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Spotting potentially self-absorbed person in friends circle (case study)

I want to share this analysis of my recent experience as part of the journey to become more aware of power-dynamics and value-taking in socializing/friendships, and improve social life in general.

I had an interaction with one person from my partner's gaming hobby group (with my partner in presence) yesterday, and I caught a few acts that are value-taking and just unpleasant considering she was a guest.

First, she arrived and went around our place.

Her: Your guys have a nice place (scans around), and you have nice friends...

For the "nice friends" comment she was referring to an event she attended earlier at our place and met a lot of our friends. If this happened before I studied PU I would think she genuinely thought that (which might still be true), but the delivery puts her at the judge role, which is disempowering, especially considering we were hosts. She actually made the "nice friends" comment twice, then I knew that it wasn't just a slip of the tongue, so I said:

Me: I am glad that you like them.

I think a person showing real appreciation in this case would say something like:

Her (better version): I enjoy your nice place here, especially those (pointing to specific features x, y and z). And I also enjoyed hanging out with you guys' friends, they seemed to be nice people!

Then while we were playing games, there were multiple things that made me uncomfortable.

My partner: That person has some stupid views because she thought women should not do X (empowering her as she's in the industry of X)

Her: Oh, of course.

I don't think her terse response here is the most appropriate given the other person was actively trying to empower her, at least she can show some acknowledgement.

My partner: That person has some stupid views because she thought women should not do X (empowering her as she's in the industry of X)

Her (better version): Oh, of course. Those people with their bigoted ways of thinking. Yes, I appreciate that we are on the same page and you are supportive of my career endeavors.

There were also a couple times when she very abruptly pointed out that I had made mistakes in the game (I am not a regular player by any means).

Her: Why do you get to do that?

I was pretty uncomfortable with that direct pointing out, it was almost accusatory as if I had some ulterior motive, where in reality I simply made a mistake because of unfamiliarity. It could be very different if she said the following:

Her (better version): Ah I see you did this here, that's not correct according to the rules, can you reverse that?

Then when she was about to leave, another one:

Her: Oh, I got invited to your place twice in x days, how special I am

The above statement was just bad taste/self-centered to me, since we did not even bring that up, and there was nothing about us as hosts in her feelings. If I ever make a statement like this I would say:

Her (better version)Oh, I got invited to your place twice in x days, I am very honored to be your guest and enjoying your wonderful place and spending a great time with you guys! 

Anyway, the whole interaction came to me as someone who is more self-absorpoed and not socially smooth, and did not make me feel all that good. I am having more clarity as to why I felt uncomfortable, and how I could handle these interactions better. I was in shock for a few times, and in reality I should have acted faster (it's a matter of practicing).

Lucio Buffalmano, Ali Scarlett and 5 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettJohn FreemanKavalierBelleaderoffundsnw2022

Self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing she was. Personally I would slowly diminish my contacts with this person. Not cutting her out but making her less special in your life. If you see what I mean.

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Lucio BuffalmanoTransitionedKavalierEmily

Thanks for sharing your observations, Emily.

Quote from Rwy on June 30, 2022, 8:14 pm

Her: Your guys have a nice place (scans around), and you have nice friends...

Just one quick comment: I believe there is some overlap between showing appreciation and judging, so I wouldn't have felt strongly about this. In fact, that is what we do in the forum when we like/dislike posts, say something was helpful, great, interesting etc. It's when someone constantly positions himself as someone above you, the one and true dispenser of rewards/punishments that things start bothering me. But if within an interaction the judge power flows from one to another (i.e when you accept compliments, and then later you compliment them and they accept, and so on) and is never nasty, then I'd say it's win-win territory.

Of course, her non-verbals here might have said otherwise. In this case

I am glad that you like them.

was the perfect comeback. Thanks, I'll add this one to my toolkit 😀

 

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Lucio BuffalmanoBel

Awesome, awesome case study, thank you for sharing Emily!

This is the type of analysis that helps you to quickly learn to assess people.

