Baggage Check Live: "Garden-variety anxiety"

Feb 13, 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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Good afternoon, all! So glad to have you here. No HVAC drama to report this week-- let's keep that going!

So, what did you think of the goings-on in this week's column? We've got a woman who is bummed that her Mom seems to be getting too anxious to travel-- after she'd always visualized spending many happy years together on adventures. And we've got someone whose partner has been unfaithful and she's on the road to forgiveness-- except she really wants to make him experience what it's like to be cheated on, as well.

Can anyone relate?

Let's begin!

In response to last week's column.

He who has nothing to hide hides nothing. Just sayin'. And for the love of Pete people, PLEASE take how much time you've 'invested' in a relationship out of the equation of whether or not to stay in it. Time passes and you can't get it back. You can, however, keep from wasting more than you have to staying with the wrong person.

Thanks. I agree with the hiding part 90 percent-- with the 10 percent to allow for the fact that everyone should be entitled to some level of privacy, and I don't love when people use "If you're not doing anything wrong, you should have nothing to hide" as a justification of controlling or intrusive behavior. That said, in this case, I think you are spot-on, and the smoke of his hiding clearly seems to indicate fire!

Love your investment point as well. The idea of 'sunk cost'-- well-known in economics, and a constant bugaboo in human decision-making-- can be a killer. It's like staying on a sinking ship in order to get our money's worth for the cruise you paid for. (Or my staying in the same stuck grocery line even when it's clear that by the time it starts moving again I will have missed all my children's weddings.)

In response to "Coworker and flirting" question from last week's chat. 

No you were not being trolled. I know what we're doing is wrong but if he doesnt care about his relationship why should I. I enjoy the attention and im assuming he does too I dont want him to leave her for me maybe it's about sexual satisfaction which it will lead too if this continues..

Okay, but what are you really looking to know here? I won't argue what you should and shouldn't care about; that's up to you. But the warning signs here are a mile long-- professionally, emotionally, conscience-ly, etc.

It goes back to this page.

You are right-- thank you for this!

Our wonderful producer Zainab-- who is long overdue for an introduction-- has fixed it for us. My goal in life is to stop giving her so many mistakes to have to fix!

Give it up for Zainab!

But a shout-out. These chats are fun, and your advice is great! Thanks!

What a sweetheart you are-- and yes, your check is in the mail!

Was your first suggestion exotic? Damn, I wouldn't jump on a plane to some far off location as a first trip either if traveling was new. Have you tried baby steps? If she could start with a weekend in a driving distance-nearby city (museums, show, whatever) she may see the world is a place to explore. Do a couple of close domestic trips, work up to a domestic plane trip and see how things go.

Baby steps are great for nudging her out of her comfort zone if she's up for it! Thanks!

Hi, thanks for all the thoughtful responses to my question last week about giving up on dating. I generally agreed with everyone about dating is a numbers game, etc. But the emotional work is real, too. My life is happy and full, and a loving companion would be icing on the cake rather than filling a void. I will admit I get lonely, but the loneliest I've ever been has been when I'm in a bad or uncaring relationship. For example, the last guy I dated (a year ago) told me every day what he had for lunch, his commute, his work, but was completely silent when I told him I had to leave for a week to put my mom in hospice. He continued to text me all about his day while I was gone without responding when I mentioned anything I was doing. . And he was one of the better ones in that at least he was polite. If that's all I have to look forward to, then of course I would prefer to be alone and maybe have a FWB every once in a while for emotionless physicality. If I don't need a relationship for sex, financial support or societal approval, is there really a point any more? "Romantic love" seems to be more about endlessly unreciprocated emotional support, which is cynical but my actual experience and that of many women. I guess I'm just looking for external advice because I know my exhaustion is coloring my judgement, even while I'm getting pressured by friends to get back out there.

Thanks for this update. Okay, first, that experience with that most recent guy sounded awful. I can certainly understand it coloring your judgment!

I think part of what's tough about this is that there is a luck factor involved. It's not always comfortable to think of it that way-- naturally we want to believe that there is a simple equation in that numbers game where a certain amount of effort will always pay off-- but let's face it, with such a wide variety of people in the world, there is also a very wide range of people you come into contact with, whether dating online, in-person or anywhere in between. And you might meet someone amazing just because they happened to be standing next to you at the post office (perhaps slightly less likely now that everyone is looking at their phones nonstop, but you get my point) where if you were five minutes later it would have never happened.

Still, though, I really do believe that there are lots and lots and lots of good people out there, many of them plenty able to give emotional support as well as receive it. And some of them actually single! Which brings me to you point about being 'cynical.' On the one hand, you say that many women you know are caught in this trap of relationships that aren't reciprocal-- and yet your friends are pressuring you to get back out there. Why is this? Do they have good relationships? Or-- here's my own cynicism-- do they want you to be as miserable as they are?

