Baggage Check Live: "The Malaria Mindset"

Jul 10, 2018

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your comments about her advice column, Baggage Check, and any other questions you might have. These comments may appear in an upcoming column running in Express and online.

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Welcome, welcome! I am so glad that you are here!

How is your July going? I am hearing from a lot of people with in-law/family/vacation stress. The 487-degree temps of last week didn't help either, I am certain. 

Speaking of vacations and in-laws, have you read the column yet today? We've got a LW frustrated that she makes a yearly trek to see her in-laws who are sub-par about returning the effort. And in L2, we've got another issue of effort: this time it's a friend who is always the one to initiate socializing, and it's getting old. Any experience with this?

Bring it on!

How should I confront a co-worker about them being a Debbie Downer? They catch me under the guise "Can I get your professional opinion"? When in actually they just want to dump. Since I do work with them I don't want to ruin the working relationship but I can't take anymore bad news?

I suggest you create a go-to cutoff in conversation that is respectful and somewhat sympathetic, but firmly brings things to a close. And it can call their bluff about just wanting your professional opinion (though to be fair, they may really think that's what they're doing in these conversations and not realize how much they're piling on.) Something like: "I hear you; that sounds frustrating. I know you are asking me my opinion, so have you tried [insert your basic, general quickie advice here}? Keep me posted-- I'm sorry but right now I have to get back to burning this popcorn in the office microwave."

Chatters?

(In response to last week's chat.)

Oh, my goodness, talk to someone-- your therapist, your husband's doctor, or someone else-- about getting into FAMILY therapy ASAP! In a throw-away line you mentioned that your kids have shut down because of their father's illness, so you aren't the only one being affected. And yes, I also targeted this nonsense about having 73 cents in your checking account. I know families deal with finances in their own way, but I also have to believe that any separate arrangements went out the window when he got ill/stopped working. Household bills get paid first, including groceries and car maintenance for the sole breadwinner before either of you gets your separate share. You need help and there is nothing to be ashamed of in that. Get it for your kids sake and decide, with a good family therapist, the best way to untangle some of these toxic dynamics. Hang in there!

Thanks for this thoughtful kick in the pants. OP definitely needs support, and fast.

Those 8 hour road trips? Heck do something about them. Split up the driving to 2 days. Stop in one of the many cities and towns along the way. Explore someplace that you would otherwise zip past on the interstate! Make it a trip, not a tribulation

I love it!

Last summer when we were seeking out the best viewing spot in the solar eclipse's path of totality (in a rented RV, because yes, we are that family), we found all kinds of cool, unexpected stops via www.roadsideamerica.com (no kickbacks here, promise.) My cousin-- the type of person who builds a trip around seeing the house where A Christmas Story was filmed-- recommended it and it was fantastic.

There is adventure everywhere if you are open to it!

I'm "that" friend who is bad at being the one to reach out. I've had many conversations with my friends about how it isn't selfishness or laziness. For me, a lot of it is anxiety, ADD (and the accompanying forgetfulness), mild depression, and just plain introversion (I have a limit for interaction, and I hit it quickly). I also have to plan things a few days or a week out and don't handle spontaneous plans very well. Luckily, they seem to be understanding. My husband, an extrovert, is in the same place as this letter writer. He's at the point where he wants to write off some of these friendships because he views their lack of initiation as a lack of caring. I've expressed to him my reasons for not reaching out as frequently as I could, and also told him basically what you said...I asked him to think about if he'd rather be friends with these people knowing that he will be the one who initiates plans or if he thinks the friendship isn't worth being the one to "make all of the effort." I don't think he's arrived at an answer yet, but it is worth thinking about. I imagine it's exhausting to bear the brunt of initiating plans, but if your friends have told you that they're glad you make the effort, maybe it is worth it to just take on that burden?

I think this is such an important perspective for the extroverted cruise-ship-director types to hear. Thank you.

I work with so many people who struggle in this way. They like hanging out when the offer is extended and they know that they "should" initiate more, but they have real mental blocks about doing so.

I do think there's an element of compensating for each other's limitations in every friendship. The complication comes in deciding when the burden becomes too much to bear.

 

With most relationships I think that you should feel that you are expected to do 60% of the work. That stops me from being resentful, and in actuality means I'm probably doing closer to 50% then 60%.

