A lot can be going on here. It can be a combination of both dispositional and social factors. In other words, it could be a reflection of your friend's personality and/or situational factors that lead to this kind of behavior. I will offer some psychological theories that might explain this, some ideas of my own, and most important, some suggestions on how you can deal with it.
I feel it is important to consider that since suffering is subjective, and as strange as it may seem, it is possible for close friends and family members to experience more suffering than the actual cancer victim. There are many support groups for friends and family that have a difficult time dealing with this kind of situation (see http://www.cancer.net/coping-and-emotions/managing-emotions/finding-support-and-information/support-groups
). As annoying as your friend may be, it is possible that he or she is suffering and can use help, and your best course of action would be to suggest a support group for your friend, and perhaps even go to the first meeting with him or her. Having said that, now we can look at what else might be going on.
Some people are simply egotistical and tend to talk in terms of how the problems of others affect them. This is a behavior that is commonly seen in teenagers and young adults, but does tend to fade as one gets older (factors such as taking care of others, healthy self-esteem, a moderate temperament, etc. are associated with less egotistical behavior). Some people enter adulthood and form relationships that facilitate and even encourage this kind of egotism—like having a spouse that caters to the person's every need. I would think that you would have seen this behavior before in this person if it were dispositional and part of the person's personality. If this is the case, perhaps you are not surprised by the behavior, but just fed up with it. If this is not the case, it may be mostly situational.
When my wife had cancer, many people who knew about it would, with nothing but good intentions, give me what I felt was undeserved attention, sympathy, and support. It made me uncomfortable at first since my troubles were insignificant compared to my wife's , but after a while I started to feel as if I deserved it. This is a prime example of a conditioned response
within classical conditioning
. My feeling of entitlement was like Pavlov's dogs' salivation, the looks and words of sympathy were like the whistle (not a bell), and the hugs or sometimes even tears were the emotional dog food. For those who see this as positive attention, they may change their behavior (consciously or unconsciously) to encourage this kind of attention from others, further solidifying their response—resulting in a vicious circle.
How can you deal with this? Not to simplify things too much, but you can either just deal with it, or confront your friend about it. Perhaps my favorite psychological theory is appraisal theory
, which basically states that how we feel about something is the result of how we think about it. If you see your friend's behavior as a result of biology, upbringing, and social factors, you may be less likely to be aggravated and possibly even see some irony in the behavior. The other choice is to confront your friend about his or her behavior and let them know how their behavior is coming across to you, and how it is possibly coming across to many others. Use some diplomacy and say something such as, "I know you are a very caring person, and this situation is tough on you. When you talk in terms of how X's cancer is affecting you, it rubs me the wrong way."
As for empathy, I wouldn't leap to the conclusion that this person lacks it because of their behavior. It can simply be the way they express their suffering. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this behavior was a result of increased empathy combined with a lack of social intelligence (i.e., the ability to express their empathy in a socially acceptable way). Hopefully, this possibility alone will alleviate your desire to tamper with this person's automobile in such a way that would lead to a fatal accident. :)
I hope this information helps and gives you some things to think about.
Bo Bennett, PhD
My Latest Book: https://www.uncomfortable-ideas.com
About Me: http://www.bobennett.com