Learn How To Stop Being Mean Unintentionally

Updated February 20, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Getting along with other people isn't always easy. Each of us grows up in different types of families and environments, and because of that, we learn different communication strategies. That means sometimes we might not even realize when we're saying something that someone else might take as rude or mean or even wicked. You can learn to pay more attention to the reactions others have to your words, and from those reactions, learn how to stop being mean unintentionally and saying things to make someone feel bad.

Though Unintentional, Mean Behavior Can Cause Others To Hurt

Why Do I Keep Saying Mean Things?

Consider the situations in which you tend to say things that upset other people. Do you see any common themes or dynamics? Is something triggering you to make unfriendly statements without thinking them through beforehand? Are the unkind words primarily used around specific people? Do insensitive, aggressive, and cynical words come out around particular topics? Do people in your life consider you to be callous, cruel, or thoughtless toward them? If you can find your trigger and understand the causes, then you can work on yourself to figure out how to speak words with a more positive feel, even in the hardest of times. Sometimes alcohol can play into aggression, as the substance can impair your cognition.


For some people,  is a cause of unfiltered speech. Symptoms like anxiety disorders may cause you to feel so nervous that you say things you would never mention if you were in a more relaxed state. Your mind and body may be more focused on the signs of fear and stress than they are on the words coming from your mouth. You may want to look for a way to reduce stress by taking stress relief medications so that your fears won't feed on them. Think about checking out medically reviewed articles for more advice about social anxiety as well.

Difficult Emotions

Another reason you may unintentionally hurt someone's feelings is if you are struggling with difficult emotions in your day-to-day world. If you are angry or sad, you may be more likely to say things you don't mean. This is because your mind is focused on healing itself, and you may not have the capacity to uplift another person at the same time. These times are hard for you, but the unkind words only cause additional problems. You may benefit from seeking therapy to help you control your anger and assist you in processing these difficult emotions if you are concerned about them.

Social Skills

Sometimes, being mean has nothing to do with the internal struggles of anxiety or difficult emotions. You may simply need to spend some amount of time working on strengthening your communication skills or learning to read tones, facial expressions, and gestures. Doing so can help you get a deeper sense of human nature. If this is the case, you may feel perfectly at ease and happy, but often get unexpected negative reactions from people around you. Again, medically reviewed articles may help you learn more on this topic, including those on a mental health foundation site.

You may be having a hard time with your communication as well. You might be misinterpreted due to your body language or facial expressions. You might have little awareness of these issues because the expressions are unlikely to be reflected when you're looking in a mirror. They typically only show when you are speaking to others, so they can be hard to recognize at times.

You may even notice your social skills tend to veer toward the less positive end around those you love most. Ironically, you might be the most unfiltered around the people with whom you feel the safest and most comfortable. When you feel safe, accepted, and loved, you can be less guarded about what you say and how you say it. Because of this, you may find yourself hurting those you love more often than others with your anger.

Awareness And Effects Of Unkind Words

Can your anger or unkind words affect the people we love? Some people may be genuinely unaware that they make comments which can hurt those around them. They likely may not want to hurt their friends and family, but the words they use might do so anyway.

One way to prevent this discrepancy is by having open communication with your loved ones. If you say something and the person you're talking to looks upset or suddenly becomes quiet, ask them what's wrong. Ask, "Did I say something to hurt your feelings?" Ensure them you did not mean to offend or cause anger. If you take this approach every time you accidentally say something mean, you will learn which words are hurtful and which are uplifting. From there, you can choose to stop using hurtful vicious words to those you love. This practice may also help you take better control of these situations, where you can take the time to think about your words and how they might affect your loved ones.

Using hurtful language can be a problem with all age groups. Thirty percent of children admit to being unkind at one point or another, and thirty percent say they've been bullied. No matter how old you are, your words can make a difference, and if you pay close attention to the reaction of the people with whom  you are speaking, you can use the power of your words for good. Try your best to express your feelings and intentions without hurting others. 

Though Unintentional, Mean Behavior Can Cause Others To Hurt

Childhood bullying can cause lifelong psychological damage, and using unkind words in adulthood may have similar effects. Accidentally being mean can lead to people you love to experience depression, social anxiety, or an anxiety disorder. They can also lead to sad feelings or even relationships coming to an end if unkind words are used often enough. If you are only using mean or hateful words towards someone, this could indicate that the relationship is not healthy.

