It’s inevitable that you will encounter mean people throughout your life—whether it’s a family member, a colleague at work, a friend, or a stranger on the street.
They can be hurtful, rude, and just downright unpleasant, so dealing with them can be draining and frustrating. Fortunately, there are strategies to handle them and make things easier.
According to experts, below are ways to help you out when dealing with mean people:
We all have power. During our lives, we will inevitably encounter mean or unfavorable people, and our true power lies in how we choose to respond to those people while remaining true to ourselves.
Since we can’t avoid unkind people forever, it’s wise to equip yourself with strategies to help you navigate them and bounce back from negative encounters.
Here are some things I do to support myself and others through finding ways to navigate mean people.
Offer grace without allowing them to cross boundaries
As difficult as it feels in the moment, I like to offer grace and kindness without allowing them to cross my boundaries or harm me.
I imagine the pain or personal sufferings that may have caused them to respond in this manner. I’ve found most often in life that people are mean because someone first was mean to them.
Being mean is a learned response: a defense mechanism, a survival technique.
When I imagine this mean person as a frightened child, it is easier for me to have compassion for them. I do not excuse their behavior, but I can better understand it.
I believe grace is a unique gift we can give others. Seeking to understand compassionately instead of judging harshly.
Find a healthy way to express your feelings
By noticing it, we allow it to be released instead of buried in our bodies. Anger, sadness, guilt—feel them and then find a healthy way to express them.
This can be done through:
- going into your car and hashing it out (alone, but directed at the hurter),
- going for a run, to name a few.
You don’t need to live in the feeling, but by acknowledging it, we dilute the power it has over us.
Understand that the behavior is a symptom of an internal problem
The behavior allows the mean person to receive a false sense of power in a world or life where they might feel otherwise powerless. When we see this, it is easier to have compassion for that person.
Overcome meanness with love and kindness
This is the superpower I teach my children and the clients I serve. We hold onto our power, our authentic selves, when we can show loving-kindness to others instead of allowing their behavior to change us.
Instead of matching a bully’s behaviors and words, becoming mean and spiteful, when we remain steadfast, loving, and kind-spirited, we hold our true power.
We remain changed for the better, and that love has the potential to shine more love into the world.
We can do this by sending:
- positive thoughts,
- or wishes to the person
- in our minds,
- or anywhere else that feels therapeutic.
Here are some wishes I like to send:
- I wish you happiness
- I wish you peace
- I wish you healing
- I wish you understanding
- I wish you grace
When we hold onto our power and send kindness, we can spread more of it into the world. When someone who is hurting feels peace, their heart softens, and a new capability is planted.
You can’t plan ahead or prepare for every situation in life, but with some awareness and resources, you can successfully navigate mean people, knowing that their behavior is a reflection of their own internal pain and not about you.
Remember: Your power is strengthened each time you choose to show up authentically in love and kindness, regardless of what is happening around you or to you.
We only give someone else our power when we allow their behavior to change who we are. This is done by:
- modifying our behavior,
- adjusting our thoughts,
- and diluting what we believe to be true.
This does not mean you allow others to harm you, walk all over you, or dismiss the poor behavior.
It means you:
- distance yourself
- equip yourself
- show up in love
Because at the end of the day, you showing up in love is holding true to who you are.
Be aware by scanning your body and asking yourself some questions
Practice allows us to decide how we want to feel and how we plan to respond in challenging situations, allowing our authenticity and power to remain.
Here are some questions you can begin thinking about to understand yourself and others better when you are in challenging situations:
- Scan your body—what is it about that person’s behavior, words, or actions that you don’t like or feel are mean?
- How do they make you feel?
- Have you ever felt this way before?
- Have you ever behaved in a similar fashion?
- How do I want to feel, and what can I equip myself with to achieve that in my life?
There are no right or wrong answers and no judgment, so just get curious. The more aware of ourselves we are, the easier it is for us to move through obstacles.
Founder and Lead Counsellor, Hope Therapy & Counselling Services
No one is immune to encountering a mean person. Mean people can be found in every aspect of life, from the grocery store to the workplace.
Mean people are often spiteful, have little empathy, and enjoy making others feel bad to make themselves feel better. They can be:
They can also be highly manipulative and often very skilled at using other people’s vulnerabilities against them.
Related: How to Stop Being Manipulative
Unfortunately, mean people can also be very destructive and often cause a great deal of harm to those around them.
What to do if you encounter someone mean to you?
No one deserves to be treated poorly, especially by someone who is supposed to be:
- a friend,
- loved one,
- or someone who has influence or power, such as an employer.
