Help me get rid of my 'idea possessiveness'
December 28, 2013 8:07 AM   Subscribe

I have a tendency to be protective or possessive over what I consider to be (but isn't at all) my personal intellectual property. I would like to figure out ways to get rid of this feeling. Examples inside.

I don't really know exactly what this feeling is or what it is called, so here's some examples.

+ If I made a good dish and somebody asks me for the recipe, I'm secretly reluctant to give it to them.
+ If I stay at a really nice hotel, I don't like to tell other people exactly where/what it is.
+ I feel a weird twinge if someone talks about, posts pictures of, etc., a unique place I have been to (especially if I went there first). Same with books, movies, etc.
+ Imitation is not flattery to me, it's irritating. If I wear an item of clothing and another friend shows up wearing it later, I am secretly annoyed. Incredibly I even sometimes feel annoyed if I see a stranger wearing an item I own!

I generally manage to hide this feeling in front of others, but I'm bothered and embarrassed to feel this way. I think psychologically it might be somewhat rooted in the experiences I had working at a creative agency, where your unique/clever ideas were your path to success and there was often 'idea stealing' and various kinds of backstabbing.

I have started trying a form of aversion therapy, i.e. forcing myself to offer recommendations and provide info on things I 'discovered' to others, but so far I still feel weird and annoyed. I would like to know if others have this feeling, what to call it, and ways to successfully overcome it.
posted by ladybird to Human Relations (24 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I wanted to add that I think an extension of this is that I spend a lot of time researching thngs to find the best deal, best place, best recipe, etc. I am very meticulous and particular about things, and I get a bit irritated at the thought of others benefiting effortlessly from my time, labor, thought, etc. Ugh, I feel like such an asshole writing that, but it is true.
posted by ladybird at 8:14 AM on December 28, 2013

I'm not sure if this helps, but...

+ If I made a good dish and somebody asks me for the recipe, I'm secretly reluctant to give it to them.

This is understandable. You're not obligated to share this information. You can always wink and say it's a secret. (Fib and say that it's a "family" secret, and they might bug you less.)

+ If I stay at a really nice hotel, I don't like to tell other people exactly where/what it is.

This doesn't make any sense on a logical level, because it's not your hotel at all. In a way, you're harming the hotel by not telling other people about it. Why would your feelings of ownership for this hotel be more important than your friends' potential enjoyment, or even the financial wellbeing of the hotel itself?

I think you know that the second example doesn't make (logical) sense, so...think about that. Clearly, this hotel has some other meaning for you. What is it?

How does this hotel make you feel right now, when I'm not asking about its location?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:15 AM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know what it's called technically, but it seems analogous to (and I hate this word, incidentally, because I have these feelings often) hipsterism: If you discover something on your own, it's special to you; when the masses hop on the bandwagon, it stops being special.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:19 AM on December 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Consider the high levels of "you didn't build that" that go into the effort you put into finding these deals. Did you build the informational infrastructure which allowed you to conduct your research? I doubt it. Put into perspective the work others have put into the world.

Don't just say "I'm an asshole" and keep on doing what you're doing. That kind of faux-self-awareness is like a vaccine against progress. Actually appreciate those people who make this kind of research easier now than it has ever been!
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:21 AM on December 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

My guess is that you sense, whether it's accurate or not, that you are not being recognized/valued as an authority or expert in certain areas. Maybe it's cooking, or fashion, or travel plans; maybe it's just trendsetting in general.

Some questions: if you were seen as an expert on "your" things, e.g. if you ran a very popular website about them and got tons of comments and press, would you feel content then, even if some friend "stole" your idea? What about on a smaller level, if your friend asked for the recipe and you knew they were going to credit you for it and tell everyone they served it to how awesome you are for coming up with it, would that make it better? Or if they posted a pic of a place and wrote "I went here because ladybird told me about it, she always finds the best places!"

If that's it, I think one way to overcome it could be to break down exactly what you want to be validated for, and look for an outlet to make that a reality. It could be as complex as starting a business or as "simple" (though I'm sure this is not easy) as becoming one of those people who gets 10 million re-pins on Pinterest.
posted by ocksay_uppetpay at 8:26 AM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have a creative business, and this blog post changed my perspective on this topic.

In my experience, being generous and transparent with ideas and knowledge has yielded greater rewards over time than being secretive and possessive.

