I am angered and disgusted with myself for being so contemptuous
April 8, 2013 9:13 AM   Subscribe

How can I stop feeling so much disgust and disdain for everyone?

Short anecdote: "Contempt" was one of those words that I encountered regularly ("contempt of court"), but for which I never really knew the meaning ("lest" is another one). Anyway, I finally decided to look up the definition, and when I flipped open the dictionary to the word, I saw a picture of me, scowling like I always do.

And something clicked - contempt is how I feel about almost everyone!
A lot of people around me have a personal quality that just angers and disgusts me:
- This person is wasting his life
- That person is so superficial
- This person is so fighty
- That person is a BS'er
- This person has a nice life yet complains incessantly
- That person has no respect for others' points of view
- This person is a racist/sexist douche
- That person didn't offer his seat to that pregnant lady on the bus
- This person is taking up 2 seats on the train
- That person isn't working hard enough
- This person sleeps too much
- That person spends too much time texting/Facebooking/tweeting
- That person doesn't work but has a cleaning lady

None of these people are my friends, per se - they're people I encounter either through family, work or my wife (i.e. her friends' spouses); some of them are strangers that I see. And none of these people have done anything to me personally. In fact, most of the time, they're not doing anything to anyone. They're just not living life like I want them to.

The funny/sad thing is that I've never been happier in my life - when I'm alone. I find the joy in the little things, and am sincerely grateful for each waking moment and opportunity presented to me. Irony, maybe? is this irony?

I actually have no friends - And maybe this is how I'm reacting to having no friends - becoming hateful, sullen and disgusted with everyone - to quote Homer Simpson: "This is everybody's fault but mine".

Or maybe I'm mad that no one sees life the way I see it and I have that horrible they-need-to-think-like-I-think-or-else-they're-stupid attitude.

I go over my feelings constantly, and logically try to parse things and explain to myself that we're all different with different experiences and reactions, and unless someone's doing something bad to someone else, it's really none of my business. And I really believe in Humanist ideals, on an intellectual and theoretical level.

But my instincts can't escape that disdain and hate I have for these people. It's at the point where I just don't talk anymore about anyone because I'm a big believer in the adage "if you got nothing good to say, don't say anything".

Make it stop!!!
posted by bitteroldman to Human Relations (45 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Usually, disdain is a mirror of how you feel about yourself. I would recommend the standard MF advice of therapy, stat. This is a classic case of self-loathing that needs to be addressed.

In the mean time, try finding one thing that is positive about each person you meet. Change the narrative.
posted by Leezie at 9:17 AM on April 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

I go over my feelings constantly, and logically try to parse things and explain to myself that we're all different with different experiences and reactions, and unless someone's doing something bad to someone else, it's really none of my business. And I really believe in Humanist ideals, on an intellectual and theoretical level.

Emotions are not intellectual, or logical. You feel what you feel, and this is not how you can change it.

Therapy can help change this mindset. What you're describing sounds like self-loathing turned both inward and outward.

Or maybe I'm mad that no one sees life the way I see it and I have that horrible they-need-to-think-like-I-think-or-else-they're-stupid attitude.

Another way to phrase this might be that you have trouble communicating with people, and it's frustrating to try to explain the steps in your thought process. (This is a problem I have)
posted by RainyJay at 9:19 AM on April 8, 2013

Therapy. Therapy. Therapy.
posted by eenagy at 9:19 AM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I know this may seem counterintuitive, but I went through a period of life where I felt this way a lot, and eventually got treated for depression. Doing something about that (in my case, medication, but it doesn't have to be medication) affected not only my feelings about myself but also my feelings about others, and I have felt so much less angry and disgusted in the last year. Feelings of intense and seemingly irrational disgust and hatred can be linked to depression, even if you don't feel "sad."

