11 Common Reasons Why People Are So Mean And How To Deal With Them

You've been going about your business happily when some asshat says something ugly to you.

You didn't do anything to deserve their nastiness — or maybe you did something unknowingly that lit their fuse.

Either way, their sheer hatefulness feels like a slap in the face.

Why did they need to be so downright mean?

Dealing with mean people is hard enough when you’ve got a fresh supply of energy for the day.

When your energy is low, it gets harder not to react or do the things that come to mind.

And reacting to mean people usually make the situation worse.

So, what makes people so mean and rude, and how do you deal with that kind of behavior?

What Causes a Person To Be So Mean?

It’s not always easy to pinpoint the reason why someone is being unfair or aggressively mean — though if you know the person, you might at least have some idea.

When it comes to people you don’t know, it’s too easy to assume they’re just jerks or unpleasant people (or something worse).

But there are a variety of reasons why someone might act mean and disrespectful toward you.

11 Common Reasons Why People Are So Mean

Why are some people so mean?

When someone is mean to you for no reason, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that they are just bad people.

But, like most emotional topics, it's far more complicated than that. Bravo to you for wanting to learn more. Let's explore some of the common reasons.

1. Low Self-Esteem

It’s often the case that disrespectful people have years of experience on the receiving end of others’ meanness or lack of respect. If someone is convinced that they don’t deserve kindness or respect, why should they assume you do?

Low self-esteem is often at the root of meanness or bad behavior. People who are hurting and who think little of themselves often do and say hurtful things to others as a kind of revenge for the way they’ve been made to feel.

two women talking on sofa Why Are People So Mean?

If they have to suffer, why shouldn’t everyone else?

If they can’t be happy, they have a right to take happy people down a notch or two if they get a chance.

So, if you seem happier than they — or if you seem like an easy target (as they often feel they are) — don’t be surprised if they vent their anger and self-loathing in your direction.

2. Overwhelm and Emotional Baggage

Low self-esteem isn’t the only thing that can drag people down and cause them to lash out at others. Mean people are usually dealing with a truckload of emotional baggage and might feel overwhelmed by it and by the weight of their personal problems, whatever they may be:

  • Trouble at work
  • Financial problems (debt, poverty, gambling, etc.)
  • Conflict or abuse at home
  • Inability to trust or invest in others
  • Discontent with where they are

If they have a habit of using drugs to cope with their personal problems, they might be acting rudely because of the effects of the drug they’re using — or because of withdrawal symptoms.

3. Personality Disorders or Mental Illness

Whether because of childhood trauma or neglect or because of a chemical imbalance or physical injury, a personality disorder may be at the root of someone’s disrespectful or mean behavior.

Some habitually mean people are suffering from a mental illness such as extreme anxiety or paranoia. Those with Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder are generally unable to empathize with others.

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If you confront a sociopath for his rudeness or cruel words, chances are he’ll have no qualms about doing or saying something worse — either to punish you or just to get a reaction.

4. Cultural Differences

What you might consider mean behavior someone else might consider normal is because that’s what they grew up with or because their culture rewards brash or aggressive behavior.

So, it’s not personal; it’s just what they’re used to.

women arguing outdoors Why Are People So Mean?

Of course, this doesn’t excuse their mistreatment of you and others unfortunate enough to catch their attention. None of these possible explanations qualify as excuses or erase the consequences of cruel words and thuggish behavior. But they do help us see beyond the poor behavior of the moment to its fuller context.

5. Emotional Immaturity

Some people don’t realize they’re being mean or disrespectful because they’ve yet to learn the social skills needed to make friends and influence people. It may not be their fault, either.

What you perceive as meanness or at least thoughtless is, to them, behavior that they don’t think much about, probably because their minds are on other things.

People on the autism spectrum sometimes behave in socially inappropriate ways, which others might perceive as rudeness or a lack of respect for others.

There’s no malice or even passive aggression in their behavior, though. And they may not understand why others are offended by what they’ve said or done.

It’s not personal; it’s just that they honestly don’t know what’s expected of them. They have difficulty picking up on social cues, and they don’t perceive their own behavior as mean or harsh.

two couples talking with intensity Why Are People So Mean?

