Have you ever thought that someone you know may be copying you? Maybe a friend has started repeating your jokes to others like they're their own, or a coworker has started to look a little bit like you. It can feel very strange, unnerving even, but why are some people so drawn to this? Why do some people naturally fall into copycatting?
There are a surprising amount of reasons and levels of copycat behavior, all of which can maybe help you understand the copycat in your own life.
If it runs deep enough, the fear of being copied can seriously disrupt your life, as can a great number of other fears. Do you have a fear that prevents you from living to your fullest? Do you wish you could let it go?
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They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Think about it, someone likes you so much that they start to adopt parts of your persona. Maybe they'll copy your style of dress, the way you do your hair, or adopt similar interests and speech patterns.
What can start out as a fairly innocent indicator of admiration does have the potential to spiral into something worse. It can simply become annoying as now you have this person, often someone you're not even that close to, echoing your every move, but it can also become dangerous or worrisome.
When it gets to that level, when it becomes genuinely concerning, surely there's some pathological reasoning behind the copier's actions, right? There is, it's a pattern that researchers have called copycat behavior.
There are copycat behaviors that are naturally ingrained in us as an animal species, like the phenomenon of needing to yawn after seeing someone else yawn. Copycat behavior is often a biological function that helps us adapt to new situations.
Like with anything, though, it can get out of hand. Here are a few reasons why you might see copycat behavior in other people.
1. Copycat Personality Disorder
For some, copying others is so all consuming that it becomes a designated personality disorder that affects a lot of their daily behaviors.
Copycat Personality Disorder can be sort of a defense mechanism, as it's defined as copying others' traits, habits, and mannerisms in an attempt to mask another personality disorder the person possesses. Those with Copycat Personality Disorder tend to have a lack of self-identity and low self-esteem. They use the identity of others to create one for themselves, as otherwise they don't know what they have or who they are.
2. Observational Learning
Observational learning is actually a very normal form of copycat behavior that we all engage in, namely in childhood. I mean, that's how we learn to do anything. We're either taught it directly or we pick it up by watching other people.
There is an extreme side to this, though, called over-imitation. Over-imitation again often occurs in childhood, taking place when children over-rely on copying authority figures in their life in order to navigate social situations.
3. Echopraxia And Echolalia
Some copying behaviors happen totally involuntarily, caused by the specific wiring of a person's brain creating a condition that compels them to do so. Some such examples of this are echopraxia and echolalia.
Echopraxia is when someone instinctually copies another person's movements, while echolalia is when someone repeats sounds, words, or speech patterns. Both are grouped under the umbrella of neurological disorders, and often associated with other conditions like Tourette's.
Mirroring is the behavior most of us are probably more familiar with. Mirroring is a broad copycat behavior wherein someone copies the mannerisms, speech, and actions of others around them. This one is a little more vague, as there's less of a direct reasoning behind it.
Oftentimes it's linked to someone's empathy, sometimes a case of over-empathy, as they so deeply wish to create a connection with other people and believe that becoming more similar to them will make others like them more.
The Levels Of Copying
There are a few different levels of copycat behavior that categorizes the intensity and pervasiveness of what the copycat is doing.
Everyday Level: Everyday copycatting is generally pretty innocent. It's someone seeing the way you dress, really liking your style, and maybe changing an outfit of theirs to fit that aesthetic more. Or they think a certain common phrase of yours is funny, so they'll pick it up. No malicious intent or overbearing presence involved.
Big To Small
Cultural Level: Cultural copycatting is a very broad type of mimicking that most often involves someone's social behaviors and outward appearance. In this form of copycatting, the person will copy the cultural notes of wherever they live in order to feel more connected to the people. They'll dress in local fashions and adopt local behavior in order to feel safer or accepted while being an outsider.
Educational Level: Educational copycatting is similar to the observational learning mentioned earlier. The purpose of this mimicry is to learn. This is a student spending time with other high-achieving students so they can pick up studying habits, or a new employee buddying up with those in a higher level so they can learn and connect.
On The Other Side
Individual Level: This is the most pervasive and personal type of copycatting. It often starts innocently, again it's someone who thinks you're cool initially, who wants to be more like you because they admire you, but it has the most potential to go sour too. If unchecked, it can go very far, and the person being copied can start to feel unsafe.
Alright, we've covered the copier and their potential reasonings for copying, but what about the person being copied? What do they do?
How To Deal With A Copycat
Handling someone who's copying you can be weird. First, it can feel very selfish to accuse someone of copying you, even if it's obvious. Positioning yourself as someone worth copying can feel very alien to most people.
Confrontation is also just generally hard, especially when confronting someone who clearly sees good in you and is some level of close to you. It seems like there's no avoiding making this person upset.
All that said, there's still no way around bringing it up and talking it through.
Drawing The Line
In fact, that's the first step in dealing with it, talking about it. Sit with the copier, and see if you can help them learn why they're doing this so you can address the root cause together. Now this isn't to say you should become their therapist, but if it's obvious that they're doing this out of insecurity, guiding them toward getting professional help could mean a lot.
The next step is to set healthy boundaries. You need to let this person know that you're not comfortable with what they're doing. This doesn't guarantee that they'll stop, but you put your foot down, and now if the behavior continues you can take further steps like blocking them on social media, etcetera.
Nothing If Not Sincere
Lastly, in trying to get over what occurred or distance yourself from this person (hopefully by now they've stopped or you've been able to cut them out of your life), remember that this began because they liked you. Despite it all, it was initially a compliment, and however you had to deal with them was less a reflection of you and your tolerance but more so a reflection of them and their intensity.
Being copied can range from being an annoying experience to being downright frightening. Your reactions may vary, but know that whatever you feel about it is valid, and you reserve the right to your own individuality.
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