Creative and original people aren't the ones who carefully guard their ideas - they're the ones that are constantly innovating and coming up with new ones.
posted by Pademelon at 8:27 AM on December 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Perhaps it's rooted in a feeling that if people have too much access to the things that you enjoy or should get credit for, it will take away a quality of life for you that is dependent on some of those things. People will steal you idea, take your credit, overwhelm the resources that you've found in a creative way such that you don't have access to them anymore, or won't receive credit, or won't be seen for your unique contributions.

It would be something to work out with a therapist, of course, but there are a few things that come to mind:

1) It's definitely okay to keep some things close to the vest, for reasons of privacy and creating boundaries that allow you to assure a particular quality of life for yourself. I wonder, though, if that desire has bled over too much into other things that don't matter at the end of the day, but somehow it feels as if it does.

2) Aversion therapy might be helpful for this (and sometimes this just take awhile), but I might think about casting it a bit differently in your mind. That is, instead of giving away valuable resources in an effort to be desensitized to it, perhaps see yourself as having value for being able to provide resources for other people. Learn to take joy in the sharing and providing. You are the one who has the ability to increase the quality of life of others in ways that they would not have had access to otherwise. If you can find meaning in this, perhaps it takes the sting away. If any of it is about control in your mind (of this I know personally), it simply puts the control of resources at a different locus.

3) Part of #2, I think, is also thinking differently about what life is about. It's not a selfish hording of resources (think of this in the kindest way possible, it's not a criticism), but a group project to increase our quality of life together as integrated communities of people just trying to make their way in the world.

None of this means, of course, that you can't have privacy or keep certain things close to you or subject to genuine intellectual property concerns. But perhaps hold it with a looser hand, and try to rethink a bit about what gives you power and control over your personal life. Try and create a lot of value over the idea of sharing of resources, albeit one in which you are providing a benefit. There can be a lot of joy in this, and when you see how much people appreciate you for it, perhaps it will also be a motivation to keep going in that direction.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:29 AM on December 28, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you were born between 1975 and 1995 you likely spent your entire childhood being told you were "special" that you could be "anything" and that you were "above average"

That has long term, problematic, outcomes once you are an adult.

I used to feel the same way you do. Realizing I will never be famous, realizing I'd rather be happy than special, rather be healthy than above average really really improved my life and self esteem.

The things I do might be special or great or unique but there is nothing inherently magical about me that other adults should be noticing the way adults did when I was kid. It's an enormous relief.

It's not a call to laziness, if anything it's made me more ambitious to actually accomplish things. But it is freeing to not be waiting for people to notice I'm "special"
posted by French Fry at 8:38 AM on December 28, 2013 [14 favorites]

I come at this from a different perspective, and maybe you'll find it helpful... I like being "the expert" on things that people consult me about. You can't "take credit" for all of the good research you've done about places you've traveled if you can't share it with everyone! I get a little tinge of happiness when I tell my friends and family the "inside info" about going someplace or doing something and having them do it to.

SpacemanStix said it so well: life is "a group project to increase our quality of life together." If I am the person that is contributing to that project much more than others (and having their quality of life increase based on my work), then from a purely selfish perspective I consider that a big win for me.
posted by deanc at 8:39 AM on December 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sounds like the narcissism of small differences.
posted by deathpanels at 8:39 AM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Echoing items number two and three from SpacemanStix's comment, perhaps this rationalization for altruism that I have been contemplating lately may be of use. Consider the following:

"All else being equal, a person is only valuable to the members of a group to the extent that they remain useful within it."

If you do not currently enjoy helping other people (and perhaps there's nothing to say that you should) then it's possible to recast one's thoughts and feelings in terms of self-interest. People requesting your advice shows their dependence on you. Imitation is a sign of your influence over the group. Sharing information strengthens the group that you could seek to control.
posted by Verg at 8:53 AM on December 28, 2013

Best answer: To me it looks like a form of competitiveness or possessiveness--and it's not over ideas, as you think it is, but things. What you are possessive of are signifiers of specialness to you--recipes, tickets, vacations, clothes. Sharing them makes them less scarce, and therefore less valuable to you. You treasure exclusivity and resent it when it gets diluted. Maybe it makes those things seem less special, and somehow makes your effort to achieve those things feel wasted. Maybe you want people to envy you.

I don't have any ideas about how to get over it, but you understand that it makes you unhappy, so that's good. I think making yourself share is a good idea.
posted by elizeh at 8:59 AM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

There are a couple ways that you could try to deal with this OP.

