Learn How To Stop Being Mean Unintentionally

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated March 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Having close social connections is an important component of human health, happiness, and well-being, as supported by various research studies. That’s just one reason you may want to address the issue if you find that your unintentional behaviors are making it more difficult for you to form or maintain these crucial positive bonds with people in your world. 

It’s generally unrealistic to expect you’ll get along well with everyone; however, if you find that your natural way of interacting with other people seems to be constantly turning them off, it may be worth taking a closer look. For those who have received feedback about being perceived as a mean person or rude, read on for a few potential reasons behind this tendency plus tips on how to stop being unintentionally mean and adjust it.

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Why do I keep saying mean things?

If you’ve noticed or have been told that your comments or actions tend to come off as mean, figuring out why is usually the first step toward shifting the behavior. Thinking about the situations in which you usually tend to exhibit such behavior and considering common themes might help. For example, does a mean comment typically happen around specific people or family members or when talking about specific topics? Is it related to your job, or does it happen when you haven’t gotten enough sleep? Does it happen only when you feel angry or irritable? Identifying patterns may be useful in helping you realize the root cause so you can address it. You might also consider some of the following potential reasons for unintentionally engaging in behavior that others find to be unkind.

Social anxiety

For those who have anxiety disorders—especially social anxiety disorder—it’s not uncommon to say things they wish they hadn’t because they feel threatened or intimidated, or they feel nervous, or are experiencing other negative feelings.. Their mind and body may be more focused on staying calm and responding to the perceived threat than they are on the words they’re saying. Seeking treatment for your symptoms may help, as a mental health care provider can assist you in developing effective coping strategies so you can approach social situations more calmly. It is possible to learn how to stop being mean.

Irritability

The American Psychological Association defines irritability as “a state of excessive, easily provoked anger, annoyance, or impatience”. If you’re experiencing irritability, you may find it hard to have the patience to calmly and kindly engage with and talk to others—especially those you don’t get along with in the first place. 

In some cases, irritability can be a symptom of any of a variety of mental health disorders. If you're experiencing it persistently—especially if it’s impacting your daily functioning or relationships—it could be worth speaking with a healthcare provider about it. Controlling anger caused by irritability is possible. The American Psychological Association can screen you for conditions that may cause irritable behavior, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance withdrawal
  • Chronic stress
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The influence of substances

Consuming certain substances—particularly in excess—can lead a person to say or do things that they wouldn’t normally and may later regret. Alcohol, for example, is known to decrease a person’s inhibitions for a little while, potentially making them act and respond in ways they might later regret. It also slows down the rate at which the brain is able to process and deal with information, which can lead to difficulties misunderstanding intentions and body language and cause issues anticipating the potential consequences of your actions in the moment. If you find that you’re mostly having this issue during happy hour or events that involve alcohol or substances, your relationship with alcohol or substances may be to blame. If you’re concerned about your relationship with alcohol or another substance and/or if you’re showing signs of a substance use disorder, you might consider speaking with a mental health professional and/or a substance use counselor for support. Often, speaking with a good listener trained in substance abuse is an important step in overcoming substance issues.

Low self-esteem or insecurity

You might have trouble holding back from lashing out at someone if they make you feel threatened in some way. If you notice patterns in terms of the people you’re behaving unkindly towards, ask yourself if you feel jealous of them or if they make you feel insecure or down about yourself in some way. Envy, shame, and self-loathing can be powerful emotions that, as you can imagine, may make people act in ways we might regret. A mental health professional can also help you work on your self-esteem levels so they no longer negatively impact your interpersonal connections, and so you can enjoy greater overall well-being.

Lacking social skills or different social norms

Another possible explanation for why people frequently perceive your behavior as mean or rude is a mismatch between how you’re behaving in social situations and how they expect people to behave. Some may benefit from strengthening their social skills in general, learning how to kindly interact with others and act in a considerate, thoughtful manner—which is possible with the right support. Learning appropriate body language skills, anger management control, and how to be a good listener often help individuals stop being mean unintentionally. Others may find that the family and/or culture in which they were raised do not align with where they live or who they associate with now. What one group of people considers to be rude may be common, expected, or even a sign of respect to others, and vice versa. Learning more about the norms of the culture you’re in now and/or discussing your culture of origin with those around you can help mitigate this clash. 

Why it can be important to address unkind behavior

As mentioned earlier, having healthy social connections is widely considered to be important for an individual’s health, well-being, and emotional state. If your behavior is isolating you from family, friends, colleagues, community people, or others, you may be at risk for experiencing loneliness and isolation—which research suggests can be linked to higher risks of health problems like heart disease, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, and even death. 

Another important reason to address this type of behavior, of course, is the effect it can have on those around you. Bullying and other unkind and/or antagonistic behaviors can have a variety of negative effects on the person experiencing them, from anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and a loss of confidence to physical symptoms like sleep disturbances and headaches. This type of behavior can also lead to hurt feelings, the end of relationships, and social isolation on the other person’s part as well. In other words, both parties can benefit from the person(s) engaging in unkind behavior learning to more appropriately manage it and making strides toward becoming a nicer person. 

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How a therapist can help

If you’re having trouble isolating the cause of your tendency toward unkind behaviors, negative feelings, or frequent bad moods, exploring the issue with the help of a trained, supportive, nonjudgmental therapist may be helpful. They can assist you in discovering and then addressing the source of the behavior. If it’s due to a mental health condition, they can provide you with helpful treatment options. If it’s due to issues with social skills, low self-esteem, past trauma, a lack of awareness, or another reason, they can also assist you in developing healthier ways to manage a negative emotion when it rises, like taking deep breaths or partaking in regular exercise. 

Regularly attending in-person sessions with a therapist is not feasible for everyone. Some people may have trouble locating a provider in their area, may have difficulties leaving the house or finding transportation, or may face financial barriers to care. In cases like these, online therapy can represent a viable alternative. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed provider with whom you can meet via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging from the comfort of your home or anywhere you have an internet connection. A review of studies on the topic suggests that there’s “no difference in effectiveness” between online and in-person therapy, and virtual options are often more affordable than traditional, in-office sessions. Whichever method you may choose, compassionate support is available for the challenges you may be facing. See below for client reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

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!"

Takeaway

If you’ve noticed or have been told that your behavior is frequently interpreted as mean, rude, or offensive by others, it’s an issue you may want to address since it can harm your relationships and the mental health of yourself and others. Uncovering the root cause of this behavior and addressing it—potentially with the support of a qualified therapist—may help you overcome or control these behaviors and become a better person. It may take time to find the root cause, but there are effective therapies for helping people stop being mean.

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