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!

Footnote

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

Playing Games

I love games.  Most kind of games, anyway.  Sports, board games, card games, trivia, video/computer games, dominoes, The Hunger Games and The Olympic Games.  I’m competitive.  I play to win.  I don’t routinely win but nevertheless, win or lose, I enjoy playing.

Luckily, during the holidays DH’s FOO (my in-laws) pass the time playing games.  They prefer to play card games and dominoes and I’ve learned a lot of new card games from them.  It is a way to get through uncomfortable time with them.

This last holiday break I began to realize something about how my in-laws approach game playing and had flashbacks to other times I have played games (not the mental kind 😉 ) with other narcissists in my life.  

When I read the post and conversation at Releasing Jessie (A Validating Response), I began to understand that there are fundamental differences in many of my relationships – not at an opinion, perspective level, but at a much deeper level.

“They assume that I operate in exactly the same way as them. And this in congruency makes any sort of real relationship impossible.” – Jessie

This insightful comment was apparent at a more surface level when playing games socially with not only my in-laws but also other friends.  Playing a game with them seemed to highlight how differently we operate on a microscopic scale.

Child’s Play

Whenever we visit the best friends of DH’s parents, we also pass the time with games, not the preferred card games or dominoes of my in-laws, but with their preferred game – Taboo or Catch Phrase.  The skill crucial to winning at such communication style games is to have an ability to relay information so that your teammates will guess the word or phrase stated on your card.

Word on card: Ice Skating Rink

Objective: have teammates guess the whole phrase correctly without using the words on the card or derivatives (skate, icy, etc.)

FiL: the place we used to take you kids, ya know, where we would go and one time you…

Every time, without fail, FiL or MiL would bring up his/her memory to help the teammates guess the word.  Perhaps, what is funny, and sad at the same time, is that the majority of the people playing the game (other party guests DH’s FOO didn’t know very well) couldn’t effectively guess (including me).  During the course of the game, it never occurred to them to adjust their approach.  If you were on their team, you struggled.

However innocent it is and not necessarily crucial to life, playing a communication style game like this with narcissists potentially reveals a fundamental difference in how they view the world.  And what is also revealing is the lack of self-awareness of how if one approach or strategy doesn’t work, maybe consider another.

The idea of viewing the world one way and not through another way or another person’s perspective illustrates a similarly between how narcissists and toddlers view the world – hence, adult narcissists engage in child’s play, literally.  I read an interesting article about how children begin to develop the ability to understand or consider the thoughts and feelings of others.  This switch happens at an early developmental stage and one that parents may be able to aid their children as to help them connect with others into adolescence and adulthood.

“this modest development allows us to survive and thrive in an interconnected, social world” – Rebecca Schwarzlose

Article: Scientific American, “The Benefits about Talking about Thoughts with Tots”

Postmortems

For all the enjoyment I get out of playing sports or games, it can easily be diminished by a postmortem – a re-telling, re-assessing – of the game when it is over and done with (excluding when it is done to gain knowledge, insight for the future).  There is no harm done with a bit of thrash-talk or teasing in someone’s ability to lose or win a game.  It is social camaraderie.  But often this can go too far with DH’s FOO and even with DH at times.

For example, when we play dominoes there are 10 rounds to 1 game that ultimately determines the winner of the game; the score is tallied at the end of each round and the sum of the rounds determines the winner.  At the end of each round FiL’s postmortems include:

If he wins the round:  “I knew that would work and get me out soon” or “I planned that well, didn’t I?”

If he loses the round: “If you hadn’t made that move I would have won” or “You messed me up, if you hadn’t played that, I would have…” or “You were being nasty by playing that”

Normally, a statement like this I could tolerate but consistently after each round for multiple games, it got to me.  I was slowly getting annoyed.  I couldn’t figure out why but then I realized FiL may view winning and losing very differently than many of us.

In most games, there is an element of ‘luck’ and also an element of ‘skill’.  When the proportion is well-balanced, the game is fun (when playing games socially).  In dominoes, the luck comes from the tiles you are dealt and the skill is attributed to what you do with your given hand.

What FiL, I believe, does unconsciously is attribute his ability to win to his skill and the reason he loses to luck or purposeful sabotage on another counterpart (blaming).  The principle of winning is attributed internally (to his ability) and the principle of losing is attributed externally.  When in fact, both luck and skill are factors in the outcome (in such games).  

games

Sore Loser

It sucks to lose a game.  It isn’t very fun.  When the stakes are high, losing can really suck. I can imagine for many Winter Olympic Athletes in Sochi that nothing less than the gold is crushing.  Losing at quiz night at a pub, not so much.

During our trip to Glasgow with Don and Lydia (good friends), we headed to a pub after dinner and coincidentally it was Quiz Night.  The place was full for a weekday and we were lucky to get a table to play.  We paid our admission fee for playing and ordered our drinks.  There are multiple trivia rounds to the overall quiz that determines the final winner.

As we collectively answered the questions in Round One, Don started to get antsy on the questions where we were uncertain.  At the end of the round, we handed in our answer sheet and the results of Round One were announced – we came in last place (only for the round, mind you).  Don gets up and says, “hurry and drink up, we’re leaving”.  DH and I look at each other confused (as there were more rounds to go).  Don, even before we were done with our drinks, gets up and heads out the door.  As we followed Don to another pub (no quiz night and ironically, no people) he begins to blame DH and me for the answers and why we came in last.  Don grew antsy again because the pub was too boring so we headed out to a club, where we spent the rest of the night, unable to talk because of the loud music.

This incident wasn’t inconsistent with other patterns.  We regularly had game nights with them (playing various games).  Whenever Don lost, he switched the game.  At one point he bought a new game – Top Gear Board Game – and DH, I and Lydia repeatedly lost (for none of us except Don watched this show and he is a car fanatic).  It may not surprise you that DH and I are no longer friends with them.

“I’m very competitive.  I love to win but worse, I hate to lose.” – Samy (wife of DH’s friend)

These words were stressed upon DH and me the first and only time we played games with Samy and Lou (DH’s friend).  They decided on Scrabble and unfortunately Samy lost (in all fairness she didn’t know that DH and I play this game often).  Well, we stopped after one game and she then asked us if we had ever heard of another game and we told her that we hadn’t.  Needless to say, she went and grabbed that game and she taught us how to play it and well, she won.  We continued this game into the rest of the evening.

The pattern of Sore Loser is a commonality I have seen with DH’s FOO and friends.  It is, of course, no fun to continuously play a game which one loses at.  Routinely beating someone takes away the fun in playing games socially.  For some, even one loss cannot be tolerated, for it takes on a deeper meaning in a psyche that cannot differentiate the shades of grey in life.

Predator or Prey?  Be neither.

Glimpses into how FiL, MiL, SiL, Don or Samy operate have often left me confused.  I have, at times, wondered if they view a different reality.   No doubt, how a person plays a game is not indicative of any sort of narcissism.  It goes far beyond the ability to have fun playing a game, the fact that there is no real connection and why, oh why, we never seem to have a real conversation, a real relationship is fundamentally the problem.  It’s when the games have gone too far.

Any stories about game playing with narcissists?

xxTR

Further reading:

Releasing Jessie: A Validating Response