What Makes Some People So Mean (2023)

What Makes Some People So Mean (1)

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You almost certainly have someone in your life right now who you consider to be mean. And not just mean, but spiteful and hurtful. When you’re around this person, you have to tread ever so carefully so as not to provoke their wrath. Perhaps this is a person you don’t choose to be with but whose presence is foisted upon you by circumstances, whether work, family, or your community. You can’t even count all the times you’ve left an interaction with this person in tears or just plain frustrated.

This person might be a coworker who seems to take joy in watching you squirm. The comments directed toward you range from jokes about your physical appearance to the quality of a presentation you made to the group. Although you've tried a number of ways to break down this wall of hostility, your efforts have proved fruitless.

According to Florida State University’s Allison Daurio and Jeanette Taylor (2021), the quality of meanness is one of 3 defining features of psychopathy, the personality trait characterized by lack of remorse, inability to feel empathy, and a certain amount of ruthlessness. Specifically, the so-called “triarchic” model of psychopathy proposes that this trait is made up of a combination of qualities that include impulsivity, boldness, and, lastly, meanness. Typically, you don’t hear psychopathy defined as including meanness, but the FSU authors are working from an approach that views personality along a continuum or set of dimensions. From this perspective, Daurio and Taylor propose, meanness can reflect “common neurobiological and physiological influences” on personality.

Not All Mean People are Psychopaths

If indeed meanness is one of 3 potentially independent dimensions of psychopathy, then it can be separated out and understood on its own terms. In other words, a person can theoretically be mean without being a psychopath. Moreover, it’s possible to be high on meanness and show signs of other personality disorders, particularly those that share some features with antisocial personality disorder (characterized by psychopathy). These disorders are most likely to come from the so-called "Cluster B" grouping that shares qualities such as being overly dramatic, exploitative, and impulsive.

More specifically, as the authors propose, meanness can take various forms depending on which Cluster B qualities a person shows. Narcissistic personality disorder includes the “impetus to humiliate” (p. 2). Borderline personality disorder also incorporates meanness in the form of what the authors call “disaffiliated agency,” in which people pursue their own goals without regard to the needs of others. Histrionic personality disorder involves qualities such as superficiality and emotional lability but there's no theoretical reason for individuals with this disorder to be high on meanness.

Meanness on its own isn’t unique to psychopathy, then, or even its clinical form of antisocial personality disorder. Your coworker might just be someone who likes to give people a hard time. However, you’d still like to know why, as this can help inform your strategy for dealing with this person and protect your self-esteem at the same time.

To measure meanness in its own right, the FSU authors chose a personality test known as the Multidimensional Personality Questionnaire Brief Form (MPQ-BF), developed in prior research as a way to examine the manifestations of those underlying, biologically-based influences. Rather than categorize people, the MPQ-BF takes a dimensional or continuous approach, an effort reflected in potential revisions of the diagnostic framework currently in use, the DSM-5.


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This dimensional approach can allow clinicians to view their patients from the more naturalistic perspective in which people aren't plugged into boxes depending on which and how many symptoms they show. You can think of this as the difference between calling a person “obese” based on a cutoff for body mass, versus simply using the actual number reflecting the ratio between their height and weight.

What Does Meanness Really Mean?

It’s time to look at the way the MPQ-BF defines meanness as a way to help you understand this dimensional approach to its measurement. As published in supplemental material provided in a previous study documenting the development of the measure (Hall et al., 2013), here are key features shown by people both high and low in this quality:

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High Scorers:

  • Overall qualities: Tough, egocentric, emotionally insensitive, and lacking in affection toward others
  • Behavioral signs: View others as “dog-eat-dog,” are indifferent to the suffering of others, express contempt for people they see as weak, and become excited or feel powerful when retaliating against others or have the opportunity to engage in risky activities.

Low Scorers:

  • Overall qualities: Kind, affectionate, sincere, and sensitive to the needs and feelings of others
  • Behavioral signs: Make genuine connections to others, value people for who they are, prefer cooperation rather than competition, want to help others who are hurting or in need, and feel guilty if they’ve hurt someone else.

Putting Meanness under the Microscope

In their study of 508 online participants and 549 undergraduates, Daurio and Taylor used the MPQ-BF along with self-reports of personality disorder traits from existing diagnostic instruments. These measures would allow the researchers to tease out the relationship between meanness and all four potentially related personality disorders.