The good news is that there is a simple framework that you can use that will often be helpful.
Ask whether they are actually being mean
Are we sure? We first need to ask ourselves whether they are actually being mean. The mind has a habit of making all sorts of assumptions about things long before we know all the facts.
So are we sure, or are we just making assumptions based on what we think is happening?
If you are sure they are being mean, the next question is, should we care?
It doesn’t matter who we are in life. Not everyone will like us or treat us well. This goes from the best-paid movie or pop star to the most successful entrepreneur.
They will all encounter people who are unnecessarily mean to them at times. So it is worth stopping and questioning how important this is to your life. Sometimes it just simply isn’t worth trying too hard to build bridges.
Sometimes, if we stop and look at ourselves, we can identify that their meanness is a response to something we have done. Maybe we made a mistake with something or inadvertently said the wrong thing.
If so, sometimes the easiest thing is to accept our mistakes and apologize.
Set clear boundaries
Setting boundaries can be critical if the reason for this behavior sits firmly with the other person—the first thing to remember when setting boundaries is that we have the right to do so.
It is not ok for people to continually be mean to you, and simply allowing it to continue can impact self-esteem, our sense of self-worth, and over time a more profound impact on our mental health.
When setting a boundary, be clear. This is not the time for vagueness and a lack of clarity. Also, we do not need to apologize for setting a boundary. We all have the right to do so.
It is so easy to believe the words said by our decenters. This is especially true if our self-esteem is already a little rocky.
Recognizing the unkindness of the comments and making a deliberate plan to do something nice for ourselves can be really helpful.
This can be as simple as:
- a bath,
- listening to relaxing music,
- or meeting friends.
These are all great ways to replenish ourselves after being victims of other people’s unkindness.
Don’t become defensive
The easiest thing when hearing negative words about ourselves is to snap back in retaliation.
If we are trying to repair some rupture within a relationship or disentangle ourselves from someone else’s meanness, snapping or becoming overly defensive rarely helps.
Don’t be alone
Speaking to a friend, colleague, or counselor can be a good strategy.
Trying to navigate such challenging situations on our own can be tough. So sharing with someone we trust or getting support from an independent counselor can be supportive and help us identify strategies for managing the situation in the future.
Detach from the situation
Sometimes, however hard we try to set boundaries or repair a rupture that has arisen with someone in our lives, the other person continues to be mean.
In such cases, we may consider detaching from the situation and the person involved. Doing this in a way that does not make additional conflict but creates distance is what we are aiming for here.
Psychotherapist and Owner, Gestalt Therapy PLLC
Regulate your emotions and behavioral responses
People are everywhere, and people can be mean. Meanness looks and feels in various ways and falls on a continuum that ranges from passive-aggressive behaviors, which is as ignoring or rude to bullying.
Where does meanness come from? It is plausible that some people are just born that way.
Another plausible reason is that meanness develops as a response or defense to the environment during our developmental years.
Mean people have very likely experienced a deeply painful and even traumatic childhood. When this pain no longer can be numbed and contained, it manifests as anger projected onto others that manifests as meanness.
How can you deal when someone is acting mean? It is essential to recognize that we cannot control or change anyone else’s choices and behavior. The only thing we have the power to do is to make choices for ourselves and learn to regulate our emotions and behavioral responses.
Here are some tools to draw upon that can help interact with mean people:
First, remember not to take on the blame as your own. Mean people will target those they feel threatened by or jealous of simply because they can if someone is there.
Related: How to Deal With Jealous People
Second, when confronted with someone being mean, remind yourself to take some deep breaths. This will lower your heart rate and blood pressure and calm your central nervous system, making you less likely to be reactive.
Also, practicing mindful breathing or meditation daily, even for just 5 minutes at a time, is helpful to build this skill and recall your ability to rely upon your breath at the moment.
Third, build a strong alliance with yourself by attending to your own needs and building resilience and self-esteem.
- Being kind to yourself as you would your best friend
- Using positive affirmations to help shift toxic mindsets and beliefs about yourself
- Engaging in things that bring you joy
- Getting plenty of sleep
Next, and this one tip is one of the most difficult to do: Have empathy for the person acting mean. Remind yourself that underneath the acting out behavior is a wounded, hurting spirit which is likely doing the best they can with what they know.
We have all been hurt and wounded at some point in a relationship, and if you’re able to connect to the other person by employing empathy, even if the connection is only internal, you will be less reactive.
You might be one of the only people in their lives who has been mindful of employing empathy in your interactions with them.
