Why are they so mean? — Barb Cook

The words, “Why are they so mean?” has constantly rolled around in my mind, haunting me on and off for a lifetime. A recent encounter, hearing that very same statement from a young soul, tugged at my very core. Why indeed are people at times so mean? Why do they hurt us without a moment’s thought for the consequence that befalls another? How can they laugh and smile while you are fighting back the tears at being shunned, called names or made to feel inferior, less than? It never really made any sense, nor could I find the answers, at those times, as to why.

It is something I have experienced throughout my lifetime, even though I have tried my hardest to be a friend, to understand, to fit in. But it never seems to be suffice, well not to some anyway.

The hidden social cues, rules of engagement that plague us become a nightmare as we grow from innocent, self-contented young children into adolescents figuring out the dynamics of what others have in mind. It often seems to kick in, these changes, as we head onto the later years of primary school and moving to those years of living in purgatory, as we commonly call high school.

Is it hormones that suddenly take charge, scrambling their minds to become soulless like in those zombie movies? No I don’t think so, but the hormones do have their place in this. Is it because they roam around in packs, like hungry animals waiting to take their prey? It may feel like it, but no I don’t believe so. So I have to ask myself, what makes people seem so mean, unfair, horrible, awful, taunting, bullying?

Being on the autism spectrum, we tend not to see the whole picture to situations until quite sometime later, for me probably a good 30 years later… it really does take me that long sometimes to question why, to look at the past painful experiences and to consider why people respond and react the way they do.

Recently, I spoke at a conference on independent living, a snapshot into my rollercoaster life. In this very talk I state those very same words, “Why are they so mean?” But I could never answer it, even in this talk. It still cuts raw now, 30 plus years later, but I’ve finally decided to face it. When you hear those words from an empathetic, caring young soul, it cuts just as deep. The wound resurfaces as if those very words were spoken, cutting like a knife into the very core of your being. I couldn’t brush this away any longer.

Where do I start, how do I unravel why people behave the way they do? To do this, I have to put myself in another person’s shoes for a while, take into consideration what is happening in their life to prompt such hurtful behaviours. This isn’t something we do naturally or instinctively.

Take a step back to hormones. Puberty. That can be a downright difficult phase in our life to contend with. So many changes are happening and no wonder we feel like we are losing our mind. This could be a factor behind why some people snap at us for no reason. They may be in pain; I certainly remember periods for me were incredibly painful and made it impossible to function sometimes. The last thing you feel like doing is being all sparkly and bouncing around like a pogo stick. This could be a solid basis for some of the sharp retorts, but doesn’t necessarily explain why it happens in groups.

A congregation of girls or teens can be a recipe for creating isolation to others. If you don’t fit the expectations of the group, follow their subtle cues and nuances, but decide to be your own delightful being, this never seems to get accepted as it should. Being individual, being true to yourself and being independent in thought never seem to get appreciated by the groups.

There will be the popular one that usually coordinates the dynamics of how the group will follow. Yes there is a leader and the others who follow to be recognised for being with the popular one. But break this group apart and you see a whole different set of dynamics. What if the strong lead, popular girl of the group has incredible pressures from home to be the top girl, to be the best no matter the cost? What if one of the girls who is following has no direction at home, comes from a home of abuse, parents who are not there for them, no guidance or support from the family that should be there nourishing their lives with positive outlooks? Putting these girls together in a group can explain to a degree the behaviours and the unpleasantness they bestow on others. They are feeling desperate for power and some sort of control in their lives.

But that doesn’t help those of us on the receiving end. The ones who get hurt so badly they often wonder why and question their existence? How do we stop ourselves being the target, to step back and question why? To be honest, I think it takes a huge amount of insight and strength to question this and to confront this. As many of us are over-thinkers I think we need to channel this overthinking into why they are behaving this way. Write out thoughts as to how we see them behave to others. You know we are the ultimate watchers, the young psychologist in the making, constantly working out the world and how to behave ourselves, so why not switch it over to understanding why they are “so mean”. When you dig deep enough, there usually is a root cause.

I think if we can get each person who has wronged us, hurt us, excluded us and take them aside, one on one, I think you will find a different answer. But that doesn’t mean you take hold of them and boldly ask them if they are having their period and is that the reason they are behaving like a bitch… no, you won’t get a good reaction from that one!

But be sincere; ask them if they are ok. When people are away from the influence of others we can often see another side, a side of pain, a side of being lost and looking for a place in the world, just like we are. We are all put under so many expectations in life and I feel if we take this step out of a situation we can find a way to change, even if it is in such a very small way, it is a way forward. Being kind is never a bad thing, being yourself, being true to you is something you should never let go of. Hang onto who you are, don’t change, but if you do, make it a positive one. Give others the lead on how life should be and hold onto the compassion and empathy we all have and feel so deeply. It is our true empathetic selves that will shine brightest in the end.

About Barb Cook

Barb is Founder and Editor in Chief of Spectrum Women Magazine, is a highly committed Autism/Asperger advocate, writer, speaker, keen motorcyclist and web/graphics guru.

Barb has made numerous appearances on Australian television and radio, in national newspapers and magazines, a documentary The Chameleons: Women with Autism, Co-Founder/Director of the Australian Autism Aspergers Network Inc., Founder/Director of Bikers for Autism Australia, Community Council Member of AASET and Australian Ambassador of the International Aspergirl Society. Read more about Barb Cook here.

Barb currently rides a Suzuki DL 1000 V-Strom and loves to ride on the bitumen and the dirt.

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