More often than we care to admit, relationships among women can play out like a script on the "Real Housewives of… reality TV series.
Among the group, there is likely to be one or two characters that seem determined to belittle the others with back-handed remarks disguised as genuine girl talk.
This girl has the tendency to steal her friends’ self-esteem in very subtle ways.
So masked are her assaults that even though you can’t quite put a finger on it, you feel that there’s something offensive lurking somewhere in there.
Thirty-one-year-old Fridah Wangui, a Nairobi resident, says she has a friend whose jokes always feel like disguised insults.
“I just moved into this very nice neighbourhood,” she explains, “Since I don’t drive, she always jokes about how deplorable the matatus on my route are, saying that even though I pretend to be a classy person (by moving to this neighbourhood) I would still have to use the said matatus to get home. The other day I told her a client had asked me to meet them at Sankara and she asked whether it was the Sankara in Westlands or the one in Kangemi. We laugh about it but I feel like she is always ready to overrun my ‘nice’ things with a bad joke. I don’t know if she does it consciously.”
Lorraine, a 27-year-old fashion model says she understands this only too well. At six feet tall with ebony skin, she could be the fashion world’s ideal but when dealing with ‘normal’ people, as she puts it, she can never quite tell whether she is being complimented or pulled apart.
“Should I start with the tall, skinny or dark comments!?” she sighs.
“In my class, there is this other dark-skinned girl who wears a lot of makeup. One day a friend of mine said to me, ‘she wears too much make-up for a dark-skinned girl!’ I told her, ‘I wear makeup and I’m dark.’ She said, ‘yeah, but with you it’s different because you are actually pretty’. I still don’t know how to process that but I feel there’s a slur in there somewhere – it’s like when someone makes fun of your tribe or race to your face then tells you ‘but you are okay , you are different and have therefore earned your place in my circle’.”
Carline Mwakio is counselling-psychologist based in Nairobi. She explains that the need for relationships is a human instinct which enables us to have a sense of belonging in the social structure and thus facilitates to our emotional health.
When a person feels that that sense of belonging is threatened, she results to underhand comments to make her feel better.
“When someone seems to constantly put others down their social and emotional security could be threatened and they desperately want to reclaim it and keep the upper hand. For this reason, more often than not, these personality types obviously have a correlated sense of inferiority.”
Mwakio adds that the victims of the women who sneakily put their friends down, stay in those relationships because of co-dependency.
It is a situation where the relationship is unhealthy or harmful but neither of the involved persons ends it.
“If you choose to stay in such a harmful relationship, you have to ask yourself what about you draws you to them (and vice versa) and makes you stay.”