When I Became Aware of My Meddling Ways
I can trace this problem back to when my sister was planning her wedding. I come from a family of opinionated people who aren’t afraid to tell each other when a shirt looks too snug or a new haircut isn’t the most flattering—and when my sister wanted moral support and sympathy while being barraged with unsolicited advice from my mother and her future mother-in-law, I tried to remain as practical as possible, and inadvertently left “us” and joined “them.”
Specifically my betrayal concerned her four-figure floral arrangements that I suggested could be easily re-created from Trader Joe’s’ à la carte selections, by a willing volunteer or two. And asking aloud if the beautiful-but-pricey bridesmaid dresses she’d chosen could be worn again. A few emotionally-charged conversations later, I’d been reprimanded, apologized and was back in safe, sisterly harbor—with a stern reminder that picking up the tab wasn’t my job, and therefore it wasn’t my job to drop hints about where to save a few bucks.
According to Dr. Mara Wagner, professor of modern psychoanalysis at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, nosing into other people’s business generally stems from something we’re conflicted about in ourselves.
When the meddling turns to money matters, it can signal an issue we’re having with our own finances, says Dr. Wagner. “It’s called projecting,” she explains. “If you’re projecting something of yourself onto another person, what you’re really trying to do is change yourself from the outside in.”
Maybe we’re having trouble saving for our own home, or maybe we’ve watched our credit card debt spiral out of control and feel helpless. “It doesn’t mean that what we identify in others isn’t totally inaccurate,” says Dr. Wagner. “But the fact that you’re pointing it out signals an impulse-control problem within yourself.”
I’d been laid off three months before my sister’s wedding, and was living in an apartment that, frankly, I couldn’t afford. Even though my other expenses were reasonable, I felt constantly strung out and worried about how I’d scrape enough money together to pay rent each month. And while I idealized a life of financial abundance, I had trouble instituting that idea in reality, instead allowing cash to melt away at bars, where I’d down cocktails I felt I needed to take the edge off. I had absolutely no business nosing into other people’s financial matters—and yet, like a drug, I couldn’t resist.
How I Finally Got My Bad Habit in Check
In both cases, my intentions were good—but, on the other hand, meaning no harm to either my friend or my sister didn’t mean my opinions were warranted or desired. In fact, when plans with my apartment-buying friend started to dry up, it hurt—and I knew, in turn, that my meddling had hurt her.