They say that imitation is the best form of flattery. But at some point, it might all become a bit too much. How much copying is acceptable? What happens when copying no longer seems like a compliment, but like thievery?
Better yet, regardless of intention, why does anyone want to copy those around them, anyway? What’s the appeal in that? Science has the answer.
Psychologists Explain What It Means When Someone Copies You
Positive Copying And Why It Happens
Positive copying is fairly commonplace, and it can be quite flattering. In these cases, you won’t feel harmed or threatened by this copying, though it may get a bit awkward every now and then. A positive copycat may:
- Ask you where you got an outfit they love and then buy it – but just for that one outfit
- Look up to your work ethic and attempt to take pointers from you
- Mirror your body language in an effort to be friendly or get to know you
- Attempt to get on your good side by doing similar things to you
- Openly say they are copying a minor aspect about you
- Buy a product that you have recommended or spoken highly of
There are all nice enough with good intentions. But what, exactly, motivates a person to copy you, even in this nice way? Here are some ideas:
Minority cultures often attempt to imitate certain qualities of majority cultures in order to fit in. They may also simply follow the old saying: “When in Rome…” and do so in order to be polite.
This doesn’t mean they aren’t proud of their culture. They have simply recognized the privilege that comes with being a part of the majority in certain situations. It’s not a personal attack on you or a direct act of copying you specifically – it’s a way to get out of the lower status the world may have put on them or just a way to be nice.
Did you know that extroverts are more likely to engage in positive copying than introverts? This is because they are often more sociable and recognize that imitating or mirroring you can help you feel more comfortable around them. (1)
So if the person imitating you right now is very extroverted, chances are that they’re just trying to be your friend. Don’t be so hard on them; they’re trying to make you feel more comfortable!
Studies indicate that those of lower education levels tend to copy those with higher education levels. It is hypothesized that this happens because they are trying to learn from those with more knowledge and experience than them.
Copying someone with more knowledge can also help them to get further in the workplace. They may pick up some valuable skills they had no idea were crucial in your field of work.
Mirroring body language is very common when you’re interacting with others. This means they might yawn shortly after you, or scratch their head right after you do, or imitate your posture when they talk to you.
There are a few reasons mirroring may occur. This person may be attracted to you or may look up to you, causing them to subconsciously watch you too much and be influenced by what you do. They may also be very thoroughly listening to you, and you have compelled them into doing this without thinking.
Mirroring can also happen because they are trying to gain your favor or influence you. They may be aware of the effect that mirroring can have on others – it can make you like them more or listen to them more. They may also mirror you in order to help you feel heard when you are talking about something difficult or emotional.
Negative Copying And Why It Happens
Unfortunately, copying can also be a very negative trait. Why imitation in balance is a form of flattery, and mirroring can be a sign of interest, engagement, or even a desire to connect with you, many people take it too far and become complete copycats. These negative forms of copying include:
- Studying you in order to take note of all your mannerisms
- Copying your accent or vocabulary
- Adopting the same thoughtless habits, like how you tap your feet, play with your hair, or fiddle with your pen
- Flirting with your romantic partners
- Mimicking your sense of style
- Getting the same haircut as you
- Buying the same products as you
- Trying to break into your friend group or befriend your friends
- Claiming credit for or stealing your ideas
Not only is this type of copying very creepy, but it’s also usually insulting and can rob you of any feeling of individuality that you have. It can get in the way of your daily life and it can cause a lot of unnecessary conflict. But why would someone want to do something like this? According to psychology, there are a few reasons.
A Lack Of Sense of Self
Someone who has a strong sense of individuality feels no need to attempt to imitate anyone else. But someone who doesn’t know why they may attempt to latch onto the traits of those around them to make them feel more confident.
When you don’t know who you are, it’s easy to pick and choose traits from those around you. This person may consider you an ideal candidate for the person they want to be, causing them to focus on absorbing all of your traits.
If a person envies your life or your success, they may believe that they have to do everything that they possibly can to achieve some semblance of what you have. They may believe that the secret to your success lies in how you hold yourself, how you dress, how you speak, or the hobbies you enjoy, so they copy those aspects.
Of course, this won’t work – they cannot copy your life’s achievements by doing exactly what you do. Your situation is unique to theirs and this is more likely to harm them than help them. But they don’t know that, so they keep on hoping!
Insecurity and Poor Self-Esteem
Someone who is confident and secure in themselves would never feel the need to copy others. But a lack of self-esteem can ultimately cause someone to try and elevate themselves by copying those they admire.
Mental health issues can also lead to chronic copycat behavior, and the lack of positive thinking exhibited by those with low self-esteem often leads to depression. They think so little of themselves and they want to be anyone else at all, and so they pick you out of all their choices. It’s flattering but troubling. (2)
Stalkers aren’t just people who are romantically or sexually interested in you. They can be anyone who develops an obsession over you. If you have reason to believe that someone is unhealthily and dangerously obsessed with you, speak to law enforcement, to your lawyer, or to both.
Dealing With Unwanted Copycats
No matter what someone’s intentions are, it is perfectly valid for you to want any kind of copying action to stop. Even less intrusive copying can become exhausting for you. Luckily, there are some ways that you may be able to stop this behavior from others. Here are a few ideas.
Announce Big Ideas To Everyone
Worried that a copycat will try and take credit for a new venture of yours? Keep it quiet until you’re ready to begin work on it, then announce it hugely to everyone you know. This means that the copycat will no longer be able to easily imitate your actions, as everyone knows you thought of it first.
Talk To The Copycat
It’s an awkward conversation to have, but if you think this copycat isn’t very malicious, sit down and talk to them directly. Tell them that you’ve noticed some similarities between you and ask them if everything is alright, or if this was their intention.
Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but once a copycat knows that you are onto them, they’ll be less inclined to continue their behavior. Plus, in some cases, they may not have even noticed that they were doing it! Communication is always key, so go into the conversation with positive thinking and sort it out. (3)