Watching a video series this weekend I was reminded of a tragic condition that pops up every once in a while. Most of the time Nan & I are faced with good willed people that really do want to find peace in their relationship. These sessions are not necessarily easy, but usually they are redemptive in nature. But when we experience meanness from a client, our hope fades a bit, especially when the meanness is seen as normative or acceptable.
Then we do not have a simple behavioral issue, but rather a heart issue – or more specifically a deep brokenness or sin issue.
I would define meanness as the act of exacting revenge or punishing another person. It is often intentional, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes it flows from disordered thinking that cannot be brought under control. The person can’t imagine an alternative way to react to circumstances. Unrestrained blaming and anger and withholding are common tactics.
Mean people are often lonely people. Others will eventually steer clear of them and they become isolated and feel abandoned. Their attempts to connect will be met with resistance and it isn’t long before deep resentment sets in. It is truly a sad scenario.
What is it like to be in a relationship with a mean person? Hurtful. Wounding. Frustrating. Does this person really love me? Are they my friend? Do they like me? They seem so disappointed with me. How long should I put up with this?
Sometimes the root cause is depression or anxiety that has become an unwelcome companion – perhaps for years. For others the core issue is plain selfishness and sin. I want what I want and nobody is going to get in the way of my goals. I refuse to be spiritually surrendered to God, even when I know it is the right thing to do. Either you bend to my will and wants or there will be hell to pay.
What can you do if you are in a relationship with a mean person?
The Bible says to speak the truth in love. If it is safe to do so, lovingly, but firmly confronting the behavior is the first thing that needs to be done. With some people this works wonders. However, often this is not enough. It might take talk and drug therapy to draw the person from the destructive pattern. You may need to pull back from the relationship until the person becomes more self-controlled.
The good news is that God is in the heart changing business. He is also in the forgiveness business as well. When we are able to recognize and repent of the damage we have been inflicting on those around us, He is right there to catch us and restore us. And when we have been on the receiving end of mean people, He is also there to comfort us in our distress.