28 Reasons Why People Put Others Down (With Expert Insights)

You know that feeling when someone is rude or critical for no apparent reason? Yeah, it’s not great. But why do some people make it a habit to put others down?

Let’s break it down. We’ll look at common reasons behind this behavior, such as low self-esteem, a desire to feel superior, or past experiences that shape how they act now.

Curious about what drives this behavior and how to deal with it? Let’s find out!

They Feel Insecure

Some people put others down because they don’t feel too good about themselves. When you’re not confident in who you are, you might think making someone else look bad will make you look better.

It’s like when you’re not sure you’re doing a great job; you might try to point out when someone else messes up. But really, this just shows you’re having a tough time with your own stuff. It’s not the best way to deal with those feelings, but it happens.

Insecurity looks like this:

  • Making a joke about someone else’s mistake.
  • Telling others about someone’s failure to make yourself look better.
  • Constantly comparing yourself to someone else in a negative way.
"One reason why people put others down is to make themselves feel better. By putting you down, they get a temporary feeling of 'I am better than you'... In fact, you aren’t building your self-esteem when you put others down. You are only giving yourself the illusion that you are somehow better than they are."

Randy Brazzel, MBA, MA, LPC, LMFT | Licensed Professional Counselor | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | CEO, New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers

People Want to Feel Superior

At times, people try to look better or smarter by putting someone else down. They may think that by showing someone else’s faults, their own strengths will shine brighter.

Sometimes, if you’re trying too hard to be the top dog, it might be hiding some doubts you’ve got about yourself. It’s worth thinking about.

This is all about wanting to be seen as the best or most important. But truly, it doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else. When it comes down to it, it’s just not a kind thing to do.

People Are Jealous

Jealousy can make people act unkindly toward others. They feel threatened by what others have or achieve.

This behavior is a result of their own feelings of inadequacy. They might criticize to make themselves feel better about their own lives. It’s about their fear of missing out.

But remember, just because someone else is doing well doesn’t mean you’re not. Your time to shine will come.

They Have Past Traumas Influencing Their Behavior

When someone has had a rough time in their past, it can mess with the way they act now. They might use putting others down as a shield because they’re trying to protect themselves from being hurt again.

It’s not the best way to handle things, but it’s a way of feeling safe. These people sometimes don’t even realize why they’re being hurtful. It all comes down to those bad experiences that stick with you.

Say someone yells at a friend for being late. It might be because they used to be punished for being late when they were younger.

People Struggle With Self-Esteem Issues

Low self-esteem is like carrying around a backpack full of bricks; it weighs you down and makes you see the world in a hard way. When you don’t feel good about yourself, sometimes you might think putting others down will throw them off your scent.

It’s like if they’re looking at someone else’s flaws, they won’t see yours. I get it, we’ve all been there at some point. But it doesn’t really lift you up—it just pushes others down.

What to do: Instead of focusing on others, why not work on what makes you feel good about yourself? Build yourself up with kindness.

"Invalidators or people who habitually put others down inevitably have low self-esteem. They suffer from what the late psychology pioneer (and contemporary of Freud) Alfred Adler called an 'inferiority feeling,' which was then renamed by others as what is popularly known as an 'inferiority complex.'"

Dr. Brian Kaplan, MD | Licensed Medical Doctor | Provocative Therapist | Author, "Almost Happy: Pushing Your Buttons With Reverse Psychology"

People Seek Control in Relationships

Some people feel like they need to be the boss of every situation, including their relationships. They believe that by putting their partner or friend down, they keep the upper hand.

It’s a way to make sure things go their way, but let’s be honest, nobody likes to feel bossed around all the time. It doesn’t really create love or trust—more like the opposite. And really, it’s about their need for control, not about the other person being less.

Remember, a good relationship is about give and take, not just take. Look out for each other’s needs, not just your own.

