How Scarcity and Competition Influence Female Friendships

Relationships with other women can be the most healing entities we have access to, because no one can understand us better than another female who knows what it’s like. Being female, in all its wonder and mystery, can sometimes throw us for loops and wreak havoc on our worlds. Whether we are stuck in a spiral from the beast that is PMS or anything hormonally related, or just experiencing the fatigue and fog from too many tabs open in our brains, life can get precarious.

It’s a well-known and expected reality that girls and women are more emotionally driven than boys and men typically are. So, when we find other females who want to talk about all the things, and listen and acknowledge us, giving us a chance to listen and acknowledge them as well, we build friendships, sisterhoods. And what powerful and transformative things those are. If you’re reading this and lucky enough to have close bonds with other women, I bet their names are already coming to mind, and you’re so grateful for them.

When Friendships Fall Apart

But what about when friendships fall apart? What about the experience of a close-knit female friendship unexpectedly unraveling? Chances are good that you’ve experienced this, too. And we tell ourselves – “it’s a part of life, some people come and stay, others come for a while, and then go.” Of course there is truth to that wisdom. But yesterday, as I was thinking about this reality, I couldn’t help but consider a more sinister reason behind some female fallouts.

The words I typed into my search engine last night were “scarcity mindset and competition and female friendships.” Turns out I’m not the only person considering this phenomenon, and certainly not the first to be writing about it. A slew of articles came up, so I started reading. Each and every one of them talked about the system of patriarchy, internalized misogyny, and the messages all girls have been sent that there is not enough chances for success to go around for all of us.

Scarcity and Pressure

So, what do we do? We compete, we compare, we feel jealous, we feel less than, we speak unkindly about women who feel “other” than us or do something we “wouldn’t do.” We criticize the minor mistakes of other women AND of ourselves, while giving a free pass to larger infractions by boys or men, because “that’s just how they are.” Can you identify with any of these examples within yourself, either now, or at some point in your life?

I have experienced close female friendship fallouts and they have devastated me. They’ve also been incredible learning opportunities in self-awareness and accountability and have given me the chance to become a better friend to those I still have in my life. Additionally, I have watched my oldest daughter hit rough patches with friends who have been the closest in her life on earth so far. I have seen the pain and confusion she is continuing to walk through because of it. This is what got me thinking so hard about the scarcity mindset and the pressured competition last night—the experiences my daughter is real-time facing.

I have the incredible privilege to not just know my daughter, but to know my daughter’s friends quite well, also. This has given me the gift of loving these young girls and watching them grow up from a different point of view—a parent, but not their parent. But as Glennon Doyle would say— “There’s no such thing as someone else’s kid.” And I feel that in my soul, because I develop connections with these kids, I get the chance to know, and I want their wellbeing and fulfillment in life with the same fervor that I want my own children’s.

Baked-in Conditioning

We, as girls and women, don’t feel like there’s enough seats at the table for all of us. It feels like we have to be extraordinary just to have a shot at being noticed. Sometimes, we feel like our positions in each other’s lives or in the spaces we take up professionally and educationally could at any moment be replaced by someone else. When considering this reality, how on earth can we be expected not to look through the lens of fear and scarcity?

We have been conditioned (sometimes unconsciously) to compete, compare, and step on one another to reach a higher position. And while I believe the awareness has increased, and some efforts are being made to combat this conditioning, it has been baked in…left in the oven for way too long, and the pan needs some elongated soaking to wash away the residue. We want our rightful places in the world, yet we are holding ourselves and each other back from taking them with these patterns of behavior and mindsets.

Self-worth and Fear

I think girls and women have such a difficult time recognizing their own worth. Going back to the pressure to be extraordinary, if we see a dynamic within our friendships shift because of another girl or woman coming into the fold, it’s common to fear being replaced, to feel threatened, and even possessive. Instead of standing firmly in our unique puzzle piece shape in our friend’s life, we might start behaving differently. Our suit of armor might consist of distancing ourselves, making passive aggressive comments, or choosing to engage more with other people, instead.

We fear change and adjusted dynamics because we worry that altering the very landscape of the friendship will cause it to be buried, ceasing to exist altogether. But by resisting the alterations, we leave the soil dormant, overgrown, no longer fertile ground for flowers to grow. And as we’ve seen with flowers, a flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it, it just blooms. Instead of fearing and resisting change, what would happen if we leaned into the shifts, honestly communicated our desire to continue cultivating the sweet garden of friendship we’ve grown together, and held hands as we faced the next season, together?

And what about in the realm of accomplishments? How do we as girls and women demonstrate genuine awareness and humility about our strengths, without feeling threatened by the strengths of other girls and women? We must embrace one another, lend a helping hand wherever we can without shaming or judgement, speak words of encouragement to one another, and spread the word about how supremely awesome each other is. It’s been said a million times…but we must lift each other up, not tear each other down.

Like Iron Sharpens Iron

As human beings, we sharpen one another. By surrounding ourselves with people who know things we don’t yet, offer perspectives we might have never considered, and share skills we aren’t sure if we can hold ourselves…we learn, we grow, and we evolve. Like iron sharpens iron, so one human sharpens another. In this way, it’s good for us to level up and reach for what we admire in another. To ensure that this dynamic remains healthy, however, there are key elements that must not be ignored: open, honest, and kind communication with self and others, and heaps of encouragement, support, and grace.

Females value shared experiences, we value hearing “me too” …we’ve seen that demonstrated in the movement, for goodness sakes! We want to feel special to each other, and we put a lot of stock in knowing details about one another’s lives. So, if we don’t share and also embrace, we come up short. If we only show the strong exterior and not the soft inside, we miss out on connection. If we aren’t honest about our shortcomings, we never have the chance to forgive ourselves for them and learn a better way. If we don’t tell the truth about how we’ve subscribed to what no longer serves us, we can’t offer grace to others trying to do the same.

From Rivalry to Harmony

We do ourselves and our daughters a devastating disservice when we do not embrace our worth and our place in the world, and cheer on other women to do the same. The human collection of women is a mosaic. To truly recognize our own special qualities, we really do have to honor those of another. Our collective strengths and weaknesses are what bind us together, and depending on the time of day, the sun shines through each of our colors; no one need worry they will be left in the dark.

Together, supporting one another, giving each other credit and grace, seeking to understand one another, and then to be understood, we are so much stronger and capable than we are when divided. Even if a friendship doesn’t work out in the end, we can still hold space for hoping for the best for the person we are no longer close to. The system may have set us up a long time ago to be at odds, but our souls know better. They always have. To read more about this subject, I’ve attached links to articles below about blazing a trail away from rivalry and toward harmony. Let’s love on ourselves and each other, for the good of the world.

The Scarcity Mindset: When Everything Becomes A Competition (elle.com), Why Women’s Friendships Are So Complicated – The Atlantic, It’s Time to Break the Cycle of Female Rivalry (hbr.org), How to handle competition and envy in female friendships – Project Self

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy The Alchemy of Women and To Be She

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