LIFE

How To Spot A Frenemy, And What To Do Next

Unfortunately the Regina Georges of this world don't only exist in high school.

18/07/2016 9:44 AM AEST | Updated 18/07/2016 1:56 PM AEST
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Anyone who needs a crash course on exactly what a 'frenemy' is just needs to watch the 2004 iconic masterpiece teen comedy 'Mean Girls'.

Not only will you never look at a hot dog the same way again, you will be introduced to the ultimate frenemy of all time: Regina George.

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Look at her all outraged and blonde with her 'R' necklace.

For those not inclined to devote an hour and a half of their time watching a Lindsay Lohen film in which one of the main characters thinks her breasts can predict the rain (um, your loss) we'll break it down for you, courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

frenemy (noun) : one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy.

It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it? But this primarily female form of 'friendship' is actually all too common in the non-Tina-Frey-scripted world and can have very real -- and very detrimental -- effects on an individual's mental and social health.

"It's actually a really tricky thing. The issue with a frenemy is they are an enemy in friend's clothing, so by nature, they're actually really hard to spot," psychologist Melanie Schilling told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Often they are charading as a friend so they might be showing some behaviours that are supportive and friend-like but what's underlying is all negative stuff. They could be undermining you, sabotaging you, they could be jealous of you or don't believe in you. Whatever form it takes, there's a negative attitude underlying their behaviour."

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So how do you spot one in the first place?

"The first thing is to take a step back. The best indicator can come from being really tuned into yourself," Schilling said.

"When you spend time with this friend, check yourself. Ask yourself, 'how do I feel after spending time with this person? Do I feel energised, supported and motivated about life? Or do a I feel a bit drained, defensive and self protective?'

"Often you can't put your finger on it but you will come away from an encounter wondering why you're feeling a bit fragile or vulnerable or defensive.

"It be a real exercise in self-awareness. If you find you're starting to notice those things, it's an indicator your friend might not be as friendly as they seem."

Maybe those subtle put-downs she makes are actually about trying to make herself feel better.

The hardest part about having a 'frenemy' is their behaviour is intentionally subtle and, of course, disguised under a veil of friendliness.

"It's often passive-aggressive," Schilling said. "That's the point. Often there isn't a really clear behaviour. They won't put you down in front of other people, for example, but you might catch them doing something like rolling their eyes at something you have said.

"It's really important in these situations to tune into yourself rather than trying to read them. There's a whole myriad of reasons they might behave this way.

"Female friendships of this kind, I find, can often be about jealousy. It often comes back to their own insecurities, which they are then projecting onto you. Not that it's excusable behaviour, but maybe those subtle put-downs she makes are actually about trying to make herself feel better."

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Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne have a very special kind of "friendship" in 'Bridesmaids'.

In terms of how to navigate a frenemy situation, Schilling says it really comes down to the type of person you are and how you deal with conflict.

"It very much depends on your personality and your level of resilience, assertiveness and confidence," Schilling told HuffPost Australia.

"It also depends on the dynamic of the relationship you have with this person.

"You want to take action that's true to yourself but also in line with how that relationship operates.

"Some people choose to -- and this is a passive technique, but I find a lot of women opt to do this -- subtly become less and less available and gradually move away from the friendship without having a confrontation as such. Right or wrong, this is a very common strategy."

"It's that situation of sitting down with that person having coffee for a couple of hours and enduring subtle put downs and sarcasms until you leave thinking, 'actually I'm not as clever as I thought I was, I'm not as attractive as I thought I was'."

"Of course the other strategy is to attempt to have an honest direct conversation with the person and list behavioural evidence or examples where they have made you feel less," Schilling continued. "But that's hard. It's a very hard confrontation for a lot of women, and you also open yourself to reactions such as 'you're too sensitive' or 'I was only joking'.

"They, the frenemy, actually have a lot of stake in this relationship. Chances are they are doing those things because they do value your friendship but are not in a healthy place themselves, and they want to hold onto you."

However, Schilling notes recognising this point can take time and distance away from the situation.

"It can take a bit of time to get to that point. A frenemy is normally quite manipulative and the most common response is to doubt yourself.

"It's that situation of sitting down with that person having coffee for a couple of hours and enduring subtle put downs and sarcasms until you leave thinking, 'actually I'm not as clever as I thought I was, I'm not as attractive as I thought I was'.

"To move from that to going 'hang on, I am actually a great person, she's flinging all these put-downs my way so perhaps she's not dealing so well herself' -- to get to that point of compassion and empathy -- that's a pretty evolved place to be and can take time. Because this stuff cuts deep."

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From frenemies to outright enemies: the feud between Katy Perry and Taylor Swift is said to the be source of Swift's hit song 'Bad Blood'.

If you think you have a frenemy in your midst but aren't sure, Schilling advises taking some time before you point the finger.

"A word of caution -- don't be too quick to label someone as a frenemy," she said. "If someone's behaviour has changed, it might be something that's going on with their life. To check in with them would be my first port of call."

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