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Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!
Reason 5: Reactive Meanness
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

Read the following to:
  • Understand one of the most common sources of meanness is due to emotional reactivity.
  • Learn that emotional reactions are often due to stress or frustration.
Related articles by Dr. Frank:

Previous: Reason 4: Self-Protection

Next: Reason 6: Mental Disturbance

Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 30 seconds

To help you determine why a person might be mean:
Reasons for Meanness Inventory

REASON 5: Reactive Meanness

One of the most common reasons for meanness is due to emotional reaction. In such situations the person may just be reacting without thinking how their reaction may impact others.

Their reaction may not be for the purpose of hurting someone else although sometimes it may be. Also, the reaction can sometimes be quite severe and harmful. Therefore, it is included more towards the malicious end of the continuum of meanness.

Frustration. When someone is frustrated with a situation they may react in a manner to release tension. When this reaction is directed against someone else, it can be considered mean. For instance, a wife hits her shin against a piece of equipment in the garage and then yells at her husband and blames him for stuffing the garage full of equipment.

Stress Related. Unmanaged stress increases the physical symptoms of tension including muscular tension and a heightened state of agitation. Attempts to reduce this discomfort may result in mean behavior.

1) Displacement. Sometimes people inappropriately transfer their aggression to someone who did not cause their stress in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort. A classic example is a man who is reprimanded by his boss. He doesn't want to risk his job by defending himself. However, when he comes home he yells at his wife for some insignificant thing, who in turn yells at the kid, who then kicks the dog. They have all displaced their anger onto someone who is not the source of the anger but is a safer target.

2) Denial. Another way of attempting to reduce stress is through denial. However, the process of denial can potentially be mean to someone else. For example, a wife doesn't want to deal with her overspending problem and ignores the fact that they are going more into debt. Eventually their house is foreclosed on because she had not told her husband she hadn't been paying the bills.

Next: Reason 6: Mental Disturbance

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Dr. Monica Frank

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