Burt says Burt can do this illeism thing as only Burt can

Burt's Eye View

Burt read a report that illeism — that annoying trait of referring to oneself in the third person — might actually be healthy and beneficial.

This is good news because until now, Burt thought it would be unhealthy to the extent that someone would slap him silly if he didn’t cut it out.

Psychology researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan concluded that quietly talking to oneself in the third person during stressful times may help a person keep his or her cool.

This is why Elmo of Sesame Street fame is the least stressed-out guy in the world despite bearing a big, orange nose:

“Elmo likes to sing.”

“Elmo loves his pet goldfish, Dorothy.”

“Elmo says go buy two dozen Tickle Me Elmo dolls.”

It’s cute when Elmo commits illeisms on TV. Not so much when it’s your buddy Roger and you run into him at the store:

“Hey, Roger, how are you?”

“Roger is well. How is Burt?”

“Burt, er, I’m doing great. So what are you up to?”

“Roger wants to be more likable. Does Burt know why people find Roger irritating? Roger wants to know.”

“Well, uh… Hey, look at the time. Gotta go, Rodge. Say hi to yourself for me.”

The exception to the annoyance rule would be at parties, where illeism would solve the horrible problem of remembering names:

“Teresa wants to say hi.”

“Burt wants to say hi back to… uh.”

“Teresa. Teresa is waiting for Burt to remember Teresa’s name.”

“Burt hopes for that too.”

Third person rants have been deployed by a number of politicians over the years — not just the guy you’re thinking of now. Let’s say a candidate named Harold Higgleby runs for Congress on the humility ticket. Harold steps to the podium and declares, “Harold Higgleby is humble. Nobody does humbleness like Harold Higgleby. Harold Higgleby is the greatest at humility.”

It’s humiliating.

Why do people shift from No. 1 to No. 3?

Elsa Ronningstam, author of “Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality,” told Esquire magazine that a person with an exaggerated view of his greatness will do so to create distance between himself and his character so that he can puff himself up even more.

But, say the Michigan researchers, illeism works as a quiet coping strategy to create separation between your circumstance and your emotional outbursts.

Let’s say Burt takes a stroll through a cow pasture when Burt realizes a bull up the hill is sharpening his horns against a tree. This tends to raise anxiety levels. But if Burt deals with the tension by talking about it as if he were an observer safe at home under his bed, it creates the emotional distance he needs for a pep talk:

“Burt can dash to the fence faster than the bull can thunder down on Burt. Burt can flat-out run. Uh-oh, Burt just looked behind him. The bull is right behind Bur… Yeeee-owwwwww! Look, Burt learned how to fly.”

The use of illeisms isn’t so great at providing physical distance.

Anyway, go ahead. For the rest of today, let’s refer to ourselves in the third person. We’ll destress ourselves by driving everyone else nuts. Let Burt know how it goes. Burt might send flowers to you in the hospital.

— Write to any of Cole’s persons at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com or on the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.

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