Ask Dr. Debra
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Dear Dr. Debra,
I have a friend who talks about people behind their backs. She's not
a bad person - it's more of a stand-up routine with her, and I'll
admit I enjoy it. But I just know that when she's with other people,
she's making hysterically funny cracks about me. Is there some way I
can discourage her from doing this without accusing her of being a
mean-spirited gossip? It's kind of her main topic of conversation.
A Comic's Friend
I'm glad you know she's doing this kind of behavior to you, too. No
matter how close you are to someone, you are not immune to her
patterns of behavior.
I seriously doubt this woman is going to change her behavior,
because if she's hysterically funny, she's getting a lot of positive
reinforcement from everyone, including you, about her humor. So why
should she change?
My questions are designed to make you think about yourself rather
than about her. If you don't feel her behavior is right, why are you
encouraging it? If you know she'll talk about you behind your back,
how can you trust her? How can you have anything but the most
superficial of friendships under these circumstances? Why do you
even want superficial friendships?
Ok, sometimes superficial friendships have some benefits. For
example, you might have a friend who likes the same type of movies
you do, but you have nothing else in common. So she's your
movie-going friend. You'll take in a movie together, and afterwards
over a cup of coffee, you enjoy dissecting it. You both understand
you have this kind of relationship and don't expect more from each
other. That's a good kind of superficial friendship.
But if somehow you are violating your own ethical standards with a
friend, superficial or not, you have to take a good hard look at
your own motives. Figure out where you are weak in living up to what
you believe in and what you need to do to change.
If you are determined to become a good person with her, you need to
follow these steps:
1. Start by apologizing to her for encouraging her to make fun of
others. You had a part in making your relationship the shallow
one it is.
2. Tell her you really admire her humor and think she is clever
and talented; however, you know it's also hurtful to the people of
whom she makes fun. Give her some examples of the behavior.
3. Tell her you know she probably talks about you that way to
others, and that makes you not trust her. Describe what that
lack of trust does to you. For example, it makes you not share
personal information with her or discourages you from bringing her
around your other friends.
4. Encourage her to seek other, more positive outlets for her
talent. Suggest doing stand-up comedy, writing a funny story or
article, creating a comic, writing a screenplay or book. She also
might consider developing a humorous routine that she can use for
community service - with hospital or nursing home patients, children
in group homes, or in school speeches.
5. Set a boundary by stating that you want to be true to
yourself, and that you are no longer going to participate in her
comedic act. When she starts to make fun of others, you are
going to change the subject or disengage from the phone conversation
or the in-person activity. Then be ready to follow through on your
Be prepared for the demise of your friendship. Even if she is
able to change, without the hysterically funny humor, you might find
you have nothing in common.
Feel free to
me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who
specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular
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