Petty Tyrants

We all have encountered people that try their best to get under our skin. The ones that attack us for the pettiest things – things that do not matter or that seem irrelevant. The verbal attacks they level are unexpected and can be quite blind siding and unsettling. These people are called “petty tyrants” because they lord over us with petty attacks as a way of chipping at our self-esteem and maintaining control. The whole point of their attacks is to throw us off balance. Focusing on their critical comments can leave us feeling disempowered and confused – our forward momentum disrupted.

Many of the clients I see for therapy come in confused and beaten down by the petty tyrants in their lives. I find that much of the anxiety and depression my clients experience can often be the direct result of interactions with petty tyrants. The work I do is to first educate my clients by debunking the confusing, antagonistic attacks and then work to build up their core confidence level so they can start taking their power back. We also focus on safety – maintaining safety in all interactions is important.

Petty tyrants are everywhere – bosses, partners, co-workers, relatives, etc. Their comments are never constructive, but rather critical and demeaning with a hint of shame attached to them. For example, you could be all dressed up looking fabulous and rather than compliment you, they will make a snide comment about how the perfume you are wearing annoys them. You could be giving the best customer service and yet they will tell you that you are not enthusiastic enough with customers. Or their tactics can be more insidious – for example, giving you a look that clearly implies they disapprove of you. They will take things that you say and do out of context, turn them around and reframe them against you – thus depleting your energy and giving you a feeling of being on edge.

The intent is to leave you doubting yourself and can put you in a state of mental paralysis – your energy scattered. The goal is to get you to focus so much on yourself and your perceived imperfections that you lose sight of the bad behavior of the petty tyrant who is attacking you. If you are so focused on yourself, you will not have the time or energy to see what “they” are doing – belittling you and disempowering you. It is undermining and debilitating. Again, that is the goal.

Everyone has access to their own inner power reserves – the petty tyrant looks to steal that power from others rather than developing their own inner power. The more power they take from you, the more they want – much like an addiction. Their actions are based on jealousy, envy and a deeply rooted insecurity. Consequently, if they are able to knock you down and bring you to their level – it makes them feel better about themselves.

One very important thing to remember is that you did not attract this person – do not blame yourself for being involved. Petty tyrants are magnetized to kind-hearted, caring people – people that are following the beat of their own drum. The tyrant lashes out because these kind souls threaten the tyrant’s toxic, status quo way of life. Tyrants are very skilled at manipulating using small-minded, petty behavior – thus the name “petty tyrant”.

The best way to deal with a petty tyrant is to turn and walk the other way if you are able. Do not waste time and energy trying to defend yourself or convincing them – that will only suck you further into their clever trap. The key is to rise above their comments – pause and reflect rather than react – work to come from a place of neutrality – do not engage.

Another one of their tactics can be to escalate things by creating a lot of unnecessary drama. Again, don’t engage – work to pull your energy back by remaining calm and centered. If you have to engage – state only the facts and remain as neutral as possible. Their goal is to get you riled up and to react – this gives them something to use against you. The more you remain calm and centered, the more it will frustrate and disempower them. They want your power – don’t give it to them.


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