dealing with selfish people
Photo: Adam Voorhes

Step Two: Evaluate every vessel.

If Cecily had been shipshape, she would have registered that Gwen made her feel hollow and tired. Though she had noticed Gwen's "kind of self-absorbed" energy, she never let it rise into consciousness. She didn't want to judge Gwen. But noticing that a pirate is a pirate is like noticing that a shark is a shark; it's not a moral position, just fact. Pirates—whether because of emotional wounds or inborn narcissism—steer their victims' attention away from the feeling that they're being emotionally looted. I want you to turn toward it.

Here's a quiz to help clarify what you really feel about people in your life. Below are five reactions you might have to any given situation, from positive (1) to negative (5).

1. You feel joy, delight; you're loose, energized.

2. Your emotions are pleasant, your body relaxed.

3. You feel weariness. Your body may feel tense.

4. You feel resentful. Your body is very tense.

5. You're angry, even if you think you shouldn't be. Your muscles are contracted, maybe enough to create pain in your neck, head, back, shoulders, and/or jaw.

Now, to test for pirate potential in any individual, keep that person in mind—let's call him or her Person X—when you read through the scenarios below. As you imagine each scenario, notice your reactions without resisting, judging, or suppressing them. Using the rankings above, circle the reaction that best describes how you feel.

Situation A: You're having a meal when Person X comes in and sits down to eat with you.
Reaction: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Situation B: You and Person X, stranded in an airport, have to share the last hotel room left.
Reaction: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Situation C: You're having a medical procedure and need a ride. Only Person X is available.
Reaction: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Situation D: While you're trying to deal with a snafu at work, Person X shows up.
Reaction: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Situation E: Person X sends you a long e-mail.
Reaction: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Now add up all the numbers you circled to determine Person X's pirate score. (You can repeat the test as many times as you want, evaluating anyone you know.)

Once you've done that, consider these recommendations:

Score 5–10: This person is a "crewmate," someone you definitely want in your life. If you haven't connected recently, reach out to him or her soon and often.

Score 11–15: Person X is a "friendly vessel" who's sometimes absorbed in personal problems but is often available to pay attention to your needs. A good casual friend at home or work.

Score 16–20: You're dealing with a "merchant ship"—a person who will give you attention if she knows she'll get something out of it. Do business with such people, but don't depend on them for emotional support.

Score 21–25: Avast! Ye have allowed a pirate aboard.

Next: Keep reading to find out how to protect yourself