Consider talking to your doctor and/or a therapist.
posted by marginaliana at 9:20 AM on April 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

There are some emotional responses that we can't rationalize away, as the are rooted in thought patterns we may not even be aware of. It might be the case here, too. I've found counseling can be effective for figuring some of these things out. I don't say that to be dismissive, but to say that when you evaluate yourself and still come up short, it's okay to involve others (who aren't one step removed on the internet... just too many variables to probably be super effective.)
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:20 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with Leezie. Widespread contempt for others likely reflects your dissatisfaction with your own life.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:21 AM on April 8, 2013

I am a lot more judgmental about other people when I'm experiencing significant personal anxiety or stress which is usually totally unrelated to other people. I find myself driving my car just sort of silently cursing out other drivers. It's no way to live. It's good that you notice that this is somewhat irrational and that it's probably not in the long run useful to you. The good news is, if you're generally okay on your own and somewhat intelligent, it's the sort of thing that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and/or mindfulness therapy is good at helping you deal with. So for me I'd have a bad interaction with someone/something and it would really cloud my mood and leave me less able to deal with the next interaction. This became a frustrating spiral where I would stay away from people because interacting with them sucked! And then I'd wonder why I wasn't hanging out with more people because I liked people in general, just didn't seem to in specific. So lowering my stress level along with trying to more usefully process my own emotions, helped me a lot.

Anyhow, this is a common problem especially with thinky people and therapy (or even self therapy like the Feeling Good Handbook) can help you get a handle on this if it's something you'd like to change. Even having a friend that you can sort of dish on other stupid people with (if that's your thing) is a healthier way to go through life than just being totally isolated and angry. Best of luck.
posted by jessamyn at 9:24 AM on April 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

Echoing therapy but a tactic I have used when I start feeling contemptuous is to remember the notion that I have no idea about what is going on with a person - every minute of their inner life may be a struggle or painful and they may have stresses that are invisibe to me. This won't necessarily excuse their behavior but it helps me be a little more forgiving in my mind.

For example, Incompetent Coworker - she may have not known that she bit off more than she can chew when she got this promotion. Maybe every day is full of dread because she knows she is awful at her job. But she has a mom and kids to support, so she's not going to quit; she can't afford to.
posted by pointystick at 9:41 AM on April 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

The first thing I think about someone who's very judgemental and contemptuous is that they must be very sad inside.

My boss comes across like this and I think she must be one of the most disappointed people in the world.

For sure, you might want to explore this in therapy.

Some things you can do, to counteract that negative voice in your head, is to immediately think of something positive about that person:

"That Person is Wasting his Life, but he's really funny and he seems happy."

"That Person is so Superficial, but she's really interesting when you have a one-on-one conversation."

"That Person sleeps too much, but he gets a lot done in his waking hours."

Even if it's not true, think of something positive to say to every negative impulse. The Cognative Dissonance may help you break out of the negative space and into a lighter, happier, more laid-back place.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:42 AM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've found that people like this are really justifying to themselves why they are alone. Not having any friends stings, so it's that sort of childhood reflex. "Oh, I didn't want to play with them anyway," but translated to adulthood. "All these sad, pathetic people are wasting their lives, so it's not only okay that I'm not friends with them, I am CHOOSING not to be friends with them because I'm so much better than they are."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:46 AM on April 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

I actually have no friends - And maybe this is how I'm reacting to having no friends

I think you may have the causal order around - You feel this way, therefore people can perceive your disdain and contempt and don't want to be friends with you.

For me this is a kind of "keep your own back doorstep clean," "people who live in glass houses shall not throw stones" sort of thing - I know I am SO not perfect. Who am I to judge or be hard on anyone else? There are so many ways in which I am flawed, and I want others to be tolerant of those flaws and to love and accept me anyway. So it's on me to love and accept others.

Almost everyone out there is trying hard to be the best they can. Mostly we are all failing. Cut everyone (and yourself) a break.

As the late great Roger Ebert wrote:

“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”
posted by amaire at 9:46 AM on April 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

Reading fiction has been shown to increase empathy, although I do not know which kind of empathy.

Getting off the internet/mefi/twitter snarkfest is a must.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:54 AM on April 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

I don't know if I'd recommend therapy, but how about just acknowledging that most everyone is a mix of both positives and negatives. You are focusing on just the negatives. Maybe keep in mind the phrase, "we all have our own crosses to bear."

I also agree with the young rope-rider above, about reading fiction. I just finished a Richard Russo novel and it is like going into a different, but real, world where you can see situations from so many perspectives. I can't explain it logically, but I do believe this kind of fiction could increase empathy.
posted by see_change at 10:27 AM on April 8, 2013

Usually when I start feeling this way, it's depression. Maybe see a therapist?
posted by bananafish at 10:29 AM on April 8, 2013

I can relate to your difficulty. Loving kindness (metta) meditation might be worth trying.

