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Misanthropy: Definition & Treatment

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  • 0:01 Definition of Misanthropy
  • 1:44 Identifying Misanthropy
  • 4:17 Misanthropy and Mental Health
  • 5:47 Treatment for Misanthropy
  • 6:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Misanthropy is a perspective that can make life very difficult for those who possess it. Through this lesson, you will learn how to define misanthropy, explore some of the characteristics, and consider ways that the thinking can be overcome.

Definition of Misanthropy

Consider this common scenario: You've just come from a long day at work where you were yelled at by your boss, abused by customers or clients, and treated discourteously in traffic or on the bus. Shortly after you arrive home, your friend calls and asks if you'd like to go out to dinner, to which you respond by saying that you are disgusted by the human race, and you would literally rather do anything other than be around people. Your response is the result of the many bad interactions you've had during the day, but try to imagine if you felt this way all the time. Life would be pretty difficult, right?

Misanthropy is a constant feeling of dislike or disdain for people and society. We all have days, like the one described just a moment ago, where we aren't feeling too positive about people and would rather just stay home, but misanthropes feel this way all the time. They generally don't trust people and will go out of their way to avoid being around others. They may irrationally justify this by telling themselves that, among other things, people are dangerous or going out into public will cause some type of harm.

Other than simply having a disdain for humanity, misanthropy has a fairly vague definition, which can make it tricky to identify. Moreover, there are different theories about what it is and why it exists. For example, it's not a mental illness or disorder, but it can cause emotional distress or be a symptom of a more serious mental health problem.

Identifying Misanthropy

Misanthropy isn't a clinical term, meaning that it isn't a mental or physically diagnosable condition, and that can make identifying it difficult. After all, everyone has a negative or pessimistic outlook on life every now and again. The key thing to remember is that it is characterized by a broad contempt for humanity.

For example, if you watch the news, you know that it can be filled with horrible stories of murder, war, and drug addiction. However, you know that these tend to be isolated incidents that receive a lot of media attention. A misanthrope, on the other hand, would look at these things as empirical evidence that all people are horrible, selfish, and dangerous.

Such negative opinions about others can cause misanthropic people to avoid interacting with others or cause others to avoid interacting with them, leading to social isolation. This can be particularly problematic because it only feeds their negative feelings and validates their belief that people are, indeed, horrible.

It's important to point out that, while misanthropes might prefer to avoid others, it is common for them to have functional relationships with some people. For instance, a person could hate almost everyone in the world, but still have a normal relationship with a parent or a small number of friends.

Contempt for humanity and social isolation are a bad combination that can keep people locked in a cycle of cynicism. However, in misanthropic people, these symptoms are commonly motivated by fear. Imagine the type of person that I have described reading the paper and thinking that the world is full of nothing but murderers, terrorists, and rapists. Their reaction is one of irrational disgust, but keep in mind that these are indeed frightening things.

A desire to stay away from people might be framed as misanthropic contempt, but it's also a pretty solid way to ensure that bad things never happen to you. In light of that, you can think of misanthropes as having an outward contempt for people, but behind that contempt is the fear that they will be victimized or harmed in some way.

Misanthropy and Mental Health

As I've previously mentioned, misanthropy isn't a mental illness, and misanthropes may feel completely justified in feeling the way they do about others. However, having a near-total disdain for all people can be an indication that there is a larger social or emotional problem.

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