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23 Signs of a Mean Person, Why They’re Bitter & How to Deal with Them

Everyone knows one, but no one wants to deal with them – a mean person. So, why are people mean, how do you recognize them, and what can you do?

mean person

I’ve had my fair share of experiences with a mean person, but there’s one girl whom I’ll never forget. Let’s call her Ava. She is particularly spiteful and extremely manipulative. 

Ava is well known for being positive and happy-go-lucky, but because I’ve known her for over a decade, I know that it’s all a facade. Behind closed doors, she is the devil incarnate. She bitches about everything badmouths everyone and even puts down little kids. Seriously, who compares their art to a 7-year-old’s?

Let’s not even get started on her social media accounts. Her pictures and posts go on forever and somehow, they’re always filled with I’m-so-awesome content. To an outsider, everything’s rainbows and peaches, but to the rare few in the know, Ava is bullshitting the world. 

Why? One can only assume that it has to do with self-esteem issues—but hey, I’m no psychologist, just a friend who’s sick and tired of dealing with the brunt of her attitude.

[Read: The mean girl – 25 traits to recognize her and make sure you stay clear]

What makes a person so mean?

For us normal people, it’s really difficult to understand why someone would be so mean? Why would they want to hurt other people? There are a variety of reasons, and here are some of them.

1. Low self-esteem

When a person doesn’t love themselves, then it makes it difficult for them to love others – or even be nice to them. They carry around negative emotions all the time, so when they direct their thoughts toward others and be mean to them, it makes them feel better for some strange reason. [Read: The signs of low self-esteem in a man that reveal his dark side]

2. They don’t like people

Some people just don’t like people. Maybe they’re antisocial and so most people just annoy them. Not that this is a good reason to be mean, but if they are constantly feeling irritated by others, then they might react by being a mean person.

3. It makes them feel powerful

If they have low self-esteem *which most mean people do* then they feel powerless. So, in order to gain a feeling of power, they think that being mean will make them feel important. And when they feel important, they feel better about themselves.

4. They are jealous

There is a saying that goes, “When your head is above the crowd, someone always wants to chop it down.”

In other words, if someone perceives you as being “better” than them, then they will always want to knock you down to their level. And they think that being mean to you will do that. [Read: How to recognize the signs of jealousy in someone and guide them out]

5. Bad parenting

Good parents teach their children to be nice to others. But if a mean person’s parents were mean to them, then they might have just learned that behavior from them.

Mom and dad *or just one* modeled being mean and that normalized it for them. So, they don’t know how not to be a mean person.

6. Sense of superiority

If someone thinks they are better than you and view you as some sort of low-life, then that could be a reason they are mean. That doesn’t mean you are a low-life or that they really are superior to you, they just want to feel that way.

7. Low emotional intelligence

Some people just don’t know how to manage their emotions. They let their emotions rule their actions, instead of monitoring them and having a filter.

So, people with low emotional intelligence don’t know how to control their anger and therefore use it to hurt people. [Read: Emotional immaturity – How to recognize them and help them grow up]

8. They don’t care about respecting others

As ridiculous as it sounds, some people simply don’t know how to respect other people. They don’t live by the Golden Rule – to treat others as you would like to be treated.

Instead, they just treat them however they want to, without thinking about how bad their behavior actually is. [Read: 18 honest reasons why someone doesn’t have any genuine friends that care about them]

9. Lack of empathy

Empathy is the ability to feel what other people are feeling. Most people can do that – at least to some extent. And that’s what keeps us from hurting other people because we have empathy for them.

But mean people don’t know what empathy is. They don’t even care if they’re making other people’s lives miserable. [Read: 20 signs of lack of empathy that show they don’t care what you think]

How to recognize a mean person before they hurt you

Despite the number of years that I’ve known Ava, my mean friend, I’ve let go of the friendship and am a far happier person now. I’ve learned that, when picking friends and lovers, never judge a book by its cover and always remember that it is far safer to take a closer look. Everyone’s got an Ava in their lives. It just comes down to whether you want to admit it.

Here are 10 ways to recognize a person’s mean streak, and the tips on how to deal with them.

1. They only hang out with you for a reason

Unlike real friends, a mean person only wants to be around you for something other than the pleasure of your company. It could be that you just got a convertible and they need a ride to school. It could be that they’re dry on herb and want you to smoke them up. 

No matter what, if you take away the reasons for them wanting to be around you, there’s a chance you’ll never hear from them again. [Confession: Why you should never make someone an priority when you’re only an option to them]

2. Lies and exaggerations

Mean people dabble in lies and, somehow, are masters at exaggerating. They always try to elevate themselves far above everyone else. They love I’m-better-than-you topics, and when they share stories, it always involves them doing something amazing, even if you know that it wasn’t the case.

For example, Ava regaled our group of friends with tales of how she traveled around Laos alone. Yes, she was in Laos, but she certainly wasn’t alone. 

Her parents were with her. How do I know? Because they told me so. Guess she didn’t realize I knew that little fact when she decided to exaggerate her travel stories.

