Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of… Flattery?

“I was just wondering if you would by any chance consider writing an article about people copying you/how you would deal with that? I have a friend who’s recently started copying my music tastes, saying my favourite movies are her favourite movies and the way I speak (stupid little things like saying ‘spiffy’ a lot which I do), and the way I dress to some extent. I know I should just ignore it but it’s really irritating me that she’s basically appropriating my identity. I don’t really know what to do, and I’d feel terribly awkward confronting her about it. Maybe you could please give me some advice?”

Oh honey, I’ve been there. In fact, I’ve been there with what seems like alarming regularity. You meet someone & you get along like a house on fire, but as time goes by, you can’t help but feel like something is… wrong, somehow. They love the same music & authors as you do, you have matching opinions on all kinds of issues & you’re both obsessed with the same cafe (& the barista — oh, the barista!).

One day, someone says something to you about your budding friendship, & something clicks. You start to realise that this person they are now is not who they were when you met them. In fact, if you cast your mind back a few months, you become cognizant of the fact that once they dressed completely differently, had friends who didn’t appeal to you at all & you seemingly had nothing in common. Is it just coincidence that you’re now both listening to the same albums & quoting the same movies & wearing scarves in that one particular way?

No. It isn’t. You have just become the victim of what I like to call a Personality Chaser (P.C.). Dun dun dun dunnnnnnn!

At first you might be a bit flattered, but that quickly turns to anger & a bad taste in your mouth. It’s so weird to think that maybe they’re totally different to who they are pretending to be, & for what? Your friendship? Sure, you’re cool, but not worth changing an entire personality for. What kind of person would do such a thing?

Well, a pretty normal person, actually. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that your friend must be insecure or messed up, but really if you look a little closer at the situation, & move your anger out of the way, you can see what’s really going on.

Basically, people want to be liked. That is a universal truth. Even those people who are all bravado & crow about how they don’t care what other people think… they still want to be liked by at least a few.

You will usually run into P.C.s in your teens or early 20s, but not really much later than that. It just doesn’t seem to happen as much. So, couple a need to be liked with young, inexperienced people who haven’t seen much of the world, & it almost starts to seem unusual that this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often!

As a teenager or “young adult”, it’s normal to try lots of new things to work out what suits you & what doesn’t. How else do you ever find out? So, people experiment with sex & drugs, as well as other little things — music, clothing, interests, types of books, different friends, attitudes, make-up, hairstyles, studies, careers. So if you’re not quite sure where you’re heading, & you meet someone cool who seems to have it together, it’s pretty normal to borrow things from their life & see if you can make it work for you, too.

If you’re trying to change your behaviour for the better, I often recommend looking at your role models & thinking, ‘What would _____ do?’ It can be extremely useful to take cues from other people, because it breaks us out of our old patterns & moves us forward. It helps us to become the person we would like to be.

Of course, there is a difference between borrowing small bits here & there & snatching their entire personality. In fact, I used to know someone who, whenever he made a new friend, would change his whole way of life. What he listened to, how he dressed, who he hung out with — & this happened every six months or so. It was uncanny, & more than a little bit creepy! This is not recommended.

I’m sorry this is happening to you, because I know how frustrating it can be. It almost feels like a betrayal sometimes — you thought you knew them, & now it’s like they’re just your shadow. It’s tempting to just cut them off, tell them to stick it, go & rip off someone else. But it’s not very useful.

She is probably not even aware that she is doing it.

Your friend loves you. She thinks the sun shines from your posterior. She is probably a good person, just a bit confused or lost. Kind of like a sheep. She has been looking to you for guidance, so why not help her out?

Light a path for her. Focus on her positive attributes, & tell her what they are. Tell her all the time. Remind her how brilliant she is, & she will start to realise that she doesn’t need to pretend to be someone else. Be compassionate.

She is growing, as you are. You’re just in different places. You’re not better than her, you just have a bit more experience. So help her. Introduce her to new things, & new people. Show her what you know about the world. Try to open her eyes beyond what she sees at the moment, which is just you. Recommend avant garde movies & strange, mind-expanding books for her to digest.

It’s almost like having a child, in a way. They mimic you at first because it’s all they know, but as they go through life, they grow into their own person. It’s a beautiful thing.

If you can only change the way you approach the situation, it will enhance both your lives.

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