WITH 50 (angry) comments
Donald Trump does it a lot: eye-rolling; an upper lip raised on one side; sarcastic, condescending or belittling tone of voice, arrogant head movements.
These are indicators of the emotion known as contempt. And it’s the No 1 killer of relationships, whether in politics, socially or at home. Other indicators include folded arms while talking, how legs are positioned or not looking into the person’s face when responding to something the speaker doesn’t like.
Contempt is becoming more prevalent in today’s society as empathy drains away and people feel tired and fed up.
The US election and the wash-up to Brexit show millions of disenchanted people are rising up against political correctness and the globalisation lovefest, but although many are balanced too many of them sadly, rather than being outspoken in a constructive, democratic way, are being racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic, and are showing contempt for women and minorities as the rise in hate crimes reveals.
Work is also a place for bullies to express themselves more prevalently these days.
While the economies of many countries teeter and new technologies fuel fears of job loss, narcissists and arrogant leaders can oppress their subordinates by using various methods of subtle abuse — including showing contempt — with more alacrity. These bullies were probably at some stage bullied and shown contempt themselves, which they then project in the role.
There is also bullying and contempt through social media, the metaphorical “curled lip” of the written word. In today’s society, contempt is insidious.
But closer to home — or, rather, inside the heart and home — it’s the kiss of death.
Marriage researcher and professor of psychology John Gottman, who is known for his work on relationship analysis through scientific direct observations, lists it as one of his top indicators of a relationship that will fail.
So what is this potent toxin? According to experts such as US psychologist Paul Ekman, an emotions and facial language expert, it’s a mix of disgust and anger. Psychologists say contempt also includes resentment, but whereas resentment is directed towards a higher status individual and anger is directed towards an equal status individual, contempt is directed towards what the viewer perceives as a lower status individual.
The word originated in 1393, from the Latin word contemptus meaning scorn.
Gottman’s organisation, the Gottman Institute, blames four negative communication styles (what it calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) as responsible for breakdown in most relationships. They are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt.
Criticising in this instance isn’t expressing a point of view as a complaint in a fair fight; rather, it’s an underhanded attack on your partner at the core. In effect, you are dismantling their whole being when you criticise. Defensiveness is our excuses that show a partner we don’t take them seriously, showing them we are blowing them off. Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, doesn’t respond or uses diversionary tactics such as TV or reading or “being busy” to shut someone out. The words “Yes, you’re right” spoken sarcastically is also stonewalling.
The most damaging is contempt. “Contempt is the worst of the four horsemen,” Gottman says. In his decades of research, he has found it to be the No 1 predictor of divorce. It implies that the other person is worthless.
“When we communicate in this state, we are truly mean. Treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm are forms of contempt. So are hostile humour, name-calling, mimicking and/or body language such as eye-rolling and sneering. In whatever form, contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her.
“Contempt is fuelled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner, in the form of an attack from a position of relative superiority. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict rather than to reconciliation.”
According to Gottman, whose course I went to in Australia, for relationships to survive, contempt must be eliminated (along with the three other “negative communication styles”). He cites an example of the contempt dynamic. When a husband comes home the wife retorts: “You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going, and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic computer games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid …”
Gottman and other experts suggest trying to get to the bottom of the issues causing the contempt in yourself or your partner. If you are the victim, find out what’s provoking it, not by sanctioning this corrosive behaviour but as a means of unlocking and addressing the core frustration in a constructive fashion. Be aware you also may be a co-player, communicating negatively in one of the four horsemen styles and fuelling the flame.
According to psychologist Susan Heitler, author of From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two, contempt conveys a powering over another. Talking with a contemptuous tone of voice or dismissing information from the other says: “I matter. You don’t.”
Contempt dumps toxicity into a relationship and signifies rejection of what the other person is saying or, at its most destructive, of the other person as a whole. It also stops the flow and information sharing that’s essential to love. Worst of all, contempt invites feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and depression; that it will always be there and is unfixable, and that the relationship is unsafe.
Heitler, Gottman and other experts say the alternative is empathy, listening and being attuned. I remember during relationship counselling my ex and I were forced to sit in the chair of the other, and “become” the other person (Gestalt therapy). I learned to empathise and understand where my partner was coming from; it helped ease the separation and we stayed loving friends.
Parents also can inadvertently act with contempt when they try to discipline kids, exemplified in the adage “Children should be seen not heard”, as in “I am superior”. Often kids know better than us. They still have openness and are able to look at things freshly and see another form of inherent logic. Kids also then learn contempt from their parents, a sad indictment of what is happening with the rise of the ultra-Right.