Now that's my kind of math!

It's true-- if everyone in a relationship aims to do 60 percent, then it's sort of like communally banking your leave at work-- there becomes a bit of leeway for people to get some slack when their life circumstances demand it.

thanks for the advice!!

My pleasure. Do keep us all posted!

Need more info from the LW: 1) how much vacation time to do & husband get and what proportion of that is spent visiting the inlaws; 2) how long do you stay with them and how do they treat you?; 3) are there children involved who want to know their grandparents?; 4) do you REALLY want more contact with them/initiated by them throughout the year, or do you feel that it is something that SHOULD be done on principle?

Great questions!

LW/OP?

My mother and I have some issues in our relationship. And she doesn't like to travel. But she'll grudgingly make the 3 hour drive with my dad, to stay one day with me, and then complain as soon as she walks in the door.

Great point.

"Inducing" someone to travel when it's going to mean resentment before they even get out of the car is not good for anyone.

My in-laws are much the same way (but the drive is about half as long as the letter writer's). They're young (early 50s) with no health issues, though they do have to make dogsitting arrangements in order to travel (which they happily do to travel elsewhere). My in-laws frequently say they wish they could see us more, and say that we'll need to come visit more once we have a baby. My father-in-law complains about the traffic they hit when they come to see us and doesn't seem to realize that we have the same traffic going down to see them. My husband and I have just started saying things like "Yes, we wish we could see you more often as well--perhaps you could come visit us next month?" Once we do have a kid, though, I hope the visits will become more balanced. But that's a conversation for down the road.

Yes. And be aware that once you have a child, the precedents that you set early on can become pretty solidified-- for better or for worse.

In this case it sounds even trickier because it is not necessarily that your in-laws are not up for traveling, because they're seeking out other places. That's tough because it has the potential to be taken more personally, but there could still be reasons. Like some people are really uncomfortable being guests in other people's homes-- even as family.

...my impression is that they think of themselves as a good catch, standing out from the crowd because they don't smoke or drink, an attitude that came across as a little arrogant but also somewhat silly in that those two traits aren't even noteworthy anyway. Only about 15% of the population smokes. Drinking is more common, but a quarter of the population doesn't drink at all and the next quarter only does so a couple of times per month, so being a non-drinker isn't special either. Still, at least the person did write asking about what they might do differently rather than asking what is wrong with the women they've dated, so they're open to changing. I think their faith is key: genuine believers tend to do best dating within their own faith; not that dating outside can't ever work, but it helps to have a similar worldview.

I agree. I think the idea of drinking and smoking represent something pretty big and important to OP, and it's become A Thing that seems more of a problem than statistically it might be in reality-- it's kind of a symbol at this point for him. But I too am hopeful that he is open to self-exploration! (And if not, woe is him for writing in to this chat!) 

My husband binge drinks some. For example, he will go on a "vacation" and drink like 24 beers in a weekend, or a whole handle of hard liquor, or some combination. Sometimes he will stretch out his drinking, drinking a few beers a day for months. This is all his choice--and I don't want to fight about it. I'm not really fond of my husband when he is drunk. He's not violent (he's never ever violent, period), but he gets more argumentative and dismissive. Neither of those are particularly character traits he has usually. When he's tipsy he's fine. He often wants me to drink with him. I don't object to drinking, or drinking to excess sometimes, but being drunk isn't my idea of a good time. Thanks to my body chemistry and the result of surgery years ago, I get drunk very quickly and sober up quickly too. That means that to stay drunk, I need to drink a lot, actually. I don't enjoy it. I don't love the feeling of being drunk. I don't have any moral objections to it--I just don't enjoy it. He view drinking with him as a companionate sort of thing--that is, if you love me, you'll engage in my hobby sometimes. I'm totally on board with this because I like fancy restaurants, and he doesn't, but he will at time indulge me and go with me to one. 

