Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Story Thief: We All Know At Least One

Everyone has somebody in their lives; even a hermit has his other personalities or possibly even a volleyball named Wilson. And often, among our cadre of friends and associates, we have a story thief. That’s right, a story thief.

They are the kind of workmate, friend or family member that is a social parasite. They are unoriginal, a follower, inappropriately needy and narcissistic (though simply because they are these things does not mean they will be a default story thief, such inadequacies might manifest themselves in other ways and not in story stealing however, it is highly common to find such traits and practices in the same person). But what does this have to do with story stealing and story thieves and what exactly is a story thief anyway?

Well, glad you asked. Have you ever been in a small group and giving an account of an event that you found significant? Suppose, for example, you decided to tell about going to the emergency room and the long wait you had or an unpleasant or ironic interaction with your in-laws. And somewhere along the line either as you begin the account or into the middle of it after at least presenting the principles of the narrative the story thief strikes and takes your event and turns it into his or hers! It goes somewhat like this:
You: “The other day we went to the emergency room and you would not believe what happened.”

Story Thief: (Calmly but surreptitiously listens)

Others: “Yeah, go on.”
You: “Well, there was absolutely no one in the ER and no attendants to receive people.  Jim could have had a heart attack and died for all anyone cared.” (You now pause for acknowledgment and sympathetic response in order to conclude or finish your story or for any questions about your experience up to that point)

Story Thief: (Instead of understanding that it is his or her queue to respond to your story with questions or some form of interest, the story thief sees this as an opportunity to crudely segue into talking about themselves [narcissism rises]). “You know last year my mom and I went to the ER while on vacation in Maine and blah…blah…blah…”

Sometimes it might even be in a more rapid mode such as:

You: “I saw a great movie this weekend.”

Story Thief: “Really? My wife and I did to. It was the one about the blah…blah…blah…and then after the movie we went to dinner at blah…blah…blah…so next weekend we are thinking about blah…blah…blah…what do you think, would you guys like to go to?”

You have been cut out, snuffed out, eliminated and left behind. And that is what a story thief does, they steal social scenes of which they are not the star and turn them into their own productions. Why? They do so because they are immature, selfish, and thoughtless and whatever other synonym you may attach. Is it deliberate? Well, it certainly isn’t an accident.

It is true they often are not conscious of what they are doing but narcissistic perpetrators rarely are self-conscious, hence they would be surprised if not shocked to have the curtains pulled back and attention called to what just happened. In other words if you said to that person, “Hey, do you realize I am in the middle of telling a story and you simply stole from me my audience and the context without any respect to what I was saying?”, they would be slightly embarrassed since most likely such self-centered personalities tend to surround themselves with weak beings who will not confront them and they are not used to this. But even with this needful humiliation they would excuse it as an accident. But it is no accident.

Such behavior is the direct result of puerility, unabridged impulsiveness, and insensitivity. And why are some adults this way? They are this way because they choose to be this way. Therefore, the consequences of either shallowness or depth (positive consequences) are still deliberate ends whether one is conscious of them or not.

It is accurate to say, though, that sometimes when relating to those who are recalling events we rightfully do so with an anecdote of our own. But such a method should be just that, anecdotal and immediately seek to move back to the story and the interests of the narrator.

Back to the story thief. You and I have all encountered them. Maybe you were once one of them or this very moment you are having an epiphany concerning yourself; good, you aren’t alone. That is what is called maturing, growing up or taking responsibility for yourself and your function within this world as a contributor and an asset. Maybe you are  thinking of someone you know just like that and have never known just what it is they are doing but you now not only know what it is but you also have a name for it, story thief. Well do the world some good, call attention to it. Let them know what they are doing and explain with precision so that the next time and the next time and the time after that in which you have to tell them (don’t think one round of exposure will do with these types) they will be aware and with less excuse. It might actually force them to mature and best of all, you are enforcing boundaries with which they obviously have trouble respecting.

Yeah, story thieves!

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