The “Self-Deprecating Friend” Edition

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S1: Your freedom, your prudence here, Prudence. Yes, it is your proof. Here. Do you think that I should contact him again? No. How? Thank you. Thank you.

S2: Hello and welcome to another mini episode of Dear Prudence. I’m your host, Danny M. Oliveri, and this show is for you are plus subscribers. Our guest this week is Crystal Farmer, who works in publishing and lives in Oakland. And now here’s our first letter. I think it’s my turn to read this one. I really I have some some thoughts here. I do. I definitely had a particular response. Subject is, how do we get my daughter to stop picking at her face? Dear Prudence, my teenage daughter habitually picks at her face and now has scarring on her forehead. She’s beautiful. Among many other wonderful qualities. And it kills me to watch her continually mar herself like this. I’ve occasionally tried to intervene in the past in compassionate, non confrontational ways. I’ve gently pointed out that her future self will wish that she had not left so many scars. It hasn’t helped. I now keep my mouth shut unless there’s a particularly large scab and ask her to please be gentle with herself. In middle school, she had a pretty bad time with pimples. Nothing that warranted a trip to a dermatologist. But we did keep a steady supply of Pennzoil peroxide in the house at this point. I’m confident that the pimples have essentially gone away. I feel like if she could just quit picking for a month or two, she’d see that her skin was actually fine and it would give her scars a chance to fade. I realize this is a choice that she has to make. But God, I’d do anything to get her to lay off herself for a while when her pimples were really bad in middle school. She had other issues with her appearance and that made her feel like a real ugly duckling. That’s also when her father and I divorced. She saw a counselor she liked for a few years, but that counselor eventually left the field. My daughter has friends, does well in school and has plenty of hobbies. She seems to be coping with a pandemic pretty well, but she also plays things close to the vest sometimes. So she may be more stressed out than I can see. I worry that anyway, I try to bring this up will only make it worse. I sometimes think about trying bribery, like leave your skin alone for a month and I’ll buy you some big ticket item. But she’s not really materialistic and I’m fearful that it will manifest in some other even more unhealthy way. It just breaks my heart and I wish I could prevent it from getting worse. Any suggestions?

S3: Oh, boy.

S2: Yeah. So my response here at first was like, I get that you’re worried for your daughter. But I also wish you wouldn’t say things like she’s so beautiful. I wish she wouldn’t mar herself sometimes. So tell me this jumped out at you to like through ways that mothers can, like, identify with teenage kids in a way that feels like so much pressure, like when you were born, you were so perfect and like it it hurts me as your mom when you do anything that’s not like perfectly self accepting and self loving. And it can just feel like it can feel like too much. Does that make any sense?

S3: No, it does. And I think also, too, it sort of goes hand-in-hand with like all of the pressure that girls, you know, at this age are feeling to be perfect in other ways. So, you know, like you’re saying, the part the pressure to like being physically attractive and, you know, have the right clothes and friends and whatever, like that’s pressure. But then also that that can also be pressure that’s coming from other places. But then you go home and you feel this pressure coming from your parents or your parent that saying like, oh, you were so perfect and I want you to continue being perfect. And that can be hard to deal with as well. So, yeah, I totally get what you’re saying about like, it’s rough because from a parent’s point of view, they don’t want their child to sort of encounter any more difficulty than absolutely is necessary in life, which ideally from a marriage fact will be like zero. So I understand her being like I don’t want her to make her life more difficult. But also the flipside to that is what makes you assume that your daughter cares that much about being, quote unquote, beautiful? And you know, what makes you think that her life will be more difficult if she’s not, you know. Right. We generally know that like, that’s true. But it there’s a difference between how you feel about yourself and how society views you. And this girl might feel fine about herself. Like, it’s not really clear how she does because it seems like the mother and the daughter don’t really talk about these things as deeply as they maybe should or could. Yeah, I mean, I feel lots of ways about this, but ultimately, I think that the pressure to be perfect, which in this case will be beautiful, you know, pristine skin, which is one part of being beautiful, is it really can be really damaging. I think in a different way, the mother is not really considering.