3. Never follow through on promises

Mean people are renowned for never following through on their promises. For example, Ava told me, “There’s a position at my company that you would be perfect for. Send me your resume and I’ll personally speak to the director tomorrow.”

Of course, I sent her my resume and followed up with every chance I got. She either brushed me off or promised to get back in touch.

I finally contacted the HR department to apply for the job myself and found out that there was never an opening, to begin with. Perhaps she simply wanted to show off. 

After all, being chummy with the director is no joke. Perhaps, she was simply trying to make conversation. In any case, that was when I realized Ava couldn’t be trusted. [Read: 20 signs of sneaky, untrustworthy people that should make you run]

4. Hurtful words

Mean people have a gift for churning out what can only be described as complimentary insults. For example, instead of complimenting, “This quiche is amazing. I would love the recipe!” a mean person would say, “This quiche is amazing. Who made it? I know it wasn’t you!” 

They somehow know how to string words together so that they can inflict the maximum amount of hurt and pain, even if they’re saying something “nice.” [Read: Backhanded compliments – What it is and the best ways to respond to them with class]

5. Spiteful gossip mongers

Meanies take delight in pulling people down. All they want to do is talk about other people and nothing out of their mouths is good.

Instead of focusing on Priscilla’s promotion, the mean person will probably hint that she got it because she slept with her boss.

6. Play the blame game

When it comes to mean people, the blame always falls on everyone but themselves. They could be speeding through a red light in a school zone, run over an old lady in a wheelchair, and still place the blame on granny.

7. Taint happy moments

Meanies always find a way to ruin happy events. Even if you’re really happy about something like a new relationship or a promotion at work, a mean person will always find some excuse or criticism to hurt you or pull you down a peg or two.

It doesn’t matter what it is or who it is, if someone is happy, a mean person just instinctively tries to ruin the moment or make others feel bad… just because! [Read: The narcissistic friend and all the signs you’ve got one in your life]

8. Manipulative mind games

Somehow, mean people are masters at mind games. They know just what to say and do to have you questioning yourself.

Whether it’s tearing down your belief system or indirectly mocking your weight, there’s always something for them to attack. [Read: 16 attention whore signs to watch out for in a friend]

9. Pit people against each other

The term drama queen was coined specially for mean people. They love conflict and enjoy pitting people against each other.

Whether it’s starting a rumor, bad-mouthing someone in front of them, or blaming someone for something they didn’t do, mean people delight in seeing other people in distress.

10. Their reputation precedes them

Another way to identify a mean person is to pay attention to the whispers that make their way through the grapevine.

Sure, it’s never nice to indulge in hearsay, but then again, if you hear the same thing from 100 different people, especially if they have been hurt by this person before, there must be some truth to it. [Read: Attention seeking behavior and why some people always go looking for drama]

The 4 firm steps to deal with a mean person without losing your mind

Now that you know how to identify a mean person, what do you do next? Do you just sit around and wait for them to inflict as much suffering as they can on you? No way, Jose. Here are the easiest ways to deal with the meanies.

1. Fight fire with fire

Mean people know that they’re being mean, but they hate being called out on it. You should grow a pair and stand up for yourself.

You don’t deserve to be treated with disrespect, and you know that. The next time you’re faced with a bully, respond in kind. 

For example, you should say, “Do you expect me to drive you there again?” instead of, “Is it okay if you find your own way there?” Also, instead of saying, “Yes, I’ll take care of it,” you should say, “You wanted to come to this store but were you seriously expecting me to pay for these?” [Read: How to stop being manipulated in your relationship with others]

2. Keep your distance

What do you do when you’ve been binge eating and drinking? You go on a detox, of course. Nothing gets rid of toxins better than a detox, and the same philosophy can be applied to the mean people in your life. 

Minimize or cut off communication in your bid to stop them from walking all over you. You’ll sleep so much better at night. Trust me.

3. Don’t let them get to you

Never let the meanies cast their spell over you because before you know it, you’ll be second-guessing yourself.

The last thing you need is to feel bad about your life choices. They are experts at manipulation, and you need to realize that when you doubt yourself, they win. [Read: 25 types of bad friends you need to unfriend from your life ASAP]

4. Confront them

If you care for this mean person, then go ahead and try to salvage the relationship. The only way to do so is to be honest, in a gentle way. Stage an intervention, of sorts, and speak to them calmly. 

If you don’t do well in face-to-face situations, send them a big block of text. It was how I confronted Ava. There’s a chance they’ll be in denial and blame you for their misery, so also be prepared to lose them as a friend.

[Read: How to recognize selfish people and stop them from hurting you]

Whether you are related to a mean person, are in a relationship with one, are friends with one, or simply know of one, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you need to make a change for your own well-being. You can choose to do one or all of the steps listed above, but at the end of the day, remember to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

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Gemma Hsieh
Born in Singapore and raised in Canada to multi-racial parents, Gemma is a self-proclaimed travel and food junkie. Having traveled extensively around the world,...
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