the popular group of girls. Often, they're fake with each other and no one gets real. They're so great at wearing masks, impressing people, that they don't even know how to be themselves and be vulnerable. They think that they're too "strong" for that, but they're too weak to try. My friend lost his best friend in high school to suicide. They partied a lot and stayed in a shallow world of, "What's going on?" and "Where's the beer?" My friend admits that if his friend tried to tell him that he was going through a hard time, he'd probably make a joke or get him a beer. What a great world to be in, huh? Being a mean girl or in the popular crowd can be so lonely. When people don't really know who you are, what's going on in your heart and soul and you don't know how else to live...that's truly sad.

Learned Behavior
And, the mean girls, the ones who wanted power and control, to make others feel inferior, usually have an inferiority complex. If they were comfortable with themselves, they'd have no need to make others feel bad. But, somewhere down the line, someone made them feel so low and inferior that unconsciously they swore to never let it happen again. Maybe it's parents who degrade them - you're stupid, you're nothing - why would I want YOUR help? Some mean girls I know had mean and critical parents who gossiped or tore others down as a daily hobby. Or, it could be siblings who have ignored or degraded them. It could have even been another mean girl from earlier years. Mean girls learn their behavior somewhere. And, once they inflict it on you, girls can start to feel the same way - "I don't want to feel like that again - I'll make others feel inferior so I can never feel that way again."

Big Wounds in the Heart
The girls who can rip on others the best have, more likely than not, been ripped on themselves. They learned it at home from parents or siblings. Or, sometimes they have a bad home life and feel so alone that they'll do ANYTHING to not be alone - to fit in. They might feel unloved and unwanted at home, maybe with a dad not around and mom works, that all they want at school is to be adored, respected, important. And, being in the mediocre to un-cool crowd isn't enough. Especially if a dad is missing in the home, some girls will do anything to be the ultimate prize for boys - she needs them banging down her door because dad isn't around to hold and love her. When I think back to the girls I knew, some of the meanest girls came from broken homes. I do not think that's a coincidence. They were wounded.

When I got to high school and got a little more "power" from being in pom pons, I must admit that I exhibited some of these behaviors. I was hurt by mean girls (some of which were my friends) and so I started hurting innocent victims (like I once was). How ignorant of me!?! But, I was afraid of being rejected, I felt so insecure and inferior, even to my own friends and I was hurt. I didn't know how else to get by. I learned my social behavior from these girls.

Thankfully, from God's intervention, I had a wake up call in high school. A friend died and at his funeral everyone went on and on about how amazing he was because he loved others. He talked to everyone, never put people down or made them feel inferior, joked with people and truly cared. Everyone in our high school seemed to respect Parnell. He wasn't concerned about how he looked, he was concerned about how he loved. And, I knew he was strong in faith. So, even if he was made fun of as a kid, he was filled with confidence in who God created him to be, in God's acceptance and love. He was overflowing with love and joy - such an unusual concept for high school students. After his funeral, I decided I wanted to be more like him. It's been a goal all my life to truly care and make a difference, to be filled with God's love and not worry about what others think. I'm far from reaching my goal, but Jesus is on the road with me and it's a million times better than where I was in middle school and early high school.

If you stay close to God, and let him continually fill you with his love, you'll be more concerned about how to share this abundant love than anything else. Ask God to heal your heart from the wounds these girls inflicted or you might find yourself turning into one of them down the line - criticizing, gossiping and spreading the pain. God will show you how much he loves you for who you are, just as you are.

So, how do you deal with the mean girls? Consider these ideas...

Remember their issues
As soon as you're tempted to go off on any of them or punch them (I know that temptation can be real), remember that they've got issues. To be as mean or rude as they are, they probably have severe issues. Instead of seeing them as sinful and horrible, see them as broken and wounded. That is the truth. And, whenever I start to get really upset with the sins of others, God always likes to remind me what a terrible sinner I am as well. Who am I to throw a stone?

