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.

23 thoughts on “Copycat, copycat

  1. Oh, this is good. I can relate to this immediately! My ‘mother’ does the same thing: she has to top me on everything …..and it’s not a form of ‘connection’…it’s a form of competition. It doesn’t matter what it is….narcissists just feel compelled to do these things…and it IS unnatural.
    What I have found out about most narcissists in my experience is this: they are shallow people and have to blow up their egos , or ‘steal’ what others do. they just never seem to have enough. They are shells.

    LOL! Do this with your relatives; Next time tell them you both are going on vacation in war=torn Syria or Yemen, or climbing the Himalayans. See if they follow through.

    Love, Jane

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yup, the mothers. It took me a while to piece together my irritation with SiL’s behaviors. I think that to some degree I was, like Ns, disconnected from my true self. The way it manifests is interesting because I would normally shy away from competition which is another type of N and SiL and some other former friends come up in center and steal other people’s ideas – sound familiar?

      LOL! I am laughing on the floor. I don’t know if I mentioned to you? – SiL is also learning French. DH told me to tell her I’m learning Mandarin next! Hahaha, too funny!

      Love, TR

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for this post, TR. Man, does it sound familiar. After spending the first decade of my relationship with MIL having her devalue and degrade everything I was, she suddenly started this copy cat business. I also felt like my identity was being stolen and that I was being swallowed up by the family blob. (They have serious enmeshment issues, and MIL likes if everyone in the family is the “same” and has exactly the same interests, ideas, values, and behaviors. I think she finds it validating.) I would become quite angry that MIL seemed to be swallowing up the identity I’d worked so hard to establish (much like you, my mother stole my identity a lot.) I don’t know if I’m to the point where I can remember I’m free from them, regardless of what they do. I often feel I’m being swallowed whole when around them. I’ve got lots to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jessie,
      You’re welcome. I remember a post or a comment about your IL’s and their copying behaviors (even about wine and decor?). I think the point of enmeshment is right on. The slightest difference is treated like a threat. I hadn’t considered it from that perspective: it is validating to who they are and that they are following the ‘right’ path in life if everyone around them is the same.

      So true, as ACoNs we did have to work hard to individuate from our FOO. They try really hard to keep everyone in the clan blob. I often wonder if they can see how boring AND unoriginal they look to the rest of the world? But then again, that would require self-awareness. 😉 xx


      • Yes, my ILs copy everything from food preferences, to interests, to travel plans, to decor. My MIL once asked my husband how I would decorate an old crate that she had gotten. She didn’t want suggestions. She wanted a step-by-step instructions of EXACTLY what I would do, so she could copy it (and she didn’t ask me, she asked DH so that, presumably, she could claim the ideas as her own.)
        My ILs tend to maintain a tight little bubble, which helps them to deny self-awareness. One the “ideas” they share in common is that their family is “the best” and the epitome of what a family should be. They also come from a community that values sameness, so it’s easier to hide their behavior too.
        I realized the other day that one of the hardest parts of my ILs is that they tried to squash any individuality I had when I came into the family. They denied, ignored, or degraded and differences I had. They then changed tactics, but copycatting feels much the same to me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • In your first paragraph, that is what happens! They ask weird questions. When we go on holiday, they don’t ask ‘how was it?’ or ‘did you enjoy?’. It becomes an interrogation: how many days, where, what hotel, which tour? Instead of asking me about my furniture or giving a compliment, they ask: “where did you get that?”.

          That is interesting: your MiL, asking that way is a way to ‘own’ the idea. That is really sneaky and underhanded. And I wonder if they degrade, devalue and the copy is their reaction to seeing that you maintain who you are. Something that no one can steal, so they then copy.


          • Ah, yes, the interrogation! All conversations are purely to gain information, rather than to interact with me. I get a lot of “where did you get that?” (once, instead of admiring some shoes that I had, MIL asked where I got them so she could get them for her sister. Presumably so she could collect NS from the “gift giving” and “thoughtfulness”. It didn’t occur to her that I didn’t want to look like a clone of the family.) Every conversation with MIL feels like an “extraction” and it is painful.
            I thought it was really sneaky that MIL went through DH like that. And when he kept telling her he didn’t know (how in the heck was HE supposed to know what creative idea I would come up with? It’s almost irritating that she thinks that creativity is just something you can “learn” and copy) she just kept asking the question a different way. She devalued me for so long, that it took me awhile to wrap my head around the sudden “idolization”. My only conclusion was that, once she figured out I wasn’t going anywhere (that DH still would value me as his priority and wife, rather than HER), she then decided to “take on” my identity in order to gain DH’s attention back. I know that sounds a bit paranoid on my part, but I think MIL has some weird emotional incest issues with DH (she once asked him to admire a pair of pants she had one that were better suited for a college girl than a woman in her late 50s. It was gross.) Actually, she has it with both of her two oldest sons and tries to push it with my son too. I also think that she started to wake up and realize that OTHER people really valued who I was and so in order to gather similar regard for herself, she just adopted what I did. (She has had a hard time with any compliments I get or attention in my direction, and either tries to “one up” me or change the subject back to herself. When this didn’t work anymore – because she wasn’t involved in the activities I was, she “suddenly” became interested in them. Like crafting and decorating her home.)
            Sorry this is so lengthy! Thanks for letting me share.


