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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

Dear 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 boundary.

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.

Dr. Debra

Feel free to write me with your questions

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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