Having proposed that meanness would be one of the qualities contributing to the cluster of personality disorders included in Daurio and Taylor’s predictions, the findings indeed supported the contribution of meanness scores to antisocial, borderline, and narcissistic personality disorders. By contrast, people high on the histrionic personality disorder scale actually had lower meanness scores, suggesting that they lack the antagonistic qualities seen in the other 3 disorders within Cluster B.

The FSU study shows that, indeed, being mean doesn’t automatically qualify people for a personality disorder, even one involving psychopathic qualities. The mean people in your life, unless they are also high in the qualities of disinhibition and boldness, aren’t that easily categorized.

The majority of research on meanness, unfortunately, combines it with the other dimensions of the triarchic model of psychopathy, so that it isn’t possible to separate either its causes or its impact as a standalone trait. However, one intriguing study linking another triarchic theory, this one Sternberg’s theory of love, suggests possible ways to gain insight into the psychological makeup of the chronically mean. University of Baltimore’s Caitlin Mejia and colleagues (2020) examined the three love components of intimacy, passion, and commitment in relationships to scores based on the triarchic psychopathy model among both a university and an online sample of adults.

After correcting for a variety of other influences, including scores on disinhibition and boldness, the UM Baltimore researchers reported additive effects of meanness on all three dimensions of love. In short, without considering any other contributors to relationship problems, meanness had its own unique impact. Given the correlational nature of the study, this finding begs the question about what causes what. However, could it be that, all other factors being equal, the mean either lacked or now lack the ability to love? Their meanness alienates people, but it also may reflect a lifetime of experiences involving rejection.

It may seem artificial to separate meanness from the context of other psychopathic traits, but the findings from these two studies suggest that meanness can take the form of a “quiet” cynicism, the sort you encounter in those people whose hostility reflects an extreme sense of isolation. As they push people away, this reinforces their streak of meanness, making them even less likely to feel or express kindness.

To sum up, people who show this passive form of meanness can still make you miserable, even if their behavior isn’t outright harmful. Understanding the ways their relationships can both create and maintain their negative worldview can help you neutralize their ability to cause you pain.

Facebook image: fizzles/Shutterstock


Mejia, C. Y., Donahue, J. J., & Farley, S. D. (2020). Mean, uncommitted, and aggressive: Divergent associations between triarchic psychopathy, elements of love, and caustic relationship behaviors. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37(4), 1193–1215. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407519890414

Hall, J. R., Drislane, L. E., Patrick, C. J., Morano, M., Lilienfeld, S. O., & Poythress, N. G. (2014). Development and validation of Triarchic Construct Scales from the Psychopathic Personality Inventory. Psychological Assessment, 26(2), 447–461. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035665

Daurio, A. M., & Taylor, J. (2021). An Investigation of the Triarchic Model of Psychopathy and Self-Reported Cluster B Personality Disorder Traits. Advance online publication. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/per0000500


What Makes Some People So Mean? ›

Research shows that being insulted makes people more likely to demean others. Freud argued that people cope with negative views of themselves by perceiving other people as having those same traits.

How come some people are so mean? ›

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.

What makes someone a nasty person? ›

What Makes a Person Rude and Disrespectful? People are rude and disrespectful when they act impolite, inconsiderate, or mean towards someone else. There can be many root causes for rudeness, such as insecurity or fear. People are often rude after being on the receiving end of rudeness.

What makes a person mean and cruel? ›

For most of us, hurting others causes us to feel their pain. And we don't like this feeling. This suggests two reasons people may harm the harmless – either they don't feel the others' pain or they enjoy feeling the others' pain. Another reason people harm the harmless is because they nonetheless see a threat.

Why are people so mean to good people? ›

For the most part, it comes down to jealousy. People who are deliberately mean are so lacking in their own self-worth that they're jealous of anyone who can simply smile and be happy. They hate that they're happy because they can't be themselves.

How do you shut down a mean person? ›

One of the best ways to defuse rude and negative behavior is to stay friendly and positive. This gives the other person a chance to calm down and adjust their behavior to match yours. Kindness can be a wonderful antidote to rudeness.

How do you deal with a mean person? ›

How to Respond to a Mean Person [Advice from a Therapist]
  1. Consider the Context First. ...
  2. Recognize Your Triggers. ...
  3. Express Your Feelings Quickly and Appropriately. ...
  4. Focus on Being Kind. ...
  5. Avoid Responding to Strangers (In Most Contexts) ...
  6. Recognize the Signs of Emotional Abuse In Your Relationships. ...
  7. Reevaluate the Relationship.
Dec 28, 2021

Is meanness a personality disorder? ›

Answer and Explanation: Meanness is not a clinical term or a personality disorder in the DSM-5. However, people with certain personality disorders have the tendency to be mean. People with antisocial and narcissistic personality disorder can be intentionally cruel.

