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tl;dr Bruce believes that the world is, at its core, a very nice, nonjudgmental place where people get along and don't criticize, and when this belief is contradicted he either refuses the evidence or withdraws into himself. I'm worried for his future at music school.

I have a friend. Let's call him Bruce. We are both college age (19-21). I have known him for years, and he is one of my best friends. He and I get along very well in almost every way, and we each have a great trust in each other. There is just one issue that crops up occasionally: he believes that any treatment that goes against how he believes he should be treated is unfair to him. This would not be a problem if he did not have naïve expectations for how he believes everyone should treat each other. I don't mean 'talk it out' expectations, I mean 'why would anyone ever say an insulting word to another?' expectations.

These expectations are not always a problem. His girlfriend is very similar to him, and, while it does produce a pseudo echo chamber effect, it also makes them both incredibly happy, and it has improved both of their dispositions, in the short and long run.

Whenever anyone doesn't conform to his expectations, he immediately assumes the form of someone that has been mistreated. He sulks, he whines, and he loses all his personality for a few hours. He believes that everyone is putting on an act when they don't like someone else, and that if everyone was just honest with each other, then all these problems would go away.

I know for a fact that he feels this way: his two shoulders to cry on are his girlfriend when he can, and, when she's away, me. She lives an hour's drive away, so a lot of the time I am more convenient.

An example that encapsulates this attitude is an interaction we had in a class.

*Me standing up debating with the class on how safe our area is compared to others

*I sit down

*Bruce, who stayed out of the debate, leans over

Br: This school's not that safe, you know

Me: What are you talking about? *provides statistics

Br: Everyone here is really judgmental, though.

Me: Aren't you going into music? They're even more judgmental there: it's all about how you play.

Br: No, it's different there!

Me: You've talked to people that went there. Do you really believe insert local harsh music teacher here was an outlier?

Br: Yeah, I've met some of the professors!

Me: On a recruiting trip?

Br: Yeah, so?

And so on.

He was often shielded from criticism in his household, as his mother was focused on him growing up happy and enjoying his youth, at the expense of things like constructive criticism.

This makes me very worried for his future. He is going into music, and while he certainly has the skills to be successful, he intends to go to a very prestigious music school, and it is likely (if his audition is on or above his average) he will get in. There, it is likely he will meet the real world, including instructors that take a very hard line stance, and a tough love approach. I want to somehow introduce him to even a small sampling of what he will receive, or convince him that everyone there isn't nice and get along, as he believes that this incredibly competitive music school is all sunshine and rainbows.

My question is, how do I convince him that some people just don't get along, and that he will receive criticism he will just have to take? I've tried many things, including engaging him on the subject while he's sullen (he refuses to believe me), while he's happy (he brushes it off), by injecting a small amount of criticism into our conversations (he looks at me expectantly until I praise him, and when I don't, he is thrown off balance), and trying to talk to his girlfriend about it (she thinks he will be able to handle it and refuses to talk to him about it).

Note This is different from this question as mine does not involve abuse, just naïveté.

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    I don't think I understand your question. The title ask one thing and the body of your question ask something different. Also from what you said It seems that you are saying that if person A is nice, and B insults A, B is not being unfair to A, which is not the case, B is unfair to A. So I think I am not getting your point. Also you just don't have to take criticism, you are not supposed to let people mistreat you. Does your friend cry if someone provides criticism in a intelligent and constructive way? – Mykazuki Aug 13 '18 at 17:03
  • Maybe your question is "how to help my friend accept constructive criticism and deal with nonconstructive criticism in a healthy way?" – Mykazuki Aug 13 '18 at 17:04
  • @Mykazuki I was struggling to find an apt title that encapsulates the question, and that’s a good fit. And it’s not the A-B thing, I’m saying that he says most everything not a blatant compliment as unfair criticism. And the 3rd body paragraph addresses what he does for all criticism, fair and constructive or otherwise. – Imperator Aug 13 '18 at 17:19
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    Ah ok, that's good, just that example you gave was not actually fair treatment. But now I understand what you mean. – Mykazuki Aug 13 '18 at 17:22
  • Is your friend stubborn in general? – Hawker65 Aug 14 '18 at 8:03
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It sounds like you may be worrying about someone who doesn't need worrying about.

