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Third Person

Pace yourself.  I still have a few more thoughts from Matthew Quick’s book, Every Exquisite Thing.  You don’t have to read the book to follow these posts and have an opinion because I’m using the book as a springboard to other mental spaces.  If you want to read the other posts I’ve written about this book, you can find them here, here, and here.

I learned that I really don’t like it when people speak about themselves in third person.

This was not a shocking revelation — I’m always annoyed when I see people writing about themselves in third person.  Nor is it a shocking revelation for anyone else in the book.  When the main character, Nanette, begins to speak in third-person, she is greeted with this bon mot:

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but your talking in third person is positively unnerving. It’s like a punishment for the rest of the world (p. 168).”

Yeah, that’s how I feel, too.

But backing up for a moment, it was enlightening to first read why she is speaking about herself in third person and then realize that I was still annoyed with her usage of third person.

The idea comes from her therapist, June, who asks her to stop using the word “I.”

“We live in our heads, Nanette, which can be very scary places. We forget that we are not just an I, but a she and a you, too. We forget to see ourselves as others see us. For some people, the problem is narcissism—meaning they are selfish, too self-absorbed. But I think that your problem is that you are too selfless. You care about the needs of others more than you care about your own needs. You are strong for them even when it’s a detriment to your own well-being” (p. 146).

The solution is to move into a third person mindset. The therapist leads her to this experiment:

“I want you to do an experiment,” June says, and then suggests that I should begin to think of myself in the third person—not as an I but as a she. “Nanette is very good at making decisions for other people. She clearly sees that Alex shouldn’t have done what he did. But when she is deciding for the first-person I, Nanette, she is much less sure. So why not live in the third person for a bit and see how that goes? See yourself as someone else. Refer to yourself as Nanette in your inner monologue—the words that run through your brain all day. Kill the I. Maybe begin to keep a diary in the third person, too (p. 147 – 148).

But here’s the interesting thing: even knowing that this is sound advice — that we are better at thinking through solutions for other people and terrible at giving advice to ourselves and that we all could benefit from getting outside of our heads and considering ourselves from a different angle — still… I WAS COMPLETELY ANNOYED BY HER SPEAKING IN THIRD PERSON.

Like the whole book moves from first person to third person.  And it annoyed me.  Completely.

And, at the same time, intrigued me.  What would I learn about myself by speaking in third person day in and day out?

What do you think of this idea?  Are you also annoyed when people speak about themselves in third person?


1 Mom PharmD { 05.17.17 at 7:13 am }

That very idea was wildly successful for me. I was instructed to consider myself as I would any friend and think through solutions, consult a friend to make sure it was a sane and sensible solution, then decide and accept my decision wholeheartedly. Luckily no pronoun switch was required and third person usually annoys me too. What makes you (or me) so special you can speak of yourself in third person? Knock it off, you’re a regular person.

2 Sharon { 05.17.17 at 2:53 pm }

I went through a period in middle school where I referred to myself in the third person, and it drove my father nuts. I think I would find that annoying, too.

3 Working mom of 2 { 05.17.17 at 3:42 pm }

My 4 yo does this when given a choice of what to eat or drink. “(Name) wants X” I think it might come from preschool. I always think of the “Jimmy” episode of Seinfeld.

4 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.19.17 at 10:22 am }

Referring to yourself in the 3rd person is something that should be done internally as a conduit to a more omniscient point of view, rather than publicly, which just sounds silly and pretentious.

At least that’s what Lori thinks.

5 Valery { 05.19.17 at 8:17 pm }

oh Lori, you made me laugh.

6 Jess { 05.22.17 at 9:03 pm }

Ha ha ha, Lori! I hate when people speak out loud in third person. It’s weird, smacking of some sort of pretension, or some sort of dis-associative disorder. But I can see how as a therapy tool that could be real useful. In a book though I think the tense switch would irritate me, too.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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