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Copy-Me-Not: When Imitation is Angering & not Flattering

You might have heard the phrase ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’, but if you really ask the person who is actually being copied, they will tell you that in fact Imitation feels like the sincerest form of disrespect and is often very bothering.

When someone raises a concern that they are being bothered that they are being copied by others, we are likely to tell them that they should not take it heart or be phased by it and instead look on the bright side of the situation that their work is so inspirational to others. However, for the person who is really being copied doesn’t always find it easy to shrug this off and take it as a sign of admiration or flattery. There are times when imitation doesn’t seem like a compliment but feels like thievery instead and know that that feeling is ok as well. In this piece we will look at the different reasons why individuals might copy others, how it can feel to be copied by someone and how we can cope with that feeling.

Whether it’s online follower, friend or family member who’s constantly ripping off your style, a colleague who always seems to look to your work when developing their own, or simply an acquaintance who seems to do whatever you do, being copied is not always a pleasant feeling if you're the one being copied. Indeed, they say imitation is a form of flattery, but when it comes to someone infringing on your self-expression, it can feel more like an outright insult to your creativity and individuality. Copying can often look like copying ideas, wardrobes, designs, creative work but in an online world, it can also often be more subtle such as replicating list of accounts followed or connections, copying bios, replicating websites or initiatives, or even passing off someone else’s ideas as your own in your writings, content shared or events. Some people might be ok with being copied and see it as a form of flattery, but not everyone will be ok with it and feel angered and negatively affected by it, and that’s ok too, because we are all individuals and are likely to have unique responses to the situations.

When we talk about copying, we may wonder what makes some people copy others? Are their traits which might make people act like this? Some have suggested that the reasons behind this ‘copy-cat’ behaviour could be that they themselves lack an individuality, have low self-esteem, have a sense of envy, struggle with their sense of self-worth, have a tendency to stalk, be obsessive, or may be unsure of their own sense of purpose. From a psychological perspective, some might say that this type of personality, especially if it happens too intensely and frequently, as the kind of person who has no sense of self which is what prompts them to mimic or try to become exactly like someone else. Being around this kind of grossly insecure person, can understandably feel unsettling. Extreme copying can also reveal having low to no self-esteem and a deep-rooted inferiority complex as well.

Despite having an understanding of the reasons behind why people might be indulging in copying, as the person on the receiving end of their behaviour, it can still be a harrowing experience to cope with. No matter what their intentions are, it is perfectly valid for you to want any kind of copying action to stop. Even less intrusive copying can become extremely exhausting to cope with. Negative copying is not just creepy and can make you feel stalked and intruded, but it’s also insulting and can rob you of your feeling of individuality. There is a difference between someone drawing inspiration from you and them flat out imitating you, and that is something which a lot of people perhaps don’t realise or conveniently overlook by instead telling you how you’re their role-model. This can often feel like being gaslighted into being made to accept the copying by doubting your own reactions to it, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Being copied has several other repercussions including getting in the way of daily life, causing a lot of overthinking and creating self-doubt, especially when it comes to curating and sharing content. Individuality is a precious thing and when you feel that yours is being taken away you often feel threatened and shaken. While it’s flattering to be admired by those we care about, being copied can often feel like an identity theft. It can often almost feel like the other person is trying to take away or rob us of our uniqueness. While it might be initially flattering, over time it can get very toxic. There can be cases where if you chose to delve into the depths of their behaviour, you may find that the other person is acting in this manner not only because they want to imitate you but replace you or take your place too.

If being copied is something which is affecting you in any way, be it your Mental Health or making you second guess yourself or make you not want to put out content, know that its ok to feel that way and want to take action. There are a few ways to deal with it which range from trying to be calm and avoiding engaging with them (offline/online), opting to talk to the ‘copy-cat’ to tell them that you’ve noticed their behaviour and don’t like it, or if you feel it is getting beyond your threshold of tolerance, know that you can enforce your boundaries and cut them out. It might also help to remind yourself that someone copying your style doesn’t make you less unique. By acknowledging what makes you unique, you accept that you are your own person, and you can then impart the same sense of self-confidence to the person copying you. If you have tried ignoring and/or confronting and yet see zero change in their behaviour, you may want to be a bit firm. If this is happening online, you may want to block them across all social media channels. However, know that if they are in an obsessive phase of copying, they will find a way around your block. This might feel like a never-ending cycle, but there are very few things you can then do after you have cut them off/ blocked them out. You may also then choose to put more out on what you are doing and if your ‘copy-cat’ finds out and copies you, you will still have a community who has seen how the situation unfolded and then the choice on who to trust and follow will lie with them. Lastly, another way to cope could be to find yourself a tribe. Choose to surround yourself with a community of people who match your feelings and need for uniqueness. There will be some groups which are more respectful of individuality more than others while some might see individuality as a threat to the togetherness of the group, you can look out for a place which speaks to you.

Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself when copying occurs and if it is bothering you. You have the right to your individuality and it’s perfectly ok to tell someone that they are encroaching on it. Keep being who you are and don’t let this make you doubt yourself or feel like you should silence your voice.


Written by: Vedica Podar

July, 2021


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