12 reasons why people are condescending (and how to handle them)

Never date someone who does these things

Getting complimented can feel great and encouraging — sometimes. It’s the times when your colleague or family member says in a sarcastic tone, “Good job, little guy!” or “Are you sure you’ll earn a lot in that job?”

Dealing with condescending people can be difficult, demoralizing, and overall frustrating.

Before you explode at them, it might first be helpful to understand why they behave the way that they do.

That way, you can confront them in the best way possible: respectfully and kindly, not stooping down to their level.

So here are 12 possible reasons why others talk down at you, and how to handle them.

1.They’re Hiding Their Insecurities

People tend to talk down on others because they have an insecurity they need to hide.

They might have resented the fact that they were never able to get a promotion or get in with the boss’s good graces like you.

So instead of giving you a genuine congratulatory greeting, they might instead give a backhanded compliment such as, “I can’t believe the boss gave the job to someone with so little experience! That’s very bold of them.”

When someone condescends you, the most important thing to do is not to take it personally.

Inside, the person might just be feeling uncomfortable around you.

They would have no reason to say that to you if they were feeling good about themselves already.

Being condescending is their way of coping with their shortcomings, instead of confronting them directly.

2. They Think Too Highly of Themselves

Maybe they graduated from a well-known university or worked with an international brand.

Because of these experiences, they might feel superior to others.

They might go off on name-dropping people in their stories, “Oh this reminds me of the time that I spoke with Leonardo DiCaprio…”

They might use these experiences, whether truthful or not, in social situations as leverage to appear more important than others.

They use it to inflate their ego. When this happens, try not to roll your eyes too much.

You aren’t obligated to react positively or negatively in these situations.

Just remember to be nice and say nothing if you have nothing nice to say.

As author Tim Fargo once wrote, “Arrogance is the camouflage of insecurity.”

3. They Want the Attention…

In the middle of a story, a condescending person might blurt out, “Oh that reminds me of the time that I went on a cruise ship…” They’ll immediately grab and shift their attention towards themselves.

They might also tease others to ask them about something that they want to share.

They’ll walk around flaunting their new shoes, and say, “Whoops, don’t want to get my new shoes dirty” even when no one’s asked about them.

They need attention to validate their experiences.

If that’s the case, then you can freely acknowledge them without needing to pursue the conversation further if you aren’t willing to.

4…Or They Want to Get Out of the Spotlight

As a tactic to hide their own mistakes and shortcomings, they might highlight another person’s fault.

They spread gossip and lies to keep people busy talking about another issue that isn’t related to them.

When this happens, you can try confronting them about the situation.

Bring up their faults, and give them space to safely admit their mistakes.

They’re likely to simply have been afraid.

5. They’re Jealous of You

Associate Attending physician Frank Ninivaggi once wrote, “Condescension is manifest envy.”

When you arrive at a party with your new car that you’re proud of, they might say, “I’m surprised that you can afford it!”

Backhanded compliments hide what they’re truly feeling: “I wish I had a car like this.”

When someone is condescending to you about something that you’ve achieved, pause for a moment.

Before taking it personally like you might reflexively do, think about their life.

Ask yourself why they would be that way to you.

Showing compassion and empathy can help you not feel harmed while also staying respectful.

6. They Can’t Emotionally Connect

When you’re opening up to them, they might give unhelpful responses. They’ll say, “Oh, don’t be sad.

You should be lucky.

Do you know how many people never had the chances that you’ve had?” It might feel invalidating.

This might be because they lack the emotional capacity for empathy.

A study suggested that people of higher socioeconomic class tend to have lower empathy.

That’s why it tends to feel like the wealthy live on a world of their own; they’re detached from others.

When this happens, try to recognize their effort to at least try to help you.

7. They Aren’t Comfortable Being Vulnerable

A study mentioned that people tend to use jokes and humor as a coping mechanism.

They turn to laughter as a way of alleviating the uncomfortable emotions that they might be feeling.

Maybe the person being condescending is going through something painful in their life that you know nothing about.

They talk down on others as a way of dealing with a break up, the loss of a loved one, arguments and stresses at home. You never know.

This is why it’s always important to approach whomever you meet with respect and kindness.

8. They Underestimate You

It’s possible that they don’t yet understand what you’re capable of.

They don’t know how skilled you actually are in the kitchen, so they might talk you through a recipe really slowly, as if they were talking to a child.

They might even call you small pet names like, “Way to go, champ.” even though you’re both already much older.

This is a kind of condescension that some often welcome, actually. There are stories of Michael

Jordan taking comments personally, and then using it as a fuel to perform even better on the court.

If someone is clearly underestimating your skill and passion, don’t explode at them.

Use it as fuel to get better in life and your career. Let it motivate you to prove them wrong.

9. They Believe They’re An Authority

They believe that their opinions are the final word on any matter.

They might make a comment on a political figure without understanding politics, just to come off as updated.

This is also why they may often give you advice even though you didn’t even ask for it.

Although they may be wiser in some aspects, it’s still difficult to take unwarranted advice.

This attitude plays back into the feelings of superiority that they’ve developed.

In any case, it’s still important to remember to approach them with respect and kindness. Take their advice, but you don’t need to follow it.

10. They Have Conservative Mindsets

They tend to not be the most open-minded people.

This could be because of the way that they were raised.

They might be used to seeing people like you in high positions and achieving great things.

Try not to take this personally.

Instead, try to understand where they’re coming from and politely correct them.

Confront them about their dated mindsets and continue showing your respect.

Listen, and express your side clearly. If they refuse to change their minds, then you can simply walk away.

11. They Can’t Stand Being Wrong

They don’t want to appear dumb so they may often correct people making minor mistakes.

If someone pronounces a word wrong or gets a year mixed up, they’ll be quick to butt in and correct the person talking – no matter how deep into their speech they already are.

This goes back to them wanting to hog the spotlight as much as they can to feel validated for what they know.

You can try correcting them politely. If it begins to feel heated, ask yourself: Is this a fight worth having?

If not, you don’t need to continue.

12. They Don’t Want to Take Responsibility for Their Actions

Sometimes someone would condescend because they aren’t willing to take the blame for something they’ve done.

They might say, “Well if it hadn’t been for how poorly you handled the situation, I wouldn’t have had to do what I did.”

They’re afraid of facing the consequences of their actions.

When this happens, remember to stay as calm as you can.

It will be frustrating, but getting even more angry won’t solve more problems. Instead, evaluate the situation and discuss it through.

If need be, confront them about their reaction. It might reveal to them the immaturity of their actions.

When someone is being condescending towards you, you can let their words get to you and demoralize you.

Or you can choose not to take it personally. You aren’t obligated to feel anything towards their comments.

Roman emperor and stoic Marcus Aurelius once wrote, “Choose not to be harmed, and you won’t feel harmed.

Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.”

It might be your first instinct to put the condescending person in their place and hurl an offensive comment right back at them, but who would that help?

It would only really give you a fleeting moment of joy. Don’t stoop to their level. Be better.

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Picture of Lachlan Brown

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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