How do you deal with mean nasty people? ›

The best way to avoid rude people is to meet their acts of rudeness with kindness and then remove yourself from their presence. If you can't do this and can't walk away, try grey rocking, which involves acting as unresponsive as possible like avoiding eye contact or not showing emotions when conversing.

How do you treat a nasty person? ›

Read on for tips on how to respond to this type of behavior.
  1. Avoid playing into their reality. ...
  2. Don't get drawn in. ...
  3. Pay attention to how they make you feel. ...
  4. Talk to them about their behavior. ...
  5. Put yourself first. ...
  6. Offer compassion, but don't try to fix them. ...
  7. Say no (and walk away) ...
  8. Remember, you aren't at fault.
Nov 21, 2019

Are mean people insecure? ›

Being mean is a product of insecure self-esteem.

Research shows that being insulted makes people more likely to demean others.

Where does meanness come from? ›

Meanness has many dimensions. It's a characteristic of bullies and bitter people, and a variety of issues influence its emergence from our inner life. Often it's simply the spill-over from an individual's accumulation of unresolved negativity. A bitter person has nothing much to offer but his meanness.

Why am I so mean to everyone I love? ›

It may be because of emotional baggage, the desire to assert control or independence, to test boundaries, or simply, because people may just expect a lot from the other. Some may have a fear of intimacy, due to cultural upbringing, or because of living through traumatic or abusive relationships.

Why are some people so mean and selfish? ›

They may simply be so self-absorbed that they are unaware of others, motivated to meet their own needs, and just oblivious even when it is at the expense of others. They may unwittingly say or do something hurtful, push their way in front of others, or disregard normal social behavior.

Why are some people not friendly? ›

There could be several reasons for this. One may be that a person may have been exposed to manipulative people in their life and have a natural aversion to others who come across as too friendly. They simply don't trust friendliness, especially from someone they don't know well.

What to say to someone who disrespects you? ›

Here are some ways to do exactly that:
  • That is really rude and there's no need for that.
  • You are being inconsiderate and I need you to stop.
  • This has gone far enough, this needs to stop.
  • I will not tolerate rudeness, I am ending this conversation.
  • We can continue when you are ready to speak respectfully.
Jan 16, 2019

How do you react when someone disrespects you? ›

Try disarming them with kindness.

If someone is being disrespectful or rude, responding with kindness can take them by surprise and encourage them to rethink their behavior. Instead of getting upset or retaliating, try deescalating the situation with a smile and a few kind words.

What do you say to a rude person? ›

A simple “thank you” is powerful when you encounter rudeness. It shows to them that their words won't affect you. You're comfortable with who you are and what someone says about you doesn't impact you. After all, we usually say “thank you” to acknowledge someone who has done something positive for us.

How do you treat someone who mistreats you? ›

9 Ways to Respond When Someone Hurts You
  1. Give up the need to be right. ...
  2. Recognize the offense for what it is. ...
  3. Resist the tendency to defend your position. ...
  4. Give up the need to be right. ...
  5. Recognize and apologize for anything you may have done to contribute to the situation. ...
  6. Respond, don't react.
Feb 2, 2016

Why would someone be mean to you? ›

If someone is being mean to you then it could be a way to gain control and power over a situation or you. This is often a ruse to show social control and dominance. For many, it is a coping mechanism, and reacting aggressively and saying mean things gives them some semblance of control.

What are the symptoms of a mean person? ›

Mean people have very little empathy for others. They aren't able to connect with them on an emotional level or understand things from others' points of view. More than that, they don't want to broaden their minds. They stubbornly stick to their own points of view without any consideration for others.

What mental disorder causes meanness? ›

Intermittent explosive disorder involves repeated, sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior or angry verbal outbursts in which you react grossly out of proportion to the situation.

What is the hardest mental illness to live with? ›

Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPDs) become overwhelmed and incapacitated by the intensity of their emotions, whether it is joy and elation or depression, anxiety, and rage. They are unable to manage these intense emotions.

