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December 18, 2014 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Relationships

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Third Person Talk

Question:

Hi! I have a friend (in his 40's) who is constantly referring to himself in the third person. This is usually done when he writes. For example, his "name" is Joe Schmoo. He will write something like this, "Joe Schmoo saw a great movie last night, but he slept through the credits," etc. This is annoying to me, and I have no idea why he does it. It's almost as if he's trying to split his personality? What's up?

Becca (40 year-old woman)

Answer:

Becca,

Thanks for your fun letter. Peg has some ideas about this. (Couldn't resist that!)

When your friend refers to himself in the third person, you get annoyed. This makes sense, because your friend "leaves" the conversation when he does this. In a way, he abandons you and your discussion, to stand outside of it and comment on it. One of the reasons he does this, then, is to distance himself from you and perhaps, others. Since he runs the risk of aggravating people - and he probably knows this at some level at least - he uses this device to keep others away. He'd rather annoy you than have you get too close, I suspect.

You state that he does this when he writes. Although you don't mention the nature of your relationship with him, perhaps writing to you causes him to feel anxious. Something which is written can be re-read and re-examined, so usually writing demands greater definition, clarity and perhaps, conviction than speaking does. What I am writing now, to you, for instance, could be dissected, analyzed and disputed by anyone who reads it. In that sense, writing one's thoughts and feelings may make him feel more vulnerable than speaking his mind does. Using the third person is a great way to objectify something you feel too subjectively.

The most curious thing about your letter is that it begs the obvious question, "Why don't you ask him?" I'm assuming that you haven't asked him, so the fact is that this has been very effective at keeping you at a distance. His annoying use of the third person is working, and there's no reason to think he will quit doing it if it's working, is there?

Sincerely,

Margaret "Peg" Burr , MA, MFT

This question was answered by Margaret "Peg" Burr . She is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC34374) with a private practice in Santa Clarita (near Los Angeles). She performs psychodynamic psychotherapy with individual adult clients as well as couples, teens, and families. She also runs groups for adults and adolescents. Her specialty area is Object Relations Systems Theory. This branch of psychodynamic psychotherapy uses a client's interpersonal relationships as windows into his or her intrapsychic structure.

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