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The Price of Being Petty

By HERWriter
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The Price of Pettiness Via Unsplash

Petty by dictionary definition is something trivial and of little importance. On the internet, it’s a toxic mix of social media and passive aggressive behavior that can hurt relationships in the long run.

What is Pettiness?


The internet culture of pettiness consists of someone going to great lengths to enact revenge on someone, usually over something minor.

It’s a behavior and mindset familiar with young adults and popular on social media. Posts about petty behavior are exaggerated for humorous effect, but are still a reflection of real behavior in interpersonal relationships.

“I’ve been very petty many times,” said Taneya Brown, a freshman political science student at Arizona State University. “Sometimes I like to have a meeting going on and if someone’s there that I know did something that they shouldn’t have, I’ll outright say it but I won’t say their name.

That, or I’ll post about it online.”

Alexander Wright a sophomore at ASU gave his insight on pettiness in relationships.

“Pettiness in relationships nowadays has to do a lot with social media,” Wright said.

He said that because relationships nowadays are on constant display, people use the public nature of social media as leverage in disputes.

Sub-tweeting, the act of talking about someone on Twitter without mentioning their name, is one of the most popular acts of pettiness.

“You and your partner should be able to work out things without everyone knowing your business,” Wright said. “When you’re on Twitter and sub-tweeting and you’re a grown person in a relationship, it just shows that you’re not mature yet.”

Physiological Effects of Pettiness


There’s a reason why being petty is so, so satisfying. An article published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes said that while few will openly support the act of revenge, people are drawn to justice being served in that manner.

According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, people who seek revenge are more satisfied in teaching their offender a lesson in opposition to making them suffer for the sake of punishment.

However, being petty can negatively affect your health. A study on the effects of forgiveness showed that not forgiving someone was linked to having higher heart rate and blood pressure. In contrast, forgiveness was associated with having lower blood pressure and reduced feelings of anxiety and stress.

A Solution Sans Social Media


“Social media is not a place to air your grievances,” said Dr. Louise Privette, a psychologist who works with adolescents and adults.

She said that the digital age puts a “whole new spin” on relationships in general. Privette said that real, non-digital communication is key in keeping pettiness to a minimum.

“Before, when a couple had a fight, it wasn’t aired on social media,” she said. “The couple would have normally worked it out in private.”

People in relationships do not necessarily want to hurt each other, but would rather not mention the issue instead of openly talking about it. She said if someone feels wronged, he or she should write all his or her feelings down but not  send it.

“Words are powerful. You need to be able to make those emotional deposits,” she said. “In a couple days, you will open it and be glad you didn’t show it."

Privette also advises those in relationships to try and keep all disputes to themselves.

“Don’t involve other people. And if you do want to involve other people, choose a trusted friend not one of your 500 Facebook friends who don’t even know you,” she said. "In every relationship there are going to be petty fights.

What’s important is that you can come back and that person has your best interests in mind.”

Edited by Chelsea Shannon

Read more in Being HER

Gollwitzer, M. and Denzler, M. (2009) ‘What makes revenge sweet: Seeing the offender suffer or delivering a message?’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(4), pp. 840–844. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.03.001.


Lawler, K. A., Younger, J. W., Piferi, R. L., Jobe, R. L., Edmondson, K. A., & Jones, W. H. (2005). The unique effects of forgiveness on health: An exploration of pathways. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 28(2), 157–167. doi:10.1007/s10865-005-3665-2.

Tripp, T. M., Bies, R. J., & Aquino, K. (2002). Poetic justice or petty jealousy? The aesthetics of revenge. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 89(1), 966–984. doi:10.1016/S0749-5978(02)00038-9. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0332/1fcc058354839f1475d3e72236a58dacd47b.pdf

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.