Contempt takes the form of a word that hurts and demoralizes. It is also a gesture, a grimace of a lip or an eyebrow that reflects the rejection of what you are saying or doing at a given moment. Few behaviors are as damaging to psychological integrity as those that, through scorn, gradually break a relationship or shape a child’s development forever.
While we are more used to talking and reading about aspects such as hatred or indifference, it should be noted that contempt is undoubtedly the deadliest emotion. It is the weapon of mass destruction, and its use requires a little more sophistication. So while anger, anger or coldness can be momentary reactions that hurt, contempt emanates from a darker background.
Those who despise clearly intend to humiliate the other. He tries to openly ridicule, humiliate, or even devalue the other person. He does it in search of the perfect opportunity and accomplishes it by practicing contempt daily until he leaves a wound in the head, a break in self-love, and forever breaking the bond of trust.
Fathers, mothers, partners, work colleagues … contempt is on the agenda in many places. Be that as it may, there is one thing we need to be clear about: The despiser exhibits clearly cowardly behavior, fueled by resentment and an absolute lack of emotional maturity.
“If you manage not to despise anyone, you will get rid of the danger of many weaknesses.”
The everyday disdain that breaks relationships
We all somehow have in mind the memory of the situation in which we felt the wound of contempt. Perhaps it was in childhood when someone did not appreciate our efforts to make this drawing, this act that at a certain moment was criticized and even ridiculed. Perhaps one of our parents even had this peculiar ability to disregard everything that was done, said, or desired.
It is also possible that we had an affective relationship in which our partner had this habit. The one with the grimace when we talked about something. The criticism of our tastes, the trivialization of opinions, the objectification of every little thing that we have done or not done. For example, it is no accident that John Gottmann, a psychologist and recognized expert on relationships, found, after nearly four decades of research, that contempt is undoubtedly one of the factors that precede most ruptures.
The anatomy of contempt
- Contempt is the opposite of empathy. While empathy is the ability to open up to the other and connect with their reality and needs, contempt does just the opposite. First she builds a wall and then she rises above the other in an attitude of power to denigrate and humiliate them.
- Likewise , children who grow up in an environment of contempt and humiliation are more likely to develop low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, shame, and stress and anxiety disorders.
- On the other hand, people who are used to despising others have certain things in common. They are people who do not tolerate differences of opinion and who do not recognize or consider the needs of others. In addition, it is characteristic that they communicate poorly, which is why they resort to grimaces on their faces, sigh deeply, and show us their deep contempt with their posture and facial expressions.
- These profiles usually conceal certain psychological dimensions. They are people full of frustration and suppressed anger. The exercise of contempt serves them to project their own negative emotions, their personal dissatisfaction onto others and to pass them off.
Contempt and psychological harm
A study was carried out in a number of schools at the University of Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania, USA) and several interesting findings were found. The first was undoubtedly the impact of this dimension on self-esteem: students who had been victims of humiliation and contempt had weaker and negative self-images. Likewise, contempt and persistent injury showed serious effects on the defenses of the study participants.
Persistent contempt not only causes psychological damage, but also affects physical health. In fact, it is common for us to suffer more colds, more allergies, more digestive problems, etc. when faced with contempt or when we use them ourselves. The latter undoubtedly almost forces us to take care of ourselves, to fall into the temptation to despise others with words or to mock them with actions.
Let us understand that contempt is the most harmful emotion we can feel and offer to others. It is a kind of devaluation, it is an absolute lack of compassion and empathy, it is what creates pain in others and sows the seeds of fear and terror. The same one that ends up destroying our affective relationships, the one that makes our children grow up with fear and a fragmented and weak self-image.
Let’s think about it by remembering what Honoré de Balzac said on the same subject at the time:
“The incurable wounds are those caused by language, eyes, ridicule and contempt.”