Throughout our lives, we all come in contact with at least one person who we consider nasty, unkind, or mean.
Like me, you might have been teased, gossiped about, shouted at, defamed, backed into a corner, intimidated, and unjustly punished – and your reaction might be “WHY?”
Why are people so mean with you and venomous towards each other? Why do some people seem to actually enjoy bitchiness and venomous behavior?
If you’re like most people your immediate answer might be something along the lines of, “ … because they’re bad people,” “ … because they’re psychopaths/sociopaths/narcissists,” “… because they’re evil,” “… because some people are just like that!”
While these answers are normal and widespread, they are nevertheless two-dimensional and narrow in outlook.
If you’re tired of feeling enraged by other people and want to rediscover a sense of self-sovereignty, keep reading.
This article is written for understanding those in your life who, as far as you’re aware, are generally psychologically sound (but exhibiting unkind behavior).
Please do not seek advice or guidance from this article if you have come across an individual in your life who has been diagnosed with or shows clear signs of pathological mental illness (e.g., narcissism, sociopathy, psychopathy).
If you have been physically, emotionally, mentally, or sexually abused by any individual (or group) in your life, please seek professional help from a psychotherapist or abuse counselor immediately.
Please call a hotline to seek further help and distance yourself from the person hurting you.
Table of contents
Why Anger is Addictive
You’re in a conversation with someone, you say something apparently offensive, and the other person gets angry at you.
They stand up menacingly and say, “You know, I’ve learned a thing or two about you. You’re a real piece of work and you don’t give a DAMN about anyone but yourself. It’s no wonder that you don’t have many friends.” Then, they leave abruptly.
What would your reaction be?
You might jump up in rage and start challenging the person’s unfair assessment of you, hitting back with your own most vicious attacks.
Or you might sit down, stunned, wondering what you said wrong as sadness and resentment slowly builds up within you.
“How could they treat me so badly?” you might wonder, “What the hell did I do?” Then you might boil with hatred for the rest of the day, demonizing the person in your mind in the meantime.
These two reactions are fairly common among us in society and I have personally reacted in both ways on a number of different occasions in the past.
The result of getting consumed in another person’s toxic words and behaviors is devastating to our well-being … but you know what? It feels kind of good to be righteously indignant. It feels kind of nice to be intoxicated with anger.
When we feel unjustly wronged, we are immediately rewarded with the self-righteous feeling of being “victims” and not only that – we also feel a sense of immediate self-superiority.
How often in the past have you raged against a “terrible person” with the underlying assumption that “you are the superior person”? Probably a lot. But don’t worry; this is normal. We all do this.
The truth is that anger is like a drug because not only does it give us a false sense of being “better,” “nicer,” “more correct” and “justified” in our righteous indignation, but it also keeps up the illusion of separation between us and the world (or in other words, it solidifies our egos).
This can be one of the greatest hindrances of looking behind the veil of mean behavior: our refusal to let go of our anger.
Once we’re ready to release our anger and once we’re willing to let go of the benefits it brings us, we can then learn to truly understand “why are people so mean and rude?”
In other words, we can find more peace, spiritual healing, and inner freedom.
What’s Hidden Behind the Veil of Mean Behavior?
In the process of demonizing mean and cruel people, we dehumanize them.
Of course, it can be argued that there truly are “psychopaths” and “narcissists” out there who feel no empathy or remorse, but these types of people (who constitute a very low percentage of the population) are not who we’re referring to here.
I believe it’s reasonable to say that most of the unkind people we come across in life aren’t sociopaths or psychopaths, but are in fact normal, deeply wounded people.
We don’t take time to understand them because we are greatly repelled by their behavior (and because let’s face it, we’re deeply wounded as well).
We spout excuses like, “So what? Everyone suffers but that’s no excuse for their behavior,” but this is only another way of perpetuating our self-righteous indignation and therefore continuing our own suffering.
However, there’s something empowering and refreshing in not getting eaten up by bitterness, hatred, and anger any longer.
There’s something rejuvenating and liberating about taking your happiness into your own hands and understanding that:
All unkind, cruel, and vicious behavior has its root in pain.
If you want to look behind the veil of mean people and bad behavior you have to understand a person’s pain.
You have to be willing to be curious, you have to be willing to be open-minded, you have to be willing to be empathetic – even a tiny bit (as painful and annoying as that is).
Understanding another person’s pain involves disintegrating the boundaries between “you” and “other.”
It might involve reflecting on what you know of that person’s past. It might involve asking your friends or colleagues why a person is behaving the way they are, or it might involve guesswork.
No matter what approach you decide to take, you’ll always discover something surprising: their behavior comes as a result of misdirected pain.
Whether that pain is:
- family stress,
- work pressures,
- a break up or divorce,
- a tragedy,
- triggered inner child,
- something more vague like depression,
- fear of failure,
- fear of abandonment,
- low self-esteem,
- or even a spiritual cause such as the dark night of the soul or soul loss,
… when a person doesn’t know how to deal with their pain they will misdirect it towards others. And that equals pain, multiplied.
But you can break this cycle of pain and you can stop it from impacting your thoughts, your feelings, and life.
Learning how to emotionally understand a person is the best way to do that.
How to Liberate Yourself From Anger, Hatred, Bitterness, and Resentment Toward Another
It’s annoying and triggering to realize that our hatred, anger, and bitterness toward another person is:
- Eating away at our sanity
- Starving us of well-being
- Causing anxiety and/or depression
- Making us feel alone in the world
- Reinforcing victim mentality
- Alienating us from joy
- Disempowering us
Let me be clear:
I’m not advocating becoming a doormat, letting others overstep your boundaries, becoming a bleeding heart, or staying in a toxic relationship.
