Misanthropy: When You Just Don’t Like Other People

“I hate mankind,” said Dr Johnson, “for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.” Whether or not Johnson was being serious, such dislike is certainly common. It is also a view that tends to be mocked and ridiculed. Misanthropic characters in film or literature, for example, are often comic (even Shakespeare depicts the “melancholy” Jaques in As You Like It as absurd), and misanthropic friends will be given affectionate names like “the grouch” or “the grump.” But misanthropy can also be a symptom of depression, and may even presage an imminent psychological breakdown.

The Nature of Misanthropy

First, it is important to distinguish misanthropy from social discomfort. Many people assume that a friend or neighbor is misanthropic because they keep their distance, avoiding eye contact, never coming to barbecues or parties, and so on. In fact, they are probably just shy and socially awkward. Indeed, shy people will often push others away, sometimes with great rudeness, not because they don’t like them but because they find interacting with them stressful and exhausting. Misanthropes are different. A misanthrope may be shy of course, but he may also be confident, even arrogant. Shy people often like others and long for their company. Misanthropes do not.

Of course, not every misanthrope is the same. Some became that way through bitter life experiences. They may, for example, have been abused and ill-treated as children: neglected at home and bullied at school. This in turn makes them aggressive or unpleasant, which provokes others and thus deepens their bitterness and sense of rejection. And misanthropes are often extremely sensitive and perceptive; they don’t miss a thing – not a sarcastic comment or petty act of spite. Whereas their friends either shrug off, or simply fail to notice, people at their worst, the sensitive find this impossible.

Some misanthropes have simply become jaded and bored. This is especially true of intelligent, talented, or witty people. Aesthetes and the well-educated can also become a little misanthropic, particularly when they find themselves among people who do not share their interests or cannot match their learning. Such people also tend to enjoy a rich inner life and simply find books and art galleries more interesting. The time they must spend talking to people at work or dinner parties is then resented. After all, this is time they could be spending with Rembrandt or Dickens!

Then there are those who hold extreme political or religious views. If they are convinced that they know “the truth,” other people’s indifference, boredom, or outright refusal to agree can enrage them and convince them that everyone else is foolish or blind. This sort of egomania is common among misanthropes. They often go out into the world expecting praise, fame and adulation; instead, they meet disinterest and contempt – or even fellow egomaniacs!

The romantic and idealistic can feel a similar disappointment, especially when their childhood was happy and sheltered. For example, a girl who grows up reading Jane Austen novels may be shocked to discover that most adolescent boys do not behave like 18th century English gentlemen! A boy who takes an early interest in Karl Marx and utopian communism may be equally shocked to discover how cynical, selfish, and anti-social some people can be.

Signs That You May Be a Misanthrope

Obviously, there is no such thing as a typical misanthrope. There are, however, certain traits that recur. For a start, they find other people’s dramas irritating. That does not mean they are callous or indifferent. On the contrary, they may feel intense sympathy for the bereaved or unwell. It’s more the petty dramas that irk them: when people go into great detail about their row with a neighbor, their unreasonable boss, their friend’s possessive jealousy etc. When such dramas occur and their partner tells them, the misanthrope will usually reply “just don’t get involved.”

Another common sign is fury at incompetence or disorder, especially when it keeps them trapped somewhere. And their anger will usually be out of proportion. So, for example, a misanthrope cannot bear being stuck in a Post Office queue or on a coach that has broken down. Imagine you go on a trip to Russia and the return flight is delayed because of snow. You are told you will have to wait in the airport for the night. The people you are with treat the whole thing as a joke, or even an adventure, setting up a sort of tent in the departure lounge and organizing a sing-along. To you, this is purgatory. Misanthropes will often claim to hate “fake fun” or “fake bonhomie” – and they see it everywhere.

Unsurprisingly, they hate big get-togethers like Thanksgiving or Christmas as well. And they also hate weddings. In part, this is because such events are full of noisy, over-excited children. And a general dislike of children is another common giveaway. Children are noisy, spontaneous, and unguarded. In many cases, they are what adults would be without the social restraints. Misanthropes will often say things like “children are too spoilt nowadays,” or “we make too much fuss of them.” And this intense dislike of small children tends to be counterbalanced by an excessive love for animals. Misanthropes often adore animals and will go into raptures over a puppy or a kitten. Show them a newborn baby, on the other hand, and they will probably react with polite boredom, even distaste.