Or they’ve gotten tired of people jumping to conclusions about them, and they no longer care. It’s hard to tell, sometimes, but it doesn’t hurt to give them the benefit of the doubt.

6. Lack of Sleep

We've all been there. A sleepless night makes for a rough next day. Your head is foggy, you feel like crap, and your emotions are riding rough.

When someone hasn't had enough sleep, especially if they are dealing with chronic insomnia, they are likely to be easily triggered.

Someone expects one too many things or asks the wrong questions, and the person snaps before they have time to take a breath.

It's easier to forgive these situations, particularly if the offender apologizes later, but it still hurts.

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7. Too Much Alcohol

Another familiar scenario is the person who is well into their cups and has no filter between brain and mouth — or sometimes between brain and fists.

When inebriated, a person has impaired judgment. Alcohol disrupts rational thinking and allows you to act without thinking.

A mean drunk is the worst kind of mean, as they will often go for the jugular and say or do profoundly cruel things.

8. Jealous Person

The green-eyed monster can infect people with monstrous attitudes. A jealous person may feel threatened by another's success, appearance, relationships, or even happiness.

To make themselves feel better, jealous people will try to take down a person who threatens them with unkind or passive-aggressive comments.

If they can dampen your joy with their misery and meanness, it relieves their pain — momentarily.

9. Temperament and Personality

You've heard the expression: “She (or he) was just born mean.” Yep, there are those people.

Everything in their life seems to be going well, but they just can't muster up any goodwill or kindness. They view life from crap-colored glasses.

According to research, perhaps as much as 50% of happiness levels are genetic. So those whose genetics fall on the “mean as a snake” side may have difficulty curbing their familial ill temper.

That doesn't excuse their unkind behavior. Most people are smart enough to learn how to avoid offending others. It's just not as easy for the genetically unkind.

10. Grief and Loss

Experiencing a tragic life event can make the kindest people lash out. The pain is so exquisite and fresh that they flail against everyone around them.

Parents who have lost a child may cruelly blame one another. Someone whose spouse has left them may jump down the throat of anyone who tries to offer comfort.

Of course, you may not know if the mean person you've encountered is dealing with a tragedy. They may just seem like a jerk.

That's why it's always good to respond with compassion rather than ladling out more negative energy into the world.

11. Feeling Triggered

It's entirely possible you did something that triggered someone's bad behavior. Maybe you said something unkind or passive, believing that it was deserved or due to your own blind spots.

You fail to see your part in the situation when the person responds in kind. You can only focus on their cruel retort and label them as mean when both of you are wounded for some larger reason.

It's hard to step back and acknowledge this in the heat of the moment. But if you hope to be honest with yourself, you can see your role in the encounter in hindsight.

How to Deal with Mean People

Now that you can see beyond the mean spirit of someone’s behavior in the moment, let’s go over some steps for dealing with it. The goal here is to respond in a way that’s most likely to benefit you both.

And I know it’s easier said than done — especially when your energy is low, and someone else’s meanness pushes your last button (the big red one).

But the more you learn to calm yourself in the midst of a storm, the better able you are to defuse a potentially explosive situation and restore peace (or as much of it as possible).

1. Look beyond the meanness — to the struggling person behind it.

This is where you look for that “fuller context.” This is harder to do if you don’t know the person being awful or disrespectful toward you, but it may yet be possible to discern the real reason for their behavior toward you.

It may be that they’re still feeling raw from a disappointment or from someone else’s unkind treatment of them. Or it may be that they’re processing some painful news or difficult emotions and are unable to respond to anyone without agitation or anger.

Whatever the reason, take a moment to consider the person behind the unpleasantness.

2. Don’t take it personally.

Someone else’s meanness probably has little or nothing to do with you personally. It’s more likely to be about the person’s own personal issues. Take the time to consider this when someone acts mean or disrespectful toward you.

It doesn’t follow, though, that because it’s “not personal,” you have no right to be offended or hurt by someone’s awful and cruel behavior.

