12

I have a few friends who will try to manipulate me with self deprecating remarks.

Perhaps I've been helping them with something for a while and am obviously making moves to leave when they say something like:

"Oh I am sorry, I'm such a burden, I'm so selfish I shouldn't have taken up so much of your time with this. I'm a terrible friend."

As far as I can tell this backs me into corner with few good options.

  • If I leave soon after I feel like I'm validating that remark
  • If I stay and tell them how they aren't a burden or bad friend it takes more of my time and I can only imagine it encourages the behaviour.

This is just a general situation, it is used in many others such as comments about looks, giving them a lift, not being able to visit when they wanted you to.

I know I'm not alone in having people act like this, I wondered whether anyone had come up with a general response to self-deprecating interlocutors that would, ideally, get through to the person that I care but that they can't manipulate me this way.

Edit: Another, work related, question with some good answers is here.

22

Teach your friend to say "thankyou" instead of sorry. It's an incredibly powerful lesson that will make both of you feel better.

Two comic-strip boxes. In each of the boxes there are two people discussing. The first box has positive colors and says: "If you want to say: Thank you for listening". The second has sad colors and says: "Don't say: Sorry I'm just rambling"

(Follow the link above for more examples and explanation.) I wouldn't talk like this to someone I worked with, or a customer at a service desk, but to an actual friend, or someone who worked for me and talked this way about the support I was giving them as a manager, I really would suggest a reword:

Oh I am sorry, I'm such a burden, I'm so selfish I shouldn't have taken up so much of your time with this. I'm a terrible friend.

Hey, have you ever heard the suggestion "don't say sorry, say thankyou"? It's super cool and a much better way to acknowledge that someone is helping you. Like today, you could say "thankyou for giving me so much of your time on this." And then I would say "no problem, I am happy to help a friend like you." [Smile.]

Everyone wins if your friends learn this reword. You don't have to fake-argue, you get genuine appreciation (who doesn't like that?), your friends feel better about themselves, ... there is no downside other than the few moments where you point this out to them. With any luck, they'll apply the lesson throughout their lives.

6

It is important to distinguish between someone who sounds self-deprecating because they are a bit depressed and need help, or someone who talks like that because they want free stuff. Since you talk about manipulation, I presume you already know.

"Oh I am sorry, I'm such a burden, I'm so selfish I shouldn't have taken up so much of your time with this. I'm a terrible friend."

This person follows a script, and the next scene should feature you being extra-nice and helpful, telling them they are such a wonderful human being, etc. Such record-breaking passive-aggressive self-deprecating bullshit deserves an appropriate response. Today Karma calls upon you to deliver the goods, might as well enjoy it!... Simply flip the script and deliver slapstick instead. Possible replies:

  • "Oh, you think?" Wait three seconds and give them a hug. "I don't mind, love you anyway. I must be a masochist."
  • "Weeellll to be honest..." Long and awkward silence. "Gotta go."

Basically they hand you a stick: beat them with it. That should convince them not to keep using this tactic. You can also go meta and hand them a bigger stick:

  • "I'm so much worse than you, look at all the stuff I did, it's all crap, I'm so sorry, I should leave before totally ruining everything."
4

If I leave soon after I feel like I'm validating that remark

If you feel like you are being manipulated into staying longer than you want to, why not say that they are wrong as your goodbye-message?

Friend: Oh I am sorry, I'm such a burden, I'm so selfish, I shouldn't have taken up so much of your time with this. I'm a terrible friend.
You: No, you aren't. You are welcome! Goodbye/See you!

This way, you are disputing their self-deprecating remark and don't waste more of your time with them. No need to either ignore it or discuss it endlessly - "No, you aren't" is just as good. If you feel that's too curt, you may say "Don't worry, you aren't", which is not that much longer.

4

"Don't worry I was happy to help." That should really be the end of it. I wouldn't go down the path of trying to reassure them any more than that. Sometimes I'll ignore comments like these altogether.

I will add that sometimes these are comments that can potentially demonstrate that a person is aware you are getting less out of your friendship/relationship than they are, if you find you're being asked to do stuff like this all the time and not much else may want to evaluate it.

  • That final comment in this answer isn't relevant and doesn't add anything to the discussion. – Groggo Dec 5 '17 at 8:58
  • @Groggo I've deleted it since it seems to be throwing people off. Thank you for your feedback. – David Reed Dec 5 '17 at 14:35
  • in response to your edit, I've removed my downvote. – Groggo Dec 19 '17 at 15:35

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