Bruce and his girlfriend may have a different outlook on life to you. Arguably theirs is a more positive outlook. I can see you aren't trying to bring them down or make them more negative, and your intentions might be well-meaning, but the one piece of information you give about their attitude which I believe is the most important is this:

"...it has improved both of their dispositions, in the short and long run."

So their "naivety" as you see it might cause them to be disappointed in others from time to time, but apparently this has been put to the test and proved to make them happy in both the short and long term. Why do you want to change this??

Your question is:

How do I convince him that some people just don't get along, and that he will receive criticism he will just have to take?

Maybe the answer is that you don't? You think he lives in some kind of la-la land where he believes everybody is nice all of the time, but you've already shown that he deals with each negative encounter in isolation as and when these occur. If he had more negative experiences than he did positive ones he would come to his own conclusion that people are overwhelmingly mean, or unfair, or whatever - but clearly that isn't his experience. Maybe he is right to assume the best of people, and that most people are nice?

You're trying to give him a "dose of reality" to try and safeguard him from disappointment, because clearly when he does encounter unfairness he takes it worse than most people. And on this point I agree with you, he might need some help here.

Your experience in life may have made you expect people to be mean and unfair - but that doesn't mean that most of them always are, right? You just expect it, so when it happens you aren't as disappointed.

When it comes to unfair criticism or general unfairness, rather than try and convince Bruce that people are mostly awful, just allow him his positive outlook, but try and help deal with disappointment better. The thing to get across to him is that each individual is in control of their own actions and not anybody else's. He must learn to accept that other people may be mean, but not let it affect him or his own actions.

But as you say, if he wants to get through music school he also needs to take on constructive criticism, otherwise he won't succeed or improve. Again though, you may be worrying unnecessarily. College is a natural progression of his education. Most students would have already passed some kind of exams at high school level and experienced some form of constructive criticism before they go to college. In comments you have told me that specifically in the case of your friend, he has had very little criticism and not really grown from it. That is unfortunate. But the bottom line is that if someone really has never learned to take and kind of constructive criticism, how can you possibly hope to constructively criticise that aspect of his personality? You probably can't, and any effort to get through to him might harm your friendship. It might be better all round if he learns the hard way that he needs criticism to improve. Just be there for your friend when he finds the criticism difficult and then you have an opportunity to tell him straight that it is for his benefit.

  • He should also be prepared for competition, including competition with folks who would act as critics. School brings together people of many different motives and dispositions, and it's impossible for administrators to manufacture a student body including only talented individuals who wish to draw out the talent of their peers rather than make themselves out to be the best---- whether through excellence or through unfair words. – elliot svensson Aug 13 '18 at 18:26
  • RE “He must have passed some exams at high school level”: where I live the high school music education is of such a low level that all students can enrol, so it has no entrance requirement. If you want to be a professional musician you should have passed this level long before high school and you won’t gain anything by taking music courses there. The best way to get into college level music education is by taking private lessons from a young age. Your first proper exam may well be the entrance exam to (an excellence programme leading to) college. Music school will be rough for Bruce. – 11684 Aug 14 '18 at 13:03
  • @11684 Okay, well maybe the OP can comment on that, otherwise it is just conjecture. I would imagine he has had to pass some kind of exam to get into college, even if it isn't music? And if he hasn't, then yes, music school will be a wake-up call for Bruce. I still don't think the OP should feel any obligation to prepare him for that if he is difficult to convince. – Astralbee Aug 14 '18 at 13:06
  • @Astralbee Well, you would need some kind of high school diploma, just not a general music exam. Sorry, I wasn’t quite clear, I felt a bit constricted by the character limit. – 11684 Aug 14 '18 at 13:13
  • @11684 You are correct, he is currently skating on talent in school and is taking lessons with a tough local music teacher. I’m taking with the teacher too, and he frequently complains to me about this teacher as I ‘understand’. But high school poses no major problem to him musically, and the schools he is applying to are solely music. His academics don’t matter too much to them. Basically, as long as he passes his classes, he’s good. He keeps his head down, and avoids notice. – Imperator Aug 14 '18 at 17:18
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Bruce believes that the world is, at its core, a very nice, nonjudgmental place where people get along and don't criticize, and when this belief is contradicted he either refuses the evidence or withdraws into himself.