Our aim here is not to say, ‘Well, it’s not personal, so it shouldn’t bother you.” It’s to help you see the behavior in its fuller context and to respond in a way that is least likely to make the situation worse.

3. Consider differences in culture or background (learned behavior).

You don’t have to give anyone a blank check to be disrespectful toward you because of their cultural or family background — or what you suspect they picked up from it –, but it helps to realize that someone else’s nasty behavior has more to do with them than with you.

If someone’s background has trained him to be aggressive and inconsiderate, you’re not going to reform him by telling him off if he doesn’t see anything wrong with what he’s doing — and if he sees a lack of aggression as weakness.

If he holds to what his upbringing has taught him, he’s not likely to respond well to a scolding by someone he considers weaker than himself. So, unless you can demonstrate superior strength in a language he understands, it’s better to walk away.

4. Defuse rather than escalate.

Once you let your anger dictate how you respond, you’ve lost control of the situation and of yourself. Instead, remain calm — looking past the other’s behavior to the struggling soul behind it — and respond with kindness.

If your kindness seems forced, the other will likely pick up on it and resent the implied condescension. You need to feel genuine forgiveness and kindness toward the other person in order to effectively defuse the situation.

Empathy plays a role here. If you can put yourself in the other’s shoes, it’s easier to feel compassion and to forgive the other person from your heart.

Forgiveness and genuine goodwill — even if they don’t change the other person’s immediate behavior — restore your power over yourself and help you grow in spite of temptations to get even. They also demonstrate love to the other person, who may not have much experience with it.

5. Walk away.

Sometimes, all you can do is walk away and keep your distance from the people behaving with a mean spirit. Maybe they just need time to cool off, or maybe there’s nothing else you can do without putting yourself or the people you care about in harm’s way.

It’s not always easy — especially when you’re tempted to think this person needs to be taught a lesson — but walking away is generally easier to survive than confronting someone who doesn’t seem to care how his actions affect other people.

Choosing not to confront someone or not to accept their challenge doesn’t make you a coward; not every battle is worth jumping into.

Final thoughts

It starts with you.

It may be that the mean person has gotten so used to being on the defensive and having to fight to get his share that he doesn’t see his behavior as strange or inappropriate.

He may not have much experience with people who treat him with unconditional kindness and respect.

As someone more conscious of what’s going on behind the bad behavior or vicious words, you have the opportunity to respond in a way that could change someone’s life for the better.

In his book, Zero Limits, Joe Vitale shares the Hawaiian Ho’oponopono prayer for healing, which requires only that you think of someone and repeat the words, “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you,” over and over again.

You don’t have to say these words to a mean person’s face (which, let’s face it, would be awkward). You don’t even have to be in the same room with that person. You do have to mean what you say, though. And you have to say those words with a sincere desire for healing and forgiveness.

Because in healing yourself, you also bring healing to others — particularly to those whom you forgive from the heart. If you can forgive yourself, you can forgive and show compassion to others, too. And if you consider yourself worth healing, you’ll also see that in others – even those who have hurt you.

Let the healing and the forgiveness begin with you, so you can bring the same to others, including those who have offended or mistreated you today.

And may your kindness and compassion influence everything you do.

Some people are so mean and unpleasant. They say and do things that are infuriating. Do you wonder, "Why are people so mean?" Here are the reasons.

3 thoughts on “11 Common Reasons Why People Are So Mean And How To Deal With Them”

  1. “If you can forgive yourself, you can forgive and show compassion to others, too.”

    Thank you Barrie for reminding that it starts with me!

  2. I was expecting a few suggestions of things to possibly say when someone is being rude. Instead this article just leaves us with a generic “be kind”. Great advice, and definitely a peacemakers suggestion. However, when there is a pattern of meanness from someone you can’t walk away from (a boss, family member, etc) more specific ideas of what to say would be more helpful. Just bring kind and walking away from this person every time feels more like you are giving them permission to keep right on being mean.

  3. What to do when the mean comment is true – or when an adult offends a child (I am thinking about Ricky Jervais new series ‘After life’ when he lashes back at a little boy making very hurtful comments about the boy’s physical appearance – totally out of order – appalling that this wasn’t censored)

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