I like what pointystick said. Also, I've found it helpful to remind myself that my reaction is just an emotional reaction, and that the other person and I are just two similarly fallible humans.
posted by neutralmojo at 10:35 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Remind yourself that what you see when you look at another person isn't the full picture, and that you're applying your own rules to someone else.

You can only ever look into someone else's life from the outside, and when you do look in, you're peering through a little spyhole. Unless you have some kind of Big Brother thing going on, there's an awful lot of their life that you're missing. Someone might be sitting on a park bench for several different reasons, as an example. They might be waiting for someone, having a breather, watching the birds peck at some food, be waiting for their dog to come back with the ball, etc. All you know is that they're sat on the bench. You don't know why.

Also, any value judgements you apply to another person are based on what you think other people should or shouldn't be doing, which is no more relevant to them than what every other person on the planet thinks that you should be doing. People generally do things that benefit them in some way, even if you or I can't actually see what the benefit is.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will help you train yourself to think in more helpful ways. This list of cognitive distortions will help you get started.
posted by Solomon at 10:52 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had a related discussion with my niece the other day. She blurted out as we were driving home, "I hate slow drivers!". I explained to her that we just don't know what's going on with the slow driver ahead of us. Maybe she has a cake on her front seat that she doesn't want to ruin. Or maybe he's driving his grandma somewhere and it hurts her when she goes over bumps in the road.

I don't mean this to be patronizing at all, but this is how I deal with the little annoyances of life. I remember that the person who cut me off may be rushing to get to their injured son or if they're driving too slow, there might be a cake on the front seat.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:54 AM on April 8, 2013 [21 favorites]

I skimmed your previous posts and comments here, and what I saw was a lot of empathy for others. Is this contempt new? If you've had it all along, you're good at hiding it.

You might be in a mixed state -- when depressed thoughts combine with physical energy or drive. Depression can easily express itself as contempt and irritation; you don't have to be sad. For me depression has almost always caused irritation and withdrawal, not weepiness. Talk therapy alone didn't help me, but adding medication has made a big difference, though of course everyone is different.

I agree that metta meditation can be helpful. You could also try ideas from books about natural ways to treat depression, such as The Depression Cure, and see if they help.
posted by ceiba at 10:57 AM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Self-acceptance and acceptance of others go hand-in-hand. Are you critical of yourself? When you oversleep or forget to pay the light bill do you mentally call yourself an idiot or an asshole?

A bit idea in UU circles is "the inherent worth and dignity of every person." Sometimes it's hard, but it's something I work on recognizing this in others. "This checkout clerk seems to be really terrible at her job - but maybe she is worried about a family member's health, or a boy who didn't call."

Keep reminding yourself that everyone you meet has a whole backstory you know nothing about - poverty, privilege, abuse, love, failure, victories, illness, health, pain and joy.

Sometimes when I get caught up in criticism of others or myself it's also helpful to just say to myself "it's ok." I'm not here to be perfect and neither is anyone else.

You might read a little bit about perfectionism too, and see if that rings a bell for you.
posted by bunderful at 10:59 AM on April 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think the key detail in your situation is that you don't have friends. If you don't have an active IRL social life, it is hard to avoid seeing humanity in abstract terms, and it's very easy to judge faceless abstractions. I've had more than one encounter with an annoying driver and wishing death upon that worthless piece of shit, only to suddenly recognize them as someone I know (and like, and certainly don't wish death upon) and feeling extremely abashed. Without real social connections, everything becomes abstracted and detached from your reality, even your empathy and compassion.

All human relationships I think are a combination of parts you like/love about them, and parts you don't like about them, but forgive and tolerate because of your connection to them. If you lack that connection, then there's nothing to mitigate the parts you don't like.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 11:19 AM on April 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

Seriously, antidepressants and therapy. Neither works well without the other. Together, (and with a *good* CBT therapist), you can make that disdain and contempt vanish. And it feels great.
posted by colin_l at 11:40 AM on April 8, 2013

Go get the Movie "Pay it Forward". It's a complete tearjerker but I think it might offer a small way to change how you feel about your fellow passengers here on Planet Earth.

