An authority figure who makes criticism personal
I had a lot of supportive teachers in high school, and I had a couple who made weird comments about my work outside of school: “You’re used to writing these kind of playful, light essays about your own life for all these young girls, but I think it’s really important to improve your academic hand.” This is a good point, but a weirdly personal way of putting it! I am still not endorsing Scientology, but this video of Tom Cruise dealing with a jerk who pranked him during a red carpet interview is a fantastic argument for the communication skills that I guess the religion teaches:
What is classier than just stopping someone and saying, “Why would you do that?” “That’s incredibly rude.” It’s not dramatic, so you could never come across as overly sensitive or self-victimizing, but it’s also not playing down the cruelty of the SP’s action in the interest of being nice. You’re honoring your feelings without playing their game; you’re standing up for yourself while maintaining your cool. Unfortunately, jeopardizing your relationship with this SP can mean sabotaging yourself if you still need something from them like a high school diploma, paycheck, et cetera, so combatting their put-downs with Tom Cruise–calmness is a safe way to maintain your dignity, while letting them know that you see what they are up to, and hopefully saving you any more put-downs in the future.
An ex who ended it but still needs your validation
This SP broke up with you but maintained contact to make sure you still like them because who DOESN’T want to be loved, especially after getting used to the feeling? Unfortunately, there is no easy transition from partners to friends, and if it was their decision, they need to respect your space instead of checking to make sure your heart is still attached. Are there very strong people out there who can go from 100 to 90 to 75, and so on, gracefully? I think a clean break, 100 to 0 or at most, 7, might be the only way at first. Also, this person shouldn’t get the best of both worlds—basically continuing to have a relationship but without making themselves emotionally available or someone you can depend on. I know it’s sad and you like this person and you get some good feels from their validation, too, but honoring them with an explanation might mean having to engage in a discussion when you could do so many other things with that time, like sleeping or eating or any of life’s other pleasures. You don’t owe this person anything anymore! BUMMER, but a consequence of their own decision that they ought to accept.
People who SP-splain (SPlain?) under the guise of helping you
This came from someone named Alexandra Anderson Conrad from when I started writing this as a list on List App. Do you know about List App? Oh, you poor lamb, let me bring you up to speed! It’s this app (that’s why “App” is in the name) where you make lists (hence “List”) that I actually think would be really good for you; I’m pretty sure you need an invite since it’s still in beta mode so just let me know if you need me to check if it’s cool if I invite you. I’m totally happy to; you could use a bit of fun social media what with your un-fun life!
See what I did there? Were you not doing just fine until I started giving you advice that you did not need and putting you in a position where you would need some weird fancy app invite from me? When a SP is well aware that they’re undercutting you by giving unwarranted help, fighting back will usually make it seem like they actually hit your sweet spot and you might come off as defensive. Politely saying, “Thanks, I’ll think about it” and never acting on it or addressing it again will prove their efforts at suppressing you to be futile. If you believe this person earnestly thinks you need rescuing and would feel bad to know you felt patronized, they should understand if you just explain: “I know you’re trying to help, but I’ve actually been dealing with this on my own, and am finding that getting so much input from people stresses me out more.” Of course, you could politely accept and then never apply their advice, too, but by being direct, you won’t have to endure any more SP-ing in the future.
UPDATE FROM TRYING THIS IRL: I put my carry-on bag in the overhead compartment and was moving around the stuff next to it so that I could place it horizontally and the man below kept repeating, “It won’t fit, do you see how the wheels are sticking out?” as if the wheels were not protruding in front of my face, so I said, “Thanks, I’m working on it,” and he just stopped talking! I didn’t have to continue to argue with him or anything. Dope.
People who constantly check up on you and spend a lot of time checking if you’re OK
Another one from List App, courtesy of Scarlett Curtis:
“This is always clear heartfelt, full of love and beautiful. But sometimes it can also make you think you are weak and fragile when you’re not. Sometimes you need other people to treat you like a strong, resilient, sturdy human in order to actually feel like one. And as soon as someone asks you if you’re going to be able to deal with a situation without panicking/crying/needing to leave it makes you think you can’t. When you can. Almost always.”
There is a fine line between looking out for someone because you know where they struggle, and feeding their self-doubt by implying that they are a delicate flower. In this interview with the writer Christopher Noxon he talks about being approached by friends at events celebrating his wife—Orange is the New Black–creator Jenji Kohan—and how when that many people go, “Are you OK?” you start to actually wonder if you’re OK, even if you already felt fine! (The implication there being that it should be difficult to be the husband of a successful woman.) Because this checking in takes many forms—the melodramatic intervention, the brief “Are you OK?”—I don’t know if there’s a blanket solution, but “I was until you asked me!” tends to give people the message. (Also, they don’t feel attacked or guilty because it’s kind of a funny response, I am a comedic genius, et cetera.)
Friends who reduce your struggles into simplistic pep-talks
This is the opposite of Scarlett’s, but also often unintentional! Sometimes a friend shutting down a conversation with a “You go girl!” can make your struggles seem small, or your feelings invalid, or your selfhood not known by this person you’re confiding in, which can be awfully lonely-inducing. For example, it doesn’t help to talk about a breakup when all your friend does is write off your ex as a monster, making you feel a little guilty for having mixed emotions. My therapist said that shit-talking an ex to a degree where you feel dissociated from yourself is called “splitting,” because who you are is probably not a person who hates your ex completely, so now you’ve lost a bit of yourself, too. A friend who wants you to feel wholly yourself should understand if you explain very plainly, “How I’m feeling is not that simple; I think it will help me to acknowledge all the nuances of the situation.” You also don’t owe this person the opportunity to give you advice, and should feel free to find someone else to confide in.
And there you have it! Life is a bouquet of SPs, so I’m sure I missed a bunch, but shout out to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard for giving Sarah and me shorthand for people who are messing with us, and for absolutely nothing else! Also, enjoy the rest of this month, and the time of SP-refuge that summer offers.