Copycat, copycat

(inspired by and dedicated to those who are driven crazy by family members or friends who copy or imitate)

Copycat, copycat,
I want that.
Copycat, copycat,
tit for tat.
Copycat, copycat,
No, you can’t!

Copycat, copycat, I want that! It seems that I inspire my sister-in-law (SiL) quite often.  Upon getting to know the wife of my DH’s brother (2010), I noticed that every time I shared something about myself, SiL expressed the same interest.  It seemed we had a lot in common even though we failed to have a real discussion about our “shared” activities and I started to have an uneasy feeling about her.  By late 2012, I had shared enough information about myself and I was now feeling angry and controlled after each and every interaction (face to face and telephone).

At first, I talked myself out of it.  I told myself that I was being petty and these are all coincidences and that I do not own these activities, etc.  I used every rationalization to not see that the line between inspiration and imitation was being crossed, consistently.

The pattern started out like this.  DH or I would share a story, for example our hiking holiday, and she would make a comment to put it down – “Why would anyone want to go hiking for a vacation, I need the beach and relaxation.”  Then, BiL and SiL announce they are going on a hiking holiday.  It felt like what we enjoyed was devalued only to be copied at a later date.  What was going on?  Am I narcissistic to think her behaviors were about copying us?

Something was missing.  If BiL and SiL aren’t taking external cues about what they should do in their life, doesn’t it seem like SiL and I would be good friends or at least get along because we have many, if not all, of the same activities in common.  Wouldn’t we have a connection of at least acquaintances instead of the connection of two strangers who cross the same path?

I wasn’t yet comfortable trusting my intuition 100% and the science part of me kicked in.  During the last visit (December 2014) an opportunity came up to measure the extent of BiL and SiL’s copying behaviors.  A discussion (one way, of course) came up about where they would like to go on vacation in 2015.  DH and I didn’t say much and then, I said, “It would be nice to go to Country X.”  Out of all the places we want to see on planet earth, Country X is not high on our list.  What I said was true, “it would be nice”.  Not that we plan to go there.  As you can imagine, a few months after the winter holiday, BiL tells DH that they are going to Country X.  For the past couples years, they have been going to the same places as us.

Copycat, copycat, tit for tat!  I wasn’t entirely sure that copying behaviors linked with other narcissistic behaviors were motivated by envy.  It seemed that in order to envy what someone else has you would have had to want it in the first place (beforehand).  BiL and SiL’s behaviors came after the fact.  In the end, I will never know how they truly feel about anything.

Albert J. Bernstein, Ph.D. in his book, Emotional Vampires¹, describes what it is like to be narcissistic:

“To know how Narcissists experience life, imagine playing golf, tennis, or some other competitive sport and having the best day of your career.  You feel great, but the mental wall between confidence and fear is thin as tissue paper.  Everything is riding on the next shot, and then the one after that…Imagine the pressure should the only meaningful goal in your life be proving that you are something more than human.  Narcissists’ greatest fear is of being ordinary.” (~Bernstein, p. 142)

The only form of connection DH and I have with them is in the form of competition.   It resembles what in game theory is referred to as Tit for Tat.  This maneuver involves replicating your opponent’s maneuver.  From gadgets to hobbies to travel itineraries, we go back and forth, and according to Bernstein, the game NEVER ends.

Viewing our interactions game from Bernstein’s perspective could explain that copying behaviors are not motivated by a desire to obtain what the other has (envy) but by their paradoxical desire to be extraordinary (superhuman).

Imagine that you go about your business, enjoying life.  To most everyone, you are living your life, to the narcissist it is perceived as an aggression of your “extraordinary” self (an attack).  And the game of life is not fair – you are not entitled to the same privileges and respect as the narcissist.  Any assertion of your sense of self (because it is naturally different) perhaps, then, triggers their fear of being ordinary – a threat that is equally paradoxical as their desire to be extraordinary through the agency of others.

Copycat, copycat, No, you can’t!  By 2013, the pattern was hard to miss, DH was making jokes and soon their house was decorated with similar furnishings.  I was now irritated with this never ending game.

Anger is primarily associated with your sense of self.  My sense of self, at least the small part of me that is made of the stuff I enjoy, felt ‘stolen’.  And if I rewound the past few years of copying behaviors, I find myself back at home with my mother.  A woman who stole what I enjoyed.  It maybe wasn’t her intention or motivation, it was the behaviors that chiseled at my sense of self.  Everything from friendships to accomplishments she ‘stole’ with her words of disdain or worse, her outward interference in controlling (and sabotaging) what I did and who I did it with.  My anger toward my in-laws’ had a past, one that I hated to think about.

Having someone I loved and trusted steal my identity ate at me.  I backed away from people, I doubted myself and I began to feel disconnected from myself at a time when the very opposite is supposed to happen (individuation from FOO).  So much of those same emotions were stirred up when I got to know SiL.  That whatever I shared with her would be misused and any sort of individuality that I fought for from my parents, my in-laws were re-stealing it.

