8 Habits of Intolerant People

A psychotherapist makes some observations about people who are quick to anger, resentful and intolerant of others.

Photo Credit: Tom Wang/

I find it difficult to believe that there still remain so many people who are intolerant of others; like those who are so vehemently against gay marriage even though other people’s intimate relationships do not directly hurt them. It turns out these people share some similar traits. Over my years as a psychotherapist, I have worked with many people who have personality issues. I have observed the following about those who are quick to anger, resentful and begrudging of others.

1. They are often fanatical. They don’t just believe in something deeply, they believe in something narrowly without room for other interpretations. They believe their view is the only view, and that anything even slightly different is wrong and is the enemy. There is a difference between being devout—in which you deeply believe in something—and being fanatic—in which you're on the attack against those who don’t agree or just see things differently from you.

2. They are usually psychologically rigid. Any other way of looking at things causes them great anxiety, and they will fight with all their will to get others to agree with them. Down deep they are much more concerned with self-preservation and see "different" as a threat to their identity. They view their actions as being in self-defense of what they view as an assault by others with a different POV.

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3. They are know-it-alls. They know a lot about a very narrow aspect of life that has possibly provided them with success and they believe it can be applied to everything in life. When challenged they retreat and revisualize how their approach works in that narrow area, and come back at the challenger with even more aggression.

4. They are terrible listeners. Duh! That should be obvious. Rarely do people around them feel listened to, heard, understood or valued for anything that in any way differs from this person’s viewpoint.

5. They often have tension in their relationships. That should come as little surprise, since their having to be in control means they can only be in a relationship with people who obey, agree and are submissive. This often means they have volcanic relationships with their teenage children.

6. They believe you're either in control or out of control. They are black-and-white thinkers with no room for gray. They will not accept that we are not in control of most areas of our lives. For instance, we have some control over what we say and do and write,but we have little control over how it is heard, seen or read. They frequently come from families that were either highly controlling or chaotic. If their parents were highly controlling, they came to believe that was the only way you can and should live your life, and they have “paid it forward” into their own lives. If their parents and families were chaotic, they vowed that when they grew up, there would be much more order to their lives and they have now gone too far.

7. They can’t leave anything to chance. They have a deep-seated belief that if you leave anything to chance, something awful will happen. Albert Einstein said, “The most important decision you will ever make is whether you live in a safe or a dangerous world.” For whatever reason, these individuals believe they live in a dangerous world which justifies their preemptive aggression and hostility toward others because they believe others are primed to attack them (sound like any foreign policy you know?).

8. They are frequently jealous deep-down. This is the most interesting observation. Being envious means wanting what another person has; being jealous means being angry with the person for having it. I think they feel jealous because they are not particularly happy individuals who are frustrated for believing they are following all the rules, yet they are not at peace. So when they see a couple who is willing to defy so many rules and conventions to find true love and be happy, they are not only envious, but are jealous.

When it comes to anyone else’s intimate relationship, my philosophy, and I hope how I conduct myself, is to live and let love.

Mark Goulston is a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist and the author of "Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone." He is the co-founder of Heartfelt Leadership. Contact: [email protected]