Lastly, don’t suffer in silence. Find someone to talk with about the interaction, someone who can empathize with you, share what happened, and how you feel.
This will help relieve some of the stress your body will be responding with as a result of tolerating someone’s meanness, as well as help to validate and reality test anything internalized as a result.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Establish boundaries with mean people
I want to preface this by saying that you are not responsible for people being mean to you.
In this society, this “blaming-the-victim” mentality puts the responsibility on the person getting hurt rather than the person hurting.
The tips that I’m going to discuss are ways to help you stay safe, mentally and emotionally, rather than blaming you for being hurt.
The real concern should be: how do we make mean people accountable. But alas, that is a bigger topic to dive into. It is not your fault.
Mental boundaries are a wonderful coping skill to help decrease emotional distress when interacting with a person who is mean towards you.
This skill is most useful when there is no choice but to interact with the mean person (ex., supervisor, colleague, professor, family member, etc.).
The steps in making a mental boundary are:
- If they hurt you, acknowledge the hurt without judging yourself
Often, when you get hurt by someone repeatedly, it can be easy to judge yourself for feeling hurt.
For example: “Of course, he’s going to act like that, I should have known better, I need to get over it, etc.”
It hurts to be hurt, regardless of how predictable it is. Let yourself feel the hurt, and it will be easier to maintain some of your self-esteem and self-worth.
- Despite it feeling personal, remind yourself that what they are saying or doing does not accurately reflect you
It can feel very personal when someone is mean and comments on things that you may feel insecure about.
That does not mean that what they say are facts. It is them making an interpretation about you and saying it out loud.
If there is the feedback that is useful to you, of course, take the feedback. If there is nothing useful, it is perfectly acceptable to dismiss it.
- Remind yourself that you are not responsible for their behaviors
Mean people struggle with taking responsibility and will blame you for being hurt.
For example: “I wouldn’t have yelled at you if you hadn’t XYZ, I didn’t do anything wrong, you’re being dramatic/sensitive, etc.”
If you have to spend a lot of time with this person, it can be so easy to internalize these messages and make them fact. It is easy to find ways for you to blame yourself when that is not true.
You are not responsible for how others choose to act, assuming you’re not actively provoking others. You’re only responsible for how you react.
Again, this does not mean you had it coming if you are not placing the boundaries, but rather it’s a way of defending yourself when someone is coming in with emotional blows.
This is the ideal form of boundaries when dealing with mean people.
If you don’t have to keep mean people in your circle, don’t. It will be easier to challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that come from interacting with toxic people, especially if they are not around.
This can be the easiest and hardest, depending on the relationship. If it is someone you do not have to see, such as a supervisor, then permit yourself not to see them.
Here are some steps how:
- Schedule your time so that you will not be in the same space at the same time
- Don’t plan activities with them, but schedule time with others
- Block their phone numbers, email addresses, and social media accounts
- If you have to be in the same space, go to a different part of the room or building
The less you have to be around them, the less stress you have to experience.
Stay away from them or stand up for yourself in a smart way
The best choice you have in dealing with mean people is to stay away from them.
But we don’t always have that luxury, especially if we work or live with them. In this case, you can’t avoid them, and you will need to stand up for yourself in a smart way.
If mean people know they can get away with bullying you, they will. So you have to stand strong from the beginning, if possible.
Don’t show any sign of dislike
The healthiest people just put up with them and don’t show any sign of dislike. These are the people who don’t have many triggers. So it’s easier for them to stay calm and act polite.
If you don’t want to provoke a fight, this is the best way to be. Use the healthiest people’s behavior as a model of how to handle mean people.
Don’t step down their level
- If it’s someone you must deal with daily:
It’s important not to stoop down to their level. Realize if you don’t like this person, other people probably don’t want them either.
Others who say they like them are likely just afraid of the mean person. They have a sixth sense for when their tactics are not working on someone. This is how the mean person gets their way—fear tactics.
Some people who are being consciously mean also look for reactivity. If you react strongly to their behavior, they think you are easy to control. They will try to push your buttons even more after they realize this.
Greeting someone is also a way of acknowledging them and showing respect. You need to look them straight in the eyes when interacting with them.
- Greet them each day and use a full and confident voice.
- Say hello to them every morning when you pass by, even if you don’t have to.
This shows you are not afraid of them.
Reprogram them to treat you in a different way
- If you’ve already messed up:
It’s okay. It will take extra work to correct, but it’s still doable. This is because they already pigeonholed you as a certain type of person.
Now you have to reprogram them to treat you a different way. People generally don’t like to change their views, especially if they’ve pegged you as below them.