BUT here’s the thing (and I have to remind myself of this often): No one CAN steal your sense of self.  It is impossible.  Even if SiL’s behaviors continue to chisel away at it, she can’t.  We are inherently different from each other, not unique, but different and separate.  SiL may enjoy the same things that I do, as many others do.  And because we can’t steal each other’s sense of self (no matter how hard we try) we are both inherently FREE.  Even SiL, even if it seems that she is not aware of it.  Nobody stops her from taking that chisel and gnawing at the rope that binds her sense of self to the external cues of her world.

I have to remember that the ties (and lies) that bound me to my FOO are untangling and that I, under no circumstances, need to bind myself to my in-laws in the same false sense of connection (competition).  We are ultimately free from each other.

Copycat, copycat,
I want that.
Copycat, copycat,
Tit for tat.
Copycat, copycat,
No, you can’t.
Copycat, copycat,
Free at last!


¹Bernstein, Albert J., Ph.D. (2012). Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry.  McGraw Hill, New York.

How to Speak Scapegoat

I’m continuing with the Chinese year of the goat theme with this post.  I went through my notes on the last three visits with family and friends of origin and since I journaled during the visits it was eye-opening to see what I had written down after some time had passed.  One aspect that I have been focusing on is my own behaviors that fuel my false self (scapegoat).  As I re-learn how to speak, I tried to answer questions more in line with my true self than with my scapegoat – a trying habit to break.

I use the phrase “I’ve been Goat’d” as such:

Goat’d!: refers to someone placing you in the role of Scapegoat without your assistance

Facts versus Feelings: What’s the difference?

Friend: “How are your father and mother doing?”

Me: “My father’s illness is slowly getting worse and my mother is taking care of him.”  (non-ACoN friends only know I’m not close to my family and nothing further)

Friend: “Well, ya know, TR, it is really difficult to take care of someone who is ill and it is really a burden to them.  Your mom must be having a rough time.”

I’ve been Goat’d!

As much as I struggle with the relationship I have with my parents, I know that I am very careful in how I speak about them.  I aim to answer honestly without oversharing.  I usually stick to “We are not close” or “We don’t have a healthy relationship”.  People may ask me and I am open to a discussion but that has never been the case so our relationship is open to interpretation.

Opinions are either Right or Wrong?

After a dinner with friends, we were walking to our cars and a freight train moved through the middle of the town.  In my opinion, it was going fast and I blurted out loud: “Oh, that freight train is going really fast through a residential neighborhood”.  My friend’s response: “Oh, come on, it isn’t really, it’s normal on a Sunday evening.”

I’ve been Goat’d!

My opinion could have been based on four years of working with freight transport, having been inside and on top of freight railcars, inside barges, etc. (Btw, that is 100% true).  And my friend’s opinion could have based on his knowledge of the town’s ordinance for freight transport (as he lives near that town).  Nobody is WRONG, yet the goat’s opinion had to be wrong.

Your Answer is NEVER Good Enough

This one is hard to ‘catch’ because it comes across as an innocuous question and all roads lead to a trap door.

Friend: “Where are you planning to go for holiday this year?”

Me: “We are thinking about either area A or B.”

Friend: “Isn’t that a luxury problem to have?  To sit here and contemplate two places to go on holiday while others can’t.”

You guessed it, I’ve been Goat’d!

I love it when you can answer a question and it doesn’t matter what you say!

What Happens in Your Head, Stays in Your Head

I went to a wedding last year where the bride and groom were having three weddings (in three different cities).  We were invited to the first one and I asked the best man (in front of friends after he started to explain the other weddings and how much work he had to do):

Me: How big is the next wedding?

Best Man: Well, we are having a wedding in the area where a lot of our cousins and distant relatives live.  We are actually not that close and haven’t seen them in a while.  We are actually not that close of a family.  So, yeah, to answer your question, we aren’t really a big happy family.  (His monologue was really, really long that it seemed my question was forgotten but when he ended with “to answer your question” that was telling)

I’ve been Goat’d!

Focus on the Pain, Not the Gain

When sharing my story (during these visits), I tried to share both the positives and the negatives in my life.  For example, I shared that I had started a new book club and I had failed my language exam when asked “What I had been up to lately?”.  I am okay with focusing on my struggles if the intent is to truly help however, when an Q&A session starts about why I failed an exam and nothing about the book club, I realized that letting go of my scapegoat role is nasty business.

It’s nasty business because somewhere along the way I learned that the only way to get my story heard (attention) was to tell my worst, most pitiful story.  Being the scapegoat seemed to serve everyone’s purpose – including my own.  I engaged others by engaging in my own pain.  I learned that my successes would never be acknowledged (with my family and friends of origin) and how to interview for pain.

Other examples of being Goat’d?