Girlfriend - I have been there! (My last date before I met my husband was with a toothless guy – now that’s rock bottom!) After a brief marriage in my 20's I had a few long term relationships, but nothing that felt like 'forever' and, yes, there were times when I took myself off the market for a while. You gotta do it to just 'true it up' once in a while. Finally, at an age much older than you - I was using online dating to just ‘flex’ my social muscle once in a while. I'd pretty much accepted that 'forever' wouldn't happen for me, so I focused on work that allowed me to travel a bit & dated from time to time. On a 'free weekend' I saw 2 messages waiting for me at a site I'd used before - they keep your profile FOREVER it seems. I was in the mood, so I responded to one. He quickly called me & was quite personable on the phone. We made a coffee date & when he showed up – yep, missing several teeth! (I wanted to ask, "In what universe did you think this would appeal?") I made the most of the brief coffee date & said adios. On the drive home I decided I was done - I mean, I'm down to this...toothless guys who think they have a chance with me! My computer was still up on the site & I closed it w/o even considering the other message. I just couldn't handle another blind date. Fast forward a few weeks & I checked the site. The other message was still there. He sounded nice, looked cute & based on his profile we definitely had things in common. We chatted on the phone, met for coffee on a Sat & talked for almost 2 hours before I exited. My thought on the drive home was that he seemed great, but probably wouldn't be interested in me. The next morning I was reading the paper online. I copied a link to a gallery exhibit & shot him an e-mail saying it was the kind of thing I enjoyed. W/in 5 minutes he called me to make a date for the following weekend. It was the best 1st date I'd had in a while. We just knew this was different. For me it quickly felt like 'forever' in a way I'd never felt before. We've been married almost 6 years & I’ve never been happier. Had someone told me I'd be 'so old' before I met him I'd have been depressed, but looking back, I realize I wasn't ready for him & he had 2 beautiful girls to launch before he left a love-less marriage. We’ve accepted that our golden years were meant to be our happiest. All this is to say, hang in there. Take breaks when you need to. Laugh with your friends over the toothless guys. And enjoy rom-coms, because someday you may have your own great story to tell.

Thanks for this. I am so glad that you were able to end up with someone who makes you happy, and yes, it can happen at any age!

Now I must admit, I'm feeling sorry for the toothless guy and all his comrades out there. They need love, too. And dental work can be one heck of an expense!

In response to this week's column.

You need to untie your travel dreams from your mom. Sure, you have always been close, but this is your nirvana, and at least for the present not hers. Find another travel companion(s) or travel alone. When you come back from your adventures, maybe your mom will be motivated to try to overcome her fears, but probably not. Anxiety seems to be taking over her life, but this is not a battle you can fight for her, not can you (most likely) motivate her to do for herself because you say so.

Thanks for this! Yeah, it would be great if she can loosen her expectations a bit, as much as I can understand how hard it is to let go of the hope. 

I share some of that die-hard hope, though, that her mother might be motivated to get help-- if it's what she wants for herself.

I'm really surprised you didn't bring up the possibility of mom suffering from the early stages of dementia or Alzheimers. I know LW didn't indicate mom's age but "retired" certainly indicates to me that Mom is old enough to be at risk....

Yes, this is an important consideration. I hate it when certain things can't make the cut of the print column, and this was one. It did sound more like garden-variety anxiety to me rather than any overly irrational thoughts or severe paranoia, but to the extent that it represents a personality change, then cognitive issues should definitely be considered. Thanks for picking up my slack.

Well, also, if the poster is single and has always thought to his/herself, "When Mom retires I'll have a traveling companion," s/he should look around for other friends or relatives to travel with. No sense in worsening Mom's anxieties by pressuring her to do something she's afraid of (rationally or irrationally).

Totally. The pressure will only make it worse, and the more options the LW has to spread the adventurin' love with, the better. Thanks.

Thanks for addressing my question in last week's chat... I was at work and unable to see the response real-time. The comment you and a reader made that I should just un-follow my boss on social media is unfortunately a non-starter. Not only does she keep track of who follows her, she often brings up in meetings the various articles / memes / whatnot that she posts on Facebook and LinkedIn. If someone responds that they didn't see a particular item, she tells them to go back to Facebook or LinkedIn and read whatever it was she sent out. If only she would use, oh I dunno, *work e-mail* to send these things if she wants people to read them, but she doesn't. She actually called someone out during a staff meeting for unfriending her on Facebook! The employee was going through a difficult patch because her two children had died in an auto accident, and she decided to temporarily retreat from social media. The boss told her she needed to get back on in order to see what she (the boss) was sending out to people! We were all appalled but didn't dare say anything to her. Unfortunately, it does seem as if the only way to avoid her rampant fabulousness is to seek employment elsewhere, and find other people who will give me a reference (as I mentioned previously that it seems her fabulousness ends when it comes to people who want to leave her).

