One of the worst tools that dysfunctional individuals have in their kit is the art of belittling others. This is done in order to make the aggressor feel bigger, better while making the other person feel smaller and worse. Like any individual who uses a negative tactic in relating to others, belittlers started early in life, usually with a more helpless sibling, and with the support or negligence of at least one parent.
Belittlers at one point, discovered that they get something out of the act of downplaying another person’s positive attributes or accomplishments. They either got the satisfaction that they could get revenge for the “unfair” attention that someone else was getting, or they got satisfaction from making someone else suffer when other forms of bullying were not allowed. At least one parent used belittling as a tactic in their personal life.
The older sister who never seemed to excel at much, beside looking pretty, just had to discourage the younger sister from anything that gained too much attention or praise. The little one’s new toy had to be downgraded so that it would not be that appealing to the child. The older brother who never seemed to excel at much, beyond hard, plodding work, just had to discourage the younger brother from being such a know-it-all.
Over time, the sibling relationships prove to be vastly different from adult relationships, and the belittlers have to hide their dark sides, refine their tactics, or just find some other way to behave. Adult relationships involve people who bite back and fight back, and that’s all there is to it.
In hiding their dark sides, the chronic “Jekyll and Hyde” belittlers find friends, workplace subordinates, or their own children, who have no choice but to tolerate their abuse. They will show the most amazing capacity to knock that behavior off when they need to, though. Many who use belittling to bully others have a dual personality, ingratiating in public, vicious in private, that is based on who is present to stand up to them or to witness them at their worst.
In refining tactics, the gross abuse of childhood belittling can evolve into the two faced, gossipy backstabbing form of belittling. Or, subtle, passive aggressive tactics and comments can develop into works of art in their ability to hurt without being obviously hurtful: “Oh…my friend bought that suit last week..”, “Is that what you really like to have in your house?”
In finding other ways to behave, anything goes, because the chronic belittler is compelled to make someone else more miserable than they are, that is for sure. Rage filled tantrums aimed at the first available weaker person; failure to appear at events, then giving derogatory reasons for bailing out; or all forms of creating distracting and attention seeking drama may happen.
But mere attention or feeling better is not the ultimate goal of belittling. There is a zero sum game that is being played by belittling other individuals. When it comes to emotions, the aggressor is never happy unless they feel better AND their victim feels worse. When it comes to competition for attention, the belittler has to be liked AND the victim has to be disliked. Someone else has to lose something at the same time that the bully gains something.
And that is the pernicious and destructive nature of belittling: it is a zero sum game where no one wins.