Staging a Personality Intervention

1 03 2010

Most of us can probably say that at some point in our lives, we’ve had a friend or family member that required some kind of intervention– usually for something serious and health-threatening, like alcohol, drugs or an eating disorder.  But have you ever considered staging a personality intervention for someone who continually shoots him or herself in foot by being really, insufferably obnoxious?

I guess I’m not sure where the line is between needing to accept people for who they are, flaws and all, and actually helping them out by honestly telling them what they’re doing that turns people off.  For instance, suppose you have a friend who constantly talks/brags about herself and never seems to be able to engage with anyone else in a normal way.  She is upset over the fact that no one calls her and most of her friends drop her like a bad habit; she doesn’t understand what she’s doing wrong.  You know exactly what she’s doing wrong, but explaining this to her would require you actually sitting her down and telling her that she needs to seriously rethink her entire personality, or at least her way of relating to people.  Do you do that, or do you just continue to be a friend to her, despite her less-than-pleasant tendencies, and hope that others like you will eventually be able to tolerate her?

Nobody’s perfect, obviously, and you can’t go around correcting everyone’s personality flaws without turning into a major asshole yourself.  And if a person is just spiteful and ornery and is fine with being that way because he/she doesn’t require that many friends anyway, then there’s no need to step in and say anything.  But if your friend comes to you, confused about his or her lack of friends, I feel like it’s ok to gently explain to that person that there are certain basic rules of social interaction that he/she can follow to become a more pleasant person.

A) Ask people about themselves.  Conversations should not be one-sided. Do not walk up to someone, introduce yourself, and then talk at them about whatever you feel like talking about for the next 20 minutes.  You would think this is a no-brainer, but there are so many people who do this, it boggles my mind.  Warning sign:  if at the end of a conversation, the other person knows way more about you then you do about him or her, you need to rethink your strategy.

B) Be humble.  I cannot emphasize this enough– if you brag about yourself or exaggerate the greatness of your life and pet and house and salary and significant other, NOBODY WILL LIKE YOU.  Bragging is like wearing too much makeup– in trying to magnify your attractiveness, you cancel out all of your natural attractiveness and make yourself unnecessarily ugly.  Downplay. Always downplay.

C) Have a filter, both in terms of personality and behavior.  If you use racial slurs, even in a joking manner, or blurt out personal information you happen to know about someone within minutes of meeting that person, you are over the line.  Similarly, if you spit hamburger in someone’s face or pee on his leg the night you meet him, you are so far over the line you can’t even see it anymore.  And yes, I know someone who actually did that.

In conclusion, I would argue that yes, it’s okay to tell a close friend the things he or she is doing that really turn people off.  It will be an awkward conversation, but I think the friend will appreciate it in the end when one or two more people show up for his or her funeral than otherwise would have.

Maybe I’m wrong.  Agree?  Disagree?  Ever been in this situation?




13 responses

1 03 2010

I think if this is going to occur, you have to be willing to accept the consequences, namely, that the person will never talk to you again and possibly talk alot of shit about you. you cant expect people who are severely socially retarded/oblivious to react in a mature, logical way to receiving less than positive information and feedback about themselves. If the person wishing to speak truth to the maladjusted is ok with it being the possible dissolution of the friendship, then by all means, go ahead, because you probably didnt like that person much anyway and they are more trouble than they are worth. why not pepper the end of a ‘relationship’ with some words of wisdom wrapped in the cold hard truth? it might do no good, but maybe it hits home. it’s a double or nothing type of thing.

the other option is having a ready, willing, and able surrogate with absolutely nothing to lose do the reality check.

1 03 2010

But didn’t this person come forward with a plea for help? Seems like the time is ripe and the person would be receptive. However, I agree, its still a gamble.

1 03 2010

Agreed. Is this posting the intervention?