What are 3 traits of personality disorder? ›

Some general signs of people with a personality disorder include:
  • Their behavior is inconsistent, frustrating and confusing to loved ones and other people they interact with.
  • They may have issues understanding realistic and acceptable ways to treat others and behave around them.
Apr 16, 2022

How do you respectfully put someone in their place? ›

3 Steps to Deal with Difficult People
  1. Decide what it is that bothers you about their behavior and how you will communicate this to them. Be specific. ...
  2. Choose a time when conflict is low to express what bothers you about their behavior. Don't get defensive; stick to the facts.
  3. Ask for change.

What does a mean person do? ›

A mean person is someone who is unkind or cruel with the intention to put others down and make them fail.

How do you not let someone get to you? ›

7 Ways to Stop Letting Other People Affect You
  1. 1) Take Control of Your Thoughts. ...
  2. 2) Learn to Take Things With a Pinch of Salt. ...
  3. 3) Expect the Least and Be Happy. ...
  4. 4) Be Goal-Oriented. ...
  5. 5) Get to Know Yourself Better. ...
  6. 6) The Power Lies Within You. ...
  7. 7) Stop Self Pity.
May 24, 2021

Do toxic people know they are toxic? ›

People with toxic traits know they have them

But many people with toxic traits don't realize that their behavior impacts others. You may have toxic traits that you don't know about. Some toxic traits, like absolutism, manifest subtly.

How do you cut off toxic people? ›

How to eliminate toxic people from your life.
  1. Let them know how you feel. While you do not owe them an explanation, this is probably more for you. ...
  2. Put some distance between you and them. ...
  3. Set hard boundaries. ...
  4. Don't be pulled into a crisis. ...
  5. Spend more time with positive people. ...
  6. Talk to someone. ...
  7. Forgive but don't forget.
Sep 25, 2020

What are the 7 most common insecurities? ›

“Some of the most common insecurities and relationships include emotional insecurity, attachment insecurity, physical insecurity, financial insecurity, professional insecurity, and social insecurity,” explains LaTonya P.

What is the biggest insecurity of a person? ›

The fear of being socially judged is one of the most common forms of insecurity. Some people feel self-conscious, anxious, and fearful when in front of others. It doesn't matter whether it's a group of colleagues or family members. This can extend to even the smallest of social encounters like a date.

What makes one unkind? ›

If someone is unkind, they behave in an unpleasant, unfriendly, or slightly cruel way. You can also describe someone's words or actions as unkind. No one has an unkind word to say about him.

What is the philosophy of meanness? ›

Meanness is a personal quality whose classical form, discussed by many from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, characterizes it as a vice of "lowness", but whose modern form deals more with cruelty.

What is meanness behavior? ›

Being mean involves “purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice).” Unlike unthinking rudeness, “mean behavior very much aims to hurt or depreciate someone.

Why am I such a mean person? ›

There are various reasons why you may feel that you're engaging in mean or rude behavior, even if they're not immediately apparent to you. For example, an underlying mental health condition, a lack of social skills, cultural differences, or low self-esteem could all be potential causes.

Why everyone is always against me? ›

Paranoia. This is an accumulation of thoughts and beliefs that everyone is against you. Paranoia can be a disorder in itself, but it's also a symptom of other mood or personality disorders.

Why do I still care about someone who hurt me? ›

Trauma Bonding is when we are attracted to someone because they remind us of our past traumas. A good example of this would be if you have an ex who broke your heart, you might be attracted to people who remind you of that person.

What personality disorder makes you selfish? ›

Narcissistic personality disorder involves a pattern of self-centered, arrogant thinking and behavior, a lack of empathy and consideration for other people, and an excessive need for admiration. Others often describe people with NPD as cocky, manipulative, selfish, patronizing, and demanding.

What are the signs of a self-centered person? ›

What Are the Signs of a Self-Centered Person?
  • They Dominate Conversations.
  • They Lack Empathy.
  • They Take More Than They Give.
  • They Want Things Done Their Way.
  • They're Quick to Blame Others and Avoid Responsibility.
  • They Always Want to Be the Center of Attention.
  • Tell Them How You Feel.
  • Suggest Therapy.
May 22, 2023

What is the psychology behind selfish people? ›

Antisocial personality disorder, also called psychopathy, is one personality disorder that could cause people to be selfish. People with antisocial personality disorder have a diminished capacity for empathy. Since they don't feel remorse for hurting other people, they could be more likely to hurt or violate others.

