It’s everyone’s worst nightmare. It starts with a sneaking paranoia that your friends are all in on something but you’re not. You feel lost when they bring up inside jokes and you have this lingering sense that something has shifted. Then one day, you glance at your friend’s phone and see an unfamiliar WhatsApp group flash up on the screen. It's not them kindly planning you a surprise birthday or baby shower. It's a splinter group about you - and you're not on it.
This was the case for Kourtney Kardashian Barker, who found out she was the subject of a WhatsApp group called 'Not Kourtney' in the Season Four premiere of The Kardashians. The feud between Kim and Kourtney started brewing last season over Kim’s collaboration with Dolce&Gabbana. A heated phone call in the Season Four premiere ends with Kourtney calling Kim a 'witch,' and saying she 'hates her.'
Things escalated further when Kim revealed that she and Kourtney's friends have a group chat to discuss her. 'All of your friends call us complaining, whether you think they're the ones going to you, they're all coming to us on the side saying the opposite to us,' she told her. 'So we're all confused, and we're on a group chat that's actually labelled 'Not Kourtney' so we know and have to funnel what your friends are saying to us and have to figure out why you're such a different person and why you have this vendetta out.'
Kourtney has since taken to Instagram to prove that her friends are not involved in the group chat, by sharing a screenshot of friends Allie Rizzo Sartiano and Simon Huck saying 'trolls' are attacking them for Kim's claims.
We might not have a gang of famous sisters who band together to discuss us on a group we're not party to, but Kourtney's experience isn't totally unfamiliar: many people will recognise the pang of paranoia when you realise there's a splinter group chat you're not part of.
Milly* found out that her friends made a group chat about her a few years ago. In her early thirties, she had a close group of friends who she embraced ‘single girl life' with. But things turned sour when Milly met her now-husband. The couple had a whirlwind romance, getting engaged after a year, moving house and then having their first child.
One day, the friends got together online for a group call, which Milly says was ‘riddled with tension’ and ‘awkward silences.’ The atmosphere was so uncomfortable that Milly made an excuse to leave early.
‘It made me feel really paranoid. It was this feeling of my gut telling me something wasn’t right. Every time I spoke, they were looking at each other, almost opening their eyes a bit more as if to say "she's talking again"’ she says.
Things came to a head six months later at a birthday party. ‘When I got up to go to the toilet, I noticed one of the phones on the table had a message from a WhatsApp group called [Milly]. There was an eye-roll emoji next to the name,’ she says. 'I thought: "I need to face this now." So I picked up the phone, burst out laughing and just said "oh my god."'
Milly confronted one of her friends, who she believed to be the ‘ringleader’ of the group. ‘She just seemed really startled,’ she says. ‘I said sorry to my friend whose birthday it was and walked out of the door.’
Since the incident, Milly has distanced herself from some members of the friendship group. Looking back now, she says she ‘pities’ their behaviour. ‘At the time, it really hurt me and confirmed my suspicions about them. But to have an entire WhatApp group just to be mean girls and talk about somebody who is living their life – I felt a bit sorry for them,’ she says. ‘After so many snidey comments, by the time I saw the WhatsApp group I thought “I’m done with you.”’
Milly believes the resentment could have built up because of their different life stages. 'All I did was meet a man, get married and leave the life of being a single girl. I don't feel that I gave them any ammunition, we just moved into different stages of our lives' she says. 'It's very sad. I miss their friendship, and it would be nice to go out for drinks and relive those younger days together.'
Finding out you're the subject of a group chat can be tricky to navigate. Dr Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, explains these groups feel particularly hurtful because friendships are now as important online as they are in real life. 'Older people might say - "why are you so bothered by this?" But for many people, it's just as bad as if their friends have said something to their face,' she says.
Although it seems contradictory, Dr Blair explains that the fact people are continuing to show interest in you - even though its negative - means they still care. 'You can take some comfort in the fact they have still have feelings for you - they may not be the ones you want, but they've got them,' she says.
She explains we have two choices if this happens to us. 'You are in control of your reaction, as long as you do it from a distance,' she says. 'If these people seem so shallow to you that they aren't worth it, then your energy should probably be spent making new friends. But if these people do still matter to you, another choice is to try and repair the friendships. In that case, you have to humble yourself and say "what can I learn to make me a better person from what these people don't like."'
If the latter applies, Dr. Blair recommends waiting at least 24 hours before reaching out to your friends. 'One good way to get rid of the terrible feelings you have is to write them down. Then you will be in a good position to know what to do,' she adds.
*Names have been changed.