I once had an old boyfriend who's favorite expression was: "Everybody's pulling their little red wagon the best way they can." Try to remember that.
posted by AuntieRuth at 11:42 AM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

1. Don't say the judgemental disliking type stuff you think about people out loud.
2. Don't hang out with people who say that type of thing out loud either.
3. Make yourself vulnerable to people you would like to be friends with: admit to them things that you like, admit when you need help, admit when you need space.
4. Try to be kind to yourself.
posted by skrozidile at 11:59 AM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Finding flaws in others constantly is just one of many ways the human body distracts itself from loneliness. And it helps me to think of it as such, as opposed to thinking of it as just one more thing I'm failing at.
posted by TheRedArmy at 12:00 PM on April 8, 2013

Thanks for your insights, everyone.

The funny thing is that I'm actually more empathetic and sympathetic towards people I don't know rather than people I do.
So a slow driver? Grumpy nurse? No problem. But someone I know well? Well, they can go to hell! They're a waste of oxygen!

I think for me it's accepting someone for their flaws which is hard. Logically, sure I can rationalize all that I want, but really, truly accepting them? How do you change how you feel?

Medication and therapy? Sure, I'm open to it, but the last few times I saw a therapist, they weren't convinced I needed it, let alone depressed - probably because I typically have a pleasant demeanor around people I don't know.

Besides, I don't feel depressed; not angry either; just disappointed and defeated. I'm not trying to argue or give excuses - it's just that, if you don't know what to fix, how do you go about fixing it?

I like the reading material suggestions and the Metta medication. I'll look into those as well.

Thanks again!
posted by bitteroldman at 12:41 PM on April 8, 2013

Most people judge other people with the same voice that they use to judge themselves. People who are kind and gentle with themselves are usually kind and gentle with other people as the default modus operandi.

In all those examples you mentioned, you are coming up with a label to characterize a person in broad strokes, instead of looking at individual behaviors that people do. In my mind, it's a very different thing to think, "That was a superficial thing to say" ('that' referring to a comment in this case) and, "That is a superficial person" ('that' being a person you just wrote off completely.)

There's a kind of meditation called loving-kindness meditation (or Metta, which incidentally is the kind of meditation that Ron Artest AKA Metta World Peace re-named himself after). You choose various targets to receive the meditation and concentrate on sincerely wishing "Let ___ be happy. Let ____ be at ease. Let ___ be free from suffering." If you can get past the hippie aspect of it, there's a lot to it. The first recipient of the loving-kindness thoughts is always yourself - "Let me be happy." Then you move to different people (someone close to you who you love a lot, a neighbor, someone who has been annoying to you or someone who has done you serious wrong.) A lot of people actually struggle with the very first part of it (wishing themselves kindness). But being kind to yourself is sort of a pre-requisite to being kind to everyone else or so the theory goes.
posted by mermily at 12:45 PM on April 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Medication and therapy? Sure, I'm open to it, but the last few times I saw a therapist, they weren't convinced I needed it, let alone depressed

Sounds like they weren't the therapist you were looking for. I would advise to try to find someone that is willing to work with you than to dismiss you like that.
posted by xtine at 1:21 PM on April 8, 2013

I think that a lot of the contemptuous feelings I had for other people came from a need to feel better about myself. I would think, "That person is lazy [and I'm industrious]." "That person has bad grammar [and I have good grammar]." "That person is rude [and I have good manners]."

The problem was that I would turn that judgmental, contemptuous voice right around on myself whenever I fell short of my ideals. So, really, though that pattern of thought was giving me little hits of satisfaction through feeling superior to others, overall, it was making me hate myself.

There's a Buddhist technique for cultivating compassion where you work your way up to feeling compassion for all other beings. But you start with yourself, because its supposedly easiest. When I tried it, I found that, actually, I was so disinclined to be compassionate with myself that I couldn't start there. I had to start somewhere else. Only by cultivating compassion for others I was able to cultivate compassion for myself.

The biggest thing I've tried to do is to refrain from assuming the worst about people, and to exercise my capacity to consider a person's life as a whole, rather than condemning their behavior in a specific moment or a specific situation.

AskMe is a great place to learn compassion because people can be very raw and unfiltered here, and this gives you insight into the struggles of other people that are usually hidden from us. Also, the perspectives shared by other posters can point out the lazy assumptions in your thinking and turn a situation on its head. How many times have you been gobsmacked by an AskMe answer that made you think, "My gosh, that explanation or course of action never occurred to me!" Look at the responses by the most compassionate posters and apply their questions and patterns of thought in your life.

