Cliques aren't just for high school. Whether you had a good or bad experience with cliques in your school days, finding or forming a clique in your adult life can help you achieve security in your relationships.

Every woman remembers the cliques that develop in middle school and high school. If you were in on the clique, it was a great experience that likely helped you build your self-esteem, gave you lots fun experiences and memories, and made your school years memorable. If you were on the outside of a clique, they probably appeared to you as exclusive, prejudiced, and just plain mean. Unfortunately, your exclusion from a clique probably also made your school years memorable.

Cliques have long been the subject of honor and ridicule in our society. In movies and television, cheerleaders tend to be the primary poster-people for inappropriate cliques. They are portrayed as rude, mean-spirited, and ultimately cruel. "Mean Girls," the 2004 film starring Lindsay Lohan, sheds some light on this topic (or at least as much light as a Hollywood comedy can claim). In the film, Lohan finds herself at a new school. There, she makes some friends, but soon finds herself turning on those friends when she is invited to join the most exclusive clique in the school. The film takes pleasure in pointing out the pain and suffering that cliques create by making people change their personalities to fit in, causing stress on those who aren't in the "in crowd," and creating an expectation for group think.

"Mean Girls" has it right on some level. Cliques can produce all of those results if they are made up of the right (er, wrong) girls. But cliques also provide some needed social structures for us. Each clique creates its own rules for its members. When it is clear what is expected of each person, members are given a sense of freedom; they know what others are going to be looking to them for, and they know what they can expect from their relationship with other clique members. Cliques also give their members stability. Instead of continually being on the lookout for new friends and social settings, clique members know that they have a built-in "family" that will be there for them and that they can rely on.

Though high school cliques are the easiest to look at in terms of the definition and benefits of cliques, cliques aren't just for youth. As women reach adulthood, they find cliques in other areas of their lives to fill this need. The women who meet in the lunch room together, the sewing circle, the other moms at the park. . .all of these groups are in essence cliques. And adult cliques don't necessarily have to look like the cliques you would find in a school. Groups on Facebook, members of your gym or church, and other clearly delineated barriers to involvement can help set the boundaries for cliques.

Belonging to a group gives us a sense of security in our relationships, responsibility to other people, and assurance of help when we need it. Instead of being fearful or disdainful of cliques, we can help support one another more through identifying and encouraging healthy cliques in all areas of our lives.

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