Why are people mean to each other?

Brenda Cannon Henley, Senio  Correspondent to The Examiner

I have a dear friend (well, actually, more than one) who sometimes loses his objectivity and becomes downright mean to those around him. More often than not, he will be mean, excessively so, to one person for a week or two, and then completely switch his allegiance and turn on someone new within his circle. And believe me, after watching this trait demonstrated on several occasions, I can find no fault with the one that is chosen for that particular week. He or she will not have done anything demonstrating ill will, unkindness, or evil toward this person. His anger may shoot forth like a flame without warning at family members, friends or even those he doesn’t know. And it generally begins over an assumed or imagined slight or wrongdoing. “Well, Mark did not ask us to dinner, and he asked Mary’s parents. Wonder what is wrong with us?”

Nothing is wrong with the “us” in this picture. One simply cannot include everyone all of the time. It may very well be that he and his companion ate in their home more recently or that the planned event was to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or some other life accomplishment that really did not include them. But the hurt, hatred and harm are there nevertheless, and it will take some time to undo those thoughts.

Having had enough of this attitude one day, I jumped way out on a limb and dared to ask this good man why he did this to those in his circle. I immediately knew I had crossed several boundaries at one time and was prepared to end the friendship if necessary rather than to let him go on making an absolute fool of himself. “Why can’t you be friends with more than one or two people at a time? What is so important about your desires and needs that you think every individual has to serve you? When did you begin to feel this way?” After several questions, his face crumpled up and I thought there were going to be tears. Several seconds ticked off without an answer. Finally, he mumbled, “I don’t know. They just hurt my feelings.” I wanted to scream, “Get over it and get over yourself,” but I knew in doing that, I would likely go too far.

We talked over this one situation and came to some agreement, but I was reminded that I see this all too often and I see the result of these kinds of actions in broken homes, damaged relationships, hurt children, work environments and in child/parent relationships. And let me add quickly that this is not a trait specifically assigned to the very young and immature. Many older people become way too angry way too quickly.

As human beings and family members, we need people in our lives and we need to be able to get along without harming each other. Many experts have written on this subject and years of research indicate that there is much truth in the popular belief that people are mean to each other in order to feel better about themselves. Psychology Today said in a recent article that every individual wants to feel unique from others in positive ways. When we compare ourselves to others, we exercise a “downward comparison.” In other words, we look down on those around us that are not like us. And in some cases, we begin to direct anger toward these people because it makes us feel better. It is, more often than not, an ego-driven thing.

Other causes of meanness in others can be a bit more complicated. Personal issues that have never been resolved often flare up in an act of meanness. The person is very unhappy and lashes out to make him or herself feel better. Very low self-esteem is also a root cause that needs to be dealt with to reach maturity and peaceful living. Heavy loads of stress can cause one to react with a mean disposition, hurting others to relieve tension. A person’s thought process can also add to a mean temperament. They have never learned to think over matters properly and reach a conclusion that works. And finally, experts believe that the actual brain chemistry of certain individuals is just simply different. They enjoy feeling superior and therefore act mean toward others.

We all need to remember that there are many reasons an individual may act mean, but that in all the cases, the people are lashing out or acting mean because something is wrong in their lives. If we take it personally and let it affect us repeatedly, we might just find ourselves also acting out against those around us. Try to let it pass, remembering that they are most likely dealing with a heavy load and issues that need to be resolved. If a matter must be settled to avoid an unsafe situation, or one that will continually bring hurt, take a stand, but let’s try to do it with a big dose of love and understanding, thinking that there, but for the grace of God, go I.


Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at 409-781-8788 or at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.