My husband knows that I worry about his drinking too much (he's gained a lot of weight back that he had lost, and 90% of it is beer. When he stops excessively drinking he immediately drops weight without doing pretty much anything else). He has, lately, cut back on the drinking. Here's the thing. Some nights, he seems tipsy, even though I haven't seen him drink anything. He is drinking water, flavored with those add-ins like Mio (I do that too), or he is drinking soda in a glass. Either he could have spiked. There is one instance in our past where I asked if he'd been drinking (not in an accusatory way, but because he seemed like he had) and he lied about it. He came clean later. (I was relived, actually, because I had thought he was behaving oddly, and this explained why). So, TL;DR: I'm a bit worried that he is at times drinking and hiding it from me. I have no idea how to talk to him about this. I poked around his man cave once and found no evidence of it. I hate feeling suspicious. I don't know if I should ask him (he's going to get WAY defensive, and if he isn't doing it, it won't be worth the cost of asking. If he is, I'm not sure what's going to happen). I do not want to snoop. So, since I looked once, I haven't again. I also haven't seen the behavior lately. I'm not even sure what I'm asking you--if I suspect something, do I ask in the moment? What do I do with a yes answer? I don't want him to lie to me! I don't harass him about the drinking. I don't buy beer for him anymore, except on rare occasions, because I can't condone how much he drinks, but I don't stop him, and I don't complain about it (unless he treats me badly, in which case I usually call it a night a head to bed). I don't lecture. We've all got our own things (he doesn't harass me about some of my eating habits). But If he is hiding his drinking--that's scary for me. (FYI, I am in therapy myself. He was, for a time, for anxiety, which helped, but he hasn't been back in well over a year. Yes, sometimes he self-medicates for anxiety with alcohol. I don't see him going back to a therapist, though I have asked him, and could ask again). I am not his mom. I do not want to be his mom. I do not want to police him. I do want him to be truthful with me. I do not get mad or yell or lecture when he drinks, though sometimes I tell him I worry. I wouldn't put it past him to be spiking drinks and not talking to me about it because he's ashamed. I don't know what to do... I'm stuck.

 

You had a lot to get off your chest, and I hear you.

But really, this sentence says it all: "I wouldn't put it past him to be spiking drinks and not talking to me about it because he's ashamed."

That is the problem here. I think you know in your heart that your husband's drinking is a dangerous situation, and that on some level he knows it's a problem, and he's going to be motivated to hide it (since he can't get you on board with it.)

You don't fully trust him, and I don't blame you, because he has several very concerning symptoms of alcohol abuse.

From my birds-eye view, the simplest initial step here is to see if you can have a real and open and honest conversation with him about your concerns. If he is extremely guarded and resistant, it might have to take place in a therapist's office to be the most productive-- your therapist's office, a marital therapist's office, or potentially his own therapist's office.

I am sorry, but I think your gut is telling you something very real here. Of course you don't want to police him, but his behavior is unruly enough that I'm calling the proverbial police myself.

About last week's case where Sarah told the LW about Michelle's marital problems, can I just say that when someone gives you information about a third party and then afterwards tries to swear you to secrecy you have no moral obligation to agree. Even if they ask for secrecy in advance you should only agree conditionally, making it clear that if the information could harm a third party (or is about something illegal) you will use your own judgement as to whether to keep the secret, and if they don't like that then they shouldn't tell you the secret. Not that I'm saying it's OK to blab secrets for no reason or to break promises, but agreeing to keep something secret when you know doing so is harming somebody is different. Also, I would not tell people like Sarah anything confidential, because they clearly can't be trusted to keep it to themselves.

Good points all around.

The "conditional confidentiality" is something psychologists have to do day in and day out in therapy.

Seems it could be useful for the real world as well.

No advice needed, just a fun/friendly inquiry...where did you travel for the eclipse? My family is from Chicago and spent the weekend in Festus, MO. We lucked out with 100% visibility.

"Festus" sounds like a great place for an eclipse party!

We were madly cross-referencing cloud cover estimates, traffic patterns, and good-old-fashioned road maps along with the map of the path of totality and made game-day decisions that plopped us into the parking lot of a Days Inn in Eddyville, Kentucky. Total visibility and a really long totality. And get this-- we just happened to be next to two amateur astronomers who had flown in from Austria with all kinds of impressive equipment. It was the very definition of a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants-after-decent-enough-preparation trip that couldn't have been more perfect!

Never knew what the deal was with eclipse-chasers until I became tempted to become one of them myself! Chile in 2019, anyone?

Uh-oh. I hope you're not thinking of having children to please these people. Maybe I'm reading too much into their statement, but it sure sounds pretty passive-aggressive to me.

I certainly hope not!