These two views seem at opposition to each other.

  • If Bruce believed that "the world is a very nice nonjudgmental place" then he would think that people are very nice and non-judgemental - people aren't mean to Bruce and judge him unfairly, instead they are always nice and offer helpful advice.

  • When his beliefs are contradicted he either thinks that the other person is incorrect or that he has held a mistaken belief and now the idea is shattered.

It's more a matter of how he arrives at his ideas in the first place - are his true beliefs sound and logical - and how he addresses new information, positive or negative.

For example:

  • If Bruce made a mistake that had no consequences and you told him he made a great decision would he agree with you?

  • If Bruce made a mistake that had serious consequences and you told him he made a great decision would he agree with you?

  • If Bruce made a great decision that had no consequences and you told him he made a big mistake would he disagree with you?

  • If Bruce made a great decision that had serious consequences and you told him he made a big mistake would he disagree with you?

If that's the case you need to explain the disconnect between decisions he makes and feedback he receives from others. Whether there are consequences doesn't determine if something is correct or not, nor does someone commenting upon his actions determine their validity.

None of those things are absolutely connected - assuming it's only when a majority of people are confirming the righteousness or wrongfulness of his actions, only then does he begrudgingly accept is also not absolute.

He is not automatically right or wrong, nor are other people - it's based on fact, and better decisions are based on education and experience.

If Bruce does something once and thinks it's correct that neither means that it is in fact correct, nor always correct in every circumstance going forward.

That is what you need to politely explain.

If you are only correct if you tell him that he is correct and always wrong when you tell him he is wrong it's unclear exactly how you can open a dialogue.

Explaining that if he hasn't put enough thought into his decisions he will run the risk of criticism and possibly serious consequences, that should be enough - if he simply blows that off it is his right to hold that belief, that is different from being correct.

Simply explain that time will bear the truth and he may later learn the correctness and consequences of his decisions. That might encourage him to put more thought into things on his own, and rely on you less when his ideas don't turn out favorably.

He believes that this incredibly competitive music school is all sunshine and rainbows. My question is, how do I convince him that some people just don't get along, and that he will receive criticism he will just have to take?

If he is studying music for the enjoyment of his girlfriend and himself then he's in luck. If he intends to perform publically he will have to face the music. Even highly successful musicians receive hate mail and have people whom dislike their music. Otherwise there would be one song and one musician whom was voted to play it, like in a dictatorship (but without the voting).

If you are correct that he has a problem, that he accepts criticism poorly and overreacts, there may be underlying causes. For more information see: narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), which are recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

  • I’ll respond to your answer in parts as I get time, but I’ll start with: the views are not in opposition: from paragraph 3 “he believes that everyone is putting on an act when they don’t like someone else...”. He does not see that his view might be erroneous. He just sees people acting. It’s like if you hold the view that evolution is absolute fraud, and fossils are placed in the ground to test faith. A new transitory fossil will do nothing to change your opinion on the subject because that form of evidence just does not compute. – Imperator Aug 17 '18 at 19:36
  • That is possibly because there is no consequence. If someone was yelling at him that they don't like him and that he had better leave or else ... - would he simply believe that they are putting on an act, that everything will be OK? --- It's easy to be a creationist because there's a huge body of support and little consequences for disbelief in scientific evidence. If it was the law of gravity that was disputed he may realize the consequences as soon as he falls down, or from a height. You can lead a horse to water ... – Rob Aug 17 '18 at 20:06
  • It's very possible that a lack of consequences could've contributed to his disposition. And no, he'd wonder what made the other person angry- eventually chalking it up to something someone else did. He is polite to others, and can't see why someone would yell at him if he is being so polite. This is not conjecture, I have seen it happen. – Imperator Aug 17 '18 at 21:02
  • In response to all four of the prompts above, I shot myself in the foot. In the attempts to convince him that he needs to accept criticism, I have instead convinced him that I am just jaded against the world. So in going with the spirit, what if someone he trusted fully told him these things, he's likely to go on with his life if I told him something went well, regardless if that is true, or follow one of the reaction paths described if I told him something went poorly. For me, more often than not, it's rejection. – Imperator Aug 17 '18 at 21:09

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