So you will just have to stay more steadfast in your “new” ways of not reacting.
Never cause a scene or lose your cool, no matter what happens
- If they’re persistent:
If they try to embarrass you or constantly pick on you, you may need advanced tactics. This may include publicly humiliating them. But never cause a scene or lose your cool, no matter what happens.
Next time they try to put you down, you’ll listen calmly and not interrupt. After they’re done talking, nod your head. You may agree with parts of what they said or not. But state facts.
Arguing directly against them usually causes trouble. Then you can bring up something they did that was more wrong than what you did. Even mention that other people saw it. But try not to bring up names. If you can say it in front of their boss, even better.
After this, they should be afraid to cross you. Because they know you’ll bite back. This is an intelligent way to show them that there will be consequences.
Hear them out
- If they are a random client or customer at your job:
If they are coming at you with negative energy, they may just be very upset. Realize they may just want to be heard. Sometimes all they need is an apology and you to show concern.
It’s important to ask how you can make it right. Some of these previously disgruntled customers may become the best ones if handled correctly. Even if they don’t and they are just jerks, hopefully, you don’t have to deal with them often.
If they keep coming back and mistreating employees, it is a manager’s job to tell them not to come back. It’s not worth it to keep a customer who ruins the morale and makes employees’ lives miserable.
Consider studying more about how to handle mean people
If you need more help, knowledge, or practice dealing with these types of people, consider studying the topic further.
One good way is to watch the healthiest, most successful people who get along with everyone. Pick up their habits. If you are good friends with them, ask them for tips.
Related: 39 Habits of Successful People
Another good option is reading books or hiring a coach who specializes in handling toxic personalities.
Megan Tarmann, MS, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Rooted Wisdom Counseling
Take a deep breath and pause before you decide what to do next
Nobody likes mean people. When people are mean, we often get pulled into a fight, flight, or freeze response which throws us into a tizzy. Our brain prepares us to go on defense which is not helpful.
One simple way to keep from attacking right-back is to take a deep breath and pause before you decide what to do next. You can even count to ten before you make your next move.
This pause and a deep breath can help you access the part of your brain that is:
- more advanced,
- less reactive,
- and more helpful in problem-solving.
Think critically to understand the facts that contribute to their behaviors
Wise mind skill comes from dialectical behavior therapy and is essentially about finding a balance between acknowledging the facts of the situation while also knowing what emotions are present.
Being somewhere in the middle of logic and emotion can help you determine how best to proceed.
If someone has been acting mean towards you, think critically to understand the facts that might be contributing to their behaviors.
With that said, also identify what feelings are coming up for you so that you can take care of your own emotions and not react from an overly emotional place.
Find a mantra to repeat to yourself
Remind yourself it’s not about you but about them. Mean people often project how they feel about themselves onto others.
For example, if they have high expectations of themselves and are self-critical, they are likely to respond to others critically and unreasonably as well.
The parts of themselves they reject or dislike could be projected onto you. Find a mantra to repeat to yourself that sounds something like, “this is about them, not me” or, “not my monkey, not my circus.”
Act according to your values
Do not match their energy. Ask yourself what kind of person you want to be and act accordingly. This can often mean standing up for yourself assertively and respectfully.
Avoid a lot of “you” statements, and be concise and clear about what you need. This could sound like: “I am not okay with the tone of your voice, and I need you to work with me as a teammate. Let’s pause this conversation for now and come back together tomorrow to discuss the next steps together.“
Founder and Chief Editor, Seniorstrong
Come up with a solid comeback or peaceful escape plan
There is no formula to deal with mean people. It solely depends on you and the type of relationship that you share with that person.
The most important thing is to come up with a solid comeback or peaceful escape plan to save yourself from an unnecessary argument turning your day into an unpleasant one.
Obnoxious people believe they will find satisfaction by being mean to others. While you can’t change their mindset or character, you can change your way of dealing with their crap to secure your mental piece.
Be unapologetically direct and call out their behavior
Being too sweet and carefree could be an open invitation for mean people to injure your self-esteem.
Whenever you are cornered by such people, be remorseless and call out their toxic behavior. Say things like:
- “You are being mean to me right now.”
- “You should hear yourself.”
- “Those are some really unkind choices of words.”
to point out where they are wrong.
Don’t be a damsel in distress; instead, raise your voice for yourself with dignity to let others know that you deserve to be treated right.
Don’t entertain them for long and find an excuse to leave
Sometimes, despite trying your best, you can’t deter mean people from their little mission of being “offensive.”