Yeah, that statement leaves a lot to be desired.

The next time she does this, consider responding with, "wow, that sounds as frustrating as when you told me about ______ and even more frustrating than when __________ happened to you." Maybe she'll hear her words in yours.

ha! Only the right person could do this without it sounding like a total Snarkfest.... but I like the way you think!

Several weeks ago I asked your thoughts about trying to deal with getting past my ex who wanted to stay friends. I appreciated your comments, and the rest of the chatters. This thought worked for me, I was told by a friend to think of her like malaria. You never get completely over malaria but you can manage it. When it comes on I try to remember the good times and not dwell on the hurt. To get past it I did call her and said I was sorry our relationship wasn't enough for her, I never understood her reasons but it didn't matter. I forgave her for hurting me and have moved on finally. I don't need to talk with her again, time does work although I couldn't see for a quite a while, thanks for your response.

I really appreciate this update! I am so glad you are on a better path.

The Malaria Mindset... I sense a new trend!

This is probably too late for OP but here are a few more alternatives: Can she leave medication at pharmacy/with an friend and pick up just before going to doctor? buy a small refrigerator - amazon has them for less than $50 - cheaper than a hotel room best of all though, treat this as an opportunity to set boundaries effectively. even with nosy FILs. I do see a lot of people struggle with this, as I do too. Every time I have invested the effort to do so, it has paid off. i imagine the investment to do so with FIL is too daunting. (also require high upfront cost). Could be worth it.

Thank you for this.

OP with the intrusive father-in-law-- clearly a lot of us are still thinking of you!

Maybe we can even get an update.

This. When I was a kid, my family drove 13 hours over two days to visit family in another state. We always stopped at a different state park to camp overnight, and played games that involved finding out things about the city or state we were passing through. Make it about spending time together as a family instead of "oh boy we gotta make this long drive again." Your kids will notice and thank you for it (eventually).

Is it weird if I say that I love your family?

Why is everyone driving? Do they live somewhere that flying not an option? Older parents could have many reasons for not making an 8-hour drive, reasons they don't feel like blabbing about. Maybe one of them is incontinent and can't go more than 20 minutes without peeing. Maybe they have back problems that make sitting for long periods painful. Maybe they can't see well. Or maybe they are like my parents for whom driving is becoming less and less safe. My mom no longer drives at all (phew) and my dad is now uncomfortable with drives he was fine with as a younger man.

So true.

I will say, incontinence can make flying even more intimidating than driving, though.

What kind of relationship does the OP with the in-laws, really? My sense of this is that the OP is looking for a way out of doing the visits and the lack of reciprocity is an excuse. And for the other writer (with the parents in the 50s), it's my experience that Andrea is right : the parents don't change with baby, their expectations just become solidified. They haven't voiced this, but it seems that they expect that they will become the gravitational center of the family and that you should travel to them for visits, holidays, etc. When you were growing up, how did you manage vacations and holidays - were they at your grandparents' houses or did your family do its own thing? That can give you a sense of what they are expecting, perhaps.

Great things to think about; thanks.

It does seem that there's the possibility that the "8-hour-drives are the pits" mindset could be a red herring for other reasons that OP doesn't want to visit them, but maybe doesn't want to acknowledge.

There are things that the non-planners do that can make it easier on the one who always makes the plans-attend enthusiastically and up your game by volunteering to bring the main dish if it's a potluck, get there early to help set-up, research the parking for a event, and express appreciation.

Absolutely!

I have a family dynamic that is not unusual nowadays. I am in my early 40s, single, childfree. My sister is a bit younger, married, has 3 kids. We live several states apart, but I visit frequently, easily spending about $1,000/year just on travel expenses, and do what I can to keep in touch with the kids. I have girlfriends with children who think I am super aunt, yet my sister is often not particularly appreciative of my efforts. For example, once after a visit she chastised me for not pitching in $ for an evening of Thai takeout. They have 5 mouths to feed, and she's concerned about the extra order of Pad Thai when I've spent $250 on my flight to spend time with them, as well as used at least 1 vacation day to do so?

When she says these types of things, I am always hurt and dumbstruck and don't know how to respond. Naturally, I love my niblings, but feeling so unappreciated is difficult...after all, I could certainly use my $ and vacation time in many other ways. If she says anything similar in the future, do you have suggestions on how I could respond?

