I just finished reading this little gem by Bob Sutton called The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. This book is a fantastic, quick (under 200 pages) read that helps you understand, counteract and avoid becoming an asshole.
Note: I generally dont like to use profanity on this blog, but in this particular case, I feel that the word asshole completely embodies the type of behaviour described within the pages of this book. Therefore, I certainly feel that the word is appropriate through this post.
Bob defines an asshole as a person that, after interacting with them, leaves you feeling worse about yourself. The second "asshole test" is to see if the candidate routinely picks on people that have less power than they, rather than picking on superior people.
The No Asshole Rule has chapters that talk about how to spot an asshole (subtle putdowns or sarcastic jokes as insult delivery systems) as well as self-tests that help you determine whether or not you are a "certified asshole".
Other chapters in the book center around tools that managers can use to eliminate this kind of unproductive behvior. Great case studies are throughout the book, including how a Southwest Airlines executive took a passenger that was demeaning an employee and bought him a ticket on another airline, and how nasty emails can make a company's stock plummet.
This book is intended as a starting point to help managers fight back at the assholes that criticize and sap the energy of others, which can transform the organization you work for into a much more productive, satisfying place to be.
Even if you've only been a victim, or just been a "temporary asshole", I'd recommend that you read this book because it can help you understand that you're not alone, and that there are definately things you can do about it.