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  • Feeling good by Putting Others down

    14 posts, 13 voices, 908 views, started Feb 27, 2009

    Posted on Friday, February 27, 2009 by Ms-kay


    • Carnelian

      The truth shall set you free!!  

      WE HUMANS can be downright mean. We are capable of inflicting great amounts of pain to one another. Physical blows are just one expression of this capacity, but our words, expressions and gestures can be just as destructive.

      Sometimes we lose the run of ourselves and savagely attack others where they are most vulnerable. We “let the dogs out“, and when we do we‘re not happy until they return carrying the torn flesh of our victims between their teeth.

      These dark thoughts on the human condition were prompted by a story I heard this week of a woman who spends an inordinate amount of time belittling others. Someone who appears to need to highlight the foibles and failings of her friends and to attribute these to their obvious “stupidity“. Sometimes to their faces but, more often, behind their backs.

      Unburdened by empathy, she is quick to make judgments about their life choices and she is seldom generous in her assessment. Her remarks obliterate any goodness in these people and jeopardise the esteem in which others may hold them.

      In kinder moments, we might attribute such “meanness” to an insecure, fragile sense of identity that can only be sustained through putting others down.

      Perhaps she is prone to envy so that she perceives qualities and talents in others as a threat. Their very being, guilty of nothing more than being different from her, represents a challenge to her existence that she must devalue and dismiss, if she is to preserve her brittle self-esteem.

      You won’t find much about “meanness” in new-age psychology texts. In fact, it seldom gets a mention in the psychotherapy literature even when you search for it under its more technical name, “passive aggression“. To find any depth of discussion of this pheno- menon, you’ve got to dig deep into the psychoanalytic archive.

      Freud and his followers had their shortcomings, but they weren’t afraid to grapple with the dark side of our psyche.

      They viewed human beings in terms of the full spectrum of emotional experience, including rage, jealousy, envy and pride.

      Other disciplines preferred to leave these features of our behaviour to ethics and philosophy, or to the domain of religion, where any indulgence of our dark side was attributed to a fault-line in the soul.

      Whatever our take on the dark side, it does seem that we all have to accept it as part of our make-up. We have the potential to love and create, but we can also be mean, or indeed go way beyond mean.

      No one gets to cast the first stone. We all know the woman I referred to above; she is me and she is you.

      Humour is wonderful at diffusing those more sensitive aspects of human interaction, but humour can also be a Trojan horse whose beneficiary discovers to his or her cost that it comes laden with spite.

      Meanness is often anger that is neither acknowledged, processed or expressed in any kind of constructive way. Anger is a powerful emotion that needs (ideally) to be directed at exposing what is wrong, unjust or simply stuck in a relationship between two people in a manner that is respectful to all concerned.

      I say “ideally” because sometimes anger erupts in less than ideal ways, when we least expect it. It can sneak up on us and catch us off guard, erupting suddenly out of nowhere, or leaking out insidiously through an “innocent” remark that is cold and harsh. When anger is acknowledged and addressed honestly with another, it can be an important revitalising force in a relationship.

      In contrast, meanness is corrosive and destructive of our relationships. “But don’t mind me,” she said, as she landed her verbal thump where it hurt most and smiled blissfully through it all.

      Nothing changes as a result of such interactions, everything remains stuck, and the recipient may carry within themselves a feeling of shame and humiliation that haunts them for years.

      Sometimes our mean comments carry trace elements of wounds that were inflicted on us years ago. They reflect what is broken and needs mending in our hearts. But sometimes we choose to be mean and hurt others because it makes us feel -at least superficially - good.

      For those of you who may be prone to being seduced by such a cheap thrill, I give you the 13th century Persian Poet, Rumi.

      His words remind us all that our negative behaviour towards others inevitably rebounds on us:

      Label me and define me

      And you'll starve yourself of yourself

      Nail me down in a box with cold words

      And that box will be your coffin  

      Article by Tony Bates


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