Three Ways to Deal With Spiteful Actions Against You

How do you deal with spiteful actions against you

It’s a stinging experience when your partner watches you squirm when they just happen to let you down, or when you’ve worked hard on something that then falls through. Or what about when you are struggling with a heavy load of shopping for the family, obviously need help, trip, sprain your ankle, while your partner refuses to acknowledge your situation – out of spite! It feels mean, heartless, and even childish!

What is spite?

Spite is a response to feeling wronged. Like when someone feels like they have lost something they believe they have earned, like a good name, acknowledgement of a  good deed, a marriage, or a share in a business. Then one way of righting the wrong is to use spite as a way of hurting back, and gloating in the process.

The fury of being wronged comes from a sense of entitlement that one ‘should’ and ‘ought to’ be assured of certain basic things. It’s difficult for that person to tolerate their lack of control over it. I remember a colleague who had felt humiliated when her boss made crude comments about her work in front of the entire department. That woman spent weeks if not months relishing every opportunity to avoid helping her boss even though it meant that she herself as a member of the team would ultimately lose out on business. She used spite to retaliate because the suffering it caused her boss was worth the suffering she may end up having to endure.



How to recognize someone who uses spiteful actions against you

  1. The most prominent characteristic of a person who uses spite as a tool of retaliation is a sense of righteousness. They believe they have the moral high ground and therefore have a right to judge. Just think about all the remarks you have heard from your spiteful partner that make you feel you are inferior just for being human. Then consider the stress you are under when you don’t know how to handle it.


  1. Secondly, someone who uses spiteful actions against you is likely to choose suffering and martyrdom as a way of justifying their righteousness. They can’t tolerate their own humanness because it makes them prone to thinking and doing what is unacceptable t them, like having the ‘base’ feeling of rage.  In turn they dehumanize you. That means you don’t have feelings that need consideration.


  1. Thirdly, someone who uses spiteful actions against you is probably very afraid of being “contaminated” by your humanness. If they let themselves be human and see you through a non-judgmental lens, then they are no better than you. That’s a slippery slope. So they harden their hearts. They become callous, and unemotional.
  1. Someone who uses spiteful actions against you switches off their emotions, so that they don’t have to feel guilty about their meanness. Instead they feel they are putting things back the way they ought to be, and it doesn’t matter what the cost to either of you. Spite differs from aggression, which can be exercised at little risk to an aggressor. Spite carries a cost, as if one were calculating that a loss is worthwhile if it takes a toll on one’s opponent as well.


  1. Research published in the Journal Psychological Assessment, 2014 reported that people who tend towards spite score high on traits of narcissism and Machiavellianism – self-serving but glazed with righteousness. They can have all the evil, hateful, destructive, punitive feelings but mask it with a passive aggressive stance.


  1. Someone who uses spiteful actions against you is very insecure. They can’t own the whole gamut of their feelings – ugly or good. So they give you the bad ones, and keep the good ones for themselves.

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Dealing with someone who uses spiteful actions against you

  • When you feel the sting of spite, try to see that the one using spite against you is more scared than you are. So throwing it back in their face and trying to make them eat it, is just going to reinforce their notions of you being unreasonable. So it’s better if you share how sad it is that they can’t connect with you as an equal.


  • An important feature of dealing with someone who uses spiteful actions against you is to remember that they feel inadequate. That will help you recover faster, regain your sense of self-esteem, and see them as the weaker person. They are ashamed of their sense of failure. You can use that information to communicate with them in a non-combative way – but in a fashion that strikes at their core – tell them that you know how bad they feel about themselves, and that’s why they resort to using spite – to make themselves feel stronger and more superior. But it’s not going to work on you because you can see past their pretense.


  • Third, a great way of dealing with someone who uses spiteful actions against you is to invite them to put their negative feelings into words and have a mature conversation with you. Acting out in spiteful ways does nothing (but give temporary satisfaction) to foster understanding and preventing future hurt or injustice. Tell them what bothers you about them and ask them to do the same about you. Once it’s out in the open there is an opportunity to feels each other’s pain and have a more honest exchange.


copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2017

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To forgive or not to forgive; that is the question