Which brings us back to politics: how do we fight the contempt and racism rising now? Many of us, including myself as a woman and member of an ethnic minority, feel contempt is surfacing. First, we fight by not feeling contempt for the contemptuous. As a practitioner of Buddhist philosophy I am taught to feel empathy towards the enemy (hard, very hard to do); and understand they have been taught certain bigoted, illogical ideologies from childhood or are just angry and feeling powerless.
Second, with personal and global contempt, find pity and compassion for offenders. Acting with moral and intellectual integrity can help us see ourselves not ideally as superior but as at least bigger than the bigots around us and hopefully in time able to re-educate them. In society and at home, contempt doesn’t stick unless you let it.
A strange unacceptable article from Ruth Ostrow.
Had she read the Australian Media last Monday, she would have read “Trump’s secret psych techniques”.
“The secret behind Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was sophisticated psychological techniques often used by advertising and communication agencies to influence consumers, according to a leading behavioural scientist, Chris Graves – Ogilvy Public Relations chairman.”
The problem is that we have had to put up with the left showing we “deplorables” contempt for years. It is why we have taken to making comments in the Australian to show that we really do exist.
Trump knew this, and so he gave it back in spades, and Clinton, her supporters and the media, didn’t have the slightest inkling as to how to respond.
Clinton tried bringing out all the women who Trump supposedly insulted, but she went too far, forgetting to explain how Trump owned the Miss Universe from 1995 to 2015(?) when his business was beautiful women like Jennifer Hawkins.
Ruth Very insightful article. I think many politicians and public figures overdo the aggro and the personal, and forget the example they could be setting of strong but respectful argument. They go low, I go high, if only this was really practised more often. The culture of public aggro then spreads more readily to the private sphere where it might cause the damaging behaviours you mention.
Oh Ruth, you disappoint but don’t really surprise. Lets guess what’s happened this week. A directive or email has gone out from HQ to all Liberal left Jewish media commentators to work in a negative, anti-Trump narrative into every article you write this week (and thereafter) no matter what your journalistic subject matter is? (well not really, don’t need a directive you do it instinctively) So Ruth, you’ve managed to work ‘Trump’ into your ‘relationships’ (I use the term loosely) article. Great work. Creative , even if the article is otherwise a load of rubbish.
And yet isn’t the reality is the complete opposite of what you are asserting Ruth? Please go and have a look at the videos of the Clinton supporters assaulting a homeless black woman or an elderly pro-Trump man. Have you seen the placards at the anti-Trump protests which say “Rape Melania”? Have you seen the graffiti saying “Kill Trump”? What world do we live in where this atrocious behaviour is not condemned and not reported? On what strange planet is this violence and incitement to rape and violence not due to the perpetrators? Lots of unsubstantiated reports have actually turned out to be completely false and the tales of race-based assault on Twitter and Facebook are unravelling as the stories are investigated. I can find no evidence that Trump supporters or people who are even vaguely interested are behaving in the fashion you assert.
Without wishing to be “contemptuous”, I think you’re off the mark Ruth.
Firstly, Trump is an advocate for the power of positive thinking – that’s what got him to be President of the US (“Trump propelled to the US presidency by power of positive thinking”: Daniel Finkelstein, The Times, reprinted in The Australian November 17, 2016). To claim what that he is utterly “contemptuous” is to completely misread his motives and efforts: his plan is to make American great again and is localising his efforts to the constituents of his nation.
Secondly, it needs to be pointed out to you Ruth that you have created your own enemy – Trump – and have demonstrated that you inability to process your issues to the point of “feeling empathy towards the enemy”. This is a blind spot for all of us whenever we think we are “right”, myself included.
Trump won because he was immune to the sneering, priggish, bullying, snobbish, self serving, eye rolling, tut tutting, refusing to see the other side, down putting, superior left. The Democrats, greens, academics, progressives.
Well done Donald – when you look at him he is simple, straight and resilient.
So in the author’s mind calling 10’s of millions of Americans ‘deplorable’ is not contempt. Calling anyone who disagrees with you a bigot, a racist, a homophobe, and Islamophobe, etc is not contempt. Her view seems to be that only conservatives and Trump supporters are contemptuous – and you wonder why nobody is listening the media anymore.
This rampant outbreak of contempt, bullying and bigotry seems to have co-incided with the advent the same social media that (and I know I am generalising here) is dominated by younger age groups and the leftist leaning types that are first to rail against anyone or thing they don’t agree with, like say Donald Trump. Hypocrisy and delusion.