Your confrontation could not yield any result. In such a scenario:
- Don’t stick around for too long to entertain their toxicity
- Come up with a good excuse to take off
Look at your watch and say you weren’t aware that it’s getting late or give an excuse for a fake meeting. Try to sound as genuine as you can; once you sound believable, leave the spot and don’t look back.
Don’t reciprocate the same behavior
Being carried away by derogatory remarks and starting to reciprocate the same is a common human tendency. Though it might feel only fair to give them back a taste of their own medicine, being mean can’t be a source of your happiness.
On the contrary, the bluntness of your tongue will haunt you as an aftereffect of negative conversation.
Try evoking empathy in yourself by being calm, composed, and patient. Don’t exchange a heated exchange of words; instead, try to maintain your cool and be kind.
The best way to deal with mean people is to not deal with them at all
Mean people are little vampires. They feed off the negative energy and anger they inspire in others. It’s an adrenaline rush for them.
When we refuse to engage with them, it’s like cutting off their air. They don’t like it. They’ll probably even try harder to get under your skin, but that’s how you know it’s working.
Call them out
On the flip side, when we see mean people in public behaving badly towards others, I think we’re all a little quick to pretend it isn’t happening.
Take a look at any public adult meltdown caught on camera, and you notice a disturbing trend: bystanders carrying on as if there isn’t a fully grown woman collapsed on the floor because a store attendant wouldn’t let them cut the line.
We don’t need to stoop to their level, but we can call them out.
I once stood behind a woman at Whole Foods throwing a fit because she couldn’t pay for flowers with a check, a store policy.
She spoke loudly to no one in particular and huffed at the cashier, a woman who had zero control over whether or not the store took checks.
“She wasn’t going to come back! This was ridiculous! She owned a horse farm down the road!” (I don’t know why this last point was relevant, but she mentioned it several times).
After a minute or two of this behavior, I spoke up.
“Ma’am, there’s no need to raise your voice. She (the cashier) doesn’t set the check policy for this store, and you’re making a scene. Pay for the flowers or leave, but cut this out.”
I don’t think she’d been called out before because she was momentarily stunned. She huffed some more, paid cash for her flowers, and then left, still complaining, no doubt believing herself the victim.
So why bother speaking up? Because it matters to the people on the receiving end of her bad behavior, she might continue loudly complaining all over town, but we don’t have to make her feel comfortable doing so.
Dr. Ramandeep Sidhu
Physician and Founder, Vivaa
Keep your rage under control and channel it productively
In medicine, there is regrettably a vicious circle of insulting subordinates. Many seniors are like this, though not all. Being of Indian descent, I was frequently on the receiving end.
I worked through it in stages.
The first was duck feathers. I endured criticism and let it go. When they didn’t receive a response, people became bored. You can move on to step two if you’ve mastered denying them their amusement at your expense.
Anger was the second. Keep your rage under control and channel it productively. Get upset when someone calls you stupid. Let them know they’re mistaken.
To succeed, you must be obstinate and insist on getting your way. This is how you handle conflict. You are prepared for the last stage once you have overcome your fear of confrontation and said what has to be said.
Getting happy is the final phase. By being kind and smiling your way through life, you succeed.
Being angry makes you a challenging target, but being happy and surrounded by friends makes you an impossible one.
Pay attention to others and use any chance to build rapport. You can transform someone’s hatred into an opportunity to become friends with them if you’re adept at being cheerful.
Kamilah Thomas, MSW, LCSW-S
CEO and Clinical Director, KBT Counseling and Consulting
Calm yourself down from reacting
Don’t take it personally. How someone responds to a situation doesn’t have anything to do with you but rather their own:
- lack of emotional intelligence,
- and fears.
Related: How to Not Take Things Personally
Pause and assess. Pause to take a deep breath to calm yourself down from reacting. You don’t have to match everyone’s energy.
Assess whether the person has the capacity to receive feedback and be open to another perspective from their own.
If they are, assertive communication and “I statements” are best to express how you feel about their behavior and to set boundaries.
Don’t engage. Sometimes the best response is no response. If the person is defensive, it’s best to de-escalate the situation by ignoring them and following up when they have calmed down.
Realize that the person’s essential self is not inherently mean
I advocate using one’s sense of humor and realizing that the person’s essential self is not “mean.”
What’s happening is that loud and mean subself has been allowed to dominate their symphony of subselves or subpersonality. This leads to the following assessment:
- This person is not inherently mean
- The subself dominating them now (of which they are not aware) is very mean and hurtful, and I wish it would not dominate them in this way.
