It is easy to get caught up in other people’s behavior. Many of us take it personally when people act mean, rude, or in outright nasty ways. When people often lash out with insults, criticism, and blame, how could we not?
If you have been feeling like people are being mean to you lately or wondering, ‘why is everyone so mean to me?’ you are in the right place. This article will help you develop a deeper understanding of why people behave the way they do when they are being so nasty. Understanding is knowledge, and knowledge is power. We can use that power to regulate our emotions and reactions to the mean people in our lives and help us maintain our sense of safety, peace, and well-being, even when the people around us are losing their heads.
In the second part of this article, we will offer some solid advice on how to stay calm and grounded when someone else’s behavior is upsetting, confusing, or hurtful.
When People Treat You Bad…
When people treat you poorly, it is important to remember that it is not you but the other person that has the problem. Of course, nobody likes to be insulted, criticized, or abused by another person. So claiming that ‘it is not you but them‘ might feel like it does not hold much weight. Sure, it may be about them, but that does not make their behavior any less hurtful, right? Still, more often than not, the mean person acts that way to cope.
1. Being Mean Is a Coping Mechanism
Insulting or being mean to people may be an attempt to cope with or regulate one’s own emotions. Just as a child cries aloud to express his need for his parents’ attention, an adult might act in offensive or insulting ways for the same reason, emotional regulation.
If someone feels frustrated, disappointed, or frightened (the reasons are different for everyone), they may try to influence their surroundings to help process their emotions. They do not know what to do with their feelings, so they seek some outlet. They are likely afraid of those feelings because they never learned how to process them, and externalization through mean comments or behavior offers the person some relief from the fear and pain.
That does not make it okay, and that is not to say that you need to tolerate any form of mean behavior. Still, the fact remains that many people do not have the emotional intelligence and resilience to contain and process their negative feelings healthily, so they end up lashing out at others. This is the world we live in. Some of us do not learn the proper social skills to deal with our emotions with those around us.
2. Low Self-Esteem
But what are we afraid of when we are being mean? Often, it is negative feelings about oneself, such as low self-worth and lack of self-esteem. If you feel bad about the way you look, dress, or the things you have achieved in life (or the lack thereof), then your success (or at least what you perceive as success) in those areas may force you to reflect on your situation and feel bad about yourself.
You do not want to feel bad about yourself because it is painful. You are human, so you tend to avoid pain by seeking relief and pleasure. How can you prevent pain in that situation? If you can convince others (and yourself) that they are ‘below’ or ‘less than’ you, then you do not need to face the pain and discomfort of your sense of inadequacy, at least temporarily.
3. How Do You Cope?
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some do not lash out at others but shut down internally when they have negative emotions. We might not be mean to others, but we end up not being much of anything to try to avoid those negative emotions. If you wonder why people are mean to you, consider how you deal with negative emotions like disappointment and fear.
Do you lash out at others? Do you shut down? Or do you healthily process your feelings? To contemplate your reactions to such situations and emotions is a deep dive into the psyche. If you decide to take that journey, incorporate the emotional intelligence and resilience tools we have outlined below for dealing with others.
How to Deal With Mean People?
Dealing with mean people is a skill. You cannot control how other people behave (as much as you might like to), so it is important to accept that others will act as they see fit, and there is nothing much you can do to change it. However, do not let that dishearten you. Just because you cannot change another person does not mean you cannot change anything. You can change what lies within your control—your responses and reactions.
Set Firm Boundaries
Understand that you have a right to set boundaries around how people treat you. Boundaries are not a means of controlling another person but an expression of what you will and will not tolerate regarding their behavior.
“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.”Anna Taylor
You may be someone who struggles to deal with negative feelings and behaviors if you are a sensitive person. Being sensitive is a wonderful personality trait and is not something you need to change about yourself. Still, as a sensitive person, you are empathetic, making you vulnerable to the negative effects of others’ mean behaviors. So, how do you deal with mean people or behaviors without discarding your sensitive nature? You set boundaries.
But what exactly is a boundary? In essence, a boundary is a limit around the behavior you will and will not allow in your life. For example, your coworker feels stressed at work and needs some outlet to process their feelings. They target you and make mean comments and criticisms about your work.
Without a boundary, you might consciously or unconsciously allow that person to treat you that way. They will be mean to you, and they will likely repeat such behaviors towards you if you do not set boundaries. They will think that they can be mean to you without any consequences and are very likely to continue to do so.
How to Set a Boundary?
To set a boundary, you need to tell that person that you will not tolerate their mean behavior and let them know that there are consequences to treating you as such.
You can indulge them in your reasoning if you wish. You could let them know that shouting at you or putting you down reminds you of past pain in your life, and when they behave as such, you remember how a parent or other trusted person treated you that way. You do not always have to explain yourself—it is completely up to you.
Now, understand that boundaries are yours to uphold. They are not the other person’s responsibility. So, when you have set a boundary with someone, and they do not respect it, the ball is in your court. It is up to you to follow through with that boundary. The more you follow through, the more your self-confidence grows and develops.
For example, if your partner insults you when they feel frustrated and continues to do so even after you explicitly ask them not to, they must deal with the consequences. The consequences are up to you—they might look like limited contact, no longer living together, or completely cutting that person out of your life.
It is important to follow through with your boundaries. If you do not, they do not hold any weight, and the offending person will not learn their lesson. People tend to continue doing what they learned that they could get away with. Of course, you can forgive people and offer second chances, but it is important to hold high respect so that if someone constantly crosses your boundaries, they no longer get the privilege of sharing your time and energy.
Dealing with mean people is not just about setting boundaries. Boundaries are essential, and they go a long way in protecting your energy and preventing you from getting hurt unnecessarily. Still, you are human, and it is completely natural for you to feel upset, hurt, disappointed, and confused when people treat you poorly.
It might help to remember what we mentioned earlier: people are being mean so they can deal with their own pain. Understanding it enables you to realize that you do not need to take others’ behaviors personally. Instead of feeling like their behavior is your fault, that there is something wrong with you, and that you deserve to be blamed, shift your focus toward cultivating compassion for that person’s suffering.
Cultivating and practicing compassion for those who are mean to you may not change their behavior. It will not completely dissolve the pain of being the receiver of mean comments and behavior. Still, it may help you detach yourself from the situation just enough to breathe and see that person’s behavior as their attempt at self-expression rather than a deserved attack on you.
Instead of asking yourself, ‘why is everyone so mean to me?‘, ask yourself what you can do to detach yourself from others’ behavior. As we mentioned throughout the article, not everyone has the self-awareness to process their feelings healthily without hurting others. The sooner you accept this as a fact of life, the easier it will be to detach your sense of self-worth and well-being from others’ behavior toward you.
Practice compassion for others’ suffering (which manifests as meanness, being the bad guy, or passive-aggressive behavior) while also learning how to set firm boundaries so that you let people know that there are consequences to such behavior.