When you understand the effect of your words, you can see why it is important to learn the ins and outs of using them kindly and healthily. Even though you may not intentionally try to be mean or express anger to your friends and family, learning how to be compassionate and putting in the effort and energy to do so can make a huge difference in both your life and the lives of those you speak to.

Addressing Underlying Issues

To improve your relationships with friends and family, as well as have more enjoyable encounters with new people, you more than likely want to fix these challenges once you find them. Below, we will investigate how to solve the struggles you may face in each of these areas of communication and how you might prevent anger from occurring.

Addressing Anxiety

When you feel anxious, you might speak harshly, express anger, or use unkind words. You can help reduce accidental communication problems by visualizing yourself in the situation ahead of time. Imagine yourself smiling and feeling relaxed. Give yourself several conversation ideas ahead of time. The more you practice possible scenarios, the more comfortable you can become during the actual interaction.

Addressing Difficult Emotions

If you have experienced a recent disappointing or frustrating event, you may need to take some time to yourself before you try talking to others. Negative emotions can make you more likely to be unkind to people unintentionally and cause you to feel angry. Try doing things that help boost your mood. When you're feeling calm, try confiding in a close friend to help you manage the challenge you are experiencing or to lessen your anger.

Addressing Poor Communication Skills

Effective communication is a skill that takes time and practice to master. You can begin by paying attention to other people's facial expressions, tones, and gestures. If you're uncertain of their reaction, ask them how they felt about what you just said. You can gain the best information by asking open questions and seeking honest answers. This can help you gauge when you have caused others to feel angry and could help you understand what you can do to change how you speak with them, as well as the things you say.

Remember that listening carefully is equally as important as speaking carefully. Before responding, try your best to have a complete and accurate understanding of what the other person is attempting to convey. It's okay to take a second to be critical of how you might respond. Many conflicts in relationships are a result of a misunderstanding, which can often be avoided by healthier and mutually respectful communication. Focus intently on what the other person is saying. It will help your responses to be kinder overall, instead of talking in anger.

Seeking Help

Talking to a professional counselor can also help you develop strategies to stop being unkind unintentionally. If you are still struggling with being unintentionally mean and navigating anger issues after implementing the above strategies, working with a therapist may be the next step. They can help you move forward from mean-spirited and spiteful behavior and help you with tips to improve. They can also assist you in unpacking previous life events where you might have been uptight, jealous, or mean.

Finding time to speak with a therapist to plan out treatments can be hard. If you have a busy schedule or want to avoid the worst of rush-hour traffic en route to therapy sessions, consider speaking with a therapist from BetterHelp. BetterHelp is an online platform that offers professional help from anywhere, at a time that works with your schedule. It's easy to do additional research on online therapy and its benefits. One example is affordability, as online sessions are almost always less expensive than traditional in-person therapy. 

Research studies have investigated the efficacy of online therapy as a means for helping people to become more compassionate. If it is the case that a person is being unkind as a result of trying to manage symptoms of anxiety, chronic pain, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then online therapy can help. Studies have shown that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) – a form of talk therapy conducted by a licensed therapist online – is just as effective as in-person therapy when it comes to improving symptoms. There are even therapist-guided games that can make the process of behavioral change more accessible for adolescents. While BetterHelp is dedicated to providing mental healthcare services to adults, its sister site TeenCounseling is an excellent resource for teenagers.

If you’re curious to hear about others’ experiences with online therapy, you can read  below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Krysten offers me support so I can reflect on interactions I didn't even know affected me the way they did. She is helping me learn about myself and implement changes in my life while being kind and realizing this is a journey."

"I cannot say enough how much I appreciate Barbara's help and guidance. She has helped me through some difficult situations, providing just what I needed to stop negative cycles and self-doubt to take over. I highly recommend Barbara!"


Whether you know you’re being mean to others as a result of experiencing pain or life challenges, or you’re unsure of why your communication is being interpreted as unkind, there is help available. Once you complete the initial questionnaire on BetterHelp, you’ll be matched with an online therapist within 48 hours. You can feel reassured that your therapist will not judge you for being mean – they will be more concerned with helping you learn more about yourself and modeling strategies for improving your communication or resolving inner turmoil. Take the first step today.

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