S2: Right. And I thought to say that, like, the mother’s bad for being concerned about this. I totally get her concern. I just I would say if you get into an emotional place of like, it kills me to see this. She’s marring herself. I tell her that in the future she’s going to feel the way I do about this. That is too much pressure that if those are feelings that keep coming up for you, you’ve got to put them in a journal. Talk to another friend who’s not related to you. Talk to a therapist. That’s too much pressure to bring to your kid. And what is basically like having, like, acne scarring on your forehead? Yeah, it can be painful. Yes. It’s not necessarily good for her. Yes. It could be a sign that there’s like something going on with her emotionally. All of that’s totally fair game. But it’s also like she not ruining herself. You know, she’s not Marge. She’s not like a statue. Someone just took like a chisel, too, and broke the nose off of it. It’s it’s within the realm of, like, life is difficult. And sometimes people take it their face or they pull out their hair and like that can also become compulsive and unhealthy. Right. And I don’t want to say just like no big deal. Don’t have any feelings about it. But it’s, um, it’s it’s if your dream is like this pristine, untouched child who never has, like, any difficulties or like never picks it anything, you’re putting too much pressure on your kid. So, like, really what’s weird is then, like you say, this is never warranted a trip to the dermatologist. But then you go on to describe, like a lot of things that I think a dermatologist would be great at addressing. And I think basically my two pieces of advice or one like back off some of the emotional rhetoric, don’t tell her what you think she’s gonna feel in the future, but do float the possibility of going to a dermatologist.

S3: Yeah. And it who like on top of the dermatology, like there’s a mention that she’s a counselor and the counselor left, but there isn’t really a mention of whether or not the daughter was okay with that and whether she maybe felt like she wanted to continue. Because like you were saying, you know, everyone, you know, has tics and bad habits and whatnot. But sometime we can be more than that and they can be compulsive and maybe their doctor might want to talk to someone about what if that is something she, you know, actually the clearest thing. But that’s not really something that it seems like the mother is interested in. Working on it would, I think. Yeah. Along with the dermatology aspect is probably a really good option. And also, just like talking to your daughter, like, how how are you feeling about this? Do you do this because whatever reason like do you want to talk to me about it? Do you want to talk to someone else about it? You know, how how generally are you feeling? What I think would go a long way is sort of explaining how the mother should feel about it. But that doesn’t seem to be something that they’re really doing. And I think that would be so, so, so helpful, especially because it seems like her daughter’s pretty well adjusted in other ways. I think is talking to each other and then finding out, you know, does she want to talk to someone about this? And, you know, maybe taking her to the dermatologist, if, you know, she would like to do that. Is is it something like a symbol to me?

S2: Yeah, I would I would basically say I think you should readjust your goal. Like, your goal right now is get her to feel about this the same way that I do and get like and of course, Larry, to that is like hopefully get her to stop and think your new goal should be letting your daughter know that you want her to talk to a doctor about, like harm reduction and best practices so that she knows how to pick at her face safely, like you want her to get that information into that and you want to take her to the dermatologist. I think you should not sit in with her at the dermatologist. I get why you would want to. But this isn’t about like getting a doctor to tell her what you’ve been saying, but with more authority. The goal is for her to be able to speak honestly and confidentially with a medical professional who knows about skin and to say, look, here’s what I do. And for the dermatologist to be able to say like, OK, that’s maybe not ideal. This would be better if you’re not up to doing that. You know, here’s a way that you could reduce the possibility of, like, getting bacteria on it or leading to like further scarring. And then beyond that, you know, you can also encourage her like, hey, I know you saw therapist for a few years and it helped if you’d ever like to again. I will make that happen. But basically say I think I think I’ve been putting too much pressure on you about this. You know, obviously, that my my dream for you is that you don’t feel like you have to pick your face. But I also don’t want to turn it into this like. Alluring, forbidden activity, or to put too much pressure on you about how I think you’ll feel in the future. I’m sorry that I’ve done that in the past and I’m gonna back off now. I think those two things at the same time might feel a little contradictory. Like on the one hand, I want to stop pressuring you, but on the other hand, I’d like you to go to the dermatologist. But you can really frame that as just like I want you to get good up to date information and I want you to be able to talk to a doctor in case it’s part of a more compulsive habit that you would like help with. And then beyond that, you know, let me know. Does it bother you when I point it out? Do you need me to just, like, not mention it unless you want to talk about it? How can I be more helpful to you in this? Because in a couple of years, she’ll probably be out of the house and you won’t be able to have the sort of influence you did when she was younger. And this is a good place to start practicing. Like, how do we let my kid make decisions, even if I think that they’re mistakes that she might later regret?

S3: Yeah, right. Basically, the the the ultimate goal is to, like, give her that space and like, let let let go a little bit. Like you’re saying, it’s just there’s a lot of pressure from this mom and it doesn’t seem to be helping either the daughter or the mother sort of, you know, peace of mind. So I think God definitely let let that go, because it’s not.

S2: Yeah. And then this is the part of the show that always happens sooner or later where I forget who read the most recent letter turn.