Some notes:

First judging comment: a red flag (but without jumping to conclusions just yet)

I  agree with Kavalier: sometimes honest appreciation overlaps with judging others.

And sometimes people just choose words based on what they heard most often, or what they settled down as "stock sentence formats", so I wouldn't necessarily jump to the conclusion.

However, I totally agree with you that it was a red flag.

I'd have also taken that as a red flag.

It's the "having / not having" that are red flags:

Her: You guys have, and you guys have

That sub-communicates:

  • "you're financially well off"
  • "you're socially successful, with a cool network, enjoying a good life"

Note that everyone is going to (subconsciously) notice those things.
However, what they take away from it is telling.
When people enter a nice place with nice people they don't necessarily have to focus on those "nice things you have", they may focus on the pleasure of being in such a nice place, in the experience they're going to have that evening, or the opportunity and pleasure of getting to know such cools and high-value people (and putting the onus on them to make sure they bring enough value to be good standing members of that social circle).

Who's more likely to focus on the "things you have" then?
It's someone who's taking stock of what you have, and comparing (probably comparing to what she has or doesn't have).

And if she comes out short of that comparison... It's potential frenemy in the making.

Pointing out your mistakes: the sign of a frenemy

Her unfriendly way of pointing out your mistake confirms that red flag.

And it confirms the frenemy set up.

There's also little to opine there, and not much room for positive interpretation:

If someone acts unfriendly and makes you feel under attack, then... That's a fact.

Notice that a "good person" who feels inferior would feel closer to you after the mistake, since she could take that as the sign that "OK, so she's not perfect, she also makes mistakes, I'm glad to find out she's a normal human being I can relate and be friends with".

It's only the competitive frenemy who jumps at the opportunity of thread-expanding on the mistake, attack, and demean.

Her last comment: the confirmation of a self-absorbed, materialistic, and competitive person

That was just the icing on the cake.

It confirms that she probably does feel "inferior" to you (and resents it).

And it also confirms that her mindset:

  • Competitive
  • Materialistic: it's not about the human connection, friendship, or having a good time, it's about "who gets to be in the cool circle and who doesn't"
  • Self-absorbed (many people are, but the value-givers outgrow it and learn the best way to advance is to also focus on others)

Solutions...

Now, what can you make with that type of information?

John's approach of not necessarily cutting her out cold turkey but keeping her far is a solid one.

I'd also add that it may be worth giving her a chance by adding warmth and friendliness, making her feel like you can be on her side as a friend, and see if that changes her approach from competitive and snarky, to friendly and cooperative.

If she doesn't, then definitely best to keep her on the periphery.

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Ali ScarlettTransitionedKavalierBelleaderoffun
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on July 1, 2022, 4:04 am

Her: You guys have, and you guys have

That sub-communicates:

  • "you're financially well off"
  • "you're socially successful, with a cool network, enjoying a good life"

Note that everyone is going to (subconsciously) notice those things.
However, what they take away from it is telling.

I can tell you for myself: I totally didn't see that one. Thank you for pointing this out, Lucio.

Emily, I also found your analysis of better versions very insightful! Most of us - myself very included - tend to analyse what we would answer to power moves we spot - very rarely, if ever, we consider what the other person might have said if she were trying to be socially effective -, and now I realize that we are losing half of the fun. Thank you for this!

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Lucio Buffalmano
Quote from Kavalier on June 30, 2022, 10:55 pm

Thanks for sharing your observations, Emily.

Quote from Rwy on June 30, 2022, 8:14 pm

Her: Your guys have a nice place (scans around), and you have nice friends...

Just one quick comment: I believe there is some overlap between showing appreciation and judging, so I wouldn't have felt strongly about this. In fact, that is what we do in the forum when we like/dislike posts, say something was helpful, great, interesting etc. It's when someone constantly positions himself as someone above you, the one and true dispenser of rewards/punishments that things start bothering me. But if within an interaction the judge power flows from one to another (i.e when you accept compliments, and then later you compliment them and they accept, and so on) and is never nasty, then I'd say it's win-win territory.

