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6 Golden Rules for Dealing With Cliques

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Mean Girls.

Pitch Perfect.

Emily in Paris.

13 Reasons Why.

What do all of these movies and TV shows have in common? They all explore the world of cliques.

Here’s the thing: There is a pretty good chance that you’ll have to deal with cliques sometime during middle school, high school, or college. Believe it or not, cliques can even form in adult groups.

Cliques and bullies aren’t exclusive to gender, either: Both girls and guys are likely to encounter obnoxious and/or aggressive peers.

If you’ve ever felt left out, you already know how unpleasant (and sometimes very hurtful) it can be. However, it might be helpful to know that cliques are a form of relational and social bullying. Moreover, you don’t need approval from others in order to love yourself. Here’s what you need to know about cliques—what they are, how to deal with them, and how to avoid them.

How to identify a clique

We develop friendships with people whom we share things in common. Friends feel supported and welcomed because of their similar interests. For example, if you met someone who also loves the San Francisco 49ers, Minecraft, and snowboarding, you’d probably strike up a friendship over your commonalities. 

Greasers male clique gif

We all have groups of friends. These friends can form around commonalities like being in the same PE class or running lines together in your after-school drama club. It’s normal to float between groups of friends; you might have first period in PE together every weekday, or you might spend weekend evenings together for drama club.

Many of us have close friends. Your close friends usually know a lot about us, like what classes we’re taking, what our favorite foods are, and how we usually spend our weekends. Your friends are concerned about you and your well-being. You feel safe being silly or vulnerable with your friends. You feel appreciated for your own unique personality and what you bring to the table.

So, what’s the difference between a group of friends and a clique?

A clique is a group of friends who don’t socialize outside of the “in-group.” That means that they leave people out on purpose. And because cliques promote judgmental and bullying behaviors, members don’t feel safe revealing their own feelings. The beliefs of the clique come before the beliefs of each individual member.

Here are some ways to identify a clique:

  • Cliques usually have one or two “leaders” who decide who can join the in-group.
  • Cliques focus on maintaining their popularity or status. They accomplish this by excluding, ostracizing, and leaving out others on purpose.
  • Cliques generally don’t socialize outside of their group. It’s rare that they will allow an outside into the group.
  • Members of a clique tend to be more concerned with keeping a good relationship within the clique, rather than making friends outside of the clique.
  • As a result, members of a clique are pressured to conform to certain standards to be part of the group. Individuality is not encouraged or rewarded.
  • Cliques are mean, even to members within the cliques. This can include giving unwanted makeovers, dictating outfit choices, and giving rules for how to act outside of the clique.
  • Cliques may pressure their members to make poor choices, or to follow along on things they don’t actually want to do. These pressures can include academic dishonesty, underage drinking, or bullying an out-group individual.
teen clique

Why are cliques formed?

Cliques are a misguided attempt to gain acceptance and influence in school and even in the workplace. In other words, people see cliques as a way to gain popularity, importance, or respect.

Cliques aren’t exclusive to any age group or gender. Cliques affect guys and girls of all ages, and can be found in elementary school, middle school (especially), high school, college, and in the workplace. Although it’s easy to generalize all clique members as mean and exclusionary, there are some valid psychological reasons behind why cliques are formed. 

“Two major forces are at work: first, the need to establish an identity, and second, the need for acceptance (approval) and belonging.”

Researchers P.C. Broderick and P. Blewitt

Generally speaking, we all want to feel like we belong. People join cliques not because they’re mean or malicious, but simply because they want to find friends who are similar to them and who share their interests. Just remember—it takes character strength and integrity to be the bigger person! It’s always better to be friendly, inclusive, and welcoming.

How to deal with cliques

Here’s the thing: You’ll probably encounter cliques for the rest of your life. People form cliques throughout life, even well into adulthood. Luckily, you can build a skill set to help deal with cliques (and mean people in general).

Rule #1: Know thyself.

When you know yourself, you’re less easily swayed by what others tell you to think or do. And when you know who you are, you know how to make good decisions that are right for you.

Try this self-awareness exercise. Pull out a journal or your Notes app, and answer the following questions:

  • What do you believe in?
  • What do you value?
  • What do you enjoy?

Once you’re clear on your beliefs, your values, and your interests, you’ll have an easier time noticing when you’re being peer pressured.

Rule #2: Love thyself.

Not only do you need to work on self-awareness, you also need to work on self-love. When you love yourself, you feel comfortable in your own skin. That way, when peer pressure comes knocking on your door, you won’t feel like you need to give up your own beliefs, values, and interests in order to fit in.

Rule #3: Respect thyself.

Knowing yourself includes knowing where you stand on certain topics and issues, even when others disagree. Just because you’re friends with someone else doesn’t mean you need to share the same set of opinions, values, or beliefs. 

Never feel pressured to act a certain way to feel accepted or approved by others. Challenge yourself to stand your own ground, even when it’s a little uncomfortable. And, if your friend has a different opinion from yours, respect their opinion too.

Rule #4: Diversify your friend groups…

When you limit yourself to one group, you might limit yourself to the beliefs, values, and interests of that one group—as is often the case with cliques.

Having friends from all walks of life makes life much more interesting! You might discover new things about yourself while learning about all types of cultures and subcultures (and their values and beliefs). For instance, you might have a friend who spends hours reading on the weekends, even though you’ve never been much of a reader yourself. After picking up your first sci-fi book, you might discover the magic of getting lost in a good book. 

Rule #5: … and always choose your friends carefully.

Make sure you’re choosing to be friends with people who refrain from gossip and drama. Great friends should make you feel safe and loved.

Rule #6: Set high standards for yourself and your friends.

Groups of friends can develop into cliques over time. If you notice that your friends are being mean to people outside of your group, speak up. Even little mean comments can cause a lot of hurt. The bottom line is that you should surround yourself with people who are genuinely nice to you and to others.

Girls at university

A Word From A Brighter Day

If you realize that you’re in a clique, it’s probably time to move on. Remember, you are important, regardless of whether a certain person or group approves of you! It takes courage to be the bigger person. There is only one you, so always take the high road.




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