How do you act around people who don't like you? ›

Here are 15 tips on how to act around someone who doesn't like you.
  1. Be good to them. ...
  2. Accepting different opinions. ...
  3. Be around those who like you. ...
  4. Don't let your self-esteem take a backseat. ...
  5. Self-scrutiny won't hurt. ...
  6. Does it bother you much. ...
  7. Rise above issues and don't be judgmental. ...
  8. Be respectful.
Apr 20, 2023

Why do people struggle to be nice? ›

This difficulty may stem from certain personality traits, worries about the thoughts of others, low self-esteem, and challenging circumstances. If you'd like to be kinder, you might try making eye contact, smiling, using your conversation partner's name, and being a good listener during interactions.

Why some people don't make good friends? ›

People who are uncomfortable with others or prefer to be alone may have a hard time maintaining friendships. Personality issues such as being pushy, too talkative, or controlling can be off-putting to others. Talking to an objective third party such as a therapist can help reveal issues that interfere with friendships.

Why I don't feel good around some people? ›

Why do I feel uncomfortable around people? You might feel uncomfortable around someone because you have feelings for them, or because it's a toxic or intimidating person. Discomfort can also be a sign of underlying social anxiety or lack of social skills.

Why people don t make friends easily? ›

Additionally, the most cited reasons for why one can't make friends with ease were cited to be shyness (53 per cent), the feeling that friendships needed too much work (20 per cent), and a busy life (14 per cent).

How do you deal with nasty people? ›

Read on for tips on how to respond to this type of behavior.
  1. Avoid playing into their reality. ...
  2. Don't get drawn in. ...
  3. Pay attention to how they make you feel. ...
  4. Talk to them about their behavior. ...
  5. Put yourself first. ...
  6. Offer compassion, but don't try to fix them. ...
  7. Say no (and walk away) ...
  8. Remember, you aren't at fault.
Nov 21, 2019

What to do when someone is mean to you for no reason? ›

Staying friendly and positive can calm the other person down and give them an incentive to match your behavior. Simply put, kindness is the antidote to meanness. In my own experience, being kind to someone who is obviously trying to be mean to you can be extremely hard, but it does get easier with practice.

How do you deal with disrespectful people? ›

3 ways to respond to rude behavior
  1. Try kindness. You can't prevent other people's bad behavior, but you can control your reactions. ...
  2. Remember, it's not about you. A difficult person's behavior is precisely that: their behavior. ...
  3. Show empathy. Empathy is one of the most positively recognized social skills in any environment.
Feb 3, 2023

Do toxic people change? ›

If you've addressed toxic behavior with the person exhibiting it and they have taken it to heart, it's possible for toxic people to change. “Toxic people can absolutely change,” Kennedy says, “however they must see their part in the problem before they are likely to find the motivation to do so.”

Can a nasty person change? ›

Yes, people can change behaviors, but they need to first become accountable for those, and then be convinced they should (or want to) change them. Hurtful behaviors — such as lying, cheating, dismissing, or controlling — are often habits that turn into harmful behavior patterns.

Why are some people so mean psychology? ›

Being mean is a product of insecure self-esteem.

Freud argued that people cope with negative views of themselves by perceiving other people as having those same traits. Researchers have discovered that threatened self-esteem drives a lot of aggression.

Why are people so mean and selfish? ›

They may simply be so self-absorbed that they are unaware of others, motivated to meet their own needs, and just oblivious even when it is at the expense of others. They may unwittingly say or do something hurtful, push their way in front of others, or disregard normal social behavior.

Why would someone be so mean for no reason? ›

If someone is being mean to you then it could be a way to gain control and power over a situation or you. This is often a ruse to show social control and dominance. For many, it is a coping mechanism, and reacting aggressively and saying mean things gives them some semblance of control.

Do mean people know they are mean? ›

The truth about mean people is that they rarely ever realize that they are mean. To them, this is just the way life works. To a mean person, everyone else is mean, as they simply don't see things the way they do.

What to do when someone cuts you off for no reason? ›

What to do when someone cuts you off in a conversation
  1. Think about your communication style. ...
  2. Address interruptions before you begin speaking. ...
  3. Ignore the interruption. ...
  4. Stop talking. ...
  5. Ask for feedback about your communication style. ...
  6. Discuss the interruptions at a later time. ...
  7. Use nonverbal communication. ...
  8. End your presentation.
Feb 3, 2023

What does the Bible say about disrespect? ›

"Honor thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee" (Deuteronomy 5:16a). Disrespectful actions of children, no matter their age, are abhorred by God, and there's no place that's worse to see the disrespectful actions of children than in a homeschooling family.


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