S3: I think I read. Yeah. I think it’s my turn. OK. So the subject is not so funny. Friend Dear Prudence, one of my good friends is very funny. And it’s a lot of self-deprecating jokes about her looks. Her career, her relationship status, etc.. Two years ago, she was in a car accident and now she walks with a cane about half of the time and they don’t even notice. And most of our friends don’t either. But I know it’s affected her negatively in job interviews, dates, etc.. She started referring to herself as a gimp and other less appropriate words. It makes me and our friends extremely uncomfortable. But at the same time, she’s always called herself things like idiot, loser, ugly, stupid, washed up, never in a fishing for compliments way, just as a joke. Is there a way to ask her to stop making fun of her own disability without hurting her feelings and stop her from joking altogether? This would really kind of hit home for me as someone who also has a disability and is very self-deprecating. Yeah, it’s really so one of the things about disability specifically, I find, is that people often want to take it very seriously at all times. And if they don’t experience it, they want it to be taken seriously at all times. And that often means like not making jokes about it, which I feel like, especially if you’re the person or, you know, living with it on a daily basis. I feel like you should be allowed to joke about it. And, you know, disability, disabled people and people in the disabled community have reclaimed words like gimp and cripple and like refer to ourselves more those words. And they’re not necessarily bad things. I think it can be really empowering to sort of take back language that used to be used to dehumanize you. But I do think also to someone who loves self-deprecating humor, that a lot of people can often they can often sort of take it at face value and and really sort of have that be their idea of what you think of yourself when sometimes it may not at all be related to your own particular self image. However, this question is a little bit different because that the letter writer does say that her friend calls herself like a loser, ugly, stupid, washed up like those are a little bit harsher than I think, you know, maybe just regular self deprecation. But again, I don’t know how often she’s calling herself those things and in what context. And I think, you know, we should all be free to, like, joke about ourselves from time design because, you know, I don’t want everyone else doing it. So I feel like I should be able to do it as much as I write. But, yeah, I think I think it’s a really it’s a fine line because on the one hand, like, you don’t want to say one thing that jumped out at me when I first read this letter was about like when she mentioned her friend sort of getting in a car accident and now she has a disability. And she said, you know, I honestly don’t even notice. Most of our friends don’t either have struck me, too. Yeah, I found it very jarring because one thing about disability, or at least for me, is not speaking for the whole disability community, but I do want people to notice my disability. I want it to be a part of me. It’s my identity. And I want people to, like, see it, accept it and know that it’s there. And no, you know, the ways in which it affects my life. But I also want them to know that, like, if not all of me is just it’s just a part of me. Like I said. And that, you know, sometimes it surprised me that I joke about and that should be fine. And so when you said, like, I honestly don’t even notice, that sort of made me think that she and her friends are a little bit uncomfortable with the disability still. And like asking her to not make fun of it is part and parcel of that discomfort. Like, they can’t accept that it’s like a part of her life now. And like as she did before, she’s going to make fun of it, just like she did the other parts of her life. Right. But I do think that maybe they feel like their self deprecation sort of is masking some like, you know, low self-esteem issues that potentially might need addressing. And I really don’t know how to counsel the letter writer to sort of address those because they may not be true. But it may just be a matter of sort of talking to a friend, him being like, you know, I think you’re great. And I don’t like when you put yourself down so much. But at the same time, I don’t. I do think that they need to understand that, like, self deprecation is not necessarily an adequate or accurate representation of how you feel about yourself. It might just be something to say to make a deal and have fun. Right.

S2: So, yeah, I think that’s really helpful. Interventionists like it may very well be that this is like constant and negative and gives the friends cause for concern about, like, how she’s doing. But I think it’s also true that sometimes, like self-deprecating language can get treated as like this is the only thing you really believe about yourself. And there are definitely ways in which it’s like a genuine pressure release valve, imperfect though it may be, with the fact that, like since her car accident, she has been like professionally discriminated against for her disability as well as like had a really rough time dating and like. I understand why she would want to relieve some of that pressure. And people don’t always relieve pressure perfectly. And so I’m with you. I felt like there was genuine, like love and affection for their friend from this letter writer. But it also felt like with that, I honestly don’t even notice. And most of our friends don’t either. Followed by. But I know it’s affected her negatively in job interviews, dates, cetera. Like what that says to me is well intended. The letter writer may be what they and the friends are kind of doing a saying like ideally we wouldn’t acknowledge her disability at all. And it has in fact, like people’s negative reactions to her disability, like embolism has made her life really difficult in the last two years. And she wants to talk about it. Right. So on that level, I think you should and you should kind of let her talk about it when she needs to. I don’t think you should say, like, don’t use such and such words because they make me uncomfortable. No, that doesn’t mean that, like, you can’t have a conversation about how she’s bringing it up or that you can’t hope that you can provide her with additional support. But I do really, really think that, like, part of what she’s doing in those moments is say, like, please don’t ignore this. Please don’t pretend that I’m not affected by this, like discrimination at work or like people suddenly like treating me differently if we’ve been on a date where I didn’t use my cane. And then on a second date, I do use my cane like that. She she she has every reason and every right to want to talk about it.