- I will use my sense of humor to make fun of that subself in them by giving it a nickname and other methods that allow me not to take their words to hear.
In our book, appear 114 wearable buttons. Each is a comic mirror of a subself that has become too loud.
Examples of buttons that make fun of “mean” subselves are:
- emotional blackmailer,
- I’m right,
- I sue,
- I shout,
- and many more.
Of course, the collection invites you to choose the buttons that suit your own loud subselves.
However, if you see these as comic mirrors of loud subselves in others, then you can have some understanding (and even compassion) for the person (who is likely not essentially mean unless they are a sociopath) while disliking the subself that is dominating them.
If you laugh at that subself, you disempower the effect of the mean person over you. And you get to laugh!
Dr. Suzanna Wong, DC
Chiropractor and Co-Founder, Twin Waves Wellness Center
Be calm and take a positive approach
Everybody has the choice of how to react in a situation where they encounter something negative or a person being mean in this instance.
People can be mean, but you will always be the better person if you choose how you react.
If someone says something nasty or does something mean to you, you can choose to react calmly and stay positive, or you can get angry and retaliate.
The two different reactions can have a huge impact on how you feel, not just at that moment but for the rest of the day.
Being calm and positive takes away the negative emotions you would experience if you reacted angrily.
If you choose to be:
life becomes a lot less stressful no matter the situation you face.
You are the only one that determines how you react—so if someone is trying to be nasty to you, taking a positive approach takes away all of their power, which means that you ultimately win and have a positive day.
Holistic Health and Wellness Coach | Founder, VP Exclusive
Make the conscious choice that mean people are not worth your energy and time
Doing anything in life is a choice we make at every moment in time.
And when mean people appear in your life, you have a choice to engage or disengage if it’s not aligned with your values and who you are.
Working with so many people over the years, I got to experience time and time again my clients having mean people in their lives, even enduring abuse.
The first questions are always:
- “Why do you need them in your life?“
- “What purpose does it serve to continue this dynamic?“
The root cause of having mean people in your life usually lies in two options:
- There is a part of you that wants that drama
This could very well be a subconscious attraction because you have experienced a good amount of drama in the first seven years of your life.
It could have been internal drama or external from family and friends around you. And this subconscious need to attract mean people in your life can only be diminished by releasing that emotional pain from the subconscious mind.
- The second option is that you have a soul contract and karma you are still paying for in this lifetime
This means you have probably caused a good deal of harm to those people in past lives, and they are showing up for resolutions now.
So, knowing why those people show up in our lives, we can make a conscious choice to clear that on the subconscious level with a professional. Or we can continue repeating the same pattern and attracting those people in our lives. The choice is entirely ours.
One powerful thing you can do today is to make the conscious choice that mean people are not worth your energy and time and practice a powerful “protocol of letting go.”
Here are the steps:
- Close your eyes and say: “I forgive you, or please forgive me.“
- Take a deep inhale, and on the exhale, imagine the heavy energy between you and that person dissipating away.
- Say: “I free myself and you from the past.”
Use this forgiveness protocol whenever a person shows up in your mind or in real life.
In conclusion, you are the master and creator of your life. And if you choose a life of peace, then you will rise above the small ego and simply decide to surround yourself with souls that are aligned with who you are and are there to inspire and empower you.
You are the creator of your wonderful life and the attractor magnet of what you choose to experience every day.
Mental Health Counselor Intern | Founder, Holistic-Momma
Empathize and put yourself in their shoes
A simple way to look at mean people is by realizing they are mean because of an issue they have.
When you take away the belief that it has so much to do with you and it’s more to do with something they are struggling with, then it feels less personal.
Also, empathizing with the person, hearing them out, and responding with kindness is not easy to do when you feel like someone is attacking you; however, you can challenge yourself to increase your patience.
Empathize and put yourself in their shoes, seeing that they probably have had pain, anxiety, depression, and heartbreak that contribute to their meanness.
Keep your distance and set boundaries with this mean person. If they are someone you have to be around more frequently, such as a co-worker or family member, do your best to establish boundaries with them.
Tell them how you feel when they say or do something hurtful using “I” statements. For example, “It makes me sad when you raise your voice at me. Could you please speak softer?“
Clinical Director, ChoicePoint
Don’t give them and their words any importance
Mean people think only about how they can get away by saying mean things. There is absolutely no need to give them and their words any importance.
Mean people like to undermine people and take pleasure in saying mean things. It is not behavior anyone can change. Don’t waste your time trying to change them.
Therefore, try to distance yourself from them rather than wasting time changing them.