If someone is in their mid-twenties and hasn’t figured it out, someone else needs to tell them. I say this because we generally have a couple opportunities to re-invent ourselves while still young, like changing schools or going to college or maybe that first job. New place, no one knows you. You get to figure out a new way of doing things. The problem is we are such creatures of habit, it can be hard to break out of the molds we have already created for ourselves. And it takes a certain self-awareness that can be hard to cultivate.

Some people pick up good social skills quickly, others more slowly, and some never. There is a plenty of evidence that acquisition of social skills is no different than a one’s ability to learn math or sports. Difference is there are no (or few and hard to find) formal system of teaching social graces. Honestly, I think effective ways of social interaction should be taught explicitly in schools. I think it tends to be in better schools with less-stressed teachers, but it is not one of the focuses of most. I would say it should be more important. We might have fewer mass murderers if we work on helping people connect rather than leaving it up to the individuals.

1 03 2010

Hey Laura,

I’m reading Twain’s “The Mysterious Stranger,” and I found something that I think might be applicable to this entry.

A little background first: A kid is the main character; he’s maybe 9 or 10, and he’s got 2 other friends with him, and an angel appears to them while they’re out playing in the forest. The angel turns out to be named “Satan,” but he is not the Adversary. He is actually the Devil’s nephew; and so far as the reader knows, he’s a good angel, rather than a demon. Satan proceeds to delight the children with magical wonders, to tell them stories about all the things he’s beheld since the dawn of Creation.

“And always when he was talking about men and women here on Earth and their doings–we were secretly ashamed, for his manner showed that to him they and their doings were of paltry poor consequence; often you would think he was talking about flies, if you didn’t know. […] He said it in quite a matter-of-course way and without bitterness, just as a person might talk about bricks or manure or any other thing that was of no consequence and hadn’t feelings. I could see he meant no offense, but in my thoughts I set it down as not very good manners.” {note: Satan can read minds; so he responds…}

“‘Manners!’ he said. ‘Why, it is merely the truth, and truth is good manners; manners are a fiction.'”

This serves to illustrate a few points:

1) Some people are simply the center of their own universe. They don’t consider the points of view of others. It just doesn’t really compute.

2) If you know someone who is built this way, they often won’t be able to comprehend criticisms of their own character. Some people are so oblivious, or [unaware], that such criticisms nearly lack semantic value; criticisms are instead viewed as inherently offensive.

3) When dealing with people of this sort, there are two basic ways I find it best to deal with them (and you’ve stated it pretty well yourself here):

A) Leave them be. If there’s something you like enough about them, then the rest won’t matter. Accept them wholly, even though they may be inconsiderate or oblivious. Maybe a little consistent acceptance is all they need to learn to care about someone else.

B) If you are going to approach the problem with the person, be honest. Don’t tailor your words, don’t pretend to walk on glass for them–they obviously don’t bother doing that for others. A friend who tells you the truth, no matter what, is always the most valuable friend when it’s all said and done. I’ve had a friend who wasn’t afraid to hurt me by telling me some things about my behavior that he had noticed. It was difficult to reconcile the view I had of my behavior with the view that he had, at first. But, over time, I recognized something about myself that I was carefully hiding from my own view. If my friend had treated the issue delicately, it would have been easy for me to ignore–and I might never have had the opportunity to change myself for the better.

And if the person doesn’t respond when you bear the truth to them, that should tell you something about the kinds of friends you want to keep, as opposed to the ones you might want to let go.

I recently had to quit being the shoulder-to-cry-on / advice-giver for a friend of mine; that is, I’ve entirely severed communications. Because he cares about no one but himself, and he doesn’t display any signs of being likely to change. And he certainly won’t change if I help him–I’ve been there for him for 16 years! and he hasn’t changed. By pulling the rug of my friendship out from under him, he at least has the opportunity to hit bottom and maybe start to take responsibility for his actions.

Phew. That was really therapeutic. Good timing with this topic, Laura. Turns out I needed it as much as you did.

1 03 2010

1 03 2010

“Agree? Disagree? Ever been in this situation?”

