Ask Dr. Mark

Dr. Mark Goulston and Dr. Mark Goulston

(KRT) Dear Dr. Mark, I know sarcasm is part of college, and I probably am too thin-skinned, but we have a guy in our group of friends who is very similar to Simon on “American Idol.” He is very quick, witty and cutting. He gets away with it, and part of his appeal is that the rest of us are intimidated by him, impressed by his chutzpah and feel challenged to either get the better of him or get him to say something nice. Any tips on how to get him to be more positive, and if that fails, to give him a taste of his own medicine? _ Simonized at NYU Dear Simonized, All through my school career, there have always been “Simon’s” _ those people you love to hate. And that’s part of their appeal. Most people are uncomfortable with their anger. I think part of it is that at any moment, it feels like we could go out of control, become enraged and then do something destructive that we won’t be able to take back, and that’s scary. People like Simon seem comfortable with their anger and are much more adept at using it. We resent them for this quality. At the same time we envy their freedom to act like a jerk, never going so far that they lose control and not caring what others think. Here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with your “Simon”: 1) He is not nice, so don’t expect him to be. Part of how he gets the better of you is by surprising you. Each time you’re with him, you start off by lowering your guard and expecting this to be the time he is going to be nice. Then _ slam! _ he does it again. 2) Just because he baits you, doesn’t mean you have to take the bait. Part of his plan is to bait you, and keep you on the defensive. When you’re on the defensive, you’re too busy protecting yourself to be effective at counterattacking. And here are some tips to prevent becoming “Simonized” by your friend: 1) Take the air out of his sails. People like him pride themselves on being witty and articulate. Next time you’re with him, look him squarely in the eye as if to say, “I’m on to you. Go ahead, make my day!” Then when he delivers his dig, keep looking at him and say nothing. He’ll become nervous that his knockout punch had no effect, and out of frustration he’ll hit you with another comment. At that point, look puzzled and say to him: “Excuse me. My mind wandered (which your firm eye contact will say otherwise). Can you repeat the last couple things you said?” He’ll become flustered and most likely will make another nasty comment, but now you’ve got him off balance. So next say to him, “Oh, you’re doing your thing again aren’t you?” Then in a ridiculing voice say, “Oh please, do your little shtick again and I promise I’ll act offended. Say it again please.” At this point he may just turn around and not respond, having realized he has lost. To add icing on the cake, throw in sarcastically for good measure: “Really, c’mon, if you want to try again, I promise I’ll behave.” 2) Calmly hit him with a reality check. You might say something like, “Too bad our circle of friends needs a jerk like you to keep the energy level up. I don’t know what we’d do without you.” 3) Hit him below the belt with a non sequitur. Freud was not wrong when he talked about anal personalities. People who act like jerks are often easily embarrassed when you talk about their hygiene. So after he dumps on you, sniff loudly and then say: “You didn’t shower today, did you?” This will throw him off balance and make it difficult for him to continue his assault. 4) Earn his respect, and he’ll treat you better. If you feel he is starting to be bothered by how much he is resented (a true jerk won’t care), you might actually take him aside and give him a word of advice such as. “You’re not so brilliant to have this attitude.” If you’re lucky, he’ll realize you’re right and he may respect you for the input. ___ (Dr. Mark Goulston is the author of “Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior” published by Perigee Books. Send your questions to Dr. Mark at [email protected] or visit him at ___ ‘copy 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.