Well, I am partly wondering here about whether money is blurring this issue.

Just because you spend a thousand bucks on visiting her doesn't mean that she isn't struggling financially. Yes, it would be gracious for her to take care of your meals while you are visiting, but is it possible that you have a lot more money than her and in fact finances are something she is very stressed about? After all, your airfare goes to the airlines-- not to her.

That said, it stinks that you feel unappreciated, and that deserves a larger conversation for sure. That can be its own thing, apart from money stuff. "Sis, I love visiting you and the kids, and I put a lot of effort into it. But sometimes I feel like it's not very appreciated. To be honest, I felt hurt when you said/did/didn't do XYZ, because it made me feel like you don't see how much I value my relationship with you and how much I put into it."

How would that feel to say?

As an extrovert, I'm close to ending (quietly, kindly) a few of my friendships with my introverted friends. What I don't think my friends understand (just MY friends, not lumping all introverts in this) is that it's not just reaching out to make plans. It's that plus: rescheduling when they decide last minute that they're not up to it; picking a place that suits their need; carrying on the majority of the conversation; constantly having to tell myself they're enjoying themselves when there's not an overflow of evidence; listening to them talk about their coworkers who annoy them (who sound JUST LIKE ME); and cutting the night earlier than planned, because they're suddenly overwhelmed or exhausted. I will still like my friends but introverts require much more than one-sided planning. It's a whole 360-degree effort.

I don't want to make any generalities here either, but I completely hear what you're saying. And in your case it sounds like it's not just people not initiating, but also not following through or even being content once plans are in place. This is taxing, even if we can be sympathetic to the reasons (depression, anxiety, etc.)

And in fact it's eerily reminiscent of the "mental load" conversation that we talk about in household partnerships as well-- not just doing a task, but foresseing/planning/initiating/trouble-shooting/following-up with the task as well-- and that's what starts to feel exhausting, carrying that mental responsibility.

No, because we love you, too. Seriously, my oldest brother and I were saying just last weekend that there's an entire lifetime's worth of emotional education in your, Ccarolyn Hax's, Amy's, etc. columns.

Aw, thank you!! It's an honor. Now where are the gushing emojis when I need them?

Hi all! We've received some notes about question length, and I just wanted to remind you all that the shorter, the better! Dr. Andrea and I do our best to edit some of them down when we have the time, but some questions take a lot to explain. The easiest way around this is if the OPs can keep the questions as concise as possible, so we know we aren't omitting any key details. That's not to say we won't address the longer questions, it just may take us a lot more time. So if you can condense them, please do! Thank you! 

Several of the suggestions in last week's chat for the "unhealthy eater" really bother me: the idea of pointing out healthy snacks, inviting the friend to farmer's market, asking her to cook with you. Unless this is part of the regular routine, then I think the friend is going to see through it as just another form of judgement -- which it is. You're saying "I think you should eat this," which is just about the same as saying "you shouldn't eat that." The friend's not the mom's project to work on. And I bet the mom and her family don't eat 100% healthy every minute of the day, so it's kind of hypocritical. Her true intentions will become obvious if she starts trying to get everyone to hike every day and only eat carrot sticks. I ate like garbage in college - a lot of people did. And I'm fine - in fact very healthy - now.

Yes, this was my concern as well. I didn't have sky-high faith that LW was the type of person who could pull off any of those suggestions in a respectful or helpful or supportive way.

Yeah, I would run screaming from any kind of record of what I ate in college. I'm pretty sure that "fried scrod" was as healthy as things got some weeks.

I ended a friendship because I did all the heavy lifting. I heard all the excuses given by the poster above and finally just felt it was all code for “can’t be bothered.” What surprised me was how little I miss that friend, because it turns out there’s not much to miss about someone who is only part of your life when it’s convenient for them.

Yes, that is a whole other segment of non-initiators-- people who simply don't think they should HAVE to put forth any effort if someone else will do it instead.

I am glad that you were able to break free.

Oh hey, it's me, your resident recovering alcoholic. I think you are right to be worried, especially if your husband is hiding/lying about drinking. And why are you enabling by being a drinking buddy? Alcoholics aren't all the bums under the freeway overpass. Best definition is we just can't put the damn glass down. When I was drinking I KNEW that I should stop and just couldn't. For now I think you should educate yourself - maybe check out AlAnon. Your husband is going to deny the problem - we all do! They more you understand about alcoholism the better you will be able to make informed decisions. Take care of yourself and best of luck.

