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Something happens when you lose the innocence of childhood.
You realize that not everyone exists in life to support you.
In fact, you realize that some people are downright mean to you.
Or are they?
How can you tell when someone is being mean to you or not?
And why are there times when it feels like every person you meet is out to get you?
I've learned that there are really only a few core reasons why people are mean to us--or that we think they're being mean to us.
Understand these reasons, and you improve the quality of your life.
Reason 1 People Are Mean to You: They're Dealing With Something In Their Own Life
This is the big one.
Before I had enough life experience being around people and identifying behavioral patterns, I thought that most people were being mean to me when they were actually projecting their negative feelings onto me.
What do I mean by that?
Projection is a psychological phenomenon that happens when someone has something negativing boiling inside of them and, rather than do the work to acknowledge and heal what they're feeling, they unleash this emotion on someone else.
This usually happens without the offending party realizing that they're doing what they're doing.
Before I went to therapy to deal with my emotional baggage, there were so many times when I thought someone was being anxious or insecure when it was really I who had those emotions.
I would sometimes even gossip about these people and their "insecurities" with my friends.
Now that I know better, I realize that it was a way to alleviate my own insecurities and chronic anxiety.
Rather than name and tame what was inside of me, I unconsciously projected it onto others.
A therapist once told me, "Jordan, you have to be careful not to project your intolerance."
I have high standards for myself, and I didn't realize that I would often assume that others should have the same standards I set, especially in the workplace.
In some settings, this can be fine, but I learned that it doesn't typically matter what's acceptable or not--it's all about how I deliver my feelings.
I now know to meet colleagues where they are so that I can inform them about my plans, ask for feedback, and educate them only if necessary.
A failure to do this made people think I was being mean to them.
So, if you think about the projection concept, I'm sure you can think of tons of times when people were not actually being mean to you but were, instead, unloading an emotion on you that was tearing them up inside.
Boys have long been taught that certain emotions are not acceptable, so rather than express their shame or embarrassment or guilt, they act out in anger.
This toxic transformation of emotion has negative consequences for the people who come in contact with the brute force that, all so often, looks like being mean.
As a result, we ask ourselves, "Why is everyone so mean to me?"
Reason 2 People Are Mean To You: Your Perception Is Off
No one likes to be told that they're wrong about something.
It's not fun to be corrected on your understanding of reality.
But that is, indeed, what happens so often in our lives.
Behaviors we see from 20 feet often become much different when analyzed up close.
I want you to think about a time when you experienced an extremely negative emotion, something like intense anger or overwhelming sadness.
Really think through the details of that experience so you can clearly replay the events in your mind.
When you were going through that experience, would you say that your thinking was changed in some form or fashion?
How about your feeling? Was the way you experienced your emotions vastly heightened or diminished?
When I think about times that I have experienced extreme emotions in my life, I know, without a shred of doubt, that my actions were affected as a result of it.
Long story short, extreme emotion made my behaviors change.
And do you know why that was?
Because my perception changed.
I essentially became a different person.
When I was dealing with depression years ago, I thought that everyone hated me.
I thought no one could possibly love me.
And yes, I also thought many people were being mean to me.
What I know now is that depression warped my mindset. It colored everything with a cloudy lens.
A neutral situation suddenly became miserable because my emotions and inner monologue already had made it so.
Perception is everything in life.
It dictates our experience.
I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "Perception is reality."
It's because it truly is.
Now, I'm not saying there are not people who are being mean to you in your life--because there most likely are.
What I am saying is that you'll never see that sunny day if you're looking out of a dirty window in a darkened garage.
Reason 3 People Are Mean To You: They Want Something You Have
And finally, there is a more sinister reality underlying our collective human nature.
Some people have bad intentions. They can be undeniably mean.
Abnormal psychological profiles like sociopathy and malignant narcissism aside, some people are mean to you because they want something that you have.
This can take a lot of forms, such as:
- They are threatened by your kindness or positivity and want to bring you down a notch
- They are jealous of your financial or physical resources and wish they had what you have
- They are part of a social group that gets power from decreasing your power in some shape or form
The last point is a crucial one.
A need for power is the source of so much conflict in this world.
Whether it's homeowners arguing over who owns a piece of a property or teams in an organization demanding more resources to do their work, the root cause of the conflict is a perceived lack of power.
This plays on a primal instinct we have as humans.
We want to protect what's ours, even if our reasoning is flawed in the first place.
Perception is reality, remember?
Identify the perception, and you can change the reality.
To be clear, you should never tolerate being in an abusive situation.
If someone is being mean to you for no reason, and especially if they are being physically or verbally abusive, then you need to get out.
Occasional bad behavior is one thing. Abusive behavior is another.
If you're caught in a cycle where someone constantly wants what you have and you can't get out of it, call for help with these resources.
In Conclusion: What to Remember When People Are Mean
If people are being mean to you--or you think "Why is everyone mean to me?"--remember these three things:
- They could be dealing with something major in their own life
- You could be seeing something that's not really there
- They could be legitimately being mean to you because you have something they want
Any one of these scenarios could make you think someone is being mean to you.
And the better you get at figuring out what you're dealing with, the better you will get at learning how to respond.
"Meanness" is an unfortunate reality of the human experience.
The next time you encounter it, take a few seconds to pause and get your bearings.
Because you can't control what "mean" people do to you.
You can only control what it all means to you.