How to Determine Why Someone Is Treating You Poorly

Think someone's being mean to you, but you're not really sure why? Think they're up to something or secretly despise you? Whether it's friends, a family member, or people you don't even know, knowing the reason(s) behind someone else's poor treatment of you is an important first step in fixing the problem.


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    Note how they act around you. What are some of the more overt signs that this person is not behaving in a very nice way and has mean-spirited intent? Some of the possible signs might include: gossiping about you to others, ignoring you, saying hurtful things to you, breaking or stealing your stuff, belittling you, setting you up to get into trouble for something you didn't do or say, calling you names, implying that you're not as clever/good-looking/well-connected/valuable, etc. as them, intimidating you, leaving unfriendly/unkind messages about you on social networking sites, or breaking promises they swore they'd meet.
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    Consider how you're feeling. What feelings or reactions do their words and actions give rise to in you? If you have a feeling that you're being picked on incessantly, that things being said are aimed at provoking or undermining you, and that everything the person says or does around you leaves you feeling negative, hurt, or demeaned in some way, then it's possible that this person is behaving in a mean way.
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    Work through some possibilities before reaching your conclusion. Our own feelings tell only part of the story and sometimes we can get them very wrong because we haven't understood things from the other person's perspective. Thus, while you may be convinced that the actions or words of the other person are mean-spirited in intent and outcome, it remains important to work through some of the possible motivations or causes behind their behaviour. Doing so may give you a better idea of what their motive is; sometimes people are unintentionally hurtful or have been thoughtless without purposefully being mean-spirited. Whatever the act or comment, there is always an underlying cause which is good to understand before you take action against the person. Here are some things to ask yourself (and be be honest when answering):
    • Could it just be your imagination? If you're having a bad day, people can sometimes seem angrier and meaner than they would on a day in which you were happy; this is just the way your mind works, conferring your own nuances and feelings onto others.
    • Could they have a crush on you? Sometimes a person can try to gain your attention by being mean or insulting you, or they might be embarrassed and using it to deflect you temporarily. Not all people do this and if a person is seemingly being mean to you, it doesn't mean they have a crush on you and if it is a crush, you'll probably get other vibes and the mean behaviour is unlikely to go on for too long.
    • Could they be trying to teach you a lesson? Often young people, or even older people, take well-meaning advice or tough love from friends and family as being remarks intended to hurt or wound. Constructive feedback is not mean-spirited though, and people who love you could just be trying to help, so don't confuse the different approaches.
    • Could they be jealous? Do they say things to put you down or build themselves up? This could be the case if they're insecure, and what they're trying to do is to make themselves seem better than you. In this case, it is more a statement of what they think of themselves than what they think of you but it can be hard to see that when confronted with it.
    • Could you have accidentally insulted them? Without knowing it, you may have actually insulted them first. This is especially common among friends who don't want to upset each other; they may not want to confront you about something that you said or did, so they take out their passive anger on you by being mean instead of openly talking about their feelings.
    • Could they have troubles of their own? People who are unsure of how to reach out to others may take out their frustrations using anger - making other people feel bad seems like a convenient way to make yourself feel good, but it's always at the expense of the other person. Stress is a big cause of people being mean - someone may snap at you for no reason other than that they're feeling stressed and they've lost their ability to self-control their emotions. It's important to recognise when someone's simply venting their emotions in contrast to someone who is actually intending to be mean to you. Again, this isn't so much a statement about you, but concerns how they feel about themselves.
    • Could they just dislike you? This is probably a result of a number of the reasons given above (having personal issues, being jealous of you, even mixing you up with someone they didn't like from their past, etc.), but in many cases, people who are being mean to you don't do it because you've done something to hurt them.
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    Ask yourself. Why do you need validation from them? Do you need them so much that you would have to supplicate them to make yourself better? Its fine if they don't like you, who cares? Remember you are being insecure needy if you care.