I'd also recommend spending more time getting to know people by asking them questions about themselves. If you feel like someone is wasting their life, for example, start talking to them about their hopes and dreams, gently, and often, so you can get past the surface facade to their real feelings. What's holding them back? It's probably not laziness; it's fear, or a complicating factor you were unaware of, or the fact that they lack a vital skill or piece of knowledge. If you feel like someone is superficial, then investigate a little when they seem to be expressing superficial values, by saying, "Oh? Why do you prefer X over Y? What do you look for when you're choosing a new Z?" Maybe they aren't superficial, they're discerning. Or maybe they put up a front of superficiality because that's what they think everyone expects of them.

Also: meditation, therapy. So cliche, because they are so helpful.
posted by BrashTech at 1:28 PM on April 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

Reading the chapters on Judgement and Compassion in this book really helped me to be less judgemental: Self-Esteem.

Don't brush it off because you think you don't need to read a book about self-esteem. I don't remember anything else I got out of that book, but those two chapters really did me some good.

One of the main points being that everybody is just trying to be happy the best way they know how; nobody gets it perfect, and unfortunately lots of people are doing it very badly because they don't know how or don't have the ability to pursue happiness in a better way. If you were them, having their genes and their upbringing, intelligence, experiences, health, etc. you would be doing pretty much exactly what they are doing. Try to remember that the ability to direct your behavior in healthy ways is a gift (or luck, if you prefer) and not everyone has been as fortunate as you.

These are some things I try to keep in mind when I think about people who bug me, or find myself irritated or judgemental about people I encounter in daily life. I don't always succeed but I can usually talk myself out of thinking nasty things when I catch myself doing it.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:30 PM on April 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I remind myself that my feelings about other people are imaginary, so all this stuff going through my head completely mine and has nothing to do with the person I am having all of these negative feelings about. Even recalling an event is imaginary, so judging your memory is just judging your own imagination. Also, think of the utility of these negative thoughts: they don't help anyone, so why bother? You don't have to think positive thoughts either, just think thoughts that give you a peaceful, easy feeling.
posted by waving at 1:32 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Medication and therapy? Sure, I'm open to it, but the last few times I saw a therapist, they weren't convinced I needed it, let alone depressed - probably because I typically have a pleasant demeanor around people I don't know.

Besides, I don't feel depressed; not angry either; just disappointed and defeated. I'm not trying to argue or give excuses - it's just that, if you don't know what to fix, how do you go about fixing it?

I think therapy is still something you should consider again. You are unhappy about how you judge other people. You want to fix the behavior. Therapy - with the right person - can be of great help to you here. They can help you get the root of why you care so much about what these people do to mentally castigate them.

I've had these same feelings and usually the question that helps the most is to look inward at what is missing/wrong/screwed up in my life that I feel the need to avoid thinking about it by focusing on the perceived bad behavior of others.
posted by Leezie at 2:08 PM on April 8, 2013

I used to be like this. What helped me was getting my ass kicked by depression. It was much easier for me to accept other people's failings when the evidence of my own failure was so large.

If you're like me, you probably say these kinds of things to yourself, in your own head. Therapy can help you learn to temper those high standards for yourself, and then it gets easier to do that for other people. The other thing I have found helpful is mindfulness meditation. It helped me to take a class; reading books about it didn't help me understand how to practice it. If you are interested, try googling "mindfulness based stress reduction" + [your town/city/area]. Essentially I learned that all that stuff I was thinking was just thoughts, and thoughts are not facts. Meditation gave me some emotional distance from the thoughts and feelings and allowed me to get insight into my habitual thoughts.
posted by tuesdayschild at 5:03 PM on April 8, 2013

The funny thing is that I'm actually more empathetic and sympathetic towards people I don't know rather than people I do.

I'm going to give you completely opposite advice than an earlier poster. The reason for my advice is because I am prone to this exact thing. Stranger on the bus yelling at me? No big deal. Close friend or family member won't do me a favour? What an asshole.

I've found that, aside from/as well as depression and mindfulness stuff (which I fully agree you should look into), what seriously, seriously fucks up my ability to cope with and relate to and love other people is reading too much fiction, watching too many movies or tv shows, listening to too many songs with lyrics, reading the news, and being exposed to too many ads.

If you watch a lot of movies or tv shows or read a lot of fiction or listen to a lot of music with lyrics, stop. Stop altogether for a bit. Then, only nonfiction and relatively neutral instrumental music for a while. No news, NO ADS, and no television shows.