Since I am surrounded by people with personality flaws, I find myself in this situation perpetually. I am constantly intervening on all my annoying friends which keeps me busy as all my friends are annoying.

It is a difficult process that requires patience and perserverance. You see, each time I intervene to tell them about their annoying habit, instead of focusing on their shortcomings, they inevitably flip it on me and start telling me all the things I do they find annoying. How annoying is that? I mean I am not saying might not have habits an unenlightened friend might find annoying. It just drives me crazy when they ignore the point of the whole discussion and criticize me when I am criticizing them.

What really drives me nuts is when they suggest that if I was truly a good friend I would spend more time accepting them and less time judging them. It is so clear to me that their habits are profoundly annoying and that mine are mildly annoying at best, so I never understand why every single time in my life I have tried to help a friend in this way it has backfired.

I just do not get it. Everyone else can see their flaws, but they can not. I am only trying to help and I really do like them. Its their friends who accept these personality defects that are enabling them.

One of those obnoxious self help gurus would probably tell me I would be a better friend working on myself and accepting the total package that is my firend. The guru would probably say its certainly okay to tell a good friend something they do is driving you nuts. But a personality intervention where you address their character defects to make them better?

Dr Phil would tell you dont start such a conversation if you are not ready to hear about all your own defects because that is where the conversation will head. Time spent on fixing others might be bette spent pondering why I let such things annoy me, Phil would probably say. Who is more annoying than Dr Phil? I would like to intervene on his ass one day.

Personally I think these self help dudes are morons. I have done many personality interventions trying to help my friends be better people. I hardly have any friends left, but its a sacrifice I am willing to make for their sake. 🙂

1 03 2010

I’ll see your sarcasm, Leverman, and raise you a serious retort:

If I had no friends and couldn’t figure out why, I would hope that someone close to me would have the balls to tell me it was because I put people off by only ever talking about myself.

It would sting a little, or a lot, but at least I could work on it in the long run.

1 03 2010

I do think friends can and should be honest with each other. I think there might be a situation where a moment might arise where some sort of constructive conversation could take place. I do want to know if my zipper is down and dont mind being told, for sure.

Leverman’s point (leverman likes to talk about himself in the third person) is that these conversations often do not go very well. Someone trying to fix someone, even when that someone needs fixing, needs to pick their spots very carefully. Leverman is speaking from experience in saying that no matter how well motivated you might be, you might end up sounding judgmental. When it gets turned around feelings get hurt on both sides. There are times one might have such a conversation with a friend. The problem is that if they lack insight to know how much of a bore they might be, they often lack the insight to see themselves the way you do.

Its why we love our dogs. They are never judgmental. They never give advice. They do not care if we brag too much or complain too much. They dont care if we wear clothes that dont match or if our zipper is down. They are happy to see us no matter what mood we are in. They dont do personality interventions because they love us unconditionally. Dogs, and people who are like dogs, make the best friends. 🙂

1 03 2010

You’re so vain. I bet you think this post is about you.

The irony is that anyone that really is that seriously narcissistic would never think that they had any flaws that could annoy anyone else. Which is why you could be in no way talking about me.

1 03 2010

I’ll let you know how it goes. And yes, I hope that I will be able to take the inevitable personality criticism backlash that is sure to come my way. Unfortunately, it may be my simple inability to filter that may prevent this conversation from being effective.

1 03 2010

Thanks for the video, deathbear! I enjoyed it.

Also, your screen name is amusing.

1 03 2010

…this is about me, isn’t it? i’m sorry – i guess i will take you off my annual christmas mailing list. if you don’t want to know about my bowel health in 2010 or how many sweaters i bought myself, that’s your loss. but please, keep your opinions about my mirrored bathtub, my tattoo of my face on my face, or my new autobiography (“The woman. The artist. The dream.”) to yourself.

2 03 2010

I already ordered 14 advanced copies of your autobiography so i can draw little mustaches and devil horns on the front picture of each one, you self-centered hussy.

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