Good grief. Yeah, this sounds absolutely bonkers. Is it even legal to require your coworkers to be on social media and follow you all the time? Okay, maybe "legal" is not the realm of this-- doubt that Congress is taking it up anytime soon-- but still, this seems so above and beyond the bounds of professional conduct that I am floored. I am sorry. I guess the bottom line remains-- if there is no reigning this person in, then working elsewhere starts to look VERY good in comparison.

I'm so confused. OP knows it's wrong and continues anyway, with the hopes of sleeping with the guy. This is the epitome of self-destructive behavior and it sounds like OP is dead set on staying with it. Is this some sort of cry for help or someone seeking validation or something else entirely?

Yup, I am with you in this. I really don't know what they were after! Glad I am not alone in my confusion!

On a related note, I am going to go lick all my electrical outlets now. Just wanted everyone to know!

My MIL wouldn't leave my failing FIL to go anywhere interesting that she would really have enjoyed, and once he died, she had begun to have physical problems that she didn't want to travel with. We were sad about it, but we came to terms with it. The poster might just have to mourn the loss of the traveling-with-Mom dream.

This is sad, indeed. I'm sorry it happened-- but it sounds like you had a really healthy perspective on it. I agree that checking expectations and coming to terms with the limits and realities of these situations is paramount. Thanks.

Run, do not walk, to HR. This is criminal.

I know, right? Where is HR in all of this?

Hello Dr. Andrea, I have a female from the same program in college who I occasionally meet for lunch or dinner. We graduated over three years ago. It started with an inquiry meeting and over time, I started having serious feelings towards her but she does not seem to show any indication of going beyond friendship. We talk pretty much about lots of topic from family to work but she has not at any point mention anything about her relationship status. She is pretty financially stable just as I am often go on vacation without a male companion to the best of my knowledge. Unlike me, she has never been married and has no kids even in her mid 30s. What is the best way to tell her that I want us to be more than friends knowing fully that whatever the response, the relationship afterwords will likely not be the same? Thank you

I'm thinking the answer is both simple and complicated at the same time-- you flirt! I realize there are those who believe that this is a fraught time in our culture for flirting, but I think you can safely and respectfully test the waters a bit without resorting to "Do you want to be romantically involved with me? Check yes or no." You ask slightly more personal questions. You make more playful eye contact. You send her articles or links and say "This made me think of you." You suggest if she wants to do something other than lunch or dinner.  And then you be as sensitive as possible (and then sensitive even more!) to what her signals are telling you. And yes, if she pushes you away or things start to stall, then your relationship may not be the same, true. But you'll know that you neither bulldozed over any boundaries, nor stayed so much in your shell that you missed out on potential opportunity.

Hi Dr. Bonior. My coworkers and I are a rock solid, professional team made of 6 security professionals. Our workload is pretty hefty supporting clients, however, our employer has made this working environment very uncomfortable by doing questioning our whereabouts at all times. We are all parents of elementary aged children and have been forced to telework some days due to school closings and/or delays. We are always accessible via Skype, email, and cell phone. We are still working, however, there are some inexperienced individuals in management who do not share our similar responsibilities (marriage, parenthood, etc) that make a huge deal if someone is teleworking. I could understand if teleworking was simply not allowed, but that has never been the case to my knowledge. Now there is a flux of emails being sent to address "the group" on attendance. Also, when we are in the office no one ever speaks to us. Not even a Good Morning. Our work ethic and performance is top notch and there are never any complaints from clients. In the past my coworkers and I have worked together at a previous company but that company lost the contract so we were each individually hired by the current employer. Its difficult to work in an environment where you don't feel wanted. Any suggestions for how to handle management in situations like this?

Oof-- I've gotten into some hot water for this before, daring to suggest that parents are human beings who sometimes might have extenuating circumstances with workdays like human beings are prone to do! But I am biased, since I am glad there are people out there raising children and want to do what I can to support them, because when I am 90 years old I actually want there to still be firefighters, doctors, and farmers. Not to mention someone to teach me how to use the spaceship toilet.

But it seems to me that we need not even wade into that whole mess (too late?) in your case.  You and your colleagues are getting completely mixed signals here. You are either allowed to telework or you are not. So, emails about attendance or other people making a "huge deal" about it shouldn't mean jack if they're not backed up by hard policy, or with solid evidence about some detrimental effect on your work.