"Abusive people often use harsh criticism to control others. They focus on your flaws to justify their anger and abusive behaviors. An abusive person might say something like: 'I wouldn’t have to hit you if you weren’t so stupid and if you just did what I told you to do.'"

Randy Brazzel, MBA, MA, LPC, LMFT | Licensed Professional Counselor | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | CEO, New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers

They Crave Attention

Some people really like to be in the spotlight and will do just about anything to stay there, including putting others down. They think that by making others look bad, they’ll keep all eyes on them.

Like when someone at a party makes a big deal out of a small spill just to turn heads. They’re not worried about the mess; they just want the crowd’s eyes back on them.

It’s their way of saying, “Hey, look at me instead!” Not the nicest method, I know. But for them, any attention is good attention, even if it’s not for the right reasons.

"These could be for a variety of reasons. From a psychoanalytic perspective, it could be due to them never receiving enough love or positive affirmations about themselves from a parent. They are often lonely people who need to drag other people down to their level of unhappiness, malaise, and ennui."

Dr. Brian Kaplan, MD | Licensed Medical Doctor | Provocative Therapist | Author, "Almost Happy: Pushing Your Buttons With Reverse Psychology"

People Feel Threatened by Others’ Talents

Okay, so sometimes, people get a bit upset when someone is really good at something.

It’s natural to feel a little shaky if someone’s skills remind you of your own weak spots. Some people then try to bad-mouth the talented person as a way to protect their own ego.

It’s like they think there’s not enough room for everyone to be good at stuff. But honestly, another person’s talent doesn’t make your own any less great.

Try this: Give props where they’re due—it’s nice to be nice. Celebrate what makes others awesome, along with your own cool qualities.

"... If someone lacks confidence, they may feel threatened by those who are more successful than them. They might want to be the prettiest or smartest person in the room. However, confidence is something you do, not necessarily something you feel. We can appear confident and may not feel it."

Dr. Kristen Casey | Licensed Clinical Psychologist | Author, "Life Lessons to Master Before You Die"

They Have Unresolved Anger

Unresolved anger can cause people to lash out and put others down. They might harbor feelings from past events and take them out on those around them, which can be a way to release built-up frustration.

By belittling others, they temporarily lessen their own anger. However, it’s not a healthy way to deal with their emotions.

Here’s something to chew on: Next time you’re about to snap, pause and ask yourself where that’s coming from. Might save you some apologies down the road.

"If you grow up in a chaotic or painful environment, you can develop a lot of emotional baggage. The pain of rejection, abandonment, disappointment, neglect and abuse can have lasting effects. Old wounds can make someone hypersensitive and easily 'triggered' if left unresolved."

Randy Brazzel, MBA, MA, LPC, LMFT | Licensed Professional Counselor | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | CEO, New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers

People Use It as a Defense Mechanism

Sometimes, people will put others down just to protect themselves. It’s like throwing up a shield before anyone can see their real selves. They might think, “If I can point out your mistakes first, you won’t see mine.”

It’s a kind of knee-jerk reaction to stop any hurt coming their way. But it’s not the best way to handle things because it hurts the other person and doesn’t solve the real issue.

You can approach them softly and reassure them that you’re on their side. Encouraging open, non-judgmental conversations can slowly break down these walls.

They Feel Powerless in Other Areas of Their Lives

Feeling powerless in other areas of life can make some people exert control in unhealthy ways, including putting others down. It’s a way for them to regain a sense of power and influence that they may not feel in other contexts, such as:

  • At home
  • At school
  • In their career

This behavior is often a response to their environment and not a true reflection of their character. Given that, it still affects relationships and can be pretty harmful.

If you’re feeling powerless, think about what you can control. Small changes can make a big difference in how you feel.

People Are Unhappy and Spread Negativity

When someone is down, they sometimes try to bring others down, too. It’s like they can’t stand to see someone else being happy or positive. They may not even do it on purpose; it could just be their own sadness spilling over.

