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June 18, 2011 9:42 PM   Subscribe

Everyone has blindspots, but how do you give someone a friendly hint when they're blind to key aspects of their personalities?

I guess this isn't really a problem when it's a complementary trait.

I have a friend that somehow seems to maintain the belief that she is meek and sensitive, when in fact she tends to dominate conversations, interrupt people, etc.

It really seems to be an important part of her sense of self that she is one of these super sensitive people.

And although she is quite nice a lot of the time, her mode of interaction tends to be aggressive, oblivious of others and somewhat pompous.

I''ve never seen this kind of glaringly obvious blindspot with someone before, I just don't know how to approach it tactfully.
posted by abirdinthehand to Human Relations (19 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Why do you want to?
posted by bq at 9:55 PM on June 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

Needs more. Why can't she be sensitive and dominate conversations at the same time? Why do you have to "approach" this?
posted by deep thought sunstar at 10:00 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you actually need to approach it at all? Does it matter that much that your friend's self-perception doesn't match your perception of her? If her behaviour is causing problems, there's no need to bring it up in terms of a disconnect between her self-image and her behaviour; just address the problematic behaviour. Needlessly bringing her own beliefs about herself into the conversation seems petty and unnecessary.
posted by Sternmeyer at 10:01 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is this a very close, long time friend? Is it possible you don't know her very well? The behaviour you describe would appear to be a social ineptness, and she may actually be more accurate in her assessment of her inner self than you are. Unless this is a very close friend, and you see this behaviour causing serious problems in her life that SHE wants to overcome, I would let it be. Why does it matter to you?
posted by batikrose at 10:09 PM on June 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

So, she thinks she's meek and sensitive, and you don't think she is. Why do you need to correct her on this? This is an important part of her sense of self, mind you. If you want to be tactful, don't do this.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:10 PM on June 18, 2011

She's probably nervous and overcompensating. The only thing you can tactfully do is maybe the next time she says she's shy, say something like, "Really? I don't get that from you. You seem pretty extroverted to me. You must be really good at hiding it." But obviously, don't do this in front of someone else, because she could get defensive.

Still, it's a tough call. The moment has to be right. If in doubt, don't.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:14 PM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

I guess I'd advise against saying anything. I have a friend who, man, I love the guy to death, is not at all what he sees himself as. He'll say something about himself, a personality trait he possesses, or his ability to do this or that, and if I'm grumpy (we meet for breakfast regularly before I start the coffee) I want to shake him and tell him he's out of his fucking mind if he believes what he just said. But over the years I've gotten over it and think that he's a little nuts, in a good way, and that's why I love him. Don't bum your friend out. It probably won't change a thing and dang, what if you lost a friend?
posted by rainperimeter at 10:23 PM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

A friendly hint will probably have no effect on someone with so little self-awareness. many aspects of her personality are negative and a "hint" just can't cover all of that.

Her behavior is the kind that pushes people away. Are you worried she may end up isolated? Why are you her friend?
posted by longsleeves at 10:25 PM on June 18, 2011

I thought really hard about this for examples from my own life. I smiled when I realized the one girl I've known who could fit this description: she was attractive, rich and somewhat bright and also very nice, but deeply insecure and used me as a sounding board for the troubles she hid from others.

When I thought about this hypocrisy, it only bothered me when I felt especially jealous of her. When I felt a healthy, distant affection for her, it became endearing.

YMMV. Ask yourself what your motivations are. Be gentle and don't let a passing moment of angst make you say something you regret.
posted by Nixy at 10:27 PM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

My experience has been that people who are the most sensitive to perceived slights are often very insensitive themselves to the slights they have inflicted on others. None of us is immune to this, of course, but I do think those who spend a large amount of time brooding on other people's treatment of themselves don't have a lot of time to think about other people's feelings. This may not be the situation you're describing (I'm not sure if by sensitive you mean sensitive to others or sensitive about treatment of themselves).
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:38 PM on June 18, 2011 [9 favorites]

This one is easy: simply wait for her to ask for your advice.
posted by rokusan at 11:05 PM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

It could be any number of things - she could be obnoxious, she could be socially awkward, she could have social anxiety and be overcompensating, she could feel inferior and be overcompensating.

If you try to "help her out" by presenting it in the manner you've presented it in your question, she will probably walk away from you thinking that you're controlling and manipulative. Who are you to change her perception of herself? What credentials do you have to do this? More importantly, why would you do this?

From the sounds of it, you want to cut her down to size.

If, however, you're having a conversation with her and she interrupts you, you are entitled to point out to her you weren't finished speaking. Try to do it humorously.

Aggressiveness (in an otherwise nice person) is either stress or overcompensation (see above). Pompousness should personally affect you in no way, shape or form other than to be mildly irritating. Oblivious of others is too vague, but if she deliberately does something that affects you personally, then point it out to her at the time. That's all you can do. You should not be on a crusade to "fix" people.
posted by mleigh at 11:35 PM on June 18, 2011

It's probably not a blindspot at all (i.e. she knows she's not meek, she just doesn't know that you have caught on).

I've known people like that. They self-identify as meek and/or sensitive because they like the attention and power they derive from being a damsel in distress (I want to be clear, I'm not accusing people who actually are meek or sensitive, I'm only accusing the fakers).

There are a few women in my family who pretend to be wilting flowers. They are constantly making reference to their supposed shyness, their frailty, etc. It's a form of manipulation and it has its rewards in the form of them always being rescued, always being the center of attention, never having to take responsibility for problems of their own making.