Of course, her non-verbals here might have said otherwise. In this case

I am glad that you like them.

was the perfect comeback. Thanks, I'll add this one to my toolkit 😀

 

Thank you, Kavalier, for pointing out that this can go two ways.

I agree that it is helpful not to be too reactive when it can be ambiguous. Personally, I give people a lot of space for benefit of doubt (sometimes too much to abusive people in the past), so that wasn't the first thing that really got me. These days, when I see consistent patterns I will start thinking about a strategy, and I'm still practicing on balancing that (i.e., when is too much and I need to take more aggressive measures).

And I appreciate that you like the "I'm glad..." response.I learnt it from PU, and the more I think of it, I thought it was to pull the spotlight back to "me" as a person, and also slightly judging (sub-communicating that I "approve" a thing you did).

 

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on July 1, 2022, 4:04 am

Awesome, awesome case study, thank you for sharing Emily!

This is the type of analysis that helps you to quickly learn to assess people.

Some notes:

First judging comment: a red flag (but without jumping to conclusions just yet)

I  agree with Kavalier: sometimes honest appreciation overlaps with judging others.

And sometimes people just choose words based on what they heard most often, or what they settled down as "stock sentence formats", so I wouldn't necessarily jump to the conclusion.

However, I totally agree with you that it was a red flag.

I'd have also taken that as a red flag.

It's the "having / not having" that are red flags:

Her: You guys have, and you guys have

That sub-communicates:

  • "you're financially well off"
  • "you're socially successful, with a cool network, enjoying a good life"

Note that everyone is going to (subconsciously) notice those things.
However, what they take away from it is telling.
When people enter a nice place with nice people they don't necessarily have to focus on those "nice things you have", they may focus on the pleasure of being in such a nice place, in the experience they're going to have that evening, or the opportunity and pleasure of getting to know such cools and high-value people (and putting the onus on them to make sure they bring enough value to be good standing members of that social circle).

Who's more likely to focus on the "things you have" then?
It's someone who's taking stock of what you have, and comparing (probably comparing to what she has or doesn't have).

And if she comes out short of that comparison... It's potential frenemy in the making.

Pointing out your mistakes: the sign of a frenemy

Her unfriendly way of pointing out your mistake confirms that red flag.

And it confirms the frenemy set up.

There's also little to opine there, and not much room for positive interpretation:

If someone acts unfriendly and makes you feel under attack, then... That's a fact.

Notice that a "good person" who feels inferior would feel closer to you after the mistake, since she could take that as the sign that "OK, so she's not perfect, she also makes mistakes, I'm glad to find out she's a normal human being I can relate and be friends with".

It's only the competitive frenemy who jumps at the opportunity of thread-expanding on the mistake, attack, and demean.

Her last comment: the confirmation of a self-absorbed, materialistic, and competitive person

That was just the icing on the cake.

It confirms that she probably does feel "inferior" to you (and resents it).

And it also confirms that her mindset:

  • Competitive
  • Materialistic: it's not about the human connection, friendship, or having a good time, it's about "who gets to be in the cool circle and who doesn't"
  • Self-absorbed (many people are, but the value-givers outgrow it and learn the best way to advance is to also focus on others)

Solutions...

Now, what can you make with that type of information?

John's approach of not necessarily cutting her out cold turkey but keeping her far is a solid one.

I'd also add that it may be worth giving her a chance by adding warmth and friendliness, making her feel like you can be on her side as a friend, and see if that changes her approach from competitive and snarky, to friendly and cooperative.

If she doesn't, then definitely best to keep her on the periphery.

I appreciate your insights, Lucio.

I wouldn't be able to read into this as deeply as knowing this person might be competitive and materialistic, but your explanation makes sense as these are red flags that can signal much more. When I think of it, yes she might feel inferior because of how we display our lifestyle, as I also happened to know that she was recently dumped by some guy she was dating, so the contrast for her. I thought her edginess was because of her having a bad time in general (might very well be, career-wise, family-wise).