Relationship Expert, Sameera Sullivan Matchmakers
Ask them head-on why they are the way they are with you
In life, you are faced with people from all walks of life, including people who won’t like you or would be mean to you for some underlying reason or no reason.
But whatever the reason may be, it can be a horrid feeling having to deal with mean people.
Here’s what I have learned from my personal experiences:
- First, their main goal is always to provoke you to get a reaction but step away and don’t react to give them the validation they need.
- Secondly, don’t take what they say personally; what they say is often a projection of themselves.
These are the confrontational route. Just ask them head-on why they are the way they are with you.
When someone is harsh, you may feel as if they are stronger than you, and your natural reaction may be to dim your light and fade into the background.
However, actions such as retreating and disappearing are not appropriate responses to mean people. Standing up for yourself will help you to feel more grounded and powerful.
Teacher and Writer | Content Editor, Symbolism & Metaphor
Stand up for yourself and others
I was always a pretty shy kid. I didn’t really make friends easily, and I was often the subject of bullying by some of the other kids in my neighborhood.
One of the things that I used to do to try to cope with the bullying was to imagine myself as a superhero. I would picture myself flying around, rescuing people from burning buildings, and stopping bad guys in their tracks.
It sounds kind of silly, but it helped me to feel more confident and empowered.
Eventually, I realized that I didn’t need superpowers to be a force for good in the world.
I started standing up for myself and other kids who were being bullied. I became friends with some of the most popular kids in school, and they helped me to see that everyone has something special about them.
We all have our own unique talents and gifts, and that’s what makes us special.
Nowadays, I still stand up for myself and others when I see people being mean. But I also try to remember that everyone is fighting their own battles.
We all have our insecurities and fears, and sometimes people act out because of those things. So instead of getting angry, I try to show compassion.
Founder, Join the Island
Let the other person do most, if not all, of the talking
The deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important. Everybody wants to feel superior to others in some way. It’s who we are as people.
When someone is mean to you, people will do whatever they can to make themselves right and make you wrong.
From my experience, the best way to deal with people who are mean to you is to let them do most of the talking. Why? Because, in reality, you are providing value to them.
When people are given something they want, they feel inclined to want to repay you for the value you provided to them.
This is through the law of reciprocation, which says that if you provide enough value to someone, this person will feel an internal obligation to repay you for the value you provided them so that the relationship is fair.
For example, I once had a presentation to do for my full-time job. My boss was one of those bosses who wasn’t easy to please. He’d try to criticize your work and get away from praising you.
After the presentation, not to my surprise, he started asking questions. Judging from how the questions were worded, he was asking questions not because my facts were incorrect but to fulfill his ego for feeling more important than me.
Knowing that this was why he was asking the questions, I answered him without arguing and with as much accuracy as possible.
Now here’s the good part. Another person listening to the presentation wanted to critique my work. However, at least one member of the audience told me that this person was incorrect in what he was saying.
These people were not critiquing my work but critiquing me to get their feeling of importance. During this time, I kept my mouth shut and listened to them. After the question and answer session, my supervisor said, “Good job.“
What does this mean? This means that my supervisor could not find a way to critique me and was left with no other option but to commend me. This shows you the power of letting the other person do most of the talking and listening to what the other person is saying.
Mean people will throw their anger at you in some capacity and try to take advantage of you. In other words, you can’t be afraid to fight back when necessary.
The bottom line is: People love to feel superior to others. If you give this person a feeling of superiority over you and you don’t do anything stupid to make the situation worse, they will feel inclined to repay you.
A lot of your problems when it comes to dealing with people who are mean to you can be solved if you understand and apply this principle.
The best way to give people this feeling of superiority is:
- Let them do most of the talking
- Genuinely listen to everything they have to say
That’s how you influence people who are mean to you to give you what you want.
Founder, Love Devani
As a relationship expert and a founder, I see the variety of people’s characteristics, for I get to interact with different people. And one of the attributes of being mean is one of the hardest to deal with; either you might get angry with them or be discouraged by them.
Here are the following ways I think how we could best deal with them:
Complement them (only when they deserve it), then try pointing out their mistake.
Mean people don’t like people seeing their flaws; that’s why they shift their attention to other people. Thus, it will be great if you compliment them, they will be aware of their strengths and even see that they have weaknesses.
Be assertive without responding negatively
For some time, at least be assertive. Being assertive enables you to speak out for yourself and be heard without responding negatively to someone else’s meanness.
Managing Director, Birmingham First Aid Courses
Understand why they are mean and try to resolve the underlying issues
People can be mean for many reasons, including feeling threatened or insecure. Often, mean people are trying to protect themselves from being hurt.