Negativity can be contagious, like a cold nobody wants. And, to be honest, being a downer all the time doesn’t really help anyone, especially the unhappy person.

Say your team at work is excited about a new project, but there’s that one person who keeps saying it’ll fail. They might just be spreading their own gloomy outlook.

"In my experience, they have an aura of dissatisfaction with life around them. Their contribution to a conversation will always be to bring the vibe down — even before they put a specific person down."

Dr. Brian Kaplan, MD | Licensed Medical Doctor | Provocative Therapist | Author, "Almost Happy: Pushing Your Buttons With Reverse Psychology"

They Struggle With Emotional Intelligence

Not everyone’s great at understanding their feelings or the feelings of others. This is what we call emotional intelligence. When it’s lacking, some people might put others down without realizing the hurt they’re causing.

They’re not tuned into how their words affect people. It’s like they’re trying to connect or be funny, but they miss the mark and hurt someone instead.

Consider this: If you struggle to read the room, maybe take a step back and watch. Learning from others who are good at this can really help.

They Want to Divert Attention From Their Own Flaws

When someone is uncomfortable with their flaws, they might put others down to shift focus away from themselves. It’s a classic redirection move—“Don’t look at what I’m bad at, look at what you’re bad at!”

This can serve as a protective shield, keeping their vulnerabilities hidden from others. But really, it’s a quick fix and not a very effective one at that. Over time, this behavior damages relationships and doesn’t really hide their flaws.

Example: When a person fails a presentation but immediately calls out a coworker for a small error; it’s a sneaky distraction move.

People Fear Others’ Success Might Overshadow Theirs

Imagine you’ve just painted this amazing picture, but someone else’s gets all the praise. It can feel like there’s only so much success to go around, and if someone else is getting a lot, there won’t be enough for you.

Some people really worry about this and might try to downplay others’ wins. It’s their way of trying to make sure there’s still applause left for them. But, of course, life’s not a competition — everyone can have their moment.

They Mimic Behavior They’ve Seen at Home

People often repeat behaviors they’ve seen at home because that’s what they’ve learned growing up. If someone grows up in an environment where others are frequently put down, they might think this is a normal way to interact.

It’s like a family tradition, but one that isn’t very kind. This behavior is not about malicious intent; it’s more about what’s been modeled to them as acceptable. Recognizing this can help us understand why someone might not even realize the negativity of their actions.

For instance, a guy at school teases his mate the same way his older brother teases him. It’s not about being mean; it’s just what he knows.

They Want to Fit in With a Group That Belittles Others

Everyone wants to be part of the gang, right? But some groups have a mean streak, making fun of others to feel bonded or special. When someone wants to fit in with a crowd like that, they might start being mean, too.

It’s like laughing at a joke you don’t find funny just because everyone else is laughing. They might not even like it, but they do it to be accepted.

Something to think over: If your friends encourage being mean, is that really who you want to be around? You’re better than that.

People Use It as a Tool for Social Manipulation

Using put-downs as a tool for social manipulation is a strategic, if unsavory, way some people manage their social environments. By belittling others, they can create a perception of their own superiority or divert attention from their weaknesses.

It’s a control tactic that involves diminishing others to elevate oneself or to manipulate social dynamics. This behavior is often calculated and can be aimed at securing a certain position within a group or influencing others’ perceptions.

For instance, a manager might subtly put down an employee in front of others to assert dominance and discourage others from supporting that employee. It’s about maintaining control and influence.

They Lack Empathy Towards Others

Some people find it hard to understand and share the feelings of others, which is what empathy is all about. When they lack empathy, they might say or do things that hurt someone without meaning to.

It’s like having a blind spot for other people’s emotions. They’re not great at picking up on when they’ve crossed a line, and it can lead them to put others down without realizing the harm they’re causing.