You may think that you cannot possibly be a misanthrope since you often enjoy discussing politics or art with a friend. But this in itself can be a sign. Misanthropes often say “I enjoy intelligent conversation,” when what they really mean is they cannot stand trivial chit chat about the weather or vacations. Some people crave company and do not care what form that takes, often enjoying a chat about mundane and trivial things. They love drama and will talk about quite literally anything so long as they have people around them. A shy person or an introvert may find such talk difficult, but they won’t necessarily dislike it. Misanthropes do. They cannot see the point of all this and cannot understand why people become so animated by trivial topics, not realizing that it isn’t the conversation people seek but the opportunity to share and bond.

Overcoming Your Misanthropy

So let’s say you are tired of being labelled a “grump,” a “grouch,” and a “hermit” and would like to do something about it. Begin by trying to understand when and why you became this way. Often, misanthropes just need to update their view of people. This is especially true of those who were bullied or abused when young. Remember, human nature is pretty raw and nasty during the teenage years. Many of the people who so viciously and gleefully bullied you are probably parents now and either cannot remember what they did or feel ashamed and guilty. Maybe they were being bullied themselves. Very often, it is a way of deflecting attention rather than a wish to inflict pain.

If you tend to be misanthropic, you have probably got into bad habits. Just as depression skews your perception, making everything seem dark, so misanthropy trains you to seek out the worst in people. Try focussing on the good instead. This is true not just of individuals but of humanity en mass. Even in the darkest situations there are moments of light.

Above all, you must understand why people behave badly. Some are fundamentally rotten: spiteful, sadistic, and insensitive to the core. They were unpleasant children and will no doubt be unpleasant retirees. But they are the minority. Most people behave badly because they are frightened, desperate, lonely, or damaged. In other words, they were made bad. Even arrogance and aggression often mask deep insecurity and fear. Had they been treated with more tenderness and sympathy, they may have been different.

It is also important to remember that the vast majority of people you meet love someone. If you could see your odious, tyrannical boss playing with his little daughter, no doubt your opinion of him would change. And it should also be remembered that this capacity for love makes people fragile and vulnerable. As C. S. Lewis famously wrote, “to love at all is to be vulnerable, love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.” People know this. And not only do they love, most people also yearn to be loved, which again makes them vulnerable and frightened.

Misanthropy blinds you. As Oscar Wilde wrote to his lover in De Profundis, “hate so blinded you that you could see no further than the narrow, walled-in… garden of your common desires.” And it is nothing to be proud of. Misanthropes, like cynics, often take a perverse pride in their distaste. They seem to consider it a sign of intelligence and depth, as if they see things more clearly than the shallow, deluded herd. In fact, hatred and contempt are easy; and they reveal shallowness rather than depth. People with true depth, with what literary critics call “sympathetic imagination” (or the ability to imagine how others are feeling), may not love or even like everyone, but they do pity them and do care how they feel. In any case, hatred is a form of dependence rather than freedom.

Of course, misanthropy is perfectly understandable. And obviously not everyone has the same experiences. Some are spectacularly unlucky in the people they meet: born to awful parents, abused by their siblings, bullied at school, thrown from one dysfunctional relationship to another, and so on. Recognize your common humanity. And cut people some slack. Finally, as someone once remarked (in a line that should be taught to every child), “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Comments 45
  1. One of the more balanced articles on this topic vs. the usual “snap out of it” advice. I think total non-misanthropes aren’t seeing what people are really about.

      1. More than likely they’re nowhere near as intelligent. Ignorance is bliss, as they say. Yet another thing that fuels misanthropy.

  2. Thank you for this. I am definitely a misanthrope. I have a wife and kids but couldn’t understand why humans are so evil. This helps give me perspective. Thank you.

  3. This was a very well written and thought out article and sheds some light into my own misanthropic behavior. That being said, I am old and an introvert and really don’t want to change. People are stupid and selfish, that’s pretty much the fuel that keeps my misanthropy burning strong.

  4. For God’s sake, why are you pathologising misanthropes. Just look at the world around you and see how so many humans behave – war, murder, climate change, exploitation, etc. There’s a very good reason for misanthropy.

    1. The author wrote: “A boy who takes an early interest in Karl Marx and utopian communism may be equally shocked to discover how cynical, selfish, and anti-social some people can be.” Was that before after he read the book: “The Gulag Archipeligo”?

      1. Marxism and stalinistic communism are not the same. The famous pamphlet was usurped by fascists to further psychological domination over a revolutionary public threat.

  5. Thank you for this very informative piece! It has been very helpful in trying to understand my mate who describes herself as a misanthrope.