Because if you're anything like me, you're super susceptible to this stuff. I'm susceptible in these ways:

Fiction: I get wrapped up in the idea that this is how people are.

People in fiction are likable or relatable or fascinating in some way. Otherwise, you as a reader wouldn't stay engaged. But you have a huge amount of control over characters. You can skip things that they say and you don't like. You can only read books with characters that act in ways you'll want them to act. They're interesting or appealing. You can loose yourself in them and live through them.

You can have full access to their thoughts and feelings and history and the reasons for everything that they do, without any vulnerability of your own. If you don't like how the author has described them you can imagine them differently. You can hide from your life in theirs. They're safe.

I have found that this is terrible for my well being. It totally stunts my ability to interact and empathize with real, gross, annoying, ugly, boring, stupid human beings. Real life isn't edited for pace. Real speech isn't carefully crafted. Real people don't have a "hook" to keep you engaged. Real people don't do or say the right thing at the right time to keep the story moving along appropriately to its conclusion. Real life doesn't even have a conclusion. Real life doesn't let you re-read until you understand.

With strangers, it's easy to be ok with their shittiness. I never have to see them again- they will never affect me again. They are like people in a book. I can make up a story about them and their motivations and then I've got it under control- it's like they're not even real. But people in my life? I can't do that. I have to deal with them as they really are in the moment. And I loose my ability to do so if I spend too much time hiding out in the easy world of fiction. I'll try to create a motivation and a narrative for them out of my limited imagination, and it's not usually very satisfying, nor accurate.

News: They make their living convincing you that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and it's full of evil. This is not a helpful perspective to be carrying around, at least not for me. The news media seems to glory- to revel in the nasty shit that happens, and to deliberately try to manipulate reactions- unhappy reactions- out of people, who then reproduce those attitudes. Also not so great for the perspective.

Ads: You don't realize how bad ads make you feel about yourself, your life, your accomplishments, your family, your friends and everything else until you first have a break from them, and then are re-exposed. They are fucking poison for your heart. Block them out as much as you can.

TV and movies: Similar to books, but with the added bonus of espousing cultural "values" that aren't actually healthy to building and maintaining close relationships amongst people.

People in movies act badly and treat each other badly, and when they do act well, it's either an absurd grand gesture or preparation for bad shit to happen to them. They're a bad example, basically, even a lot of "family" movies.

How many movies do you see where some friends or family members have a long, sincere, and open conversation and become more closely intimate with each other, without some crazy/selfish/awful drama? Very few, because that's not what sells. Poison, that shit is poison. Like it or not, what we watch affects us and if we're not watching people interact in a loving and empathetic way, how can we learn it? Especially if we don't have a lot of interactions ourselves?

Music: Similar to tv and movies. A lot of music is about people being sad, being depressed, being angry, being lovelorn, being whiny, being horny, being selfish, being obnoxious, being unhealthy, being rich, being better than everyone else, or the singer being an artificial source of love for the consumer. Instrumental music has a lot less of these pitfalls.

Instead of reading a book or watching a movie or whatever, call someone that you know and talk to them for ten or fifteen minutes. When you feel judgmental towards them- you will!- don't make up a narrative about why they might act the way they do. Talk to them about it!

Ask them why they do the things they do and actually listen to the answers! If they try to guide the topic in a boring or uncomfortable direction, go along with it. Make the goal of the conversation to understand why they want it to go there. Why are they interested in that? Why do they want to talk about it? Who are they, really?

Don't keep it to surface interactions, don't feel like you have to be polite and superficial. Be sincere. Say things that you actually think (just say them nicely)! You will never be able to empathize with people if you don't understand them and you can't understand them from inside your own head. Go be around people. It's the only way to learn how to be around people. And make it your goal to figure out why they are worthwhile. And if you come to the conclusion that they really are not worth your time or they are harmful for you, cut them out of your life and find other people. Start small and make it a goal to get yourself one friend. Then expand out and put together a social network for yourself of people that are really valuable to you. If you're socially awkward or anxious, the website succeedsocially.com is super awesomely helpful for getting yourself started.

The other thing is that you gotta take care of yourself. When my house and my finances are a mess and I'm really busy and I haven't been taking my depression meds or praying or eating properly or getting enough sleep, I hate everybody and I wind up spiraling downwards. You have to fill up your well if you want water to give away. Everyone uses different specifics to take care of themselves but the generalities are that you need to look after your mind, body, soul and environment. Do it your own way, but do it. Love yourself.
posted by windykites at 5:11 PM on April 8, 2013 [16 favorites]

When you go to a therapist, sit down and say: "I realized recently that I feel contempt for just about everyone around me, and I don't like this. Please help me figure this out and change the way I think about people."