This first suggestion will sound odd, but it is based on what happened to you at the agency.I've seen people do this at agencies to protect their ideas, so why not do it in your personal life if it is important to you at the moment? Basically, do share the recipe, vacation itinerary, etc. But put your name on it (it comes from your email, etc). So perhaps your brain will at least be able to claim it and perhaps it will let you start sharing.

The other suggestion is to give you pleasure by sharing and getting from others, too (SpacemanStix mentions something similar above). So the idea would be perhaps to have a potluck: EVeryone brings a new dish that has X or is from another part of the world. Everyone also shares the recipe and it is compiled either in an email,online, whatever. But what makes something fun is not just having it and experiencing it alone but sharing it. You would likely benefit, too, because surely one or two people would have a new dish to share with you.

The last bit here will sound odd, but I am going to share the words of a friend who has his own import business. Every year he has pple call him up and ask him questions about starting their own import business, and he always talks to them and freely shares ideas as to how he got their and recommendations as to how to do the same thing. I was initially surprised (ie, won't he lose business), but he had a very logical thought process, and I think what he stated will help you with the same issues, OP.

First, he was not concerned, because in general, most people are not going to even do what you are recommending or sharing. (So look at your vacation spot, OP, what is the likelihood that if you told 10 of your friends the location that they would even go there?)

The other thing was that it often paid off for him in some way. Some of the people decided to start in a low cost way by buying a few of his products and they always looked to him as the person who shared, etc. Let me emphasize that this wasn't his goal, but it is what happened sometimes.

I also asked him: Aren't you worried people will just *copy* what you did? He said, well, sure, some people may. But he knew it was a lot of work to do what he did. They could spend all their time copying. But the way he actually survived as a business was trying new ideas and projects all the time.So the models that one could do to run a business was: 1) spend time trying and exploring new ways to do his business and investing free time in that 2) do your business and guard the secrets and worry about the outside world or 3) try to copy someone else. His thought was that time and life is limited, so why not do #1? He did not have time to worry about #3.

Life is short. You could spend your time looking for new things, but also learning from others (and they are more likely to share if you share).

Or guard the hotel location, recipe,etc.
posted by Wolfster at 9:16 AM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hmm, everyone has flaws. You could try having a sense of humor about the fact that it bugs you and not taking yourself so seriously. If it helps, all of those things sound like possible story lines for Seinfeld or another situational comedy (including your 'aversion therapy' to overcome caring about it! ;-). You probably don't need to be so ashamed of it.

Just say to yourself "Bitch is wearing my pink cowboy boots!!!" next time it happens and move on?
posted by mermily at 9:20 AM on December 28, 2013

Considering that just about everything we wear, read, watch is mass-produced, I don't know why there's any special feeling about being the first to buy something or stay in a hotel or eat at a restaurant. We're not as unique as we think we are. I work in a creative field, and while I like to think that my ideas are all wonderful and mine alone--it's just not true. My execution of my ideas might be unique, but I've been taught by experience that almost invariably, someone else had dreamed up the same idea, concept, version, etc.. And so, I'd rather be known as someone who acts on her ideas, and gets the job done. I'm a resource for other people, too--I'd rather hand out the recipe, the address, the website and encourage others to think of me as a fount of all knowledge. (Hey, that's why I'm answering questions on the green!)
posted by Ideefixe at 9:47 AM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

You are not valuable as a human being because you know the secret recipe. You do not have to prove your worth by being to the most interesting places, and conversely, you lose nothing when someone else goes there, even if they take better pictures than you did. You do not become less special as a person if someone else wears the same outfit. Personally, I think this type of thought pattern comes from living life as a performance. This is not new, but perhaps with social networks and blogs it has become more intense and more widespread. I'm not saying it's wrong to live this way, but I do think it's wrong to judge the value of your life by the performance.
posted by Nothing at 10:17 AM on December 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is it possible you have a family background of, for example, younger siblings who always wanted to imitate you or get into your stuff? Or something similar that makes you a little extra protective of your own identity/interests/space? If so, it might help to just consider that, and how those old patterns don't always apply to new situations.

Another thought might be to focus on the positives that come from sharing -- cultivating a welcoming, magnanimous spirit; bringing more business to your struggling small coffeeshop; opening yourself up to reciprocal sharing from others; etc.

