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Among a circle of friends (mostly in our mid-to-late 20s), one of us is called 'Hugh'. We have been friends for several years without any falling-outs. Whether it is only the two of us meeting or in a larger group, Hugh is generally friendly and talkative. He also shares a lot of common interests with others in our group. Over time though, he has developed a few quirks that have become a little frustrating, our mutual friends have confided in me that they have started finding them annoying too.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Not saying "thank you" for anything. In one example, his then-SO gave him an expensive birthday present and he said nothing in response to it. There were a few others present and it resulted in a long awkward silence.
  • Even when being spoken directly to, he will sometimes space out and start singing to himself. It takes a wave or raised voice to make him realise he is still in the conversation.
  • He deliberatly keeps his hands in his pockets to avoid touching doors. He neither holds doors open for people nor opens them himself. I have even seen him get stuck against a closing door while doing this.
  • When invited to someone else's home, he will generally not tidy up after himself and openly complain about relatively trivial things such as the complexity of a wi-fi password or if hosts ask their guests to take their shoes off, just to give some examples.

We have been friends long enough that Hugh and I have been comfortable talking about a number of personal things over the years. One time when he was over, he left some litter on my couch so I politely but firmly asked him to bin them, a less firm suggestion was ignored. He then spoke about how I and others have been "bullying" him about these things and others. He is convinced that the way he behaves is not in any way rude and that he suspects he is being excluded from some gatherings for these reasons (currently unverified). This response has since occurred with other minor instances. If they were isolated incidents, I could understand if our friends and I were making mountains out of molehills, but Hugh's seemingly ignorant behaviour is far more commonplace than he realises. There are times when he will give a strained apology but repeat the behaviour the following day. I have told him that I only mention it to him as a friend, and that I'd worry in case he does these things to others - such as workplace colleagues - who may not be so accommodating.

I know his unawareness could be due to an obscure or diagnosed psychological issue.

How can I explain to an adult that bringing up rude behaviour is not to bully him?

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This reminded me immediately of the Geek Social Fallacies (GSFs). GSF2 is "Friends Accept Me as I Am":

After being victimized by social exclusion, many geeks experience their 'tribe' as a non-judgmental haven where they can take refuge from the cruel world outside.

...

Carriers of GSF2 believe that since a friend accepts them as they are, anyone who criticizes them is not their friend. Thus, they can't take criticism from friends -- criticism is experienced as a treacherous betrayal of the friendship, no matter how inappropriate the criticized behavior may be.

This theory suggests that the problem stems from insecurity and a bad history with exclusion and criticism. Perhaps it would help to explicitly address that no one is perfect, and that you can love someone even when they are annoying. You could also turn the tables a little: things like being an inconsiderate guest make you feel like he doesn't care about you; he is violating boundaries that matter to you.

A lot of the particular behaviors you have issues with seem to be about him not considering others' feelings or respecting other people. He may also have a history of people leaving him over this behavior (was this a factor in the SO-breakup?), which may make him especially wary of people raising the issue.

If/when you talk with him about this, do it one-on-one and talk about your own feelings and experiences. Do not allude to other people sharing your views, or else it will seem like a coordinated attack. And instead of bringing it up as one huge overarching problem, you can bring up one particular action or incident to talk through. Perhaps you could bring it up by saying:

Dude, I'm still thinking about that time with the trash on the couch. I felt ____ when you refused to help clean up. ...

You can convey how it feels from your perspective: you like him but this behavior makes it feel like he doesn't respect you back. He may or may not respond constructively. If he does engage more deeply, the talk may surface something about what he feels when he's asked to help. Maybe he doesn't like being called out for "forgetting" to clean up, and he doubles down to avoid shame.

His behavior may respond even if he doesn't want to talk about it. (And you can try to cue him with inclusive approaches, like, "Let's get these plates out of the way for everyone. [Friend], could you please give me a hand?") It's possible that by starting small, like cleaning up his own trash (or helping clean up others' trash!) he'll get positive feedback from hosts and feel more inclined to help and less insecure.

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    Contrary to Hugh's suspicions, at least on my own part, he doesn't get excluded from any gatherings. As for the break-up, I was told it was 'lots of little things adding up' but did not enquire further. Will definitely look further into GSF. – user8671 Apr 27 '18 at 7:46
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    thank you for providing this model - funny and describing essential truths... – michi Apr 27 '18 at 12:00
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Phobias - Your friend Hugh has some phobias, which dictate his behaviour.

Touching doors is one phobia. It suggests that his other behaviours are linked to how he views the world and threats.

So when most people understand opening a door for someone is polite and nice, for him it could be the risk of getting germs overrides such an idea.

You need to start a conversation with him regarding his phobias and how this changes his behaviour.

It would explain why a simple polite suggestion could be interpreted as bullying because he is being forced to do something he does not want to do because of the linked phobia that it entails. Once you learn that some are bounded by such restrictions, rather than it being rude, it is a kind of prison inside which they are locked. The great thing is once the behaviour is recognised strategies can be used to compensate so normal interaction is no longer a challenge.

  • Interesting hypothesis about the phobias. It sounds like clean/dirty phobias might be related to about half of the behaviors mentioned. I think it would improve the answer to address how to know if phobias are involved, and if so how to ask about them. (Saying, "Dude, I get it, you're afraid of germs" might be the wrong answer if Hugh is not phobic after all.) – cactus_pardner Apr 27 '18 at 19:21
  • Phobias could explain the doors and 'thank you' examples I gave but I would be surprised if all his outwardly rude actions can be explained with this, unless reactions to certain phobias can manifest in unusual or obscure ways? – user8671 Apr 30 '18 at 14:31
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    I have met some people with ocd problems, who would do things that annoyed their friends, because they had a compulsion to pick up litter, or to resolve things slightly out of place. Because this came and went, and strategies to avoid such things, led to other behaviours that were odd. So until you walk it through with the person, it is always just guessing, but with friends it is helping them to work out an improved strategy and be aware how they come across. – PeterJens Apr 30 '18 at 14:42

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