Dealing with Mean and Jealous People.
Comebacks Are A Last Resort.
Little Psychology To Understand Them.
It Will Help You Not Take Their Barbs Personally.
by William Schmidt, Ph.D.
I'm talking here about people who cannot be reasoned with and think they can
do no wrong and must blame someone else. I'm talking about sarcastic, snippy, rude,
chip-on-shoulder types who enjoy putting you down. These are the malicious,
bullies, psychological and physical. They are very envious of others' successes and
do their best to prevent someone else from succeeding. Some may be truly
Most are simply very unhappy, frustrated and socially isolated. Remember that their
bad behavior towards you is probably typical of how they treat others. They may
looking for arguments and hostility to confirm their own negative view of the world.
Should we tell them off? Whimper spinelessly, 'sorry'? Hit 'em back?
Leave 'em alone?
Recommend therapy? All these are options. It's not easy under stress to
make the best choice.
Of course, we should understand that it's them, not us, as
long as we take ownership
of what we are truly responsible for. We should try, I think, to defuse their
by not responding in kind. Why encourage them with negative rejoinders?
something else that is positive may work. Staying calm is always best. Their
feeds on others' emotional responses. If one can't stay calm, it's best to leave
You can try writing them, to give them new information by email that perhaps they had not
considered. But above all, don't take what they say personally. It's them.
This is all very easy to say. It's much harder to do. The problem is that
other cheek seems to bring out the worst in some people. Though, I've seldom
resort to clever and devastating retorts to silence a bully, because I'm pretty big, it is
to ponder a bully's reaction if they were treated to some of these glorious
that I came across. More important, I want to share some thoughts on
and meanness, that I have read in psychological essays and in literature.
That doesn't prevent me from thinking about perfect come-backs, if I were pushed
too far. So I read these and laughed. Maybe you will laugh at or
use one or more of
them if provoked. Sometimes, showing you are verbally armed will stop a verbal
It would be nice to think one would never, ever have to resort to meanness in kind.
Almost always, one can do better than return an insult with an insult. Understanding
their hurt is at a deeper level is usually a better solution, so that you don't take their
Replies to the bully who won't relent:
As an outsider, what do you think of the human race?
Hi! I'm a human being! What are you?
I won't call you stupid because that would
be an insult
to stupid people.
Did your parents ever ask you to run away
Do you ever wonder what life would be like
if you'd had
enough oxygen at birth?
I'd like to help you out. But the
root causes of your discontent
are so deeply rooted, it would take years of intensive
I'll never forget the first time we met -
but I'll sure keep trying.
If ignorance is bliss, you must be the
happiest person alive.
When I was in college I went on Freedom Rides in the 1960s, to register to vote
Black Americans in the South. We were warned by Quakers at Swarthmore and SNCC
(the organizers) about the angry people who would do most anything to provoke us.
were right. That is one of the things that made me become a Quaker later on. I never
more hatred than on these trips to the South.
I must have always had such proclivities. I remember standing up verbally to a
bully in a boys camp in the fourth grade and being thanked by many of my fellow
That was a transformative experience. And in high school, I remember sitting on the
in a basketball game (which is what I was good at, the sitting, not the playing (humor -
and my team-mate, who was more frustrated than I was at not playing, for some reason
got it in his head to provoke me into telling him to "go to hell" or some
But I wouldn't do it. He persisted and got angrier and angrier.
UNDERSTANDING THEIR PSYCHOLOGY WORKS BETTER
The Pecking Order
Why are people so mean,
sometimes? There may be
"bad seeds", I suppose. But the
main reason is that they are hurting themselves and want to peck at someone else to try to
better. It's the pecking order thing. With chickens, a hierarchical
social structure is said to develop
to minimize uncontrolled and random inter-chicken violence. Chickens only are to
peck on those
other chickens that earlier conflict has shown to be weaker. They can peck
without fear of
retaliation. Dominance means access to food and mates.
Some interesting links about the pecking order of humans.
Shame and The Human Pecking Order
Root Causes of Aggression
Frustration makes for aggression. I still remember
reading about it when I wrote a term
paper on the "Psychological Roots of Nationalism:". The Germans after
World War I were
a prime example. When goals are blocked, people become aggressive and mean-spirited
towards others. And they can easily be turned against those that they are made
are the cause of their frustration. It is always easier to blame someone else, so
are proffered and found. "Identification" with flag and country,
builds up the weakened ego.
Displacement", I wrote, was similar to the pecking order phenomenon.
redirects the hostility from those that might stroke back to those that won't strike back.
It would be a better world if people would only release their anger at cushions or|
punching bags. Anyway, my very kind professor encouraged me at a point in my
where it has helped all my life.
Poverty and Child Abuse
When I was a statistician and researcher for the State of Washington, I was charged
with helping develop a better management information system for child protection. I
read the case studies of many, many cases of child abuse. I was struck by the
hardships that underlay so much child abuse. Unemployment, poverty and the pressures
working long hours for too little pay were dominant themes in these files.
research supports my conclusion.
"Poverty is the most
frequently and persistently noted risk factor for child abuse."
