There are some women who fear having female friends. Picture: Supplied

When marriages fail, families feud, and colleagues conspire, surely it’s your girlfriends who pick you up again.

Yet for a surprising number of women, the mere idea of being part of a big group of females can be enough to fill them with horror.

Often scarred by girl bullies at school, or lonely isolation in their teenage years, they’re either too scared to make female friends or believe having girlfriends is too risky to their emotional health.

Recently, the actress Claire Danes admitted she suffered from a ‘phobia’ of female friendships. The Homeland star said she became distrustful of other girls after being bullied at school.

That’s a feeling Hayley McLean can identify with. She was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the bullying she endured as a child. For the 35 year old mother of three, from Paignton, Devon, even the thought of being surrounded by other women is enough to bring on a panic attack.

‘It started in primary school,’ recalls Hayley. ‘A girl took a sudden dislike to me. She’d call me names in front of the other kids goofy, skinny, ugly and she’d threaten and intimidate me. ‘Once, she pushed me hard in the chest and sent me tumbling into a boy from our class. All the other kids were in hysterics and I was so embarrassed.’ The torment continued at secondary school, where Hayley was shunned by other girls.

‘One day, this girl who’d always had it in for me made a big scene about how she didn’t want to sit next to me. ‘The teacher tried to intervene, which just drew attention to me. I could feel the rest of the class looking at me, my cheeks burned and tears stung my eyes. I wanted to run and never come back. ’Today, Hayley is a full-time social media co-ordinator and blogger and lives with her husband, Jon, 43, a stay-at-home dad, and their three young sons.

But while she dotes on her family, Hayley’s self-esteem remains at rock bottom. ‘It’s made me think badly of myself; that I’m ugly, that I’m not fun or interesting and that I’m weird because that’s what they always told me.’ Hayley says she’s never had a single female friend, let alone a group of girlfriends. ‘Since leaving school, I’ve never involved myself with other women. I’ve never felt like I fit in, so kept them at arm’s length. I always assume people don’t like me. If I hear groups of people laughing in public, I assume it’s at my expense, like it always was.’

While many women find motherhood is a gateway to a new social circle, be it through friendships forged at antenatal classes or support found at toddler groups Hayley feels very differently. ‘I’ve never been to a baby group at all. I find the thought of walking into a room full of women too frightening,’ she admits. ‘I imagine it will be full of people in their cliques and I’ll be the outsider again. I just don’t feel like I can do it.’

But, set against this phobia of her own sex is a painful longing for female interaction. ‘Recently, I went to the cinema with my husband, and we were standing behind a queue of women, all dressed up, laughing and joking, all close friends. ‘I could have cried. I just felt so sad and envious that I’ve never had that relationship with one woman, let alone a whole group of women. I feel like I’ve missed out on something really special.’

Hayley is now having counselling and hopes she will eventually feel able to make friends. It’s more than possible, says psychotherapist Anna Pinkerton. ‘You need to learn to like your own company and then you will be reaching out with a desire to be connected, rather than one of neediness,’ she says.

© Daily Mail