We really appreciate this insight. Thank you.

Hi Dr. Andrea. For over 30 years, my mom has bought me innumerable gifts. For the last 10 years, I have asked her repeatedly not to, because I am very picky and do not like 90% of what she buys (she often cannot return the items, so she is wasting her money). What makes it frustrating is that if I do not show what she believes is an appropriate amount of enthusiasm and gratitude, she is disappointed, sulks for the rest of the day, and will not speak to me (this result in my frequently lying and saying that I like her gifts, which just reinforces her desire to buy me more.)

I recently asked her again to stop buying me gifts, but she told me that she cannot help the fact that she loves me so much and want to buy me things as she handed me another gift I did not want. I know the solution is to simply accept that she is not going to change, but I guess I just want validation that I am not a horrible person for being frustrated by my mom's irrepressible need to make me happy by buying me gifts. We have a good relationship overall, but this is an example of her simply ignoring what I say when she does not like the point I am trying to make, e.g., if we have a disagreement and I ask her a difficult question, she will not reply or acknowledge my presence and I end up walking away. This is still sounding silly as I finish typing this message, but I would love your thoughts coping since I know she will not change.

You are not a horrible person.

I repeat, you are not a horrible person.

Your Mom's inability to see (or care about) your perspective on this-- and that could be due to any number of psychological factors on her part, so I'm glad to hear that overall you see your relationship as good-- is not a reflection of you. It is her who is refusing to take into consideration your feelings; it is her who is doing something to you that you don't want her to; it is her who is choosing to say, in so many words (or so many scarves!) that what she wants is far more important than what you want or need.

So, I see you doing everything right here. You've stated your views but at some point realized that they are not going to be valued. Now, again, since it seems that this relationship is good enough over all for you to accept-- it's won the larger cost-benefit analysis-- then you can consider yourself free to do the smaller, individual cost-benefit analysis with any given gift in terms of how much you positively reinforce it through false praise versus enduring a big blowup by putting your foot down.

Once again, though-- you are absolved. You are not in the wrong here!

I live a continent away from my family, so we mainly communicate over a group message chat. In recent years we've diverged significantly along political lines - me on one side, my parents, brother, sister and husband on another. In a recent chat minus my parents, I brought up three points that caused my brother-in-law to leave the chat abruptly. My brother messaged me separately to ask that I not bring politics into the discussion ... but honestly, I wouldn't have unless the rest of my family was constantly bringing it up!

In the five days since, I haven't said a word to the rest of my family and they seem to be ignoring me in turn. (They're basically keeping up pleasantries amongst each other, especially since my sister's family is in the middle of a cross-country move.) I don't want this to forever divide us, but I don't want to constantly have to muzzle myself on issues that matter to me. Geographic distance aside, I'm having a hard time maintaining this relationship. Any advice?

This actually came in last week, I believe-- so I apologize that five days has now become twelve days that you've been dealing with this.

First off, are you around? Are there any updates?

I think the bottom-line strategy here is finding the sweet spot between "constantly having to muzzle" yourself versus getting into conflicts that are not going to change anyone's mind and are only going to erode your relationship.

It's the same spot between getting a little space versus a Single Elimination Tournament Round of the Silent Treatment.

It sounds like they already know how you feel-- might it be beneficial even for your own mental health if you kept it to "pleasantries" for a while and then gradually eased back in to the way that things used to be?

A follow up from a few weeks ago, we are tentatively entering the realm of exclusivity, and I did let him know about the trust baggage I had from the ghosting fiance. He said we all have carry-on. We just have to know when to check the baggage and not bring it into new relationships. I have had full tilt moments, but he's been understanding and is still there the next day after I have my moments of doubt. I know it will take some time (and therapy which I do weekly), but I am enjoying the giddy moments of a new relationship more and more and worrying about him ghosting me less and less...We shall see where this goes, and I am taking deep breaths and trying not to let the ex control any more of my feelings and reactions. Thanks for the advice from you and the other readers. You've helped out with an emotionally rough 2018.

I am so glad to read this, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate the update!

