Why are people mean, and why does it matter that we understand why?

mean person

“Rudeness is the weak persons imitation of strength”

Eric Hoffer

I was talking to my sister the other day. We aren’t very close, and we have very significant differences and perspectives on life, but we were raised together and endured some of life’s trauma together, so I called her to ask her a question that related to our family.

She said to me, “I think it’s just human nature to say and do shitty things.” 

“Ummmm….no. I completely disagree,” I said. “Only wounded people say and do shitty things. Wounded people wound other people,” I argued. 

We agreed to disagree and went on with our day, but I couldn’t shake the idea that she actually believes that humans are just mean and that’s the end of it. 

So the question arises: Are we supposed to just accept it when people are mean, let it go, and move on? 

No way. I refuse to accept that viewpoint. It might just be me, but I strongly believe there’s more behind why a person chooses to be mean to others that goes beyond mere human tendency. When people act mean and unkind, it reveals a lot about their character and has very little to do with you. 

The belief that there is normalcy in the outward act of disdain, unkindness, and disrespect without accountability for how it affects other people does speak volumes about how a person lives their life and shows up for others.

“Rudeness degrades primarily those who are rude.”

Urban Sayings

I believe that people are mean for a variety of reasons but underneath all forms of meanness is unresolved emotional pain that leads to emotional immaturity and lack of accountability. 

Unkind people are emotionally immature. Being kind (especially in the face of anger, frustration, or difficult conversations) demands a sound mind that is motivated by empathy rather than dictated by our unchecked emotions. Because of this, it is paramount to remember that people are not mean to you because of you but because of their own underlying issues. 

The reason why people are mean could be any or all of the following.

1. People are mean because they are suffering.

Being mean is a means of externalizing their internal pain and helps to suppress their heavy emotions temporarily. 

2. People are mean because they are in need of attention and drama.

This is usually the result of having been neglected, ignored, or abandoned as a child. While it is clearly an unhealthy motivation, this is usually the result of a child who had to actively act in a certain way to get the attention they craved. As children, we learn behaviors that will get the attention of adults (ie throwing a fit) and this learned behavior often carries over to adulthood when the true suppressed emotions aren’t ever expressed. Unconscious and unhealthy but extremely effective, people can be mean because it gets the attention of others and fills their void of abandonment.

3. People are mean because they have unresolved emotions.

This is often the case with emotions such as frustration, envy, anger, jealousy, resentment, inadequacy, insecurity, or inferiority. They could feel less pretty, not as smart, not as prosperous, or left out of a group, and being mean acts as a strategy to gain superiority and control by reducing a person with their words instead of treating them as human.

4. People are mean because they have gotten away with it for so long, and the people in their lives have tolerated it out of ease, making them feel justified that that’s just who they are and anyone in their circle should just get used to it. 

This is commonly seen when people let small mean behaviors slide because dealing with them seems too time-consuming or not worth the hassle. We start to convince ourselves that we are too sensitive or try to just let it go and take the abuse so as to not rock the boat and to keep the peace intact. This reminds me of the saying that the nice guy always finishes last because being too nice and letting people treat you rude, mean, or unkind ultimately is not an admirable quality. The result is a loss of self-worth, which ultimately causes more pain.

To sum it up

A mean person is a person who hasn’t yet reached the emotional maturity necessary to truly love their fellow human. Mean people feel small about themselves. Meanness has much more to do with personal issues than it does with you. They might feel ugly, unpopular, stupid, boring, or not good enough, and being mean assuages their pain temporarily. 

It isn’t uncommon for mean people to also justify their meanness or to not even see their words and actions as mean because they see themselves as the victim and thus feel vindicated in treating others poorly. They feel victimized and vulnerable, which is too painful to bear, so they make others the target of their hostility, projecting all their unresolved issues outward. 

Why knowing the reasons people act mean is significant

Having an understanding of the underlying reasons why people act mean is paramount to helping us learn how to communicate and handle their whirlwind of emotions. Knowing that people who are mean are people who carry around serious pain allows us the opportunity to practice kindness in spite of their cruelty, to uphold a different standard than theirs. Knowing why people are mean makes it easier to not be reduced by their mean words or actions and allows us the opportunity to show love and compassion by not acting the same in return. 

“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”

M.K. Gandhi

Understanding why people are mean demands that we discuss boundaries

Our job is to protect ourselves. It is unfair to expect that others will do this for us by always treating us with kindness. That just isn’t the beat the world moves to. It is up to us to do what is best for our own unique situation while upholding the standard of what it means to be a good human. So when we spot a mean person, take to heart the reasons why they are acting that way and move on knowing it’s not a reflection of you. Normal, healthy adults don’t walk around destroying other people. Odds are you aren’t going to change them but you can still walk away from a relationship with your dignity intact when you don’t allow yourself to resort to the same kind of meanness you have been shown. This is when true character is built.

I have a natural desire to see the best in others and give them the benefit of doubt, but I have fallen victim to mean people more times than I care to discuss. If there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is that we not only need to set healthy boundaries but we also can’t afford to keep ignoring the red flags when we see them wave brightly in midair to be seen. We just can’t afford it. Our souls can’t afford it. 

Here’s why.

There is only so much that a person can tolerate both emotionally and physically, so it is our job to know ourselves well enough to set boundaries and clearly articulate them to those around us.

I like to think of it as my cover fee to gain access. Nobody is getting in without first paying the fee. 

But that fee is paid in terms of kindness, respect, and consideration for who I am and what I stand for. Anyone not willing to pay doesn’t get a place in my life. Period. 

Red flags are the warning signs that there are personality traits that are in misalignment with my goals and desires, and these can’t be ignored. EVERY time I have ignored my gut instinct, I have proven that my intuition is truly my higher self guiding me with more knowledge and wisdom than I possess. It is there to serve me, not harm me. And ignoring the red flags has only led me to bigger heartache than had I just paid attention in the first place. 

So let’s do ourselves a favor and start paying attention to the red flags, stop tolerating meanness, and demand a cover fee.

And if the opportunity ever presents itself to rectify a relationship that went array, read this blog post on forgiveness.

Now, I want to hear from you!

a penny for your thoughts?

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Dave

    I can not agree more…you don’t think about rudeness much but we have a tendency to look the other way and just accept people being rude to others. BUT when it’s directed at you it’s easy to take personal and react. I loved and agree whole heartedly when you said, ” A mean person is a person who hasn’t yet reached the emotional maturity necessary to truly love their fellow human.” The only way someone can be vulnerable to love someone else is by them loving themselves first. Also, appreciate the quote, “Rudeness is the weak persons imitation of strength“ -Eric Hoffer Great post and I look forward to reading next weeks!

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