Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The psychology of the bitch **

I was shopping in the supermarket the other day as you do. Going up and down each of the aisles and there were two women coming the other way talking to each other. We crossed by a number of times as we went up and down each aisle.

They passed me quite slowly in the first aisle and I overheard what they were saying. I wasn’t going out of my way to eaves drop on them! They were just talking and it was quite close as we passed each other. They would have been in their 50s and they were talking about some other woman who obviously had small children.

Well! They were savaging her, they were tearing her to shreds. A full on character assassination it was. Firstly about how bitchy she could be. Which was a bit ironic as they were bitching about her bitchiness. Then when we crossed two aisles later they were still at her, about what a bad mother she was, how she never controlled her children, always let them run amok and so forth.

So I wondered about all that. What was all that about? Why did it happen?

I suppose one could see it as a display of anger or aggression. Of all the emotions, it would seem that anger is the one that it would most closely be aligned to. However it is the expression of aggression in a feminine way - that is verbally. I think one could say that the more masculine expression of aggression would be less verbal and more physical.

So one could say that bitching can be a form of feminized aggression. Thus explaining why women (and gay guys) tend to engage in it more than straight males do, or at least one could argue that.

However since musing on this topic I have had discussions with two female colleagues of mine. They came up with some ideas that as a male I had not understood or even considered. They said that for females sometimes bitching about someone allows for a connection to be made between the two discussants. To say such confidential thoughts and secrets to the other means that you are trusting them and taking the relationship to a deeper level sort of thing. A most interesting idea that as a male one does not tend to experience at all. In this way the psychology of bitching is about relationship formation and maintenance.

I would suggest that males are not so bitchy in these ways but males certainly can be competitive. Whilst that is about winning and beating the other it is not so much about putting the other person down or creating some sort of connection between two men.

There is one other point that I would like to mention. In the Transactional Analysis literature one comes across the concept of four life positions:

I’m OK, You’re OK - (I+U+)

I’m not OK, You’re OK - (I-U+)

I’m OK, You’re not OK - (I+U-)

I’m not OK, You’re not OK - (I-U-)

I have since developed the theory of life positions further and this can be found at Life Positions.

I think one could say that the bitch would be adopting the life position of

I’m OK, You’re not OK - (I+U-)

In the article I state that it is more accurate to conceptualise this life position as:

I’m not OK, but You’re worse (I-U--)

The person in this position does not feel OK about self (I’m not OK). They deal with this is by trying to prove to self that others are worse than them. If they can prove such a thing then they feel better about self. It would seem reasonable to hypothesise that at least for some, this is one of the psychological functions of bitching.

“If I can prove to myself that some one else is bad, not doing the right thing and so forth then I wont feel so bad about myself” is the thinking of the bitch.

Now this formulation provides for an interesting theoretical off shoot. This last psychological function of bitching could be seen as a defence mechanism as was conceived of by Freud. The goal of the defence mechanism is to fend off anxiety provoking threats to the person. The belief - I’m not OK - would be such an anxiety provoking threat that the person would seek to fend off using one of the defence mechanisms.

To my knowledge no such defence mechanism like bitching has been previously suggested. There is a defence mechanism called - self negation. In this case the person wards off anxiety by getting in first with self criticisms and derogatory remarks. This is done in the hope that others will refute such claims with comments like - “Oh you’re not silly at all”.

Bitching could be seen as a derivative of this. It is not self negation, but others negation. By negating others the focus of attention is taken off self and this fends off the anxiety about ones own self doubts. In addition by convincing self that others a very negative then one’s own negative characteristics are minimised. Again the anxiety provoking threat is fended off.

So perhaps we need to add to Freud’s list of defence mechanisms with - The bitch defence mechanism.



  1. When people criticise someone's parenting because that parent lets their children 'run amok', they are often defending the way they themselves were raised (perhaps with too many rules or unreasonable expectations). I don't like people who get all pissy just because kids are being kids. One of the things that bothers me most when I go grocery shopping is to see people being impatient toward small children who cry in the store. I feel sorry for the kids who are too little to say how they feel and have no recourse but to cry in frustration. So many adults see this as a misbehaviour. And then there are older people who will look unfavourably at the parents of the crying child, too. It's sad. I don't like a lot of noise and commotion, either, but that is my own problem, not the problem of little children who are doing nothing wrong, and not the fault of a parent who won't be harsh to them just for being children.

  2. Good comment Lynn,

    There is probably another post in that - supermarket parenting!

    The behaviour you see between parents and children in the process of shopping in public for their groceries. I must admit I have seen some horrifying things. If parents are prepared to do that in public imagine what they will do behind closed doors!

    Have good day my friend


  3. Yeah. I guess you may not really understand the female-ness of gossip and slander in the girl type relationship. I do it. I've found my self during and after - gossiping and slandering another, for what reason, i have no real clue. Some of the times, it's like a dream like thing that just carries one away on and with the current of the 'what's happening now' thing. I detest it and would like to not do it but your collegues do have a point about the relationship thing.

    Perhaps that's why some of us feminine type people are more likely to want to hang out with the more masculine type people.


    I don't want to know what happens behind close doors. I don't remember my dreams and I don't want to.

  4. For a guy Roses, Well at least me and the other guys I have known in my life it sort of just does not compute. That need to get that same sex relationship connection by doing such a thing. I think guys tend to get such connections through doing stuff. I have written on this before at



  5. Someone is gonna bitch about your new "bitching defense mecahanism" Grafitti? There are unlimted ways of projecting ones own anxieties about self it seems. Surely there are better ways of forming social relationships. Perhaps we have different associations for different psychological purposes?

