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Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!
Conclusion: Protect Yourself by not Personalizing Mean Behavior
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist


Read the following to:
  • Learn that personalizing is the inaccurate belief that others' mean behavior is due to you.
  • Recognize that by reducing personalizing you can prevent mean people from achieving their intention of hurting you.
Related articles by Dr. Frank:

Previous: Reason 8: Pleasure-seeking


Next: Full article


Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

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

Conclusion: Protect Yourself by not Personalizing Mean Behavior

Personalizing is an inaccurate belief that others' comments or behavior is due to you. In the case of mean behavior, this is rarely true. However, mean people want to create a reaction in you. The best way to prevent them from achieving their agenda is to not personalize their actions. You will then be less likely to react in a way that satisfies their intention to hurt you.

As you see from the above reasons, most people are mean due to some flaw in themselves or distortion in their thinking. Usually, unless you have done something significant, it is not about you. Notice that I say “something significant.” People who are mean will often find some minor thing that you have done so as to justify their meanness and blame you.

Therefore, if even one of these reasons can apply to a situation, you need to recognize that you are not at fault for the way someone treats you. By recognizing that you don't deserve to be treated that way, you may prevent yourself from feeling as bad. Certainly, it hurts when someone is particularly malicious in their behavior, but understanding that it is due to a disturbance in them and not about you can help you cope.

However, just because you don't deserve to be treated meanly, don't respond with mean behavior. That only validates and rewards the person who is mean by giving them permission to behave meanly in return. Attention and escalation of the conflict rewards the mean behavior because it allows them to place the blame on you.

As I wrote this article, I realized that another article that could be helpful would be describing ways to handle the behavior based upon these different reasons for meanness. Hopefully, I will be able to write that article soon. However, the main purpose of this article is to help people recognize that meanness is rewarded when the attack is successful. But it needs the recipient's participation to be successful. In other words, when the recipient feels bad about him or herself, the meanness has been successful.

What you can do is to not participate. Recognize that unless you have done something that clearly hurts someone else, you are not the cause of the meanness. Don't base your self-worth on someone else's opinion or treatment of you. Don't feel bad about yourself when someone is mean to you.

Instead, pity them or feel sad for them that their experience of the world is so negative and limited. They are likely to experience the consequences of their meanness and won't live very happy lives. Remember “Living well is the best revenge (George Herbert).” Focus on living your life and don't get involved in the pettiness of mean people.



Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank



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