Pray for them
I know this might seem elementary to you, but there is important power in prayer. Let me explain. When you pray for someone, you are not only asking God to shower them with graces, but you are also changing your own heart. If you pray for their wounds, the problems in their lives, you'll find that they start to linger in your heart. When they are in your heart, it'll be easier to be generous and understanding of them. They might be more willing to change if they see a tender, compassionate side to you.

Say "Ouch"
I love the word "ouch". I wish I knew it in middle school. You know how people can say things that hurt us and then get away with it? I always wished there was a way, short of a revenge rip, which I know isn't right, that I could let them know, "You hurt me and I'm not pleased". Now, I know the word "ouch". Instead of saying, "that hurts my feelings" or "that wasn't nice", when people say something to you that is hurtful, just say "ouch". They'll probably respond with, "I was just kidding" or "Loosen up" or "I didn't mean it". To which you can say, "It still hurt/cut" or just let it go at that point. The message was sent - they heard you. You don't become goofy or weird with "ouch", just truthful. You can even say it if you hear them talking smack about other people. Challenge them.

Walk Away
If you have the option to not hang out with mean girls, don't. If everyone took that approach, they'd have to stop being mean because no one would want to be their friends. Hanging around them, laughing at their jokes is all approval of their mean behavior. Don't let them influence you for good or for bad. Mostly they desire attention and love. But, tough love is what they most need - someone who won't put up with shallow, ignorant behavior.

Heal - Or you'll be the next Regina
When we get hurt, which happens to everyone, we can either become bitter or better. Healing through forgiveness makes us better - leaving the wound as it is makes us bitter. Wounded people wound people (as I described above). Forgiving helps you let go of the pain, without needing to say what they did was okay. Forgiving these girls will start the healing process. Regina in the movie "Mean Girls" had to have been hurt in her life (where was her father?) and she did not choose forgiveness and healing. How do you get healed - Jesus, because he clearly said he came to heal the broken-hearted. If they make you feel inferior, criticize, ignore or rip on you in anyway, seek God's healing love. They reject; He accepts. They make you feel inferior; He says you're important enough to die for. All the love we need we can find in Christ and in His Cross. Get up on the Cross with him in those days that are most difficult. God healed Jesus - entirely...he was alive again and only had scars to help others believe more in Him and His love. Or, sometimes, I imagine myself, especially when I'm hurt, sitting at the foot of the Cross, letting his blood and water pour over me and heal me. The Eucharist heals our hearts. Reconciliation heals our hearts. Honest prayer heals our hearts - just bring it all to Jesus.

Give them what they most need - love
"All you need is love". Great song, great reality. Love is what we all most desire. As hard as it might be to actually do, I encourage you to try to love them in anyway that doesn't bring you down. If you need to be around them, give them what they can't...love. Usually that's easier one-on-one because they won't be too worried about impressing people. And sometimes you'll get hurt if you love, it's a guarantee. But, if you keep seeking God's healing, and you don't hang around them on a constant basis, you'll be at a good place to do genuinely kind things for them. Remember their hurt and issues. If they are not given real love, they might stay in a broken place their entire lives. So, invite one of them to youth group, give them a religious book or send an inspiring email to one of them. Give without asking in return - this type of love is only possible when we're overflowing with God's love. You might drastically change one of their lives just with love - give them a taste of the divine and show them with your actions that there's more to life than what they're experiencing.

Those are the best tips I can give you to think differently about your classmates and to respond to them in love. I honestly have no desire to hang out with my old classmates who were mean. But, when I do see them, I try my best to love them. I fail often, but that's part of life. As you have said before, God desires our attempts to be faithful. Take a lesson from the movie Mean Girls - you can be the next Regina, spreading the anger and hurt. Or you can be like Kady at the dance, sharing love and acceptance. It's up to you. What do you think teens need more of? And, I believe that it's impossible to be gracious and kind as a teen without God's grace.