Or think about people you admire or appreciate who are really great about sharing things they love, their new ideas, etc... and how much that sharing makes you enjoy them more, seek them out, think of them as sources of great stuff, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:24 AM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

This kind of question always takes me back 20 years, to when my partner and I were first involved. He taught me to juggle. I told him that if I were the one who knew how to juggle, I would never teach anybody, because I would think that somehow knowing how to juggle made me special, and that part of my specialness was precisely measured by how rare my ability to do it was. My partner said, "Huh. I guess I've just always figured that the more people I teach to juggle, the more people I have to juggle with." Living with him for all this time has made me a much more generous and open person, because he brings such a different perspective, and this was the beginning of my thinking changing.

(I now share SpacemanStix's critique of the idea of teaching kids they're "special.")

On the other hand, there are some things I won't share, for reasons that seem good to me. For instance, I am not a very good cook and don't much enjoy cooking. So if I had a dish I could make that got a lot of compliments at potlucks, and people were asking for the recipe, I might not share it, because it might be the only decent potluck-dish recipe I have and can make, and if other people start bringing it, I'm SOL. But I have worked hard and very consciously to get past the mindset that I can't share ideas or skills or books and movies that are precious to me because sharing them will dilute my specialness.
posted by not that girl at 10:31 AM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might find the Heroic theory of invention vs. Multiple discovery relevant. Basically, when it was time for Calculus to be discovered, (or invented, or formalized, depending on your philosophy,) Calculus was going to be discovered, and so Newton and Leibniz figured it out at the same time, and I think there was a Russian who was late to the party but also got there independently.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:35 AM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you feeling drained in other areas of your life? For example, if your job consists of helping people all day long, answering questions they really could have answered themselves if they had tried but instead they ask you, and then you go home and do the same thing with a partner or housemate, you might feel like everyone just wants a piece of you. As a result, these little things that you find through your effort -- the long online search for just the right hotel, the trip to the remote neighborhood for the boutique with the unique boots -- are extra special because, god damn it, you spent all that effort on yourself, and now someone wants to get it the easy way by just asking you, like they do all day long at work. Or something like that.

That's a long way of saying that maybe this isn't an isolated personality quirk but a symptom of a larger problem, such as feeling like people in general keep expecting you to do the hard work for their easy benefit. That feeling could itself be a sign that you're not protecting your energy or needs well enough, or that you have some unhelpful and not-quite-accurate thoughts going on in the background that are exaggerating the normal requests that people make of each other.
posted by ceiba at 12:35 PM on December 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Addressing the recipe issue, because it's a minor peeve of mine: refusing to share the recipe doesn't make it or you more special (in my mind), it just marks you as insecure. Part of what makes your version of Dish X amazing is the way you make it. You can give me the recipe and even let me videotape you making it, and I won't be able to exactly reproduce it. But if you do share the recipe, it means I'll think of you every time I make the dish.
posted by Lexica at 2:33 PM on December 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe it will help you if you realize how this comes off to other people. Someone I knew in high school played some music in a class and then completely refused to tell anyone the name of the band. It's not like we thought he had really cool taste in music, we just thought he was kind of a dick. Like Lexica, I think he must have had some deep insecurities.

Basically, if you really want to keep a recipe/song/place secret, you don't talk about it. Just like the best ideas in an agency, you don't go around showing it off before you make full use of it, right? Half-sharing things to try to up your social status is going to have the opposite affect.
posted by Dynex at 3:26 PM on December 28, 2013

Response by poster: I just want to thank everyone for such thoughtful, sensitive responses. I was hesitant to post this question, afraid of admitting to / exposing what I consider one of my biggest personal failings (even to the relative anonymity of the internet, it was tough to admit!) But the responses here have given me so much to think about without shaming me or making me feel like an even bigger jerk than I already do. Thanks again, all.
posted by ladybird at 3:33 PM on December 28, 2013

If I wear an item of clothing and another friend shows up wearing it later, I am secretly annoyed. Incredibly I even sometimes feel annoyed if I see a stranger wearing an item I own!

It's interesting that you phrased this the way you did -- most people would feel a whole range of negative emotions if they saw a stranger wearing an item they owned! Of course, it's clear from the context that you mean the stranger is wearing an item that looks just like yours, not an item that actually IS yours. Keep in mind that "there are many like it, but this one is mine", and that one is not yours.

If you don't like to see others wearing items of the same appearance as your items, you could have a piece of jewelry or something custom made for yourself. Maybe having something that is certain to be unique will be comforting to you in this and in other areas where you feel less unique.
posted by yohko at 6:00 PM on January 8, 2014

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