So, the best way to deal with a mean person is to try to understand their motives and work towards resolving the underlying issue.
Sometimes, simply talking to a mean person can help them feel better and stop being so mean.
In general, it’s important to remember that everyone has different motivations and sensitivities. What might seem like a harmless comment to you could be incredibly hurtful to someone else.
So, always try to be kind and considerate of others.
As a working mother, I often have to teach my kids life skills that allow them to be independent early on in life. This includes how to deal with bullies—and they’re not the only ones.
More often than not, a person’s attitude towards you is a reflection of them. If we internalized every mean remark or action that came our way, we’d go crazy!
So remember not to take things personally; otherwise, you won’t be able to resolve the situation with a clear mind—which brings us to the next point.
Maintain a neutral position and separate yourself from the person
There’s no saying why mean people are the way they are, but in many cases, they’re trying to get a reaction out of you.
If you blow up, not only are you giving them what they want, but you also risk making the situation worse. The best thing to do is maintain a neutral position and separate yourself from the person.
For example, if they are part of your social circle, try making plans with a smaller cluster that doesn’t include them.
When needed, involve others
In the case of school bullies, if a person continues their attacks, I tell my kids to involve their teacher or myself.
This can also be applied to workplaces. Sometimes setting boundaries doesn’t work, so if those boundaries are crossed, it’s time to take action and involve management or HR.
Co-Founder and CTO, Fig Loans Inc
Keep yourself mentally healthy
You can’t proactively deal with a mean person from a negative headspace, so your first step should always be taking care of yourself.
Manage your emotional state through:
- deep breathing,
- regular exercise,
- a healthy diet,
- and confiding in your loved ones.
Keeping yourself mentally healthy gives you the perspective to consider whether the behavior is genuinely mean or your reaction is making the situation worse—sometimes, it’s both.
You’ll have your best shot at changing the dynamic when you can approach mean people with compassion and kindness rather than stress, fear, or frustration.
And even if you don’t get the results you’re after, you’ll know that their behavior doesn’t define your worth—it says far more about them than you.
Be clear about what you will and will not tolerate
Whether inside or outside of work, we will come across rude or mean people at some point.
When it comes to the workplace, as a business owner, one effective way to deal with toxic or difficult co-workers is to set healthy boundaries. Be clear about what you will and will not tolerate.
And try to avoid interacting or engaging with them, especially when not necessary, to avoid giving them satisfaction and lessen the chances of any confrontations arising.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some common traits of mean people?
Mean people may have a number of negative traits, such as narcissism, aggression, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a tendency to manipulate others. They may also have low self-esteem and use their negative behavior to make themselves feel superior to others.
Some mean people may also have a traumatic or abusive past, which may contribute to their negative outlook on life and their difficulty forming healthy relationships.
It’s important to recognize that mean people aren’t inherently bad or irredeemable. With the right support and guidance, they may be able to change their behavior and become more compassionate and empathetic toward others.
However, it’s not your responsibility to fix them, and you should prioritize your own well-being above trying to change someone else.
Can social media contribute to meanness, and if so, how can we mitigate it?
Social media can be a powerful tool to connect with others, but it can also contribute to meanness and negativity. The anonymity and distance of online interactions can make it easier for people to engage in hurtful behavior, such as cyberbullying or trolling.
It’s important to be mindful of our own behavior and approach social media with empathy and respect to mitigate this. This may mean resisting the temptation to engage in negative or hurtful interactions or taking breaks from social media when we feel overwhelmed or upset.
We can also work to cultivate positive and supportive online communities by sharing positive messages and supporting others in their endeavors. Finally, it’s important to recognize that social media is only one aspect of our lives and that we should also prioritize personal relationships and experiences.
By cultivating meaningful relationships and experiences outside of social media, we can create a more balanced and fulfilling approach to life.
How can I prevent myself from becoming a mean person?
An important step in preventing mean behavior is to cultivate a strong sense of empathy and compassion for others. This means actively seeking to understand and relate to others, even if their actions or beliefs may differ from your own.
It’s also important to practice good communication skills, such as active listening and expressing yourself clearly and respectfully.
Another approach is to focus on building positive relationships and connections with others. By surrounding yourself with supportive and encouraging people, you can prevent negative behaviors from taking hold.
Finally, it’s important to be mindful of your own behavior and take responsibility for your actions. This means being accountable for your mistakes and taking steps to undo the damage you may have caused.
By taking these steps, you can create a positive and supportive environment for yourself and those around you.
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