Remember: Empathy can be learned and practiced; it’s not an all-or-nothing deal. They may not realize the damage they’re doing. Helping them see the consequences can promote change. It’s not your job to fix them, but awareness can help.

They Hold Stereotypes and Prejudices

Let’s be real: we’ve all seen or heard stereotypes and prejudices, and some people take them to heart. This means they have fixed ideas about others, simply based on being part of a certain group.

This isn’t just uncool—it can also lead to them saying or doing things that put others down. It’s like they’ve got these unfair rules about who people are without knowing them at all.

Keep in mind that stereotypes are lazy shortcuts to understanding complex humans. Just because you think something’s a certain way doesn’t make it true. Opening your mind is like opening a door to a way cooler world.

People Have Poor Conflict Resolution Skills

People with poor conflict resolution skills often struggle to handle disagreements effectively, resulting in them resorting to putting others down instead of solving the issue.

These individuals may lack the tools to negotiate or compromise, leading to escalated conflicts. This inability can create a pattern of negative interactions in which issues are not really resolved, just buried under hostile exchanges.

Next time you’re in a bind with someone, ask yourself if putting them down will really improve things. Spoiler: It won’t, so maybe try a different tack.

They Use Disparaging Humor to Connect

Some people throw around jokes that put others down, thinking it’s just a bit of fun and a way to bond. But this kind of humor can sting and isn’t the friendliest way to get laughs.

It’s like using sarcasm or teasing; it can hurt, even if it’s meant as a joke. They’re trying to connect with others through laughter, but they might not see when it’s gone too far. Sure, everyone likes a good laugh, but not at someone else’s expense.

What to do: Create laughs without putting someone on the spot. Try out jokes that don’t involve making fun of people.

"Sarcasm: This is a favorite mode of speech of the invalidator. 'Thanks, yes, you helped a lot with your very generous donation!' when you gave what you could. Fake compliments and faint praise are trade tools for people who put others down."

Dr. Brian Kaplan, MD | Licensed Medical Doctor | Provocative Therapist | Author, "Almost Happy: Pushing Your Buttons With Reverse Psychology"

They Believe Criticism Strengthens Their Opinions

Some people think that by criticizing others, their own ideas seem stronger and more legit. It’s kind of their way to show that their opinion is the one that counts.

I mean, constructive feedback is one thing, but this is about putting others down just to prop up their own views. It’s like saying, “I’m right because you’re wrong,” and not, “I’m right because my idea is solid.” It’s not the best way to prove a point, for sure.

They Come From a Culture That Encourages Criticism

In some places, critical behavior is just the norm. It’s like where people grow up, everyone is expected to have a sharp tongue and a quick remark. For people from these environments, dishing out criticism is just part of daily life.

They’re not necessarily trying to be mean; it’s what they know and what’s expected of them socially. But even if it’s the standard, it can still be pretty harsh for those on the receiving end.

Remember, just because criticism is common where you’re from doesn’t mean it’s the best way to go. It’s okay to break from the norm and try a kinder approach. Shifting from critic to cheerleader can bring a lot more smiles to your day.

They Use Their Position of Authority Irresponsibly

When someone has a bit of power, like being a boss or a leader, they have a responsibility to use it well. But not everyone does. Some might throw their weight around, giving out harsh words just because they can.

They may not even see it as being mean; to them, it’s just acting like the boss. But really, they’re just using their role to put others down instead of lifting them up.

Try this: If you’re in charge, lead with kindness and be the kind of boss you’d want to have. Offer the same respect to others that you’d like for yourself.

People Are Under Stress and Lash Out

When under stress, people sometimes lash out and put others down as a way to cope with their own discomfort. This is often an impulsive reaction to feeling overwhelmed or anxious.

While it’s an understandable human reaction, it can still hurt relationships and create unnecessary conflict.

Acknowledging the stress and learning healthier ways to deal with it can help individuals manage these outbursts better. Stress-induced behavior isn’t excusable, but it is often manageable with the right support and strategies.

