There’s the snide, off-handed comment in the work place or the gaslighting from an intimate partner, the eye-rolling, sideways glances to others while you stand idly by like a fool not knowing what to say. It’s like you can’t see, but of course, you do, and it all speaks judgment.
The uncomfortable behaviors are followed by passive-aggressive comments that you really don’t know how to respond to, and when you try, you’re met with a response like: “Why are you so sensitive?”, “Can’t you take a joke?”, or “Geez, I was just kidding… you’re always so defensive!”.
These same people start rumors and find pleasure in random gossip. They hide activity on their computers and phones. They whisper in the doorways of your office, and stop talking; an icy silence when you come near.
Sometimes they are less obvious, smiling to your face with a pretense of sweetness, but when your back is turned, the daggers come out. When you try to address the behavior, they flatly deny everything, play the victim, or you encounter a confused face—how could you even think these things?
Seriously, you are sick and tired of this behavior, and yet, you keep encountering it! It makes you feel stupid, ashamed, and angry that you can never address it in the moment, and when you try to, you end up feeling ridiculous.
Mean people are everywhere. These people are even gaining popularity with a new found freedom to be assholes, but they don’t have to win. Good people are everywhere too, and although it sounds really corny to say, it’s true that good people must practice standing up and tempering kindness with a little kick ass.
Mean People Suck… But Why?
Unfortunately, just like any type of abusive person, they behave the way they do because they can. They absolutely can get away behaving badly most of the time and are rarely held accountable for their actions. There are a few reasons for this:
- This kind of behavior is often seen as strong and ‘in control’. As a society, we like those traits in people. He who is the loudest, and most charismatic; however outlandish, must be right.
- Jerks and mean people are good at hiding massive insecurities. They rely on the silence, fear, and intimidation of others to keep them from being found out.
- If found out, they create a new spin on reality. Nothing seems to touch them or affect them to reflect on their own behavior. It’s a lost cause to try.
- For these folks, it’s much easier, and has more rewards, to be a jerk.
If you are a sensitive soul, or a person of conscience, these behaviors are unthinkable, as you would be plagued by guilt or remorse for your actions if you behaved in this manner! But you must understand—mean people do not view the world as you do.
Conscience, My Friend, is the Answer— and Its Own Reward.
All the great philosophical and religious traditions of the world teach us that our personal ability to reflect and change behaviors is what makes us better human beings. When we are stuck, we do bad stuff. But our ability to reflect upon the impact of our words and actions, and their effect upon others, is critical for growth as a person.
“Do unto others…”, don’t cast the first stone, love your neighbor, practice non-attachment, breathe, stay in the present moment— all useful, common themes for helping us stay on track and aware.
Also, all are powerful kryptonite for mean people.
What You Learn From Rising Up and Standing Strong.
1. What other people do is not about you.
Empaths and sensitives often take on the shame and blame that others don’t want, even when it is not theirs to take. Learning to take responsibility for our own actions and mistakes is one of the most vital lessons we, hopefully, learn in childhood. But equally important, is learning not to take on the shame or blame that is not yours to take. Walk away—or maybe run, depending on the circumstance.
2. Like the Wicked Witch of the West, mean people dissolve when water is thrown on them.
Of course, not literally, and no offense to the great character of Elphaba, but when confronted with their kryptonite in the light of day, mean people back right down fast.
Stand firm and state the facts. Stick to observable, indisputable facts, and if you share any feelings, state that they are your own. Do not engage in extended conversation or new attempts to manipulate. Might be best to have an exit strategy going in.
3. Know thyself.
We all have the capacity for ignorance, greed, want, and other ugly things that plague the human race. If you know your own stumbling blocks, obstacles, and habits of mind, then you can make better decisions about your actions and reactions.
Rising up requires that you know these things about yourself, and more importantly, are honest with yourself.
When you know your darkness, your light can shine more brightly.
4. It gets easier once you actually do it.
It’s true. It’s difficult to stand up to people who do not have your best interest in mind. People who behave as liars, cheats, bullies, and generally unkind people, are draining and not fun to be around. They exhaust your mind and empty your spirit of enthusiasm.
No one I know looks forward to calling mean people out or standing up to the difficult to define. But once you carefully execute your plan for confronting them, then you can act in accordance with a feeling of confidence. It will be easier next time if you have to do it again in another situation.
5. Practice helps, but it doesn’t make perfect.
You are training your mind to do the hard thing when you stand up to what hurts you. Your mind will get clearer, your wits sharper, but it won’t always go as you planned, and sometimes can backfire.
You need to be prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best. If the situation is at all dangerous, please make sure that you’re in a safe place and have taken appropriate precautions.
When We Rise, We Shine
Knowing your mind, using your best skills and tools unique to you, taking the time to non-reactively assess, and then grounding yourself with a plan will go far in helping you learn to stand up to mean people, and those who cause friction and chaos.
The next time you feel yourself succumbing, cowering over your solar plexus, or at a loss for how to deal with comments and situations designed to offend or diminish you, practice standing up in a way that builds your confidence and self-respect.
You can do this. In doing the hard thing with grace, you become the champion of yourself—and you will feel pretty damn good about it too.
It’s all about training your mind and being honest with yourself. It’s all about taking responsibility for your own actions. It’s all about becoming the best version of a human for yourself.
Shining brightly, being forthright and honest in a world that increasingly loves hiding in the dark— is strength in action. Go for it.