It is a graceful approach to try to include her and makes her feel more welcome next time. It is a thing that I haven't practiced before (and sometimes I suspect that by cutting people out directly before I lost the chance of having an otherwise potentially great relationship), and it's worth trying.

Thanks for sending the frenemy article, I need to take some time to absorb it. It appalls me sometimes that a lot of people around me seem to be frenemies. I'm wondering if that's the case for meeting people in general, and I do need to be more active to "pluck the weeds from the garden", or if I have higher than normal emotionally sensitive needs. Maybe it's worth opening another thread.

Quote from Kavalier on July 1, 2022, 6:08 pm
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on July 1, 2022, 4:04 am

Her: You guys have, and you guys have

That sub-communicates:

  • "you're financially well off"
  • "you're socially successful, with a cool network, enjoying a good life"

Note that everyone is going to (subconsciously) notice those things.
However, what they take away from it is telling.

I can tell you for myself: I totally didn't see that one. Thank you for pointing this out, Lucio.

Emily, I also found your analysis of better versions very insightful! Most of us - myself very included - tend to analyse what we would answer to power moves we spot - very rarely, if ever, we consider what the other person might have said if she were trying to be socially effective -, and now I realize that we are losing half of the fun. Thank you for this!

Great, Kavalier. It is something I developed when dealing with toxic people before. I generally feel I am a fair and polite person. So when I felt uncomfortable in interactions, and when I doubt if the treatments I got were fair, I would put myself in their shoes and think how I would have done it.

But of course, everybody is different, so I would give it a lot of time to see patterns emerge. But I guess that also comes with a disadvantage I didn't know before - disempowerment over time. Now I think it's best to address from the very start, and take a more active approach to observe, and when context permits also clarify and communicate.

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Lucio BuffalmanoKavalier
Quote from Kavalier on July 1, 2022, 6:08 pm

Emily, I also found your analysis of better versions very insightful! Most of us - myself very included - tend to analyse what we would answer to power moves we spot - very rarely, if ever, we consider what the other person might have said if she were trying to be socially effective -, and now I realize that we are losing half of the fun. Thank you for this!

Great point!

And would have missed it if you didn't highlight it.

Can be very helpful also to assess if people had any other options available.

Kavalier has reacted to this post.
Kavalier
Have you read the forum guidelines for effective communication already?

I just hosted another gaming event with my partner and invited the same person. It was interesting to confirm what I felt before, and some more group dynamics with a couple other people also participating.

@lucio your conclusions were so spot-on last time about her being competitive, materialistic and self-obsorbed. She continued along these lines and I saw a bit more: competitive - in the games but generally about her sharp intellectual abilities and relentless judgement, materialistic - insecure about her earning and professional standing, and of course, self-absorbed.

There were a couple more people - a high power high warmth friend whom I really like, and a high warmth lower power friend also there this time. She was competitive, cutting and tasking throughout the event. I can see that she also provides value (mainly informational than social), since she is in a high prestige profession, and she's quite knowledgeable but too bad she's socially too dominant to make me feel good.

I haven't had much chance to develop defense strategies yet, and I tried to shame her a little bit about some trivia and requests but I don't personally feel it was high power. I felt her hostility was not just targeted at us, but generally more targeted at us. It was probably that she felt insecure in terms of her position to us as guest to hosts. She also complained about how a close friend didn't invite her over for her wedding. I sensed that she had insecurities about social acceptance and where she is professionally. Then, I started observing her interaction with the HPHW friend. There is one interaction I particularly liked:

Her: I'm sure A (HPHW friend) will do this for me (she couldn't reach the object herself but did not directly politely ask him)

Him: As a matter of fact, I do enjoy feeding...(smile) 

That was a really great response in my mind, bantering and disempowering, but still keeping it friendly.

I also observed that he only responded to a few of her dominant moves. That is also the "I don't f***ing care" attitude there, the level of self-assurance and "no matter what, I'm gonna have a great time". That made the HPHW impermeable and not being swayed by her dominance and aggressiveness. At that moment, I felt that was something I would strive for, and realized why I liked the HPHW friend to begin with.

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