Why Do Some People Bring Out the Mean in Us?

The sentiment that "you can never go home again" seems completely false to me.

Especially in my early college years and early 20s, my friends and I all suffered a horrible regression any time we went back home. All the feelings and relationships that were in place during the time we last lived at home bubble to the surface. You might be 24, but the moment you stepped back into your mother's house, you acted like you were 17 again.

None of it was pleasant. Going back to the emotions and demeanor of a 16 or 17-year old felt awful. It always brought out the mean in me. Not "the worst in me," but the mean in me.

"Family always know how to push our buttons," my friend said to me the other day.

"Yeah," and replied, "And they don't know how to push any other buttons."

Thankfully, I don't regress nearly as much as I used to when I'm around my family now. It happens sometimes, but it's much easier to recognize and check back into place. When I was 20, it was impossible. It just happened, and I couldn't even see it until I had hindsight, like after a six-hour plane ride home.

It happens less with family now, but occasionally I have moments of hindsight with some of my friends when I realize two people had brought out the mean in each other.

Sometimes one friend instigates with another. Other times, a group dynamic will take shape to bring out the mean in every body. Boyfriend and I used to hit these moments in front of our friends when we were mean-spirited bickering, and we'd joke that we were like George and Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Then one day I realized that it rarely happened when we were alone. It was much more likely to happen when we were around certain people -- because they brought it out of us. How does this happen? And why?

Sometimes I think it's all part of a deep psychological power play. If you can get the other people in the room fighting and acting like jerks, you're clearly in control. Other times I think it's insecurity. Perhaps people who bring out the mean in others feel socially inferior, and so they level the playing field a bit by getting friends and family around them to come down a notch.

The keys to warding off people who bring out the mean in me are 1) awareness and 2) practice. And these two pieces necessarily have to work together. Boyfriend has helped me with the awareness part, and my family has certainly given me a lot of opportunities to practice, but there are still moments when someone manages to get me and bring out my mean.