And, boom, no matter what your demeanor, your therapist will immediately know what sort of help you need/want.
posted by meese at 5:48 PM on April 8, 2013

I tell myself that annoying person has a family or friends who love them. And if they don't, well, perhaps pity is a more suitable emotion than contempt. I figure we're all taking turns at being assholes at least once a day, if not more, and since I'm an okay person in spite of being stupid/confused/inconsiderate on occasion, these people must be too. I try to think of other people's actions as something more like the weather and less like a statement on the condition of humanity, and what kind of petty narcissist would I have to be to get boiling mad at the universe for giving me a rainstorm when I wanted a sunny day? I remind myself the "neutral" state of humans, given our physical limits, is one of terrible imperfection, not perfection, and certainly not my particular fantasy of perfection. It's amazing any of us accomplishes anything gracefully, really.

And I try not to run late. Running late makes me approximately 1000 times as irritable about literally everything and "on the way there" is when I encounter the largest number of other people to serve as targets for my misplaced blame.
posted by zizania at 5:56 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a symptom of something else, not the root problem here, as everyone else has pointed out.

One thing I notice is that many of your contemptuous statements are about laziness. Where'd this focus on work and productive use of time vs. non-productive uses of time and laziness come from? Was one of your parents very judgmental about this, or very lazy? Did you have to work harder than all the other kids for some reason? Are you just exhausted by how much you're having to work right now?

An interesting expeiment would be to try to become more lazy. See what thoughts arise. Maybe you'll feel really anxious, which would suggest this is a childhood thing. Maybe you'll just feel like you're finally getting the rest you need. Start praising yourself whenever you honor your own need for rest and leisure. Google up that research on the value of play that was posted on the blue a few years back. Make friends with your own laziness and see if others' stops disgusting you.
posted by salvia at 6:28 PM on April 8, 2013

I may be looking at this wrong, but it seems a huge part of the mind state is assuming you are right about things. That’s rarely true for anyone. You may be right about something, but only for that particular instance, and for you, and your point of view. Other people have a different "correct".

Or maybe I'm mad that no one sees life the way I see it and I have that horrible they-need-to-think-like-I-think-or-else-they're-stupid attitude.

That seems to be it. I don’t know what I’m doing, I sure don’t know what you should be doing.

- This person is a racist/sexist douche
- That person didn't offer his seat to that pregnant lady on the bus
- This person is taking up 2 seats on the train

There’s two different things here; your opinion that these people are wrong (which I share), and your anger over that fact. You can have an opinion without anger.

Everyone is doing it wrong.
posted by bongo_x at 6:33 PM on April 8, 2013

I'm quite a bit like you - no friends, contempt over the tiniest things that people do, loads of empathy and compassion for people I don't know, mostly OK with being alone but spending a lot of time confused about this issue.

In therapy I've come up with some theories: fear of emotional depth/commitment, inability to trust people and, most surprisingly, reactions to "abandonment" by close friends and my dad's death in my late teens/early 20s and the idea that I haven't really grieved(?) adequately. These things have caused me to sabotage most of the close relationships I've ever had.

Isolation and anxiety lead to depression and it turns into a vicious cycle. I'm still really anxious about making friends but slowly ramping up to try. Learning practical friend-making skills from my therapist as well as a lovely mix of antidepressants and mood stabilizers have improved these feelings for me 75-90%.

IMO, finding the right therapist is key. Maybe look for one who can help you learn how to transition acquaintances into friends. You'll probably have to dig into the issues that cause these feelings and it can be a painful journey, but arming yourself with how-to knowledge can go a long way.
posted by bendy at 7:05 PM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a practice that you might want to experiment with. It's helped me with my feelings of anger and contempt, and it's an easy, almost game-like activity. If I'm around people (strangers or people I know, it doesn't matter) and my mind is not otherwise occupied, I'll do the following:

(1) Pick someone to look at briefly.
(2) Briefly imagine what they are seeing and feeling at that moment.
(3) Wish them well. I actually say to myself "I wish you well." The depth of my feeling doesn't matter; I just send out the wish.
(4) Pick out someone else and repeat.

