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Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!
Reason 6: Mental Disturbance
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist


Read the following to:
  • Understand that most people with mental illness are not mean.
  • Recognize that someone who is mean who has mental illness is likely categorized under the self-protective category.
  • Learn that meanness due to severe mental illness can have severe consequences.
Related articles by Dr. Frank:

Previous: Reason 5: Reactive Meanness


Next: Reason 7: Feelings of Superiority


Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

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

REASON 6: Mental Disturbance

Most people who have mental illness are not mean or are probably more in the self-protective or unintentional category if they are mean. However, when people who have mental illness are mean (and not in a self-protective way) situations can escalate and very serious events can occur.

So, I included being mean due to mental problems nearer to the malicious end of the continuum because of the severity of the events that can occur. This category is referring to those people who have severe mental disturbance causing them to be mean.

Mental Illness. Although someone who has mental illness may be unintentional in their meanness, they can sometimes be quite hurtful. Sadly, the individual may not be able to control their behavior.

For example, a person with paranoid schizophrenia may become very anxious in certain situations and react with a great deal of anger against undeserving targets. Sometimes this can reach the level of physical aggression. (I do need to reiterate, however, that most people with mental illness and even paranoid schizophrenia are not hurtful to others.)

Sometimes people with mental illness can be mean indirectly. For instance, someone with depression who ignores the needs of others because he's so internally focused. This may cause pain for family members.

Other times meanness can be more direct. For instance, a woman with obsessive-compulsive disorder who demands that her family engage in excessive cleaning behavior such as showering before they come into the house. If they don't comply, she becomes very angry, screams and throws things in her attempt to control them.

Psychopathy. The worst of the meanness due to mental disturbance is psychopathy. A psychopath is usually quite intentional in their meanness and often malicious. This type of person may also derive pleasure from meanness and would therefore be in the next category (pleasure-seeking) as well.

Psychopath refers to anyone who doesn't have a conscience and is willing to take advantage of other people for their own personal gain without feeling any regret. Therefore, they can cause a great deal of harm whether they are a salesperson or a politician or a criminal.

A psychopath is often the most dangerous type of person because they can frequently be very charming and disarming. Often you may not know you are dealing with a psychopath until it is too late. Fortunately, the type of psychopath that you see in movies who is physically dangerous is more rare.

Next: Reason 7: Feelings of Superiority



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Dr. Monica Frank



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