S3: Yeah. I think I think you sort of brought up a really important point of this sort of people not wanting her, not wanting people to treat her differently. That that essentially is what the letter writer is asking whether she has permission to do. Right. Like she says, is there a way to ask her to stop making her own disability without hurting her feelings, like essentially she wants to say to tell her friend, like, now that you’re disabled? I feel uncomfortable with that. Like self deprecation, that you are always doing great. And ultimately, what the friend wants is to not have that be the case. She wants to be able to continue, you know, living her life, having her friends, but occasionally, you know, making reference to this thing that, you know, is kind of affecting her negatively in certain ways, but also is just sometimes a funny thing to joke about. Like, I don’t think that now that your friend is disabled, you need to treat her with kid gloves like that is ultimately what I would hope that the letter writer does not do or doesn’t start doing because, you know, she she doesn’t and her friend doesn’t need that because I’m sure she’s getting that in many other places in her life that she doesn’t want. And, you know, last thing you want is for your friends to sort of not see you as a person that you actually are or that you feel like you are. So, yeah, I think ultimately, if she thinks it’s a more serious issue, I think it’s worth having a conversation with their friend and being like, you know, how are you generally feeling like you’re concerned about you. But if it’s just because she has a disability now and they feel uncomfortable with her, like referencing it, I don’t think it’s OK to sort of say, like, don’t talk about that around us or with us because I’m uncomfortable with it. Like, that’s that’s not OK. That’s part of her. It’s part of who she is now. And you sort of have to accept it in whatever way you do that and in whatever way makes your friendship still possible, because it seems like it’s important, both of them.

S2: So, yeah, no, no, like the letter writer can’t necessarily be like I really think you should feel such and such a way about your disability. Or like, I think you should, like, seek out other friends who are also disabled so that you can, like, build community and find support and solidarity and like people who share experiences in common and aren’t just like. You know, I don’t know how to talk or think about this. I just feel uncomfortable. I do hope that Liberator’s friends like I don’t know if she has any other friends were disabled, but I do hope that she’s able to like. How do you see this without seeing the word plugged in? Because I just associate that so much with, like, evangelical cheesiness. But like, you can find like, you know, like King can kind of move into like she not to become an activist if she doesn’t want to. But to, like, find some support or community or solidarity with people who have disabilities, who use canes, who have been in car accidents like anywhere along that spectrum. So she’s not the only person in her life who she knows going through this.

S3: Yeah, that would be super. Super.

S2: Yeah. That’s a little bit outside of the friend’s purview. You can’t be like you can’t do that for her. I think the best thing that you can do is to say something like, you know, when you bring up your disability and your cane, sometimes in the past I, Flik, been distant or uncomfortable because I didn’t know what to say, because I love you and I want you to feel good about yourself. But I think by pulling away or not reacting or acting uncomfortable, I shut it down or actually made you feel like I was ashamed of your disability. And I’m really sorry for that. And so if you want to just, like, make occasional jokes as a pressure release, I’m here for that. If I occasionally ask, like, how you’re doing or if there’s anything I can do to help. I hope you don’t feel like I’m being, like, trying to tell you how to feel or like, you know, monitor your tone or be like you’re not allowed to feel bad about yourself. But I just I want to acknowledge that I’ve tried not to talk about it. And you’ve brought it up a lot. And I want to meet you in the middle.

S3: Yeah, I think ultimately they just need to. She just needs to be open with their friend about like. Hey, this is what I noticed, and I just want to make sure that you’re doing OK and that I’m supporting you in whatever way I can, while also acknowledging like this is your new normal. This is your new life.

S2: Yeah. I’m just like, I think. Sorry. My last thought there is like, yes, it’s true that, like, the self-deprecating terms that she uses are about her own disability specifically. But it’s also, I don’t think exactly true that she’s making fun of her own disability. I think part of what she’s doing is expressing the new ways in which like. Hiring managers and bosses and dates treat her badly now and turn her away now like it. That’s not her disability. That’s like the discrimination that she faces from society. You know what I mean?

S3: Like, yeah, we’re talking social model versus like, you know versus know medical model disability. The problem isn’t that she uses a cane. The problem is that society used her as a person who uses a cane, which makes them view her negatively. Right.

S2: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, the best thing you can do is not say I don’t notice. The best thing you can do is say I see you. I notice. I know that you notice. How can I help?

S4: That’s Armony episode of Dear Prudence for this week. Our producer is Phil Circus. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton. As always, if you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message at four zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three feet to seven. And you might hear your answer on that episode of the show. You don’t have to use your real name or location, and at your request, we can even alter the sound of your voice.

S2: Keep it short, 30 seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening.

S5: Well.