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Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!
Reason 8: Pleasure-seeking
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist

Read the following to:
  • Learn that the most disturbing reason for meanness is finding pleasure in hurting others.
  • Recognize the reasons for pleasure-seeking meanness include desire for attention, respect, power, and/or money.
Related articles by Dr. Frank:

Previous: Reason 7: Feelings of Superiority

Next: Conclusion: Protect yourself by not personalizing mean behavior

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

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

REASON 8: Pleasure-seeking

I placed the pleasure-seeking reason as the most intentional and malicious of the reasons for being mean because I find it most disturbing. Even though some of the behaviors may not be excessive, people who act mean based on this reason are doing so due to a self-centeredness and complete disregard of others. They seek to feel good at the expense of others. The following categories are based upon the type of reward they obtain by being mean.

Attention. Frequently people engage in mean behavior because of the attention they gain. Attention doesn't even have to be positive to be rewarding. We see this frequently in children who misbehave and are mean to others because they get noticed. Unfortunately, some people never grow up and continue to hurt others in adulthood for the purpose of obtaining notice.

Respect. Some people confuse respect with fear. They believe that if they mistreat someone they will gain respect. However, what they achieve is obedience based on fear. For example, a boss who threatens employees with termination for minor problems to keep them in line. Or, a parent who states “My children respect my authority because I'm willing to use the belt.”

Power. One of the most rewarding aspects of being mean is obtaining power. Making someone else hurt or react gives them control over that person and allows them to feel more powerful. The attempt to gain power can be either direct and aggressive or it can be passive-aggressive. Sometimes the passive-aggressive is more difficult to recognize.

For example, someone makes a casual statement such as: “I'm surprised you handled that situation so well.” If the recipient reacts negatively to the hidden insult, the passive-aggressive person might state: “I don't understand why you are acting like this. All I did was give you a compliment.” At that point they have gained control over the recipient's emotional reaction which gives them power.

Money. Some circumstances reward meanness with monetary gain. For instance, someone who profits from insider trading to the detriment of the shareholders of a company. Or, people who trash their competitor's products online to improve their own sales.

Next: Conclusion: Protect yourself by not personalizing mean behavior

Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank

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