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Beware of These Two Character Flaws

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In this post I want to discuss two common character flaws, so subtle as to go unnoticed for years if not a lifetime. They are conversational narcissism, and becoming a caricature of yourself.

Conversational Narcissism

You know what I am talking about. You say something to someone about your situation or how you are feeling, etc., and, without missing a beat, they say, “Wow! I’m going through that too!” and then they dominate the conversation and use the opportunity to tell you about their situation, and ultimately never respond to you. Ever had that happen to you? Ever done that to someone? It reveals that our self-focus is hard to penetrate.

I am not sure that conversational narcissism necessarily comes from arrogance or conceit. In fact, it may reveal that we are so hurting ourselves that we feel we can’t focus on someone else. Most of the time, I think the source is carelessness.

Here are some expressions, if you will, of conversational narcissism:

  • Not responding to what others say
  • Talking to someone but looking beyond them to the persons you really want to talk to.
  • Not remembering the important things people have told you.

Becoming a Caricature of Yourself

Most everyone I assume has watched as a caricaturist makes a quick sketch of someone, say, at a theme park or something, that accents some obvious feature of his or her face or body. Here’s how it is described by an actual caricature artist at Learn to Draw:

The key difference between caricature and drawing a portrait of someone is the intentional distortion of the subject in caricature . . . . So in order to keep the likeness you should understate features that are minimized on the subject and over-maximize the features that are maximized on the subject.

What is caricature?

Here’s a dictionary definition of caricature:

car-i-ca-ture (care-E-kah-chur, -chr) n.

1. A representation, especially pictorial or literary, in which the subject’s distinctive features or peculiarities are deliberately exaggerated to produce a comic or grotesque effect.

Ok, now that we all remember what a caricature is, let me explain how I am using it in this context.

Distinctive Behavior

Let me get to the point—is there some habit, personality trait, or behavior that your friends, family, and coworkers notice about you that make you predictable? Do you “butt in” when others are speaking? Do always focus on yourself? Are you loud? Are you passive aggressive? Do you eat like an animal? Are you controlling? Are you arrogantly self-confident? All of these traits and so many more can become so much a part of us that people begin to define us in these ways. Unfair distortion? Maybe. But they do it anyway.

Passive Aggression In Cognito (Maybe Not So Much)

I know someone who has a habit of making small talk and presumably innocuous statements but using them to make an underlying statement. She might say to the person she carpools with, “Hey, I can’t remember if it is your turn to drive or mine?” when in fact she knows very well that it is her friend’s turn. This her her way of reminding her neighbor that she is not holding up her end of their carpooling bargain.

Now this woman thinks that no one can pick up on her sophisticated, passive aggressive communication, but, of course, everyone can and, in her case, everyone does because this is her modus operandi. She’s famous for it. And when she’s not in the room this is one of the things for which she has become a caricature. In other words, this is one of her distinct interpersonal characteristics.

Have You Become a Caricature?

Whatever your distinct trait may be, people will distort it and misrepresent you, particularly if the trait is arrogant, irritating, etc. It’s what the people who know you best say about you when they are being candid and when you are not in the room.

A Simple Solution

There is a particular Gilmore Girls episode, “Red Light on the Wedding Night,” that features a conversation between Max and Lorelai (season 2, episode 3, at time marker 34:53) that demonstrates (rather harshly) one of the answers to conversational narcissism and becoming a caricature.

Max and Lorelai are both stress after the previous night’s respective bachelor and bachelorette parties, but Max is further stressed because he still does not have keys to Lorelei’s (soon-to-be his) house. Nestled within their conversation is part of the solution. Here’s the dialogue:

MAX: So I was gonna drop my printer off at the house but Rory wasn’t there, and guess who doesn’t possess his own set of keys yet.

LORELAI: Ahh, guessing it’s you.

MAX: Still me.

LORELAI: Max, I’m sorry, I forgot.

MAX: Again.

LORELAI: Again. You’re mad.

MAX: No. A little.

LORELAI: They’re just keys.

MAX: Try being without them and say that.

LORELAI: I’ve lost my keys before.

MAX: Well, I haven’t lost them. I never got ’em.

LORELAI: You’ll get them.

MAX: I’m trying really hard not to read too much into this.

LORELAI: Like what?

MAX: Like you don’t want me having keys or you don’t want me coming in the house.

LORELAI: Max, that’s crazy.

MAX: Well, I need keys.

LORELAI: Well, I need an assistant.

MAX: No, you need to think about someone other than yourself for a few minutes a day.

LORELAI: Ouch.

MAX: That was too strong. Maybe I am a little hungover.

LORELAI: It’s not a good day for keys or communication.

MAX: You know what, I’ll just bring the printer by later.

LORELAI: Yeah, bring it tomorrow.

MAX: I’ll bring it tomorrow.

LORELAI: Okay. I’ll have the keys.

Did you see the answer? Max harshly replies, “No, you need to think about someone other than yourself for a few minutes a day.” Maybe we wouldn’t want to put it just like that, but some introspection can help us detect whether we are always self-focused or not, particularly if that introspection is guided by the help of some candid input from people we trust.

So, some guided introspection would be very beneficial to us all. But we could also use a reminder of where our strength comes from. As a Christian, I can afford to hear someone else’s expression of hurt and pain even if they have not expressed care about mine. How? By locating my dependency upon Jesus and not people.

If our trust is in God and if we can, with His help and with the help of some genuine friends, we can begin to hear other people and become more mature in the process.

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