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I remember when I was in college. I was a very insecure person whose eccentric style of dress always ended up making me a target. The way people treated me in college taught me that anyone who tells you that bullying ends in high school was full of shit.
In particular, there was one pair of girls who made my life hell. They were awful to me, and made it a point to just make my life hell whenever they had the chance. Whether it was talking smack to me, alienating me from others, or even dragging my grades down, they just loved to torture me.
Eventually, I dropped out of school because I couldn’t take the bullying from all sides anymore. I realized that if I didn’t leave, I probably would have done something short-sighted just to prove a point. I mean, cyber bullying is killing people. What are people not getting about this?
For years, I always wondered what caused people to just pick on people. Why? Like, we aren’t doing anything wrong. If you’re like me, you probably wonder why people are jerks to you and others.
Having done some research into this, I’ve learned that it’s for a wide range of reasons. Surprisingly, it very rarely has anything to do with you.
The most common reason why people are jerks to you might be that it’s your own perception.
Believe it or not, most people don’t actively try to be jerks. In many cases, the kind of behavior that you’re seeing isn’t really intentional—especially when it comes to issues like trying to understand why people forget to invite you places or why people don’t answer you back immediately.
One should never attribute to malice what can be attributed to other issues. In many situations, people don’t actually realize that they are upsetting you. A good way to handle this is to be assertive and tell them when something’s bothering you.
Robert Sutton, who wrote The Asshole Survival Guide, did a significant number of studies into why people act the way they do—and how to manage living with people who "treat you like dirt."
His finding was that many people misjudge others' intentions. Before you accuse others of being a jerk, make sure you're not the jerk they're worried about.
Another common reason that people would act like jerks is because they felt you hurt them.
You’d be surprised at how much behavior can be chalked up to a person just being hurt by something that you did. Think about it this way: You forgot to invite someone out to a party. They feel offended. They decide to act cold towards you for a couple of days, just to show you they don’t approve.
Think back to the way that you behaved with someone. Did you hurt them? Could they be hurt? If so, try to apologize to see whether that would actually improve the situation. They may treat you like a jerk because they think you are one!
There’s also a chance that they see you as a threat.
True story: I was promiscuous in college. I eventually realized that much of the enmity I got as a college student dealt with the fact that people saw me as a threat. I blew a lot of grading curves. Guys wanted to sleep with me, and I was happy to oblige.
People who see you as a threat will often try to do preemptive strikes. It’s their way of establishing dominance and doing what they can to feel better about themselves. That being said, had I known this before, I would have stayed in school just to spite them.
They are insecure and need to push others down to feel better about themselves.
A lot of adults told me that this was the case when I was in middle school, and I didn't believe them. Looking back, I realized that this really was true in a bunch of situations.
When people feel super small and insignificant, they will turn to hurt others as a way to make themselves feel better. For example, if you're 19 and have a hairline like Robert Keaton, you will probably make fun of extra hairy people.
You can't always help the way you feel about yourself, but if you're a small person, you will use that as an excuse to lash out. It's their way of reinforcing the fact that they are in a better situation, or that they are stronger.
The person in question is just following a larger trend of bullying, simply because they don't want the negative attention turned to them.
If you have ever been in middle school, you may have seen this concept in action. A group of Mean Girl types are all bullying a person they decide is a proper victim. The victim then notices people who were once her friend joining in. Shocked, the former friends look guilty, but then double down on the cruelty.
This is one of the saddest reasons why people are jerks to you. In many cases, people will join in on bullying or even start bullying because they are insecure about the fact that someone might bully them if they don't do it. Pathetic, isn't it?
The person in question has very poor impulse control and is already angry about something.
Ever notice how some people seem to have hair-trigger tempers? People who have certain disorders that exacerbate bad tempers tend to take out their rage on others, even if they know they shouldn't (like the impulse control disorder trichotillomania, for example).
In these cases, it may not have anything to do with you. Rather, it's a display of a person's terrible ability to control themselves, and a sign that that person has had a bad day. That doesn't mean you have to try to be nice to them, but it does mean that you shouldn't take it personally.
They have a personality disorder.
Believe it or not, personality disorders can make people who otherwise would be sweet as pie into horrible jerks. The strange thing about personality disorders is that they tend to trigger people at points that are rather baffling to those without a disorder.
The most common "jerk-inducing" personality disorders include narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. That being said, almost any personality disorder spells trouble, and may be the reason why people are jerks to you.
Being too different from a person can trigger certain people into behaving aggressively.
From what I've personally seen in life, the easiest way to become a target for jerk behavior is to be different. Sad as it is to say, people instinctually react with hatred and aggression when they are around people who are different than them because they see you as a threat.
Humans are a heavily tribalistic species, and dressing or behaving differently yields a signal that you're not really one of their tribe. When you're not one of the crowd, people tend to react with suspicion—or worse, decide that you are a target.
It's xenophobia at its simplest form.
The person in question wants to control you.
Don't ask me why, but being a jerk and being a control freak tend to go hand in hand. People who treat you badly often do so as a way to lash out after you refuse to comply with their demands.
Ask yourself if the person in question seems to want to control you or force you to do something. Ask yourself, more importantly, if it would benefit them to control you.
Take a look at the gesture they're making. Then, ask if the way they're being a jerk seems to suggest that they're pulling a "power move" over you.
If the answer is yes, you now know one of the primary reasons why people are jerks to you in the situation you're in. If the answer is no, then you may want to try to understand other potential reasons that a person could lash out at you.
Or, you know, they're sadists.
Studies show that 1 out of every 25 people is a sociopath—and many of those are also sadistic. People who have no empathy and gain joy out of seeing others suffer are going to end up being jerks to people.
Moreover, sadists tend to be very adept at choosing victims and getting others to take part in the pain-dealing. Though this is one of the rarer reasons why people are jerks to you, sadists are real and they can inflict serious damage on your mental and physical wellbeing.
Like with most other jerks, the best way to deal with this is to avoid them at all costs, and cut off all contact with them immediately.