Contemptuous Personality Psychology

Contemptuous Personality Psychology,

Behind the contemptuous personality, there is more than just disdain. A desire to offend or belittle the achievements of others. In recent years, a behavior that, until recently, was somewhat neglected in the field of psychology, has been investigated in depth.

Disdainful personality according to psychology

We know, for example, that those who are contemptuous experience feelings of shame, irritation and even anger.

An interesting fact worth noting is that a good part of the scientific community assumes that we can already speak of the ‘contemptuous personality’ as such.

That is to say, it is assumed that there is a significant number of people who demonstrate behaviors of disdain and contempt continuously. There is, therefore, a pattern where emotion, feeling and behavior are stable over time.

These are profiles that we commonly label as ‘unpleasant’ or unfriendly; men and women who apply just the opposite of what we understand as pro-social behaviors: kindness, empathy, courtesy and respect (Jensen-Campbell and Graziano, 2001).

Given this marked disdain and expressed activism for humiliating others, a large number of experts point out that we could even expand the dark triad to speak of the ‘dark tetrad’.

Disdainful personality, how are they characterized?

Paul Ekman, one of the psychologists who have most studied the field of emotions, reminds us that contempt is a universal emotion as common as sadness, disgust, or joy.

We have all experienced it at some time it appears in all cultures, but some make it the filter from which to understand the world.

Dr. Roberta Schriber of the University of California, an expert in the field of emotions and, in particular, contemptuous behavior, points out that this type of personality is distinguished by three characteristics.

These are the following:

  • They are people who do not respect standards of coexistence and respect. This type of behavior, for example, is especially harmful in the workplace. They are sarcastic and critical and do not hesitate to humiliate and invalidate anyone who stands in front of their purposes.
  • Also distinguished by a clear feeling of superiority. They make use of a very marked attitude of arrogance.
  • On the other hand, something that the contemptuous personality looks for is to block who bothers him, or who stands out in some competition. They will not hesitate to criticize, undervalue, to emphasize the negative above any virtue of the target person they wish to humiliate.

Hatred always comes from people close to us

If contempt hurts, it is because in many cases it comes from figures who are quite close to us.

The sarcastic personality is most often found in the workplace. However, it is common to see this behavior in family members and even friends.

A study conducted at the University of Texas by Drs. Roberta Schriber and Joan Chung are that contempt, when it comes from those people we live with daily, is usually more subtle. But, yes, time undoubtedly turns it into a weapon of mass destruction of self-esteem.

The reason?

They make use of sarcasm, of the smile that is kind but does not hesitate to point out our failures.

They make use of condescension, of those value judgments that seek to help but end up leaving us more broken and wounded. Likewise, we cannot neglect the fact that contempt very often comes from the heart of couple relationships.

In the latter cases, manipulative behaviors and attitudes can be seen, where the contemptuous personality makes use of that so common trick of criticizing everything that the partner does, says, or feels.

According to relationship expert John Gottman, contempt is one of the horsemen of the apocalypse that best predicts a breakup or divorce.

Healthy contempt, malignant contempt

Contempt, as an emotion, has a purpose in the human being.

It helps us to distance, to block, or to assume an active attitude towards that which does not please or bothers us. There is a combination of the desire to mark a limit, but also to intervene and not to remain only in the mere feeling.

Knowing this, we can even speak of healthy contempt. Most of us despise those who, for example, make use of violence; we also show this emotion towards those who mistreat women, animals, children, etc.

We despise lies, arrogance and everything that goes against our values.

For its part, the contemptuous personality, the one that shows a stable pattern over time applying a behavior of contempt and humiliation towards others, is evidence of what Dr. Roberta A. Schriber defined in a 2017 study as the dark tetrad.

Therefore, to the classic triad of narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism, we could perfectly well add contempt. This personality type combines several very specific traits:

  • Low self-esteem with a need to ‘inflate’ their ego at all costs
  • Feeling of rage and shame when someone surpasses them in accomplishments
  • Envy
  • Narcissism


As we can intuit, the contemptuous personality is another element of that pole of human malignity capable of causing suffering and hard impacts on our emotional and psychological balance.

Let us, therefore, protect ourselves from those who despise us as much as they speak. Let us set limits for those who do not understand the essence of civility and coexistence.

Psychologist Valeria Sabater for The Mind is Wonderful Website

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