You are really working at it-- that is so clear to me. And it sounds like he is handling it very well, and is living up to being worthy of your letting him in. Keep it up!

I actually chewed my father out a bit once, when he complained about how long a drive it was to see us, and then attempted to guilt-trip me into visiting more in the next sentence. I pointed out that he's retired and can drive at any time, stop as much as he wants, etc., while we're coming home after a full day of work and packing up two kids and a dog and then driving late into the night to visit him. He hasn't brought it up since. I can't change how he feels, but he doesn't complain to me anymore.

At least it got you some peace.

I do think it's easy to assume that traveling is easy for others-- which he might have wrongly assumed for you.

But that argument can also go the way of saying, who knows what might be going on in his case too, as he ages?

In any case, I am glad you are getting a little bit of a breather from the complaints.

Just want to pop in and say, "Ugh, I feel for you." Been dealing with this off and on with the dh for any number of years, but we seem to be in a better place now. What it took was initiating a conversation when we were both completely sober, and sharing my fears about what he was doing to his health. He actually said the words "Maybe I should stop," and did for a while. He gradually ramped up (wine with dinner out...) until another big binge, which shook him up enough that I didn't need to do another completely sober talk about my fears - he came to the conclusion that he needed to stop. So far, so good, but it is definitely a two-steps-forward-one-step-back process. But it starts with honesty, on your part, which will hopefully drive honesty on his. Good luck.

So, so helpful to hear from those who have been there.

Good for you for having the hard conversations, and for DH for doing the work to recognize the problem and eventually make changes. May it continue!

I'm an on time person. I have friends who are perpetually very late. I'm trying to avoid a discussion of 'why are very late people always late, it's so disrespectful'. Some people are just always late and I'm not going to change that. So I do the analysis of whether the friendship is worth it, even if they are always 30-45 minutes late. Some aren't - some are, and I meet up with them in a coffee shop where I can read or somewhere I don't mind browsing. I'm not resentful. I never go to the movies with them - being late for the start of the movie would make me resentful.

Now, wait a minute. This sounds entirely too functional and level-headed for my liking!

They're not true friends forever, just acquaintances (or worse, like users). Don't be afraid to dump them, because you'll meet new people, and some of those new acquaintances could turn into real friends someday.

I think this is true for a subset of them, very true.

I do think there is a group of people, though, for whom initiating or even occasionally following through with social events is much more difficult than it may seem, even though they care deeply about their friends. It's just hard. Just like with traveling (funny how those parallel narratives are so related today.)

So, the young couple is supposed to have a baby, and then they'll be firmly expected to pack up the baby and all accoutrements, and make the trek to the grandparents' place on a very regular basis. Really??

I know. Totally makes sense, right?

 

Hi, Dr. Bonior. My father died of ALS a few years ago. Watching him go through the process has increased my fear of getting the same disease. Intellectually, I know that the risk is low (about 10% of cases are linked to genetics, the rest are random or increasingly linked to football head injuries). But when I see a muscle twitch or feel any weakness in my arms or legs, I feel really anxious. It's not interfering with my daily life, but it does stress me out. Do you have any advice on how to manage my fear of this disease? I know odds are I'm much more at risk driving a car or crossing the street, but somehow, I never think about those things! Maybe it's just a minor case of PTSD, having watched my beloved father died of the disease. Thanks so much.

First, I am so sorry for the loss of your father.

What you're going through is not uncommon in people who have suffered such a loss, particularly in such an agonizing way. It's heightened your anxiety in the same way that trauma does, so your PTSD analogy is on to something: our bodies and minds become more hypervigilant to threat, and more anxious in general, because we have seen how high the stakes are if the threat DOES happen. So, the odds-are-low argument doesn't hold water when our central nervous system's stress response kicks into gear. (Reasoning is no match for our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis!)

In fact, research shows that anxious people have a blind spot to odds and put undue value on stakes. In short, because of how much your father's death affected you-- the stakes of getting ALS-- then the fact that your risk is low isn't able to convince you much to stop worrying. It's the reason why old-school Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (where you challenge your automatic thoughts in a rational way) can sometimes feel pretty impotent in these types of cases.