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  4. Copy that 😉 I went through a very similar experience with my sister and like yourself, it took me ages to acknowledge that she was in fact copying me. Interestingly enough, it was DH who spotted it first (he’d say she reminded him of the character in the film “Single White Female”) and because of his anger being fully functional 😉 he used to get really annoyed about it. It somewhat bizarre that they would want something we have (or would want to go somewhere we’ve been to) not because they actually want it but simply because we have it. It’s like those kids who are not interested at all in a toy until another kid picks it up to play. 😛

    Kara xx


    • Hi guys, my NM was the copycat with me. TR your SIL is just weird. Truly. I remember those silly “dolls” she got to “represent” family members. And of course, your FiL who insists that you eat whatever he’s eating. Copying seems to be the way they express “affiliation.” This is kind of interesting (if annoying and ultimately insidious). The notion that if they do what you do or like what you like, they are showing ‘solidarity.’ But then of course it always turns competitive, and then becomes an act of appropriation. What was originally yours becomes theirs, and the origin of their choice gets vanished or erased. Icky. It’s a form of absorption of you into them, isn’t it? Luckily you see it now for what it is and can avoid being appropriated by them. Boy, you lucked out. NFOO, and now ILs. xo CS


  5. My comment might sound extreme and it’s particular to my narcissistic ex-spouse because I don’t know if other people felt the same thing, or had the same experience. However, when my ex decided he had found someone “better than me” (yes, he said that), he started appropriating everything particular to me. He would drive into our driveway with his truck filled with boxes of lights and tell me gleefully that he’d picked them out himself for his new home with the Other Woman. Now the guy was into ‘decorating’. He also started cooking and telling me how proud he was of himself. And today, he gardens with his new wife (the same gingerbread girl he ran away with over ten years ago). They have matching riding lawn mowers and they plant tulips for the spring and vegetables for the summer. He emailed a few years ago to get my mother’s recipe for home-canned chili sauce, one of his fond memories. So now the guy CANS food?? No, I didn’t send him the recipe.

    My ex was never interested in cooking and decorating and he only gardened as “my” assistant. I was the expert, a skilled artisan who was “mocked” but appreciated for increasing our property values. I felt like he was murdering me…bit by bit, one “duck a l’orange” at a time.;-P I was being wiped out of existence as he mimicked my identity. xoxo CZ


    • CZ, that makes sense to me (your feelings about it). He couldn’t compete with you DIRECTLY (by doing it with you, as you would always be “better” than him at it), so he found some little twit to be the “lesser” in the relationship. That way, he’s not directly comparing himself to you, by competing none the less. (Does that make sense what I just said). It seems to be a way to twist reality so that he can feel he’s “winning”. Seems like a lot of N behavior I’ve come across. They warp things just enough so that they can redefine the reality of the situation.
      It can make one feel very, very invisible. And I’ve been there too.


      • Thanks, Jessie! Your comment made me feel heard and understood. Not everyone “gets” this. When I mentioned it to someone, they said, “Consider it a compliment!” and I was like, “What’s complimentary about being erased?” As awful as it is, there’s comfort in knowing you have also felt “erased”. ❤

        I can't quite describe the difference between someone copying because they're envious; and someone adopting our identity as a way to eliminate us. I have this intuitive sense but haven't put the distinction into words. TR's post triggered residuals of that horrible experience which is different, yet similar to, having our ideas and skills "appropriated". I'm not even quite sure what I'm trying to say but there's a deep hatred involved in the process–so deep that the narcissistic person is unaware of their "true" motivation. Thank you for commenting, Jessie!


        • CZ, That picked up my day that I could offer you some support. It is difficult to describe that difference between being erased and “copied”. I often felt like my NMIL was trying to “absorb” me. Like she was sucking me up inside of herself and making me non-existent by all her copying. I’m guessing that this had something to do with me feeling like all of my boundaries were being erased. You can not have an identity without boundaries. When my NM does this, I feel more like I’m completely invisible. Like she has somehow invalidity my individuality by co-opting it, rendering me non-existent. There is something so painful about feeling non-existent.
          TR, thanks so much for writing this post. This is something I’ve struggled with for years, starting when NMIL changed tactics and started doing this to me. Like CZ said, very few people really “get” what this feels like. It looks a lot like so many other experiences in life, but it has a distinct twist to it that makes it “horrible”. Thanks ladies for the discussion. It helps me to feel less alone (and crazy!)


