Do some people just wake up in the morning planning how they can ruin your day, or what? It may seem like mean people do, anyway. Whether it’s undermining you at work or being just plain insulting in conversation, meanness can get under your skin. There are strategies for dealing with both the people and your response, but let’s look at why people may be acting mean in the first place.
Mean people are mean for a variety of reasons. Some have low self-esteem, some feel too good about themselves and still others might be going through something that’s causing them to act temporarily mean. Understanding why people are being less than kind helps you deal with their behavior better. Check out these explanations, below.
Figure Out Why Someone is Being Mean to You.
Do Mean People Just Suck?
How often are the people you think are being mean actually misunderstood or going through something stressful?
Here are some reasons why it may not be meanness you’re seeing:
- Some people have few or no interpersonal relationship skills so they may be awkward more than mean.
- Some people speak brusquely and seem mean as a result.
- Maybe they just don’t know how to communicate with you in particular. Different communication styles can cause conflict more than we’d like to admit.
- Perhaps they are hurting inside and lashing out.
While your first response might be to just avoid them or boot them out of your life, understanding why people are being mean can help to deepen your relationships so maybe don’t count them out just yet.
(Please note that we in no way advocate remaining with someone in any kind of abusive relationship. Here we are defining mean to be irritability, perhaps mild lashing out, or other less-than-abusive characteristics.)
So first, check your perception. Is it really meanness? If yes, then consider these ideas to help you move into compassion rather than vengeance.
The Role of Insecurity
While there are some people who are inherently mean, the idea that people who are mean are dealing with insecurity or low self-esteem holds true in many situations.
Psychologists call it the Social Comparison Theory. It’s natural to compare ourselves to others. When we feel lesser in comparison to someone else we begin trying to find ways to chip away at their seeming perfection.
The same holds true when we see someone as weak or lesser than ourselves. We may not intend to, but in feeling superior to those people, we may begin to act mean.
Realist vs. Nice
Most of us consider ourselves to be nice people. We try to think positively, we love ourselves and like to spread that love to those around us. But there are some who think that being nice is akin to being stupid. To some dedicated realists “nice” people come across as weak and naive — and they don’t want to be that way, so they come off as a little “rough around the edges” in their attempt to appear strong and capable.
They aren’t necessarily being mean. They’re simply communicating in a way that they feel conveys strength.
An anecdote that comes to mind is a wedding story. There was a large and lavish wedding filled with all the usual romantic sentiments and over-the-top happiness. Everyone is giving sweet, funny and positive toasts until an uncle takes the microphone. The Uncle says that he wishes the couple the best, although given today’s divorce rates it will take a lot of work to make their marriage last a lifetime.
People get upset with the uncle for pointing that out during the wedding toasts. But he doesn’t understand why that might be seen as impolite or mean. Because the uncle wanted to convey to the couple that they would need to be strong. He was truly happy for the couple and wishing them the best but he wanted to be sure they were aware of the obstacles.
Such a person may come across as mean because they communicate ideas that “aren’t nice.” They may seem to shoot down ideas and their style may seem demeaning but while you see them as mean, they see you as being naive and needing some reality checks — whether you like it or not!
Hurt People, Hurt People
When someone is hurting they may lash out at others. This can be especially harmful to the people they love. Strangers don’t seem too concerned with the angry person who wouldn’t speak while waiting for the subway, but when someone you love is lashing out it can be destructive to the relationship. And they may not even realize they are doing it.
If someone you know is in a bad relationship, struggling with depression or anxiety or recently experienced some sort of emotional trauma, you can be prepared to deal with their meanness, should it arise.
If hurt people hurt people, then nice people help others fill up on enough niceness to share. The secret is to fight meanness with kindness because you don’t know what battles the mean ones are fighting and each little bit of niceness can help them find their way back to happiness.