  6. Some misanthropes aren’t misanthropes at all but those of us who are would really prefer if the know-it-alls would stop trying to get us to talk, or use reverse psychology like say in your presence that they’re leaving you out of events to make you feel the pinch. Another ploy is to discuss what everyone thinks of you as you’re out in the garden where you’re forced to overhear gossip. The very fact that “everyone” means ‘group-think’ and ‘mob-mentality’ which to me equates the appalling absence of critical thinking makes me tremble with fear. But not fear of their negative opinion. Just fearful of such insipidity. Stupid is as stupid does and those methods don’t work with a misanthrope. Just gets some of us super irritated that anyone would be that dumb to think it might. These days with people getting paranoid about neighbours who keep to themselves life can be tough for the person who seriously just wants to be left alone. And by the way, I want to point out that thinking the majority of humanity an utter waste of time is not the same as believing that misanthropes are smart. We are different. We can see how we are different to ‘THEM’. But they can’t understand how and why we are different. Worse, live in the wrong place and you’ll find them trying to change you. Speak 2 sentences more than you’re usual to the clerk at the post office and the STUPIDS behind you are egging you on with comments like “nice”, “that’s really nice”. See why some of us give people a wide berth?

    1. This was a better read than the article above. The “find them trying to change you” part really hit close to home.

  7. I have been this way all my life. I never thought anything was wrong with me. I just don’t like people really. I don’t have friends I have never even felt the real need to have them. For me this was a great read.

  8. Well done, well stated. But I can’t help but think that some people, for whatever reason, are just incorrigibly mean. Look in the direction of Washington, D.C.

    1. Glad someone else recognized it. There is some true and useful information here, but it’s fairly obvious stuff. Being betrayed and hurt makes people misanthropic. Well, yeah. No gold stars for that one. And towards the end the author veers off into the inane with the “everyone is having a tough time” spiel.

      The reason I am misanthropic is because; simply put, most people are quite stupid. All the rest follows from this – including the hurt they cause to others around them. It could all be alleviated and perhaps even cured if people had a well-developed sense of shame, particularly when it came to being thunderously dunderheaded. But shame and good sense such as that is gone from the world; and may never be seen again.

      1. John, I agree with what you have said completely. I have an added layer to my misanthropy in that I seclude from people because I am afraid I am going to let someone have it because of their rudeness and stupidity. Instead when I am out I just bite my tongue and attempt to repress these emotions which is difficult. I find that by avoiding society I save myself from the never ending series of extreme annoyances. (And I avoid any intimate relationships in order to cut off the high probability of being disappointed and ultimately discarded when the other decides their self-interest is more important than communication and preserving the relationship.) My reclusiveness is to self-preserve and keep relatively sane.

      2. Interesting. As a true misanthrope, I read this as, “Quit judging us. Shut up so you make it easier for us to live for ourselves and our own selfish, immediate interests without honest regard for the peace, happiness, and well-being of other people and things. We just want to continue being rude and destructive without your explicit or implicit inconvenient criticism.” Fact is, non-misanthropes actually are selectively misanthropic of general misanthropes like myself because you can’t stand the counterpoint that is there to remind you of what d@gsh#t you really are. This whole article only confirms my worldview.

  9. Thanks for an insightful, intelligent article. There is really very little discussion around this issue in the wider media. I struggle with my profound boredom of others but strangely not the world, in all of its richness and beauty. There is definitely a sense of personal guilt which arises from this fact, one which has to be negotiated daily of course. Quite clearly it is vital to treat people with respect and compassion but somehow interest remains more difficult.

  10. “Then there are those who hold extreme political or religious views.”

    I think “extreme” is the wrong word here. A more appropriate term would be “minority political or religious views” because it is indeed exhausting when you constantly have to hide your own opinions for fear of upsetting others who think differently. When you feel that other people would hate you if they knew your real attitudes, it kind of makes you hate them back.

    1. I love the writing and, as a misanthrope myself, understand most of the sentiments. But one of them that I can’t get past is that misanthropes should “understand” why people are the way they are. It’s true that it’s not their fault that they are idiotic or rude, but isn’t it their responsibility to do something about it? Just like a misanthrope should work on being softer, shouldn’t other people try to get past their demons?

    2. Yes, expressing a political view that is not part of the approved narrative sets you up for all sorts of abuse.

  11. I can’t say I dislike people, I dislike the system. I like to make up music and go to church.

    I think it’s the system that makes things the way they are. You have to work a job you hate and be around phony hypercritical people to pay bills, and in the end you can’t afford stuff you want like video games, good clothes, etc.

