Journal: Minding others

I’ve ummed and ahh’d about posting this one. I don’t want to sound needy or self-indulgent about it. But I did decide that every so often on here I want to post something that is a little more personal, journaling some of my thoughts and experiences outside of writing or doing stuff.

This one was originally entitled ‘Strangers can be really cruel’. The original text was too indulgent, but was also how I processed something unpleasant that recently got to me. I’ll recount the bare bones of the night, but I do have a point to it. Bear with me. Bear with me? Or bare with me?

[A brief Googling interlude]

Ah, okay: bear with me.

Last week I was out on the town with a friend. Armed with bellies full of beer (in my case) and wine (hers), we braved the oh so wild lands of Covent Garden and hit a late-night bar for some partying. More drinks were had, a wiggle was unleashed on the dance floor, and we sang along to our favourite tunes.

Later, electricity started to arc between my friend and a guy and, after some egging-on by their respective friends, they finally approached each other to dance. I backed up to give them space. All good so far: wing-manning like a pro.

Where things went a little wrong, sadly, was when I turned to chat to a woman nearby, one who I knew was there with a (presumed) boyfriend, as I recalled seeing them earlier. I wasn’t attempting to hit on her, I just wanted to chat while giving my friend some space. The boyfriend was off somewhere, presumably the bar, and she was waiting for him to return.

It turned out that she didn’t want to talk.

I understand that for women out on the town it can get tiresome to be regularly approached by men, having to frequently rebuff them. That’s fair enough, and they have my sympathies. But I also feel that in these strained and less socially-connected times (despite what social media would have us believe) it is good to chat to strangers and remind each other that it can be an enjoyable past-time.

She elected not to go for a polite rebuff, sadly, and was instead incredibly nasty; shockingly and unnervingly so, in fact. It was bad enough that I was left speechless, and for the rest of the night felt pretty miserable. She had very accurately hit several raw nerves and it thoroughly upset me.

By the time I got home it was 4am. I lay face down on my bed, feeling miserable and knowing that no one would be up to talk with. Just needing to hear a voice, I turned to the ever-present Alexa in my room.

“Why are people so mean?” I asked.

The response from Amazon’s voice assistant was actually pretty useful. It offered up the following answer:

“Here is what I found on reference.com. In the realm of psychology there are four primary reasons why a social creature such as a human exhibits unsociable or mean behaviour:

  • Positive distinction,
  • downward comparisons,
  • classical projection,
  • and ego threat.

When someone criticises or threatens another it’s almost always due to an internal insecurity, according to Psychology Today.”

The reference.com article is here, and the fuller Psychology Today piece is: Why Are People Mean? Part 1. You can see that Alexa pulled the opening lines from the reference.com piece.

You can try it yourself, but have to be particular about the wording. Just asking “Why are people mean?” seems to trigger a summary of what ‘people’ means. Adding in the ‘so’ gets the above response.

Although I was less than sober, I still found it particularly useful – even at that weary and bleary hour. They key part, for me, was that last section: ‘almost always due to an internal insecurity’.

I’ll not go into the details of the insults (plural), but the Alexa summary helped me process something I had been sticking on all night. I had simply approached someone out of chatty affability, and no matter how she took that, the person had been unnecessarily cruel in her reaction. Why was she so mean?

When I thought about what she had said I was able to see that, if she said those things to me, and in the light of the ‘internal insecurity’ element above, then perhaps she was worried about those things herself. And the reason it hurt me so much was that they are things that I worry about, too.

That changed my frame of mind, and really helped me turn the corner (and subsequently sleep really well that night). I got a little bit of insight on some of my own worries, and was able to put to bed the cruelty she had displayed by realising it wasn’t directed at me. It wouldn’t have mattered who had turned to her at all; she would have said the exact same thing to anyone, and wasn’t pointing out their own flaws.

I feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for her because some of the things that she said suggest she’s got a poor home life and a lot of stress on her shoulders. And the way she lashed out means that she probably is not processing those things very well.

We all have issues that we are working through. When we try to deal with it ourselves without talking to others, we don’t always do it in the right way, or even get to the bottom of the problems that are putting pressure us. It’s okay to talk to friends, and sometimes speaking out and saying that you are not okay will be the best thing you do to deepen a friendship with someone else.

Of course, just talking about things isn’t the only solution, but if you find people being mean to you, or that you are being mean to others, then perhaps it is worth wondering what is getting to you, and what you can do to help yourself.

And it is okay to ask for help. From friends, from family, from groups, and from professionals.

It’s okay.

NHS: 5 steps to mental wellbeing

Mind: How to support someone’s mental wellbeing

Student Minds – Resources: Looking after your mental wellbeing

Together: for mental wellbeing

Time to change: let’s end mental health discrimination


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