writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: October 15, 2009; revised: April 23, 2018; readers in past month: 605
Despite being intelligent and self-aware (some would say, self-absorbed), I sometimes copy the behavior or expressions of others. I don’t do this intentionally. I don’t observe someone doing something and think that it’s an interesting way to act. In fact, some mannerisms that I mimic, I don’t particular like. However, I adopt their ways all the same. It’s frustrating to me at times.
For instance, my sister seems to be able to imprint easily on me. I can go a few years without seeing her and then, by chance scheduling, we happen to be in New Orleans at the same time — she lives in the Boston area. I usually don’t spend much time with her when in town: just a few hours scattered over several days. Still, if I observe an unusual acting out a behavior particular to her, it seems to imprint on me. It may take a few months to set in, for me to begin to repeat it, but I will adopt her habits. I last saw her two years or so ago. And yet I find myself now saying things the way she would, acting in certain situations the way she did when we last met.
Some people seem to be able to imprint on me so easily. Removing that imprint seems to be impossible. I observe myself acting like my sister or others and I feel powerless to change. It’s not just that I don’t like being so easily influenced. I don’t like being incapable of controlling myself and my behavior. There’s something to be said for not talking and just observing: you can more easily control your behavior. But I’m a talker and cannot prevent myself from expressing myself and acting. That’s another pathology of mine that I have no control over — and one in which I’m fairly fine with it as it is. So, the adopted behavior will come into play before I realize it’s starting. Once it starts, I just watch it play out and grimace that it’s someone else’s manners that I have perpetuated.
All of us do this to some extent. We pick up the habits of our parents and siblings at an early age, and more habits as significant people enter our lives. I’ve noticed people who work in an office or store together tend to have similar expressions and habits. The only difference for me is that I may imprint faster — or maybe I imprint as fast as others and just don’t have the advantage of witnessing the process by which others adopt a new behavior — and I am perhaps more self-aware than most people. Most people may simply imprint rapidly and never notice the similarities of their behavior to those around them. It’s weird and frustrating to me, though.