I’m advocating freedom from hatred.
I’m calling those who are sick and tired of feeling browbeaten by others to reclaim a sense of empowerment through love and compassion.
No, you don’t need to excuse their behavior.
No, you don’t need to enable their behavior.
And you certainly don’t need to bend over backward for these people.
I know this is not easy. It’s a lifelong process.
But if you’d like to experience more inner freedom again, here are some paths:
1. Do some cleansing breathwork
Release your inner rage and disgust through the power of your breath. There are many different techniques described in a step-by-step way in our breathwork article.
2. Purge your inner feelings through intense exercise
Go out in nature. Get some vitamin D. Walk or run it all out. Active forms of spiritual meditation are also another good option for releasing pent-up emotions.
3. Explore how to let go
There are many practices out there – over 40 of them are listed in this letting go guide.
Next time a person treats you badly, stop.
Let yourself feel your emotions of anger and resentment, but also let them pass.
Ask yourself, “What type of pain is this person feeling that is causing them to act out in this way?”
Then, allow yourself to expand as you open yourself to empathy and forgiveness.
At the end of the day, the desire to be free of anger is not about them, but about YOU. How free do you want to feel in life? How much empowerment and happiness do you want to carry with you, no matter what?
While I agree with what you have said here; it barely scratches the surface. You put out a lot a great material and insight. Phenomenal! You have been working very hard lately. I wonder where you find all the words. So I don’t want you to take my comment here as an insult. But I think that as you are putting out a lot more work, that your insight is becoming more generalized. You are writing from the viewpoint that we feel the same things, and I’ve observed people from all walks of life my entire life – it is not that simple. There are a lot of people that use a very small amount of pain as a chance to get out of control. Sometimes you have to call a spade a spade, until it changes to a diamond or a heart. I would like to be friends with or understand everybody – but I can’t. And I accept that. That doesn’t mean that I don’t try to learn. How many self help books get published that are just easy answers. Domineering behavior is about society, education, environment, genetics and most of all, power and addiction as much as… Read more »
I still find it really really difficult to understand, accept, and finally forgive,and I don’t know why. I mean, I know that they undergo many kinds of pain like I do, but still, it’s not that simple for me. But thank you for your kind explanation.
Thank you Aletheia for this article. Very Profound…. We all have Demons in our closets which makes us behave in abnormal ways with others ………………… “Misdirected Pain” …. thats the word….. thanks a lot………
This was a very thoughtful piece, and its lessons, I believe, it apply to the vast majority of people. However, in my lifetime, I have dealt with one bona fide sociopath who would use such patience and understanding as just more weapons in his arsenal of destruction. I am sorry, but he was truly evil, and no amount of goodness would prevail over that.
I agree with this article whole heartedly, I was involved with a girl who to others seemed to be the meanest disrespectful, malicious, manipulating, angry person in the world and yes there were many times it was directed at me we have a child together now and her feelings for me change like the seasons one month she’ll seem as tho she’s in love with me and I mean the world to her all over again and the next even trying to contact her is met with threats of PFA’s and hurtful statements. Any way I know quite a bit about her past and her upbringing so I do understand for the most part her reasoning for acting this way I’ve always tried to look beyond the anger and the feelings of being used and taken advantage of I’ve voiced how the way she behaves makes me feel and she shows not one ounce of empathy. Point I’m trying to make is although there are reasons such as the ones stated above as to why a person may behave in such a manner how long do you put up with it, there have been no attempts on her part to… Read more »
Im a strange mix of compassionate and cold as steel. Take for example: My sisters boyfriends daughter, 10, shares a room with me, 18, and I’ve had to repeatedly remind her that she is in my room, that it is kindness extended from me, and that when she is in my room there are rules to follow. It is my domain and what I say goes though she is free to ask why and voice something she doesnt see as fair. She recently tried to hide something from me and that didnt end well for her. My mother says I can be mean and rule with an iron fist but I dont mind it. On the other hand I will go out of my way to help a bug that fell on its back in the rain and put it in a safe, dry area… something I’ve done way too many times. I’ve safely gotten cats out of trees and set out a little food and water for the street animals. I will also fiercely defend someone who needs it. As someone who has been labeled as mean from a good amount of people there is something that they need… Read more »
I enjoy your articles very much you seem to be in tune with my thoughts. When we deny pain and anger it doesn’t disappear, it surfaces in unrelated circumstances complicating our lives in unnecessary ways – hurt people, hurt people. Our emotions reveal the many faces of our soul, all are valid, deserving respect and acceptance. None of us are saints you are so right, somehow others bad behaviour gives us the edge of feeling better or wronged so we give ourselves permission of righteous anger.
Exactly what I’ve always thought. This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read about mean and hurtful people and how to react in such situations. Thank you Aletheia.
Your articles always seem to hit home at the exact right moment… I can’t thank you enough for that.
Thinking along the lines of what you have said reminds me of who I claim to be… Who I think I still am, but I’m not any more!
Working on my empathy from now on.
Thank you :)
Hi Alethia. This article proves to be a timely one for me.
I live in a home which consists of four adults. There is one person in this group who, when angry, is intensively expressive about it. She is prone to dramatic rants. Even when she is pleasant, I can sense the anger beneath the surface. She seems to get a “high” when she rants. She will boldly admit she has no care for a person’s feelings. I am very introverted and an HSP. I feel very shaken and nervous when these events occur…even if the anger is not aimed at me. I realize that I am only in control of my thoughts and reactions. I’ve been working on this, but it is hard.
Anyway, thanks for the post and for your book, Quiet Strength.