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Behaviors That Shave Off Mental Wellness

Three actions can make you bitter, cynical, and unhappy.

Key points

  • Meanness is not only poor role modeling, but its corrosive nature seeps into our daily interactions.
  • Apathy, the antithesis of empathy, means not giving a darn and forgoing one's agency over one's own life.
  • Passive-aggressive gaslighting, not germane to politics, twists narratives beyond our values.
  • Envy drives comparison, which ups resentment that eats away at healthy relationships.

Poor behavior runs amuck. On social media meanness gets rewarded by likes and shares.

In a congressional oversight hearing, three congresswomen confused themselves with the Mean Girls franchise. That hearing showed how grown, elected individuals adversely impact the supposed productivity citizens pay for and harm reputations and stature.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While there are dozens of horrible habits, I highlight three here:


Know anyone who just doesn’t care? The indifferent person who lacks concern about others exhibits little effort to act in accordance with their own agency or functional role or seems disinterested in making positive things occur.

Apathy is often the opposite of empathy—a disinterest in people or surrounding situations. It’s emptiness, from depression or bipolar disorder, schizo­phren­ia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases, where sadly, life seems void of emotion. There’s little to no desire for new experiences, learning, and meeting different people.

Extreme apathy becomes avolition, found in psychotic or bipolar disorders, persistent depressive disorder, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and dementia.

During the pandemic, caregivers encouraged apathetic loved ones to participate in conversation, puzzles, reading, and mentally stimulating activities. Some could recognize their apathy and change course, but not so much with avolition.

Solutions: Empathy matters and leads to satisfying relationships.

Self-care, lifestyle change, goal-setting, and positive activities may alleviate situational apathy and increase one's personal agency and ability to relate to others.

Symptoms like not getting out of bed, bathing/grooming, or refusing to participate in calls/texting may signal a drop in dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for rewards, consequences, and motivation. If others make your life happen more than you care to, this warrants treatment.

Passive-Aggressive Gaslighting

Passive aggression involves the indirect expression of negative feelings instead of openly and honestly addressing problems. It’s a disconnect between what’s said and done, a resistance shown by withholding, constant cynicism, or stonewalling.

Since passive-aggressive behavior involves sabotage, there’s a lot of what we call the set-up. For instance, refuse to change or participate so that your coworker or family member must, yet cop the excuse that their action was out of line. Fingers get pointed and blame cast while the passive aggressor rides the silent, noncommittal fence, escaping responsibility. Of course, they also escape maturity and do not learn to express difficult emotions nor work through conflict. Instead, they continue to avoid it.

Because passive aggression overlaps with self-absorbed traits, false narratives get invented or twisted to distort another’s perception or memory. If you’re on the receiving end, though you may have years of experience trusting and caring for someone or something, gaslighting can occur to ignite or blow up your own belief system in favor of a flipped script where the passive aggressor destabilizes those beliefs.

Enter alternative facts. Motivations disguised. Mixed messages. You doubt perceptions. Even if formed over time, a belief framework may unravel. Watch for backhanded compliments, e.g., “I don’t like most of what you do, in fact, not much, but I like you.” If delivered angrily, does that convince?

If you raise even a polite objection, you may be targeted, your tone policed, even when assertively considerate. Gaslighters aren't great listeners.

If you believe gaslit information, you may end up isolated from family or friends who would set the truth straight or uphold positives that got flipped to meet a manufactured script. A disoriented reality calls into question what you once valued. Cognitive dissonance, we call it.

Solutions when gaslit: Praise open, honest dialogue. Stay calm, resist defensiveness, and do not stoop to nastiness. If insulted, ask directly what the person means by a remark. This holds them accountable while you remain kind. When your best civility meets more backhanded remarks, separate the problem from the person. Do not dignify cruelty nor take the bait.

Help for gaslighting passive aggressors: Ask for what you want without stepping on anyone’s emotions. Realize you may not always get your way. Let go of your penchant for control; learn to sit with other opinions and preferences. Minus self-sabotage, you may gain the acceptance and praise you actually crave.


"There just isn’t enough happiness for all." That’s the resentful mindset of those who compare, contrast, and feel irked when someone else succeeds as if there’s a perceived wrong in life.

Occasionally, an event piques you. Your coworker got the sole accolade that you slaved months to cocreate yet were undeservedly overlooked. Fair? No. Does the indignity warrant months-long disgruntlement? No.

If your sister posts fresh paint and accents furnishing her new home, would most siblings delight in that? Yes, except for the resentful.

Enter comparisons. A desire to outdo. The envious considers the satisfied not as worthy or inferior, especially when destructive narcissistic traits exist, writes Nina W. Brown, Ed.D. in Understanding Narcissists: How to Cope with Destructive People in Your Life. “All positives are supposed to come to them.”

Obviously, this strains relationships. People begin to avoid jealous people who perceive other’s accomplishments as personal slights or insults.

Solutions: Cognitive behavioral therapy helps mild to moderate resentment, negative self-talk, and belief structure. If therapy teaches you to question the indignation and dispute irrational beliefs, the pique may lessen. There’s enough praise, awards, and stellar events to go around. If one person experiences happiness, it doesn’t detract from anyone else’s.

Resenting others creates inner turmoil that sabotages vital connections many need. Bitterness eats away at the beholder. Resist doubling down on envy, but own it and get help.

Researchers have found 15 ways in which concealed emotions harm one’s health, including higher levels of C-reactive protein, cortisol, and adrenaline, weakened immune and reproductive functions, risks for periodontitis, weight gain, heart disease, premature aging, anxiety and depression, per the authors of Overcoming Passive Aggression.

This year, with an important election, we must recognize apathy, gaslighting, and resentment. They corrode governance, the workplace, and our personal lives.

Copyright © 2024 by Loriann Oberlin, MS


Brown, Nina W. Understanding Narcissists: How to Cope with Destructive People in Your Life (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2022)

Murphy, Timothy F. and Oberlin, Loriann H. Overcoming Passive Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career, and Happiness (New York: DaCapo Lifelong Books/Hachette, 2016)

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