The Real Reasons People Are Cruel

The Real Reasons People Are Cruel

I used to keep abreast of the news, but I find that I no longer can. Why? Because the news is barraged with reports of things cruel people said, cruel people did or cruel new laws that were passed, and I’m finding it too distressing to follow closely.

Similarly, I’ve noticed in my personal life and as a Holistic Brain Health practitioner, cruelty seems to be on the rise.

I was thinking this as I discovered the latest issue of Psychology Today, where the featured article discussed the rise of toxic behavior. According to the global communications firm Weber Shandwick, a record number of Americans (69% ) believe that American has a civility problem.   It was 65% is 2010.

So what is causing the increase in cruelty?

According to the research by Weber Shandwick, most people blame politicians and social media.   As I wrote in my article Why We Lack Control Over Our Thoughts, our environment and what we are exposed to has a profound influence on what we think. If we have any tendency to be cruel, the cruelty we see regularly in the news, in our social media and entertainment gives us unconscious permission to do the same.   We are not immune from our environment. If we were, politicians and advertisers wouldn’t spend as much as they do trying to influence us.

That being said, we don’t all respond to watching cruelty in the same way.

Interestingly, in a study published in 2014, researchers showed that watching violence activates the brains differently in aggressive people than calm people. Aggressive people had reduced activity in the decision making part of their brain (the orbitofrontal cortex), and more activity in the emotional center of the brain (the amygdala).   They also showed a rise in blood pressure.

So if aggressive people respond differently to watching violence than calm people, what makes people unkind in the first place?

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Why Our Responses To Abuse Vary

Why Our Responses To Abuse Vary

You’ve seen it before.   A man makes a comment that can be interpreted as insensitive or abusive depending on the listener, and every so often you hear a woman that rails into him, to just let him know how inappropriate he was. Seeing this is often shocking to those of us who are used to quietly taking it, wondering what we’ve done to justify his abuse.

Our responses to abuse can vary tremendously depending many factors.

A healthy response is one where we have a clear sense of when we, or others are being inappropriate. We know what we are willing to tolerate, and we don’t allow others to treat us badly.   We can assert our right to be treated well without being abusive to those we feel are mistreating us.

An unhealthy response can take many forms.

Maybe we walk away and take it personally, and start to wonder if the abuser’s accusation are true.

Maybe we don’t anything to the abuser, and start asking ourselves, our friends or even God whether we had brought this abuse upon ourselves.

Maybe we lash out and become just as abusive towards the abuser.

Maybe we hold on to the belief that the abuser deliberately meant to hurt us, when the truth is far more complicated.

Maybe we refuse to see our role in the abuse.

With some people and some situations, we might respond well, whereas with others we may lose our cool.

So what are the factors that determine how we respond?

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