Why Some People Are Mean
For many of us, dealing with mean people is an unpleasant but all too common experience in life. Mean people come in all shapes and sizes; at any given time, we may have a mean boss, a mean relative, a mean ex, or even a mean friend. Coping with the behaviour of such people can leave us feeling sad or even depressed, and we may also need to avoid people who treat us poorly for our own health and well-being.
“Jealous people can be quite mean in an attempt to feel better about themselves, but you do not have to give them that power.” – Nyki Mack
So why exactly are some people so unpleasant to deal with? The answer is a bit complicated, but it often has to do with faulty beliefs that the person may have about themselves and about others. Here are just a few reasons why some people are so mean, and why we should sometimes pity such people rather than resent them.
1. They May be Arrogant
When people are arrogant, they can often become blinded to the needs of the people around them. Convinced of their own superiority, they may see others as simply not important enough to care about. Dealing with arrogant people is never easy, of course, but we should know that sometimes arrogant people are simply immature.
For example, someone who grows up in a household where self-worth is measured solely by personal achievements or a high salary may feel deep shame about their perceived shortcomings. Because they have been measured against an unattainable ideal, in other words, even their best level of performance may ultimately fall short of what was expected of them.
To compensate for this perceived lack of achievement, arrogant people may take out their frustrations on others. When we encounter such people, we may feel upset or angry, but we should keep in mind that their poor attitude has more to do with them than it does with us. They’re merely projecting, and that is not our problem.
2. We May Remind Them of Someone They Dislike
The reasons why some people can be mean are too numerous to count, but it is often the case that their dislike for us is simply outside of our control. For example, we may remind another person of someone from their past. Without intending to, our mannerisms or appearance may set off negative associations in their mind.
And while it can be stressful to deal with someone who doesn’t like us or is mean to us for seemingly no reason, the truth is that we don’t always have to take it personally when another person dislikes us.
When we remind someone of a person they dislike, for example, there is literally nothing that we can do to make a good impression on them. When we feel secure about ourselves, however, we can simply accept that it is okay if some people don’t like us.
Undoubtedly, one of the chief reasons that some people are mean simply comes down to snobbery. If you’ve ever been treated poorly because someone can’t use you to get to a more “important” person (or if you’ve ever been used to get to such a person), you’ve probably experienced snobbery firsthand.
Snobbery exists when a person feels that some people are “beneath” them; it is usually a more severe form of arrogance. In most cases, a snob desires to be a member of a higher social class, and they may feel that the only way to attain their “deserved” level of social status is to associate with wealthy or influential people.
Indeed, even if we happen to have something that the snob wants, they will likely drop us as soon as someone “better” or more “useful” comes along. And while they may attend fancy parties or dine with celebrities, we should not envy social climbers and snobs.
The meanness of snobs always comes from a place of insecurity; never feeling that they are “good enough” to achieve things through hard work or merit, they constantly latch onto their “betters” to reach the next rung of the social ladder.
4. Coping With Burnout
If you’ve ever been treated poorly in the workplace, it may not be due to the inherent meanness of the person who acted with disrespect towards you. Among even the kindest people, burnout can cause feelings of irritability and even blindness to the needs of others. At times of stress, these people may have little patience for the people around them. Sadly, burnout can happen to the nicest people you’ll ever meet.
And while it is unfortunate that people experiencing burnout can become challenging to deal with, the truth is that they probably aren’t intending to be mean. They may have given too much of themselves in the pursuit of their duties; they may be tied up with pressing responsibilities at home.
There is no excuse for bad behaviour, it is true, but we can remind ourselves that some people who are being mean are just having a bad day.
5. They May View Meanness as an Advantage
Unfortunately, in a world where financial success is often viewed as being analogous to self-worth, many people see meanness as a way to get ahead in the business world. Viewing themselves as no-nonsense leaders, they may view kindness as a weakness. In this “dog eat dog” view of the world, life is a zero-sum game between winners and losers.
Sadly, this kind of behaviour can cause some disreputable people to get ahead in life in the short-term. By stabbing workmates or customers in the back and claiming credit for the efforts of others, such people attempt to grow wealthy by treating others poorly. Over time, they may alienate those closest to them and even develop a bad reputation.
And while their cruel treatment of other people may earn them high salaries, these are not people that we should admire. For such people, a love of money ends up replacing personal integrity as a value. That is not behaviour that we should emulate or rationalize; for people with true integrity, other people are always more important than money.
6. They May Project Their Flaws onto Us
When we remind someone of a person that they dislike, things can quickly go from bad to worse. This is even truer when a person hates themselves and projects their own shortcomings onto us. When a person has low self-esteem, for example, they may cope with their negative self-image by projecting their flaws onto the people around them.
For those unlucky people who end up in relationships with such individuals, moreover, things can get bad fast. Too often, people who bear the brunt of another person’s self-loathing end up blaming themselves for the abuse. Rationalizing the meanness of their abuser, such individuals can end up in a series of codependent relationships.
7. They May Have a Personality Disorder
For some people, meanness and even cruelty are sometimes the byproducts of severe mental illnesses such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder or sociopathy. For these individuals, feelings of empathy may be either rare or nonexistent; other people become simply a means to an end. At best, dealing with such people is unpleasant; at worst, it is dangerous.
And while it may be challenging to understand the worldview of such people, the truth is that deep down they are suffering. At some point in their lives, they likely became so convinced of their fundamental unworthiness as human beings that something in them broke. And while we may not wish to deal with such people, we can extend them the empathy that they continually deny other people.
Unfortunately, the meanness of people with anti-social personality disorders is usually only revealed after they’ve charmed us enough to trust them. Once we’re in their grasp, however, the mask of civility is quickly dropped. If you’ve ever had a boss or a partner who suffered from a disorder such as narcissism, you’ll likely know just how terrible dealing with such people can be.
While dealing with mean people is never easy, the truth is that there are ways that we can cope with people who treat us poorly. As is often the case, the unkindness of others is usually a reflection of their attitude rather than our own behaviour or character. As long as we’re living by our personal values, we should give very little consideration to the meanness of others. It simply isn’t worth our time or well-being!
And while it is true that it isn’t pleasant to deal with mean people, we can seek to understand the insecurities and faulty beliefs that drive them. Indeed, we can often learn much about how we should treat others from the negative examples set by mean people.
If we can decide that we do not want to fall into the trap of being mean, in other words, we’ve already won half the battle of living a good and charitable life. And that is life at its best!