Contempt: a dangerous weapon for the psyche

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Louise Hay

Contempt: a dangerous weapon for the psyche

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2021

Contempt often takes the form of words that hurt and demoralize. It can also be a gesture, the position of the lips or eyebrows that reflect rejection for what we are saying or doing. Few behaviors are as harmful to psychological integrity as those that, little by little, end up ending a relationship or mark a child's development forever.

Perhaps we are more used to talking or reading reflections about hatred or indifference, but contempt is one of the most lethal emotions. It is a weapon of destruction with sophisticated aspects. So, while anger or indifference can be immediate and temporary reactions, contempt is a more subtle and dark emotion.

Those who despise have the specific intention of humiliating. He tries to ridicule, minimize or even cancel the other in an open and overt way. He does it looking for the right opportunity and he succeeds a little every day, to the point of leaving a wound in the psyche, tearing apart his self-love and breaking the bond of trust forever.

Fathers, mothers, partners, colleagues ... Contempt expressed openly or in a discreet and cryptic way. Whatever its modality, those who despise show that kind of cowardice that feeds on resentment and lack of emotional maturity. 

"If you manage not to despise anyone, you will have escaped the danger of many weaknesses."

-Charles Dickens-

The daily contempt that kills relationships

Anyone can carry with them the memory of a situation in which the wound of contempt has been inflicted on them. Perhaps in childhood, when someone did not understand how hard we had done that drawing, a time when we felt criticized and ridiculed. It is also possible that one of our parents has the particular ability to despise whatever we do, say, wish.

Someone will have had a love affair with a partner who used to make a face at every comment, to criticize tastes, despise opinions, make fun of every trifle, on things done or not done. It is no coincidence that John Gottmann, a psychologist and expert in couple relationships, stated, after a research that lasted almost forty years, that contempt is undoubtedly one of the main factors that leads to a breakup of the couple.

So let's see what dimensions define the act of despising.

The anatomy of contempt

Contempt is the opposite of empathy. While the latter is the ability to open up to others and connect with their reality and needs, contempt does the opposite. First he raises a wall and then positions himself on it in an attitude that denigrates and belittles the other.

Children who grow up in environments characterized by contempt and humiliation are more likely to develop low self-esteem, feelings of guilt and shame, stress and anxiety disorders.

On the other hand, people used to scorn often have some points in common. They do not accept disagreements and do not take into consideration the needs of others. The inability to communicate is also typical in them, so they resort to grimaces, sighs, show us their deep contempt with their posture and gaze.

These profiles usually hide precise psychological dimensions. They are people full of frustration and even anger. The exercise of contempt serves to project and pour out on others one's negative emotions, one's personal dissatisfaction.

Contempt and psychological harm

Continued contempt generates not only psychological damage, but also affects health. The University of Pennsylvania has conducted an interesting study on the subject in schools. The first element to emerge was undoubtedly the effect on self-esteem: all the students who had been victims of humiliation and contempt had a weaker and more negative view of themselves.

Likewise, contempt, stressful situations and constant violence have a serious effect on our immune defenses. This means that you are more likely to suffer from colds, allergies, digestive problems, infections, etc.

All this almost obliges us to develop the same defect in ourselves, the tendency to scorn with words or ridicule.

It is important to know that contempt is the most harmful dimension we can receive and offer to others. It is the surest way to annihilate, it is an absolute lack of compassion and empathy, it causes pain, it causes the seeds of anguish and fear to sprout. The same dimension that ends up destroying our emotional relationships and that makes a child grow up with fear and a fragmented and weak self-concept.

We end with a phrase from Honoré de Balzac: “Incurable wounds are those inflicted by the tongue, the eyes, derision and contempt”.

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