You do not ever need to put down another to make yourself feel great; it is simply a mind game. 

Demonizing is an interesting phenomenon that has been around since the beginning of time. Years ago, when I started to study women, I found that many of them had to make their boyfriends, husbands, or significant others look bad before they could end their relationships. That way, they could rationalize that leaving the relationship was the right thing to do. I call this demonizing. Since then, I have also found that men demonize their exes or bosses as well. I’ve noticed many times that my female friends, after their romantic breakups, would pour their hearts out to me, and reframe history just to illustrate what terrible boyfriends their exes were. Most of these women didn’t even realize that the same qualities, which made their guys jerks at the end of their relationship, were the very characteristics they adored while they were happily together. That was probably my first foray into the demonizing world.

Of course, demonizing doesn’t end at romantic relationships. It plays out in businesses and families as well. Not very long ago, three of my best friends went into business together. They decided that working together would help them grow and build a stronger brotherhood. At the beginning, they went to great lengths to ensure their friendship came first and was worth protecting, regardless of what happened in their business venture. For three years, the three partners worked very well together, despite their ins and outs. Their business was thriving and their friendship was stronger than ever.

Until one day, a lightning bolt of clarity struck one of the partners and he quickly leveraged another partner to encourage the third to leave the firm. Did they break up for any good reason? Well, I guess it depends on which partner you talk to. In any case, it was rather sudden and it truly changed the course of all of their lives. After working through the interpersonal issues and the business and money ties, the company then had two partners instead of three. During their time of unrest, I found myself acting as a sounding board, a coach, a clarity maker, and a friend to each. As I listened to each of their stories about the other partners, I couldn’t help but hear the demon coming out – how awful the other really was; how terrible they behaved; how “I hope they last, given all of their true ills”; how “he really doesn’t have a clue.” Each, in his way, was starting to demonize the other.

The demon might seem cruel to some, but it was natural to me. The one partner who was asked to leave demonized because the justification allowed him to walk away clean, so he could hold his head (and his ego) up high. He wanted to proudly leave this pathological situation and to start afresh on his new journey. The two remaining partners demonized the partner who left to justify their rash decision and to feel they had no other choice but to break up the trio.

So which storyline is true? The story from the one who left or the story of the two who stayed? Who cares! The moral of the story is that demonizing justifies ending a relationship and how it is such a part of our normal lives. I understood that each of my friends needed to reframe and tell his own story in his own way. With some time, their stories would change again. As for me, I will do whatever I can to support each friend in his own reality, reminding him of the love and compassion I believe we should all have for each other.

In families, I have often seen demonizing when it comes to an absentee or very strict parent. Children later in life explain what a terrible upbringing they had and how cruel their parent was to them growing up. They make a monster out of the parent often to explain why they themselves have such poor behavior. They will tell horrific stories and pile on. Problem for me is that, for the most part, I believe there is little value in demonizing others. It hurts them and you. Why not just take responsibility for yourself, learn to love yourself (and your parents, and partners, and families and friends, no matter what) and move on with grace. Why create negative stories about anyone? You do not need to make anyone a “bad guy” just so you can move on. Love people, love yourself, and then just move on. You do not ever need to put down another to make yourself feel great; this is simply a mind game and hurtful one at that.

Demonizing, although I don’t like or recommend this technique, does seem to serve a role in the transition process. It seems to help folks end a once happy relationship or union and offers people a way to deal with a difficult heartbreak. In the end, I found for most people, the demonizing phase seems to eventually fade. Even so, I urge that you recognize demonizing when you see it and proactively decide not to participate. Understand that by demonizing, you may hurt a person more than you intend.