Why people feel the need to use insults

A 55-year-old woman is in jail in Dubai for a Facebook-related act. The alleged offense: Calling her ex-husband's new wife a horse.

A nice female friend of mine once called her ex-husband's new wife a dog. Sometimes replaced women call the new wife a cow or a pig.

What do some ex-husbands call the new husband? A clown or a loser. Personally, I would be tempted to refer to someone who replaces me in a romance as a numbat. Or a platypus. Maybe even a blue-footed booby.

What's with all the insults? In cases of an ended romantic relationship, negative emotions can reach extremely high levels. Jealousy overrules rational thought, good manners - everything.

The jealousy usually overlays hurt and anger. Toss in hate, bitterness and fear, and you have a strong urge to insult.

In the riveting complaint song You Ought to Know, Alanis Morissette sings about her replacement: "I'm sure she'd make a really excellent mother." No food tastes as bitter as that comment.

Insults are common also in the political realm of life. The most memorable political insult I ever heard was Wayne Swan describing the current Prime Minister as a "grinning fool in a baseball cap." Second place: former PM Paul Keating speaking about John Hewson: "He's like a shiver waiting for a spine to crawl up." Third, radio personality Alan Jones and others calling Prime Minister Julia Gillard "Juliar."

These sorts of insults would get a person killed in many nations.

Sometimes, it is the national leader who does the insulting.

Take Donald Trump for example. He is the world champion in giving political opponents insulting nicknames: Pocahontas, Low-Energy Jeb, Lyin' Ted, Little Pencil-Neck. His supporters love those insults, because Trump's putting down someone else helps elevate them in their own view. We can see now the main goal of insulting others: to help us feel better about ourselves.

Is there a more mature way to handle explosively negative feelings about someone?

Yes, there is. State, at least to yourself, the emotion you feel. Once you bring the emotion out into the open, it starts to lose its hold on you. You might not feel the urge to insult. You might think about ways to get past the unpleasant emotion. You might think about ways to build yourself up, not by insulting someone but by helping others or by showing class.

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England