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    Ask others. Get the opinions of others, especially your parents and friends, so you can decide what to do next or to help you become clearer on why this person is behaving in this manner. Never ask for advice from friends that may dislike the person you're asking them about; there is a risk in this case that they'll only paint the person in a negative light, possibly in order to make you have a fight or continue aggravated interactions with this person. The best people to ask are your parents or spouse, a trusted mentor or very trusted friend, or family; usually you'll find someone who is neutral and external enough from the mean behaviour who is in a position to help you.
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    Confront the person if you know them. It's important that you complete the steps above about noting factual evidence of the mean behaviour, considering your own feelings, and working through the possibilities before confronting a person. Alleging that someone is being mean carries a lot of emotional weight and if you haven't got your facts sorted, and you accuse rather than express yourself (using "I statements"), then you may make them feel angry or stupid, giving rise to defensiveness in place of a constructive conversation. Be sure that you weren't imagining it and they weren't having a simple one-off venting session; it is better not to turn the proverbial molehill into a mountain. Express to the person how you feel about the mean-spirited behaviour you've witnessed and let them know that you're open to discussing any relevant issues with them if they want to, and that you're especially keen to clear the air should you have said or done anything to upset them.
    • Stay calm and don't demand an apology or recite what they said word-for-word; just ask that they be more mindful of your feelings.
    • If the person doesn't have an answer, give them time to come back to you later - the ball's in their court now and they can either continue being mean or stop.
    • If they continue, you know that you've told them how much it hurts you. You have confirmation that they're doing this on purpose now, and you can consider taking other actions.
    • If this person is not well known to you, consider having someone else come with you, such as a friend, counsellor, parent, or other trusted person.
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    Avoid contact with the person if the mean behaviour continues. After you've tried to sort things out, there isn't much more you can do to influence them to change their mind if they decide to keep being mean. It probably means that either they do actually hate you (which again, is not usually to do with you – mostly it is to do with them) or that they feel they can't lose face by changing their attitude and carry on regardless of the facts before them (again, this is not about you but about their own insecurities). However – and this is the key part – you do not have to put up with someone trying to make you feel bad. Remove yourself from their sphere and don't listen to their taunts, spiteful attitude, or meanness. Ask your friends to stop repeating any of it back to you and suggest that they also remove themselves. Just let people know that you're not going to tolerate it anymore and make a clean cut. Even the meanest person gets bored when their target stops responding and they'll look for someone else to hassle.
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    Move on. By this stage, if mending fences hasn't worked even though you tried and you've put up a good defensive strategy of avoiding them, then consider acting as if this person isn't a part of your life; just leave them out if it they should have nothing else to do with you . However, it's likely that there will be residual feelings in you about why this even happened and about how it has left you feeling. Remember that there's no point in dwelling in the past; you did all you could to reconcile with the person and to stop them being mean to you. Get on with your life and activities, surround yourself by people who aren't mean to you, and focus on what matters to you. By demonstrating that the meanness hasn't tripped you up or spoiled your other relationships, you thrive while the mean person gets to live with their meanness.
    • If the mean behaviour continues or escalates, tell someone who can make a positive difference - if it's school, tell a teacher, family member or adult immediately. If it's at work, tell human resources, a trusted boss, or even trusted co-workers. You need to ensure your own safety from retaliation in the instance where it appears that the person in question may have developed a vendetta against you.
    • If the mean behaviour continues in the home environment, you're in a more difficult position. If it's siblings, ask your parents to intervene and to set solid rules and limitations on behaviour across the household. If it's a parent, talk to your other parent first. If both parents are defensive and refuse to help you, ask for help outside of the home, such as close family not living with you, a church or school counsellor, a trusted adult mentor, etc. Don't put up with anything that endangers you emotionally or physically.


  • Sometimes people are mean because they are not like you and they want to be like you.
  • Although it's always good to try to find out why exactly someone is being mean to you, you often may never know; however, you may have a gut feeling if someone's being mean to you and you don't have to stand for it. Stick up for yourself if it's intended to hurt you.
  • Never try to be mean back; this ruins relationships, escalates arguments and can result in dangerous behaviour. There's no point in stooping to their level as this turns into a lose-lose situation.
  • Tell them how bad they hurt you. Tell them exactly how you felt when the words were spoken.


  • People feed off gossip but they do not use it to help you - bear that in mind and don't spread any.

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