I've tried to figure out why this technique has been so effective for me, and I think there are several reasons. First, I don't have to actively like someone to wish them well. They may have bad judgment, poor taste, and so on, but I can still wish them well. Second, the very act of wishing someone well (even if it isn't a real deep feeling) seems to interfere with whatever brain circuits of mine create a reaction of contempt. Third, the practice made me curious about who I find it hard to wish well and who I find it easy to wish well. And when I looked at the people who are particularly difficult for me. . . well it had a lot more to do with me and my beliefs than about who they actually were. That allowed me to be more skeptical about my own preferences than I'd been in the past. Finally, there's something useful about the second step -- imagining the experienced world and feelings of the person I am watching -- that really helps me in this exercise.

I've actually added an advanced round for when I'm already feeling good:

Bonus Points: Look for someone who I usually find annoying. Follow the instructions above.

Anyway, I really do wish you well. If you experiment with this technique, let me know by memail how it turns out. It works for me, but I don't know if it works for anyone else.
posted by ferdydurke at 7:06 PM on April 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

Wow, so much advice! Thank you all!
I am really humbled knowing that you took the time to give me your words of wisdom, and I'm glad there are quite a few things that I can start to do right now.

After reading about Metta meditation here, I actually mentally well wished this lady who was blocking the sidewalk with her car this evening, and I instantly felt better.

Not to say that this was a quick fix - I acknowledge I have a long journey ahead, but it was an encouraging start.

I'll be going over all your words over the next couple of days with great interest.

Thanks again!
posted by bitteroldman at 7:54 PM on April 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

but don't be shy if you've got more to say! I'm all eyes and ears! ;)
posted by bitteroldman at 7:55 PM on April 8, 2013

You need to become secure in your own value. You need real self-confidence. You need to be confident in your worth as a human being, as a man, as a spouse, as a father, as a friend, as a fellow employee, and as a citizen of your community and your nation. You need to feel as if you would be missed if you died tonight.

That's the big goal. Routes to that goal are multifarious, but if you succeed it will probably be because you exercise and eat right to the point that you feel fit and not unattractive (and you do not die tonight), you do pleasant and creative things alone and with your partner and children, you join and participate in community organizations alone and with your partner and children, and you contribute some of your money (your long-distance work) to organizations that you are convinced do real good in the world.

Usually, this translates into things like regular exercise with others, changes in diet at home and on the go, regular family outings (not occasionally, but at least once or twice a week like clockwork), membership and real participation in religious or social organizations, school participation (as a parent, coach, chaperone, etc.), and donations to charities that do stuff you honestly believe in. Join the bowling league. Join the softball team. Participate in the neighborhood trash cleanup action. Send donations to a women's organization, a children's charity, and an animal charity. (Metta is cool, but doing is better. Prove to yourself that you really wish yourself and others well by doing and giving well.)
posted by pracowity at 2:42 AM on April 9, 2013

Read Salinger's Franny and Zooey

Maybe not a real solution but possibly helpful ;)
posted by Vidamond at 9:45 AM on April 9, 2013

David Foster Wallace's commencement speech at Kenyon College might be worth a listen.
posted by seemoreglass at 2:32 PM on April 11, 2013

I would just say you're not alone. I feel this way all the time. And I tend to be one of the most tolerant and accepting people I know. It's the straights--you know the execs in their gingham shirts, pressed jeans, and $500 shoes. Those guys. UGH.

I would say that, despite all the calls for therapy and to examine your own feelings of self-worth, just acknowledge that these feelings are NORMAL. Check out Twitter or Reddit. Everyone everywhere is just cracking at the seams to find something they don't like and tell people about it.

Everyone is doing it wrong.

Yeah, I mean that's it, innit? Everyone thinks she or he knows the right answers to everything: "if only they would listen to ME!"

I think that therapy is always usefull, especially if you have other symptoms of depression, but part of it, I think, it's just acknowledging that these feelings you have are normal for humans, and that they don't have to be accompanied by blood-boiling anger.

For me, writing helps. Sketch out nasty poems about all the people doing shit wrong.

reading the news, and being exposed to too many ads.

I would second this suggestion. It seems like Cable News sole purpose is to infuriate and enrage viewers. Ditching cable/satellite TV is a very smart decision, imo. If you have it, you will watch it.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:49 PM on April 12, 2013

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