  6. “You should be flattered!”…. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery!”
    Not if someone has dedicated themselves to finding out, “…what works for you” in order to build a flagging esteem. That was way back in high school. This particular girl literally followed me around, then would show up wearing, saying and trying to do all that I did. It was only years later that I realized this young woman (now a full grown automaton), would latch onto whom she believed had power or appeal in order to have it for herself. Sadly, she has never had an original thought.
    I knew more people like this than I would like…I have had ‘overbearing’ girlfriends who would jealously guard and defend our friendship; I’d hear from others that she would shoot nasty looks at them as soon as I was out of sight or make it clear to them that they were unwelcome. I never saw it, but over time a need to control me in all sorts of ways became very hard to handle. At the time, I had not learned to have healthy boundaries.
    This woman didn’t seem to need to copy as much as own me. At least I hadn’t noticed that yet. I became aware of some increasingly obvious behavior issues … The ease at which she would lie, not take responsibility for her actions and falsify her credentials and experiences. I was floored when she would tell people enormous lies about her schooling, especially. She now spends her time on Facebook, glorifying herself through her page; she has become flawless and perfect to those who have never met her.She suddenly became a graduate of two interests that I have actually been to school for and has tacked degrees after two or three other things that I know she has only taken one or two classes in – at most. Add an online certificate in Ministry… the kind you only have to hit send for… (my bad for mentioning that I did this simply to find out if I could), I won’t go into where that led. It amazes me that no one has checked her out and called b.s.
    In ways, this has helped me to discover the truth and begin seeing people around me for what they really are.
    My NM has shown up on my doorstep to show me her ‘new hair!!’; the exact color/s I had chosen only one week prior. I know how it feels to be minimized for a choice I have made then carbon copied as if I hadn’t existed. It’s mind blowing. It took time and a much better understanding about what I was dealing with as it pertained to the N’s around me.
    These days, I share nothing of importance to any of the people I know who will parrot my thoughts or consume my personality as if it were theirs to pick away at. I am keenly aware that anything I post on my page will be fodder for my NF to write about in his blog.. we are not ‘friends’ and I have gone no contact; at the same time, I also know he makes himself look half crazed. At this point, I concentrate on living the best life I can. I very rarely censor myself because I feel far enough away from the kinds of people that used to hurt me in the ways we have been discussing; I am safe.I know that I am living an authentic life full of feeling and joy- all the things that they can’t copy.
    I hope that others who read this will come to a place of peace, knowing that YOU are truly your own person… that you can carve out safety and plenty of space for yourself to keep growing.
    You know that you have done ‘the work’ personally- you have been brave enough to face yourself and find new ways to ‘be’ in the world. It takes GUTS to do that. None of those people who counterfeit their personalities has spent more than a fleeting moment in the place we live.
    The people who have tried to emulate pieces and parts of your honest selves can’t pull off anything more than window dressing.
    It is with that knowledge that I find myself able to go back out there and be myself. I hope this helps you too.
    Thank you for sharing your stories, your feelings and all that you are learning; these past days and weeks I have been so thankful to realize that others have gone through many of the very same things throughout their lives.


  7. Whoa! I relate to this post SO much. I had a friend who would copy everything I did (career, hobbies, diet, etc.) and it annoyed me. As much as we talked about it and I tried getting to the root of why she did it, and forgave and forgave, it continued. So then I got to the root of why it bothered me. My therapist helped me see that it bothered me because it reminded me of my mother who also never respected my boundaries, saw me as a separate person and ‘stole’ everything that was mine, even my friends. I too questioned if I was narcissistic because it bothered me. It is the most annoying thing but I am now learning the importance of boundaries and letting go of anyone who doesn’t respect them. I love the part in the end about no one really being able to steal our sense of self. It’s true… even if it feels like it’s exactly what they’re doing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does feel like that, like it is stealing; and I know what you mean, I realised that my fearing potential competition was my narcissism. Growing up with mothers like that does not help us plant a good foundation in who we are so dealing with others who behave this way triggers us deeply.


  8. Regarding copycat syndrome it reminds me of an episode of Doctor Who, which many here might not know of. It is a sci-fi tv series from Britain about a man who travels through space and time having adventures. One of the episodes (a bit like the Twilight Zone) was about an alien entity which attacked a group of people on a space shuttle going from one planet to another, a bit like a tour bus. All of a sudden somebody would start acting strange and begin to copy another person. They would literally say everything the other person said and nothing else, and would just stare at the person they were copying. The actress who began being taken over by the alien was incredibly good at making the whole thing terrifying. For some reason, it scared the living daylights out of me. And out of the other passengers, but in particular out of the person she copied. She went from person to person and they all wanted her to stop. In the end of the episode somebody saved the rest of the crew from the alien by pushing the infected person out of the space shuttle. Brutal but apparently the only way to stop it.

    Why was this episode so terrifying if all the alien was doing was copying everything you said. Who hasn’t had a sibling do this to them when they were kids. It’s annoying, and sort of funny, but it gets out of hand really quickly and begins to freak you out and make you angry right?

    My explanation is that its not your outer self they are copying, they are trying to steal your soul by ‘becoming you’. In the same way that some native groups won’t allow photographs of themselves because they believe the photo will steal their soul, we have an instinctive hatred of a person who tries to ‘become’ us. It’s not an act of desperation, its an act of predation. That’s why it makes you angry. We should be angry. It’s not only a threat to our psychological existence, while it happens, it is also a challenge to see if we value ourselves enough to allow the other person to keep doing it.

    This kind of behaviour is not just wrong its threatening and hostile. It’s a ‘corporate takeover’ in the most essential meaning of that phrase – corps meaning body.

    Liked by 1 person


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