If my description fits what you're seeing in your friend, there's no point in giving her a "friendly hint" or "approaching it tactfully." She knows exactly what she's doing, and woe betide the person who sees through her act. If you call her out, you'll see just how un-meek she can be.

If she's a friend you want to keep, you can learn to deal with it by refusing to engage with the hypocrisy (i.e. don't call her out on it, but don't respond to any "damsel" moments either).
posted by amyms at 11:57 PM on June 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My suggestion is, probably you shouldn't. Not because you can't make her see that she's not who she's saying she is. But, because you're not really qualified to unpack all the layers of what's going on here.

First, let me remind you that personality is relative.

Next, identity has many facets including (but not limited to)

Who we say we are (which may vary contextually - consider describing yourself on a first date versus a job interview. Most people believe both narratives, but hoo-boy are they just a tad different!)
Who other people say we are outside our presence (which is bound up in context also)
Who we believe we are (some people keep they're I'm a losing loser thoughts in check better than others, some don't have those thoughts at all)
Who we're told we are (This has been studied extensively with regard to gender. Put teeny tiny babies in pink, they'll be described as sweet and quiet. Same baby, blue outfit, passersby will say "he's" strong and curious.)

So, you can see how these 4 things can't possibly match up 100% of the time.

She's gotten her 'performed' identity from somewhere - interrupting. But she's also got her perception of herself. And, she's got your perception of her.

Imagine for a moment that she comes from a very screamy family. In that environment, you might agree that she's relatively meek. And that behavior is or isn't adaptive for her there. She needs to be interrupting at home to be heard at all, and even then she's maybe not taken seriously. All her life she's been told she's quiet and shy (and hypothetically some worse things). So she goes out into the world, if not believing that she's quiet and shy, perhaps obligated to continue that narrative. Or, possibly, she doesn't believe it and she feels dumb because her perception of herself doesn't match with what's been said about her.

As an aside, being able to drastically change our social behavior in various social situations is generally very hard. It's why some people insist your 'real manners are what you do when you are alone.' just as many people who burp at home all day long find it's very easy to burp at the formal dinner table accidentally, it's hard to constantly interrupt at home but not interrupt friends, coworkers and acquaintances.)
posted by bilabial at 5:47 AM on June 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

Different people, different communication styles. There are some families and cultures where interrupting is a necessary and standard part of discussions. What seems domineering to you could be normal to her. In fact, she may see herself as meek precisely because she grew up feeling less competent in this style, when compared to you she still seems dominant. In any event, this kind of communication style is perfectly valid and not objectively "wrong".

But anyway, unless she is actually making you upset because of the way she talks, or unless you know others resent her for it, why get involved? It seems like you are more interested in calling her out for her perceived hypocrisy than anything constructive. Give it a rest and look for your own blind spots instead. (as Jesus said, dont worry about the speck in your brother's eye while ignoring the plank in yours.)
posted by yarly at 6:45 AM on June 19, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback! I think you guys are right, I will only offer my opinion if asked.

I actually think I feel the urge to say something because this is a buried fear of my own, that I could be going about misunderstanding some key thing that everyone else can plainly see. LIke having a bunch of food in your teeth. And real friends tell you when you have food in your teeth!

But perhaps in reality, I wouldn't want someone to give me their 'honest appraisal' either.

Ah, well as many of you have pointed out- it's all contextual and up for interpretation.
posted by abirdinthehand at 6:55 AM on June 19, 2011

I know someone who feels extremely sensitive, and believes that she is often the object of other people's dominance. She's probably has bi-polar disorder. But she is, in fact, deeply sensitive and easily hurt by perceived slights. She slights others, can, in fact, be quite harsh, and is absolutely blind to this. I think her harshness to others is in defensive response to the feeling that she has of being under attack all the time. I find the only way to be with her is to have good boundaries, and to be very, very cautious. It can be exhausting.
posted by theora55 at 8:46 AM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

I would mention -- as gently as possible -- the interrupting if it really bothers you. Personally it's one of my pet peeves and I've noticed a huge upswing in it since I've moved to the DC area. I did call out a good friend who is extremely sensitive about everything and it was fine. She gave me the whole "well my therapist said that it's just another style of communication thing." I still find it rude, but it helped to see the other side a little bit. I only said something because she had remarked more than once that she didn't remember me as being so quiet, yet to me, it seemed that every time I tried to say something she would interrupt to say something on an entirely different topic. It was like trying to have a conversation with a 3 year old. So I finally told her that her constant interruptions on entirely different topics made me feel that she had little interest in what I had to say so I just stopped talking.

As others have stated, I wouldn't mention it in concert with the whole meek and sensitive thing. I've come to recognize that everyone has self myths that they believe 100% and seem to form a major part of their identity even if it is totally at odds with how they present to the outside world. I'm more like you; I'd like a close friend to tell me "hey, you're kinda being obnoxious" or whatever the disconnect is between what I'm saying and how I'm acting, but I think most people, and in this case your friend is probably more like the friend I've described above once said (in entirely unrelated circumstances when discussing an issue I was having with a 3rd party): "No one like criticism, even if they asked you for it and say that want constructive criticism. It's usually a friendship killer." I'd like to think that most people and most friendships are stronger than this, but for even on the scant info provided, your friend sounds a lot like mine so there you go.
posted by kaybdc at 3:01 PM on June 19, 2011

If you want an "honest appraisal" of yourself, your friends may not actually be the best place to start. At the risk of being overly-typical AskMe fodder, find a therapist, and after you've settled in and gotten to know each other, a discussion of who you think you are and how accurate those perceptions are could be really valuable.
posted by aimedwander at 7:01 AM on June 20, 2011

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