Some people are just plain mean, because they’re just plain mean. They lack the neural capacity for compassion and kindness. These people are sociopaths.

We can only feel sadness for them. For they will never know the joy of true love. Then we can forgive them, For they didn’t choose their genes or their upbringing. Yet still hold them accountable,and protect ourselves from their attempts to harm us.

For most, however, meanness comes from pain.

Trauma begets meanness. We hurt others because they have hurt us, or we hurt others to soothe the pain of a wound inflicted long ago, often in the traumas we sustained growing up. Thus we may, for example, habitually put down others as a way of feeling better about ourselves. We feel a lack of wholeness because of how we were harmed growing up. We are merely trying to ease the pain of a deep psychic wound—a wound to our sense of our sacred wholeness.

Not unlike a wounded dog that nips at you when you reach out to them, we too can be nipped at, and can ourselves nip at others.

What to do then to manage the meanness in the world?

If someone is mean to you, Stop. Breath. Pay attention. Seek to understand.

Ask yourself, “What is the lesson?”

Perhaps you have annoyed or hurt someone? Or perhaps they are just hurting and it has nothing to do with you?

Look closely to see what you may have done to offend. Look for feedback. Investigate. If, upon investigation, you see that you have caused distress, then approach the perpetrator, with forgiveness, and make amends for your part.

Practice compassion towards those who harm you. Practice humility. Know that there may be much that is beyond your awareness. There is certainly much room to each of us to grown in our practice of wisdom and compassion with others.

Practice compassion towards yourself. Practice courage to be both imperfect and vulnerable. Practice centering in on your inherent, sacred, worthiness. Practice being your whole, authentic, vulnerable self even though you know that some people will be mean to you. Practice courage.

When someone is mean to you, seek to understand where his or her mean behavior comes from. Then create a compassionate and accountable narrative of your role, if any, in prompting this meanness. Don’t evade responsibility for your errors, for your bad decisions, or for any harm you have done. Take accountability for your behaviors with self-compassion and self-forgiveness. Show yourself unconditional reverence. Settle into the feeling of your profound, Life-given worthiness. This is your armor again the world’s meanness. Much of it is irrelevant, if our worthiness is not at stake. Then our egos can relax, as there is really nothing, many times, to fear.

Then, ask yourself what is the most loving response to the situation. DO NOT respond from your wounded ego. Respond from your Higher Self—the loving and compassionate part of you that seeks the best for all. In this way you avoid perpetuating ego drama-trauma.

Mean people can be a tremendous gift. They are sometimes our greatest teachers. The pain of their jabs—their bites—can prod us to wake up and learn. All we have to really do is ask, “Help me to understand” from whoever is available, especially the perpetrator, but also close friends, family, therapists and spiritual advisors. By doing this we cultivate self-awareness, understanding of others, forgiveness of others and self, and the capacity to act compassionately and wisely even when we have been hurt.

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