    I think the government puts us together to save money. We aren’t guided right.

    I can say I have anthrophobia but I don’t put myself above or below people like a misanthropist.

    I can’t conform for money or a nice car. I don’t want to fake it or act like an obnoxious young man to get cool stuff. If I fall behind it is because I am true to who I am and to god.

  12. I disagree about the not liking kids. I like kids and animals because they are real and fun and not full of crap like most people. At family functions I usually hang out with the children. They’re not judging me or trying to impose their opinions on me, and they’re usually as bored as I am with the BS of the adults.

    1. Completely agree. The misanthrope I live with is one of the most fun people around children. They love him and never judge!

  13. This article is terribly misguided. I am a misanthrope and I am such largely due to the massive amounts of stupidity, selfishness, and, most of all, extreme cowardice of people. To have integrity or principles is beyond most people. I absolutely love and adore children. The younger the better. These poor bastards are the most pure and innocent they ever will be – ripped into existence by parents who likely have never stopped to ask themselves “what if the child that we make doesn’t want to be here?” People are short-sighted and entitled and tend to not think of the consequences of their actions. Then, there are the “leaders” – the ones who manipulate these hordes of mentally and spiritually challenged cattle to further their own ends. This is a living hell and other people are the torture devices.

  14. I note subtle though obvious inferences in the article that ‘the norm’ is to not be misanthropic. Says who? ‘Them’, of course: the amorphous legion otherwise known as the self-appointed, group ratifying ‘normals’… count me among the ‘uncommon’.

    Author Charles Bukowski reply to ‘do you hate people?’ “I don’t hate them… I just feel better when they’re not around.” Ditto. Why? Personally, it suits/pleases me. I’m happier and less stressed by myself… less happy and more stressed, around people, generally speaking.

    In my youth, I had friends and we enjoyed similar interests. Yet, I never had my own nor attended a birthday party – and never desired either. Cake? Yes. Company? No. Watching sports on television different than playing said on a field, my preference tv solitude to a group of people being around – even my own friends. I wanted to concentrate on the game, not hear talking/other commotion.

    As an adult I found that ‘being yourself’ – which is to say keeping to yourself more often than not – can result in other people trying to manipulate/change ‘your’ way to ‘theirs’. A work setting, their non sequitur charge of ‘you are not a team player’ an misinterpretation: though the work/goal is achieved, some people don’t like ‘how’ you accomplish said.

    Why is it necessary for anyone to change, nod the work example given? If change is the thing, why should ‘I’ (whomever) have to change – why don’t ‘YOU’ (whomever/others) change? The onus should not be on the less popular or non-majority members, but it often is. Life has taught me there is a big desire for everyone to BELONG TO / JOIN something (team, club, clique, church, charity, political, WHATEVER it may be.) My take: people can’t seem to mind their own life/business for five minutes – which is to say, I prefer and embrace the sentiment ‘to each their own’.

    In closing, offer that I like animals, well-behaved children and also enjoyed reading all the comments… but wouldn’t necessarily want to meet any of the authors, however 🙂

  15. Highly interesting, in a world full of stupid people with smart phones whitening inanely in feigned offense on behalf of a demographic to which they do not belong, I’m flummoxed as this why misanthropy isn’t the norm amongst the intelligent and educated.

  16. Animals are far superior to humans. They have an innate integrity that humans do not have. I prefer the company of animals. I require integrity and decency in my life. I don’t find it in humans.

  17. I had a bully once. He would knock my air out, he would press my face in the snow, he would degrade me verbally and when I cried, he would degrade me some more. No one ever did anything. Until one day I had enough and I stabbed him. Needless to say, he left me alone. But all my scars still remained. I have no friends except one close friend. I don’t feel I need more friends. I don’t see anything I care to procure from your world. I don’t want to hear about your children or grandchildren. I don’t want you to ask me how I am cuz you don’t care. I don’t want you to make small talk. I see life in general is one big waste of time unless you make it something you want to do. “I’m not like them but I could pretend,” just to get by. All your politics are just a pissing contest. All your churches are a mask for your hypocrites, like insurance policies cuz you know you’d probably go to hell. And all your social media activities and social competitions are a distraction from something you don’t want to face. I’m fine being me with my hobbies. But what are you trying to prove to each other? That you’re not alone? That you won with the most toys? That you’re not the ones turning this world into a place I would rather not be? Why don’t you go hug and kiss and play house with your American dream.

    With cynicism and disregard,


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