Hateful Politicians. What’s Really Their Problem?

Politics has always been a dirty business When the only measure of success is re-election, it seems that some politicians are eager to put personal honor and ethics on the back burner and devote themselves to vicious insults and lies about their opponent. Still, many observers are perplexed when a male politician calls his female opponent a whore, belittles her husband and kids, and even makes veiled threats against her safety and welfare. These observers ask, “How could he stoop so low with personal attacks just to win an election? Why can’t he stick to issues?”

            Well, here’s a thought: Maybe our male politician doesn’t know how to be sensitive, respectful, and caring because those qualities were never a part of his upbringing. In fact, maybe the ability to show emotions like understanding, consideration, and kindness is threatening to our male politician because these are areas where he feels inadequate and inferior. Thus, to avoid those feelings, he must rely on cruel, malicious, and brutish behavior toward those competing against him.

            But, how would this meanness develop? Imagine a 3-year-old asking his mother for help, or smiling at her, or saying, “I love you, mommy.” Most moms would be thrilled at these types of social signals, and they would respond accordingly – providing help, or showering the boy with affection. But what if mom is cold, rejecting, emotionally abusive? What if she finds such affectionate signals from her son as threatening and unpleasant? What if she feels inadequate to receive and give love? What if she resents the child, and finds him an intrusion in her life?

            Whatever mom’s problem, her son will quickly learn that displays of affection do not result in support, but in rejection, disappointment, frustration, even anger. He learns that emotions like love and affection are to be avoided because they are not rewarded. Consequently, he does not learn how to give and receive love. He learns that whether he reaches out lovingly to mom, or shows anger toward her, or tries to avoid her, the result is the same: anger and rejection aimed at him.

            As this child matures, when someone reaches out to him for support, he doesn’t know how to react. So, the reach-out signal from someone becomes aversive to him, a threat that reminds him of his inadequacies in dealing with this sort of social signal. He decides that other people, especially those who want to interact in positive, constructive, peaceful ways, are to be mistrusted. For him, hostility, rejection, and chaos become the comfortable, secure zone in which he prefers to interact with others.

            Does this mean that all those politicians who lash out viciously against their opponents are harboring insecurities, inadequacies, and fear of civil, polite, and friendly social interactions? Not necessarily. But when their hostility is extreme, chronic, and predictable, such an analysis seems to fit. When someone seems compelled to become a bully, and use profanity, threats, and insults to the opponent and their family members, and when that behavior is extreme – almost obsessive – and intense, there’s a good chance the opponent has unknowingly tapped into unresolved conflicts harbored deep within the mind of the bully.

            One thing for certain, when it comes to your own efforts to cope with stressful social situations, you might do well to think about how you perceive social signals from others, and how they make you feel. Are you threatened by them? Do those signals make you feel inadequate? Do they produce feelings of mistrust? Do you wish you could be more effective in reacting to them? How do those signals differ from those that do make you feel warm, lovable, and needed? Considering those questions and attempting to answer them honestly will not only help you deal with the stress of a particular situation, but will also assist you in finding humility, empathy for others, and reaching a higher level of self-understanding.

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