(American Family Physician)
is the single best predictor of child abuse and neglect."
Child Abuse Poverty Causes
Relationship with Child Abuse and Neglect
Fighting Poverty Would
Reduce Child Abuse - Child Abuse
Much mental illness stems from poverty and arbitrary
social and religious taboos.
his controversial The
Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a
of Personal Conduct wrote: "If you talk to God, you are praying; If
talks to you, you have schizophrenia. If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; If
to the dead, you are a schizophrenic."
While people behave and think in ways that are
very disturbing, this does not mean they have a disease.
Abused Children Become Tormented Abusers
and Bullies Themselves
On a bumper sticker: "Mean People Breed Little
This precept is widely held in social work circles for empirical reasons, i.e.
it is a commonplace finding in the field. And it makes theoretical sense. We
learn to cope
using the mechanisms of our parents. It is hard to escape that training at such an
Below is a table from http://www.havoca.org/HAVOCA_home.htm
It shows the perception of the world when one is a "victim" of abuse.
that with a person who is a survivor who seeks help and someone who is healthy.
|Doesnt deserve nice things or trying for the "good
||Struggling for reasons & chance to heal
||Gratitude for everything in life.
|Low self esteem/shame/unworthy
||Sees self as wounded & healing
||Sees self as an overflowing miracle
||Using tools to learn to relax
||Gratitude for new life
||Deserves to seek help
||Proud of Healthy Self caring
||Naming what happened
||Was wounded & now healing
|Confusion & numbness
||Learning to grieve, grieving past aggrieved trauma
||Grieving at current losses
|Overwhelmed by past
||Naming & grieving what happened
||Living in the present
||Faith in self & life
|Uses outer world to hide from self
||Stays with emotional pain
||Understands that emotional pain will pass & brings new
|Hides their story
||Not afraid to tell their story to safe people.
||Beyond telling their story, but always aware they have created
their own healing with HP
|Believes everyone else is better, stronger, less damaged
||Comes out of hiding to hear others & have compassion for them
& eventually self
||Lives with an open heart for self & others
|Often wounded by unsafe others
||Learning how to protect self by share, check, share
||Protects self from unsafe others
|Places own needs last
||Learning healthy needs (See Healing the Child Within & Gift
||Places self first realizing that is the only way to function
& eventually help others
|Creates one drama after another
|Believes suffering is the human condition
||Feeling some relief, knows they need to continue in recovery
||Finds joy in peace
|Serious all the time
||Beginning to laugh
||Seeing the humor in life
|Uses inappropriate humor, including teasing
||Feels associated painful feelings instead
||Uses healthy humor
|Uncomfortable, numb or angry around toxic people
||Increasing awareness of pain & dynamics
||Healthy boundaries around toxic people, incl. relatives
|Lives in the past
||Aware of patterns
||Lives in the Now
|Angry at religion
||Understanding the difference between religion & personal
||Enjoys personal relationship with the God of their understanding
|Suspicious of therapists-- projects
||Sees therapist as guide during projections
||Sees reality as their projection & owns it.
|Needs people & chemicals to believe they are all right
||Glimpses of self-acceptance & fun without others
||Feels authentic & connected, Whole
||Movement of feelings
So, how should we react, when hit by someone's
misplaced hostility and meanness?
This is a challenge. And each case is different, but here are some more ideas.
Showing love, turning the other cheek and being still kinder is a real challenge.
love and innocence are beautiful qualities to behold. A man I met who showed
a Catholic priest and pacifist named David Dellinger. I talked
with him a very short
but I felt something wonderful in his presence. I picked him up at the local
he gave a speech at the college I taught at. He exuded more love, peace of
kindness than anyone I have ever met. Imagine the effect on the world we would have
we each could learn to exude the same love, understanding, kindness and confidence.
David Dellinger, at 88, a lifelong pacifist and one of the Chicago Seven antiwar
demonstrators during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He died
in 2004. "I went
from Yale to jail," he said, "and got a good education in both
places." A life-long pacifist, he was jailed during World War II.
against nuclear testing, against the bomb, against the Korean War, for prisoners'
rights, for Puerto Rican independence was, of course, against the US War in
Herman Melville, most famous for his Moby
Dick, wrote a wonderful shorter book
Billy Budd about this quality of
pacifism and kindness when confronted by hostility.
Bill Budd;'s behavior was modeled after Jesus and an innocent ideal, more than a
or coherently expressed philosophy of non-violence). The captain of the 19th
Billy Budd is on, becomes enraged because Billy becomes is so admired by his fellow
crew. Claggart, the captain becomes obsessed with making the pacifist Billy Budd
back at him. Billy cannot find the words to defend himself. This makes
the Captain bully
him more. Claggart fabricates a preposterous plot of mutiny. Still Billy is
mute. But at last,
past his breaking point, he lunges out and strikes the captain with one lethal blow.
is shown no mercy. He is hung by the Admiralty. The captain has his
breaks Billy's innocence.
How To Deal with Impossible
People - wikiHOW.
How to Deal with Mean
People - A Quick Guide
How to Cope with Mean People