So, I would recommend a different approach altogether. It's more in line with what's considered to be Acceptance and Commitment Therapy-- sort of a new wave of CBT that has a more mindfulness-based approach. The key is learning to accept the presence of certain anxious thoughts and diffuse them by separating them from their power. So it's not that you're fighting the "I'm getting ALS" thought tooth and nail, it's that you're acknowledging that it's there, you're labeling it, you're understanding that it exists as a natural response because of the experiences you have had, but none of that makes it true or valid or real. It is just a thought. It doesn't define you. It's like the itches themselves-- they will eventually go away but by fighting them so much they become bigger than they are. It's about learning to accept their presence ("Hello, thought! I know you come up when I am stressed, and I know you are part of the baggage I carry from Dad's death, but that doesn't mean I have to listen to you") and letting the move on, like a piece of litter passing you by in a stream.

A great primer about this (again, no shadiness or kickbacks involved) is The Happiness Trap.

I'm the person who suggested perhaps exposing her to how to cook or going to the farmer's market. I agree with you that it most certainly would smack of judgment from this LW. I meant it in a much less invasive and more general spirit - maybe she doesn't know how to cook and might like to learn. I grew up in house where both my parents cooked - and we had homemade dinners from scratch almost every day. I love cooking and the whole enjoyment of meals in good company. Several of my friends, who din't know how to cook, have enjoyed learning from me, and the passion I bring to it. That's why I mentioned the film Mostly Martha. But you're absolutely right that this is the wrong context!

100 percent.

Like many suggestions, it would be golden if done by the right person-- and absolutely nauseating if done by the wrong one.

To me, the tipping point is the husband is hiding/lying about drinking to a wife who doesn't particularly care if he DOES drink heavily or not. I mean, it's one thing to hide from a nagging wife, but from a drinking-buddy wife? It must be extreme.

Yup, the hiding/lying is probably the most telling sign that something is not good here. Thanks!

I take this statement as showing that for you the issue is bigger than the gift. If it was just a 'language of love' thing' you sound like you could shrug it off and take it in that spirit. But it goes how she ignores your feelings and point of view.

Yeah, you might have noticed that I was a little surprised that OP assessed the relationship as good overall. Because the steamrolling seemed pretty fierce!

I'm wondering if the gift issue is part of a bigger reality check about the whole dynamic. 

Just hopped online to view the chat -- appreciate your approach and will give it a try. Feelings aren't facts, even if my monkey mind jumps around sometimes and spooks me out. And I agree -- it really is like PTSD in that my anxieties ratchet up exponentially when I fear a twitch is more than just a twitch.

You are welcome. Please do give it a try.... and keep us posted!

“That’s too bad; I’m so sorry. Now, what was the work that you needed my opinion for today?

I like it! And you might have caught something I missed-- I had assumed that "need your professional opinion" was related to the thing being vented about.

But this is a particularly egregious situation if the "need your professional opinion" was about something else entirely, and the unrelated venting was unleashed!

Sorry, but I can't be bothered with them, when others are willing to pull their share of the weight. Life's to short to be a social worker.

Well, if you view being understanding of a depressed or anxious friend as being a social worker, then I suppose there are more of us in the mental health field than I realized!

Ha - once one of my very late friends asked me to get her to her birthday get together with her father and sister on-time. I did - and her family were shocked - slack jawed I tell you.

hahah!

Now, getting a perennially late friend to things on time sounds even more arduous than being a social worker!

You aren't wrong! But I think your mom's love language is gifts. I know it's a silly book but maybe read it to see yours. I did and I can handle some gift giving relatives that show up to nothing (mine is time) much better. Also, why not suggest a gift to mom. Like a play or some other experience you can enjoy together?

It definitely shows an impressive amount of empathy to view things this way.

I do fear that this mother's "love language" is doing whatever the heck she wants regardless of what her daughter says, though.

I love the idea of the suggested experiential gifts. Thanks!

When all they do is take-take-take, and don't give back much in return, it's time to end a friendship with them.

For sure.

But take-take-take is very different than giving enough in other ways that it makes up for not initiating plans or occasionally bailing due to social anxiety.

There's that confounded clock again.

Great questions today-- and so many more that I hope to get to in the future. Thank you! Remember, when you can condense your questions, it does make it easier for us to address them (and according to some of you writing in, much easier to read the chat. Understandable.)

Until next week, which I already can't wait for, be well-- and join me in the comments and on Facebook!

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
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