    Geez I just had a good old bitch on my blog Grafitti and it felt great!


  6. I would imagine kenoath that women do have other ways of doing such things as well. When it was first mentioned it too me I hadn't even contemplated such a psychological processs

    I will go and look at your blog bitch


  7. Yes Tony.

    Wow that was way back then (the what boys do post). We've changed so much! Cyberly anyway.

    I'm glad i'm not a bloke hanging around with other blokes then. Eww! But to hang out with all the ladies yack is so yucky too.

    I wonder why we can't just get along without all the 'stuff'? Now that's something that just isn't fair Tony. Worse than the mask thing!

    Humans being humans - it seems to be what we do best.

    Sleep well; i intend too. Cheers...

  8. I also agree with everyone who told you here or in person that you missed the female aspect of that. It was highly entertaining to see you interpret it from outside, though...

    There are so many things. I guess maybe some of it is female agression. Remember in Seinfeld when they are talking about giving wedgies, and Elaine says girls don't do that, "We just tease someone until they develop an eating disorder."

    Some of it also is probably blowing off steam. Since direct conflict isn't really allowed for women, sometimes you just gotta go say all those things to a friend to be able to come back and deal with the person if it is someone in your life (a daughter-in-law or whatever).

    And you did underestimate the way that women often is, as someone pointed out, a shared confidence. Either of those women is fully capable of going and speaking just as bad to the woman they were describing about each other. All of this is without necessarily any real malice.

    And this is why I agree with Roses, and have many more male friends than female.

  9. This post bought to mind a conversation I had with a work colleague about status, the other week.

    We concluded about how status was important to most people. Not so much about being top of the pile, but rather not being the bottom of the pile. Being better than someone else at least. I guess that is what you are saying in part.

    The context of our discussion was around performance reviews. My company fits a strict distribution curve ...
    Grade 1 (top grade) 5% of people in calibration pool
    Grade 2 (top grade) 15%
    Grade 3 (top grade) 70%
    Grade 4 (top grade) 10%

    So you can do a good job, but if the job you do is done better by 90% of other people, then you get a 4.

    Wow, this has caused a storm. Not just those who get 4's, but also with those who get 3. Previously this grade had been split into 3 sub-divisions, 3T,3P and 3. So now those who may have got a 3T previously are now graded the same as plain 3's so they are asking what is their motivation. "Top end 3 or bottom end 3, is still a 3"!

    Still reading or have I bored you? ha!

    Thanks for the post.

  10. A good book about male experience with passing references to its difference to female experience is by Norah Vincent Self-Made Man.

    An American lesbian journalist who disguised herself as a man for eighteen months. Particularly vivid is her description of the handshakes that men give. US biased but some excellent stuff.

  11. I did sleep quite well last night Roses,

    In fact I never suffer from insomnia these days. I used to some years ago but not any more.

    I like to get out and do blokes stuff from time to time. Go shooting a few rabbits. But it is never going to be a full on pursuit for me.


  12. Hello Evan,

    Sounds like an interesting woman.
    I wonder if I could do that.
    Disguise myself as a woman for 18 months to see what it is like


  13. Hello Sara,

    I do actually recall that Seinfeld episode! very funny in a sad kind of way.

    Another thing about females that I have always found curious, Is how they play exclusion games with relationships. How they use relationships with their peers to punish/hurt other women by excluding them.

    It is an interesting currency to use - relationships.


  14. Hi Kahless,

    Thanks for that. It was kind complicated mathematics but I think I got it in the end. Yes it is what I am saying. The strategy of defining who I am by comparing self to others instead of just defining self without such a comparison.

    Keep well


  15. Tony, I found this news story,

  16. Well that is quite a story Lynn,

    I suppose there are all sorts of types in the world


  17. Yes, and like the ladies you overheard, I guess all of them have to shop in the grocery store.

  18. Secretly perhaps women have been "ruling" communities through their marketplace and supermarket connections. They are freer to have a say or be contoversial whilst shopping?


  19. But Kenoath, it was a man who assaulted the baby in the story I brought to the comments. I think men and women are both ruling the communities. And I can't help but wonder what in the world brings it out in people in the grocery! That is so weird! Why the grocery? I notice a lot of strange stuff in there. No wonder I hate to shop.

  20. Yeah - it is an awkward feeling when someone sees correction dished out by parents let alone some random person in a fit of anger. I can understand why people were offended by his actions, but that doesn't mean his actions were in error. I would hope that the justice system (ah - hum) is actually dishing out fairness and not justice alone.

    Our society is in a bit of turmoil at the moment. I consider the changes that are on the horizon and wonder what will people think when that happens! Oh my goodness. There's be no running to the Man with whinging about a couple of slaps then. Its going to be tough stuff.

    I think it will happen pretty gradually though, unless we stall it for a long time, then it will jump on us and we'll be reeling from the suddeness of it all. I really dislike that feeling where we cry out "Why me! What did I do to deserve this?!"

    Can't help hearing in my head - should have left it alone way back. *Shrugs* Rolling stones don't gather moss, but they can destroy entire societies (lives).

    Oh my goodness! Such a little ray of sunshine this morning. Sorry about that Tony.

    I'm so smiling at your face wishing you a happy Fathers Day! - to you and to every one.

  21. Hello Ethereal, good question and statements. Perhaps this is a good subject for some sociology research?