Friday, August 24, 2007


You meet a wide variety of people as you journey through life. Some of them are pretty self-aware and genuine. Some of them are self-centered and myopic. Some are neurotic and constantly worry about what others think or are always trying to please those around them. Others are angry, sarcastic and lashing out in any way they can find. There are very few people who are psychologically perfect and even those who appear pretty well-balanced initially may eventually show cracks as time goes by and you get to know them better.

Since none of us are perfect, I don't really expect the people I encounter to fail to get on my nerves (nor do I expect that I won't eventually get on theirs). Among the flawed people I meet, I think the ones who frustrate me the most though are the ones I have christened "Popeyes". These are the people who are fully aware of how their particular issues cause stress and difficulty to others but their response is "I yam what I yam".

These aren't people who have tried to curb their more inappropriate responses or habits but people who feel no need to try. They may be aggressive, hostile, impatient, childish, or rude but they excuse themselves by simply saying that it's just the way they are. They feel that the people around them should accommodate their personality problems rather than attempt to modify their behavior such that it manifests itself less destructively. These people either believe they were born a certain way and have no power to change or are so narcissistic that they believe the whole world should shape itself to their personalities.

A good example of this sort of behavior is the boss who snarls at his subordinates over little "mistakes" (which may actually be a failure to adhere to idiosyncratic wishes on the part of the boss) because he had a fight with his wife before work and is irritable. He won't try to cut back on lashing out at others but simply conclude he was born temperamental and will always be this way so the people around him should get used to it. Most people like this not only won't try to change but they also won't apologize. The best they will offer is to say, "this is the way I am, don't take it personally."

Men are far more likely to be Popeyes than women. That is not to say that women can't be this way but women are conditioned socially in every culture to be aware of the feelings of others and to attempt to make them comfortable. Men also view any sort of personality change in order to accommodate the feelings of others, even significant others like their wives, as a challenge to their power in the relationship. For some people, the minute the topic of filing off the personality's rough edges comes up, they go into defensive mode and gear up to hold their ground in the emotional tug of war they anticipate will follow. These are typically, but certainly not always by a long shot, the kind of men who delight in calling a man who alters his behavior to accommodate his wife "whipped".

Some "Popeyes" would say that anyone who worries about the way their behavior affects others is neurotically obsessed with trying to please others and lacking in confidence but that's just a way of placating the voice inside them that knows they're unable to face their flaws in a meaningful way. Such people often seem to feel that admitting a personality flaw gives them a free pass to exercise it at will. It's a little like telling people you'll be setting off a stink bomb at their desk on random occasions but you've warned them so they should attempt to be sanguine about it when it occurs.

I often wonder if such people have tried to improve and failed and that failure was sufficiently discouraging that they talked themselves into a frame of mind which says it's okay not to try to be a better person or if they're so selfish and self-centered that it never even would occur to them to try.

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