They Have Been Rewarded for Such Behavior Before

If being mean has gotten someone’s attention, laughs, or even just their way in the past, they might keep doing it. It’s like if every time you scored a goal, everyone cheered, you’d want to keep scoring goals, right?

Sadly, it’s the same with negativity. They’ve learned that putting others down gets them something they want, even if it’s not the nicest thing to do.

Example: A kid makes fun of classmates and gets laughs, so they do it more and more. They’ve learned it gets them noticed.

They Misunderstand the Impact of Their Words

Some people might not get how powerful words can be. They say things without seeing how much they can hurt. It’s not about being mean on purpose; they just haven’t learned that words can stick with someone for a really long time.

What it looks like:

  • Saying something hurtful and being surprised when someone gets upset.
  • Telling someone to “just get over it” when they’re hurt by words.
  • Repeating the same hurtful things because they don’t see the damage.

Excerpts From the Experts

“People who, deep inside, feel very inferior to others may adopt different strategies to cope with daily life. They may buy expensive cars and clothes to look impressive, successful, and prosperous — on the surface.

Others may spend vast amounts of energy getting ahead in the fields to demonstrate superiority over others — while all the time feeling deeply inferior to most people they relate to.

And then we have those whose internal feeling of inferiority leads them to a conscious or subconscious desire to bring others down to their level of painful inferiority by making remarks that put others down.

While feeling deeply inferior inside, these people can express superiority over everyone they know and everything they read about in the outside world. In extreme cases, they are cynical and skeptical about any viewpoint other than their own.”

Dr. Brian Kaplan, MD | Licensed Medical Doctor | Provocative Therapist | Author, “Almost Happy: Pushing Your Buttons With Reverse Psychology

“A person often develops low self-esteem because of how they are treated during their life. If you are treated poorly long enough, you tend to feel bad about yourself.

For example, if a child is told repeatedly that they are ‘dumb,’ they often begin to see themselves as ‘dumb.’ This critical self-talk can quickly develop into a negative self-image.

While some people primarily see the flaws within themselves, others begin to focus on the flaws they see in others.

To protect themselves from their negative self-image, they project their feelings of inadequacy onto others. As a result, they see others as ‘dumb’ or inadequate.”

Randy Brazzel, MBA, MA, LPC, LMFT | Licensed Professional Counselor | Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist | CEO, New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a person who puts others down change their behavior?

Yes, people can change, but it takes effort. If they notice what they’re doing and really want to improve, they can learn to act kinder. Sometimes, they might need help from a friend or a professional like a counselor to learn new behaviors.

What should I do if someone puts me down?

Try to stay calm and don’t put them down back. Let them know their words are hurtful, if you feel safe doing so. And remember, it’s more about their own issues than about you.

How can I tell if I’m putting others down without realizing it?

Pay attention to how people react when you speak. If they seem hurt, upset, or angry, you might be saying things that put them down. Think about whether your words are helping or hurting.

Do people who put others down ever feel bad about it?

Some people might feel bad later when they realize they’ve hurt someone. Others might not feel guilty because they don’t understand the impact of their words. It really depends on the person and how aware they are of their behavior and its effects.

Final Thoughts

Now, it’s pretty clear—people are usually fighting their own dragons when they go all critical on someone. If you’re the target, remember, it’s not about you. Brush it off. You’re doing just fine.

And if you ever catch yourself ready to criticize, stop for a moment. Think about cheering someone on instead. Being kind is cool, and the world needs more of that. Be the person who brightens the room—it’s a good look, I promise.

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Jessa Claire is a registered healthcare provider. Music lover. Daydreamer. Thalassophile. Foodie. A hardworking Capricorn. Most days, an incurable empath. An old soul. Down-to-earth. Vibrant.

When she's not writing, she can be seen relaxing with headphones on or engrossed in her favorite fan fiction book.