Why are we the meanest to the people who love us the most?

Earlier this year, I was having a conversation with a therapist about the raging guilt I feel following an argument with my significant other. 

I kept finding myself completely blowing up and speaking to him in a way I would never dream of speaking to a friend or a colleague. 

She told me that, although it is something to work on, that I shouldn’t worry too much. She said we always show our worst sides to the people we love the most, it’s simply human nature.

It’s almost paradoxical. It’s ridiculous to think that we would risk the relationships with the people we care about the most, despite tiptoeing around small, and even significant, annoyances with friends or acquaintances. 

But if you look closer at your own behaviour towards your most cherished loved ones, you’ll likely find that you do it too.

It could even be something as simple as being more willing to cancel on a date with your partner, or drinks with your best friend, while moving mountains to meet up with someone you barely know. 

So, why are we like this?

Why are we meaner to the people we’re closest to?

According to Sally Baker, senior therapist at Working on the Body, the real reason is that we feel safe showing our whole selves to the people who we’re confident love us the most.

‘We only behave badly with people who we are sure love us,’ Baker tells Metro.co.uk.

‘We feel that we have more licence to behave badly, because we absolutely understand and acknowledge that they will stick with us.’

Baker says this is seen most commonly in children and parents. If one parent is always present and another is absent, it’s likely that the child will likely be more badly behaved and even meaner to the more present parent.

‘We push the envelope with the people we trust,’ adds Baker.

While it can be difficult to understand, this isn’t necessarily a flaw in the human psyche, and could even be seen as a positive.

‘Allowing yourself and your partner the full spectrum of emotions means that you don’t get stuck in the lie of toxic positivity, where you only allow each other to express positive emotions, which is unhealthy,’ says Baker.

However, she stresses that nobody should be putting up with abusive behaviour, or any behaviour that is having a negative affect on your mental health or self-esteem. 

How to be kinder to the people you love

While it’s clearly natural to be angrier with our loved ones, or more prone to letting them down, it’s important to remember that there needs to be a balance – and if you want to keep the people you love in your life, you may need to pay closer attention to the way you’re treating them.

Break the habit

Often, Baker says, behaving this way to a romantic partner or loved one becomes a knee-jerk reaction, and it’s important to work on breaking that habit.

‘It takes around 21 days, psychologists have found, to break a habit,’ says Baker. 

‘Once you’ve noticed the pattern and you want to disrupt it, set yourself a goal to, for the next three weeks, every time you find yourself on the cusp of arguing with a partner or friend, take a moment to reset your emotions.’

Baker suggests leaving the room and taking a few deep breaths and really think about how you’re going to respond to the situation. 

Try to understand the root cause

For most people, emotional outbursts and other mean behaviours, like cancelling on plans at the last minute, are likely to come from a deeper issue. 

It could be dissatisfaction in the relationship, or even external factors like work and family problems.

‘You need to be the detective of your own psychology,’ says Baker.

‘Why are you frustrated? Why are you dissatisfied? Write your thoughts down on paper and try to understand the patterns.’

Journaling can be a great way to work out where your emotions are coming from: you might notice that your outbursts correlate with a certain stressor.

Baker adds that, once you’ve understood this, you should communicate it to your partner, so that they can begin to understand too.

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