What to Do About Your Mean Streak

Checking in with your intentions when you feel tempted to be unkind can help you rethink your reactions.

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Internet trolling, bullying, and epidemic snarkiness (online, in the grocery store, or even directed wordlessly to random people walking by) seems to be the new black. Sometimes I wonder, is this our paradigm now? Are we becoming meaner? Is our nature essentially nasty? Have we stopped noticing how participating in meanness never makes us feel better, really?

In fact, being mean—spreading rumors, excluding others, trying to make someone feel bad, or even just indulging in mean thoughts—truly is like drinking your own poison, according to Richard Ryan, professor of clinical and social psychology at the University of Rochester. Giving in to meanness generally just leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and social isolation. 

Then why do it? Why would we intentionally or casually choose to act in a way that not only hurts others, but ultimately ourselves? 

Meanness is not new. It’s used to gain a competitive edge, alleviate boredom, or just to let off steam. We may indulge in it as a reaction to something we don’t like, or simply because anonymity (when online) makes it so easy to get away with. Maybe we find ourselves hanging out with gossipers and nastiness is part of the group sport. …

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