That was a lot of contempt flowing down your nose, Ruth.
I am one of the “deplorable” who resist, to the best of my ability, the smug, regressive offerings from most of media, including this article which as far as the political angle goes, is rather putrid.
The children in the Sydney inner west preschool who shouted ” Kill Trump”………THAT is where you can take your re-education program, Ruth.
” but rather than being outspoken in a constructive, democratic way they’re being racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic, and are showing contempt for women and minorities”
Look at the contempt shown from the “democrat” supporters to the Trump voters! Talk about the “elites” showing contempt to the deplorables. The luvvies can’t handle democracy and anything else that goes against their PC worldview.
Yeah sure the article header was blatant click bait however I am confident we can blame Murdoch Media’s business model driven editing for that, not the writer. The Australian newspaper is sliding inexorably in to clickbait tabloidism. That aside the article content is interesting and relevant and I can personally attest to its destructive effects. Contempt is just toxic acid to all relationships. Online this is referred to as ‘trolling’, which is an extension of this offline tradition. Wherever contempt creeps in, just stamp that *$! out right away…
Conflicting messaging. For a marriage, you say to replace contempt with empathy and to make that special effort to understand what is causing the contempt.
With Politics you appear to support replacing empathy with contempt. In Trump’s victory speech, he said that he wanted to be friends with all peoples of every race, every religion and every sex and that he wanted to bring a divided America back together. This sounds a little like empathy to me.
The industries of agenda politics and funded offence taking – started in earnest about 8 years ago and we have gone backwards as a people ever since. Imagine being labelled a deplorable for having an differing opinion on say climate change – no forgiveness in this label.
@Neil i would say her save space is in turmoil
” You’re ‘tired?’ Cry me a river. I’ve been with the kids all day, running around like mad to keep this house going, and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on that sofa like a child and play those idiotic computer games. I don’t have time to deal with another kid …”
This sounds EXACTLY like my contemptuous (and serially adulterous) narcissistic ex wife ……indeed exactly..
(Carolyn’s husband, Malcolm.)
Haha, the hysteria generated by Trump’s win is just so entertaining – lefty heads exploding everywhere!
@Austin That’s funny and it’s Friday… Cheers Austin!
So, why suggest that contempt is just from Trump? Far more came, and comes, from the green/leftie socialists represented by Hilary Clinton and the Washington elite. I agree with Trump: that the Washington swamp needs draining, and the anti-democratic views of the green/left must be exposed for the contempt they demonstrate.
quote- the US election and the wash-up to Brexit show millions of disenchanted people are rising up against political correctness and the globalisation lovefest, but rather than being outspoken in a constructive, democratic way they’re being racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic, and are showing contempt for women and minorities.
how far from reality can one get, especially when Trump gets blamed for the contempt to electors showed for the society has suffered under Democrat socialist society,
we have had enough of the contempt of the democratic socialist UN sponsored overruling of our lives,
that’s not contempt. ITS A CORRECTION FROM POLITICAL INEPTNESS.
With out doubt those of the left show absolute contempt for those of us of the centre. They start their contempt with accusing us of being on the right which is absolute nonsense. Try supporting conventional marriage as an example. You are of the right if you believe that the status quo should be maintained. What nonsense but it is an example of the contempt the left show all the time if you don’t support their regressive policies dressed up as progress.
” Acting with moral and intellectual integrity can help us see ourselves not ideally as superior but as at least bigger than the bigots around us and hopefully in time able to re-educate them”.
Judith – typical Marxist dogma – thought you were better than this. The only people I know who DO NOT act with Moral and intellectual integrity and are BIGOTED are from the left.
@Greg The moment we start seeing ourselves as bigger than those around us is the moment we start feeling contempt for them. As for re-education, sorry, but I have vague memories of the cultural revolution in China. We just need to behave properly and act with integrity, and persuade people by our arguments. I think you agree, Greg–sorry to seem as if I’m arguing with you. Just going off at a tangent.
Absolutely right Ruth there is a lot of contempt on show in recent times, particularly in the US elections and it all came from the elitist provinces (mostly on the east and west coasts) and it was directed towards the people who they perceived to be inferior in culture and intellect (the working class in the fly-over states). This had nothing to do with their religion, sex or ethnicity.
You seem to think contempt is the preserve of the right. Perhaps you’re expressing your contempt for those who don’t agree with you.
There is no more racism now than there was 10, 50 or 100 years ago. Likewise sexism. Talk to somebody who lived through real sexist and racist times.
I’m only 50 and I remember my mother having to jump through hoops to get a loan to buy the house.