I’ve had several conversations with people in the last few days who shared with me about their relationships with faux-friends, coworkers, bosses, and family members who are essentially just mean old people.
You can break mean people down into several categories (this list is not exhaustive by any count):
- Overly Critical: Overly critical people always rush to point out the flaws in products, productions, or plans. They don’t make constructive comments in love designed to build the other up; they instead make critical comments with the intentions of breaking others down. They often do so to demonstrate a false sense of superiority born out of some sort of deep-seeded inferiority complex. They are not encouraging or loving. Overly critical people leave people feeling broken, wasted, and used.
- Personally Insulting: Individuals who are personally insulting continually use character flaws as a means of putting others down. They find the traits that they can critique (often publicly) and do so to gain some sense of power or authority over the other. These people do so either in front of the person or behind their back. Beware of your friends, coworkers, and family members who insult others when they’re not around; when you’re not around you can rest assured that you’re a target as well.
- Perpetually Negative: People who are perpetually negative always seem to focus on the bad things in life, not just the personally negative (like the personally insulting) or about the negatives about products and plans (like the overly critical). Their lives seem to be lived focused on a negative world filled with negative news and negative characters. These are the people who can’t say anything nice about anybody. The glass is always half-empty and their days are always partly-cloudy. We like to call them downers, because they seemingly want to bring everyone down to live where they are.
The friends I’ve talked with are bright, hard-working, and capable. I know them personally. A few of them I’ve worked with before. As we talked I could sense the pain in their voice and the weight on their hearts. I can tell they’ve been hurt. I know that struggling with these mean people has really, really challenged them. I also know this: we all have to deal with mean people, and if we’re not careful, we’ll become one of them.
Here are a few guidelines when dealing with mean people:
- They got problems. People who are overly critical, personally insulting, and perpetually negative are doing so because they have some legitimate baggage they need handled. Their baggage isn’t yours; you can’t carry it for them. What’s happening is this: they are projecting their personal problems on you. You’re taking the brunt of the issues they haven’t dealt with. Until they get real and deal with their baggage, they’re probably going to continue the same pattern. Hurting people hurt people, and you just happen to be one of the people in their way.
- It’s not always them. Criticism isn’t bad by nature, and some of us can’t have someone say something helpful without us getting our feelings hurt. If that’s you: quit being a pansy. If your boss expects you to do a better job and you can do a better job, then suck it up and do a better job. If you can do a better job, but you just don’t know how to: tell your boss in humility and ask him for grace, guidance, coaching, and support. If you just can’t do a better job and better performance is required, then find another job. Criticism can be constructive when it’s delivered in love. Sometimes love hurts. It’s this kind of love that God uses to change our life. Change is never comfortable. Learn to be receptive to constructive criticism shared in love that will promote a righteous change in your life.
- Who exactly are you following and living for? Sometimes we get confused and think we’re serving our boss. We might get even get confused about who we’re living for. If you haven’t figured it out yet, then let me remind you: follow Jesus; He’s the only one worth living for. I had a famous preacher tell me something very important early on in my ministry: “Son, if you think you’re going to be better off by being close to me, you’ve missed it. I’m only going to disappoint you the closer you get. Get close to Jesus and follow Him. He won’t disappoint you.” Colossians 3:22 tells us who we’re supposed to work for. It tells us to do everything with “sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.” We’re supposed to be following and living for Jesus. Let HIS opinion hold priority. Let HIS perspective inform yours. Fear God (alone).
- Forgive. This is God’s plan for dealing with mean people. We know this because at some point we were all mean to God, and he chose to forgive in spite of the pain we caused Him. He chose to forgive us even when forgiveness was going to be costly. God chose to forgive and invited us into the same plan. If you’re dealing with an overly critical, personally insulting, or perpetually negative person … forgive them. They’re broken, but so are you in some way. As you forgive them, be reminded of how much grace cost and let this awareness cause you to love Jesus even more, since He forgave you.
A few thoughts if you feel like you might just be a mean person:
- Trust the people who’ve stuck around. Most likely God has placed people into your life that love you genuinely. They’ve stuck around as you’ve gotten mean. They’ve taken your shots. They’ve forgiven you and continued on in this relationship with you most likely out of a extremely selfless posture. Get honest with these real-friends. Ask them where you’ve failed. Ask them how you can do better. Ask them. Most likely they love you enough to be honest, if you let them, and their honesty will reframe your perspective of yourself … And, let’s just be honest here, if you’re a mean person … your self-image needs a bit of reframing.
- Repent. Ask God to forgive you and change the way you’re treating people (and Him). You likely need to repent publicly as well, since your meanness (sinfulness) hasn’t been solely between you and the Lord. You need to ask forgiveness for specifics and listen to the people you’ve hurt. You need to feel the weight of your sin. Thats part of repentance: actually facing sin & the consequences of your actions. Turn from the ways that led the brokenness and embrace God’s plan for your life.
- Embrace Humility. Lastly embrace humility. Mean people mostly likely live at the top of their own priority list. Its tough for them to serve people, love people, and lead people because they care more about themselves than they do others. Humility is a posture in our hearts that recognizes our place in this world. It recognizes our futile power in the light of God’s great power. It relies on God-promotion instead of self-promotion. Humility subtracts the self of life. You most likely need to eat some humble pie. It won’t taste good at first, but you’ll be better for it in the end.