Is there anyone in your corner, or is all management starting to be difficult? I see this as a time for a clear-cut sit-down, to gain concrete information about what the rules and expectations are, being ready to state your case about the quality of your work.

Other people who have been in this situation? Given that today my only coworker is someone who loves to eat pencils (Buster says hello, as always!) I am not always the most well-versed in matters of office politics.

I wrote in about my husband's habit of swamping me with unsolicited advice when I just need a listening ear. What I've come to realize is that, overall, he has a very aggressive conversational style. Interruptions, pouncing to pick at some factual detail and then debate it, acting like I'm an opposing counsel. He finds it stimulating and says he can't deal with what I say until he has all the facts right, I find it incredibly draining and think he can have his facts or he can have kindness. I've noticed it's a fairly common conversational style among lawyers, and he's gotten worse since he's started working from home and his work personality began to bleed into our home life. It used to roll off my back a lot more, and I could indulge him a bit. But I've developed a chronic illness, I'm not as quick on my feet, and I just don't have the energy for everything to be this huge debate. I'm in pain, and I'm so tired. I need him to just take something at face value, assume I'm a reasonable and decent human, get that I'm asking for a bit of consideration and not a kidney, understand that whatever it is bugs me without insisting on a whole bunch of hoopla, and then decide not do the annoying thing anymore. (One example: "Please don't float an idea for a group vacation to our friends without confirming with me first that it's a done deal, because then I'm put on the spot and travel is very challenging for me." "I told them it was a maybe.....[lots of bickering over details and getting lost in the weeds]" "It doesn't matter, our friends hear about a fun trip and then I get ambushed, it stresses me out so please don't do it." In general, husband has a habit of talking about big plans without checking with me first, and then using "I didn't say it was definite" as an out.) I feel like I have to prepare arguments and counter-arguments and gird for war for the most basic conversations. Then, if he can't debate it away, he goes to pieces and expects me to soothe him. I feel like counseling would be another burden, because I'd have to figure out the logistics and then endure a debate as to what kind of counselor, if we need a counselor, the very definition of the word counselor, and so forth. Am I doomed to spend the rest of my life endlessly prepping for every interaction? Honestly, at this point the only thing that snaps him out of it is when I straight up burst into tears. But that exacerbates my illness.

Thanks for this. I am glad you are having some additional clarity, but unfortunately that clarity is showing you that this behavior is going to be even harder to address than you originally may have assumed.

Look, I get that seeking marriage counseling takes effort, and isn't always a picnic, even when it's going well. But if you read your letter again, you'll see that the very reason why marriage counseling sounds so effortful of a hill to climb is because of the exact same problems that you are looking to change. So it's pretty paradoxical to give up in that situation-- how difficult it is to get help is yet another symptom of how crucial it is that you do so.

The fact that you have a chronic illness that his behavior makes even harder to deal with is just one more reason that this really is a work-on-it-or-the-misery-will-get-worse situation. Seriously, there is no more clear-cut case for marriage counseling than this.

Any other married-to-lawyers folks (this is DC, I know you're out there) have this issue with communication?

Haven't heard much on the infidelity question from today's column. Has anyone else dealt with the need-for-revenge factor in its aftermath?

I'm not the OP. But you can't count on HR. I had a horrific boss who picked one young woman a year to bully out of the job (one year it was me). HR said "there, there" but did nothing. The boss stayed and went on to a great job at the Library of Congress.

Ugh. I hate to hear these stories, though they seem more common than most of us want to admit. What is the point of HR in the first place, if they let bullies keep doing their thang?

Perhaps current cultural forces will eventually change this. Thanks for your take-- and I'm sorry it happened.

Even though I'm not a mom, and therefore not LW's mom, I'm anxious about traveling. This is because I'm highly claustrophobic. So being herded around an airport, dealing with crowds, stuffed into an aluminum tube, and then hurled into the air makes me feel like I'm suffocating. Medication helps a bit, but it's not a perfect answer. I know, objectively, I'm being unreasonable and I will not literally suffocate in a security line. But trying to logic me out of it, and telling me I'm unreasonable, actually just makes things worse. I already feel silly and ashamed, and phobias are unreasonable by nature, so I just feel cornered and stressed. LW could get a lot more traction with Mom by saying, "I hear you when you say that you feel anxious about this trip. If you are still interested in going, are there things we can do that would make this trip more workable for you?" I know I'm much more willing to fly if, for instance, my husband is volunteers to take the lead on navigating the airport/finding the gate/wrestling the luggage into the overhead so I can zone out as much as possible.

I love this, thanks. And kudos for owning your stuff and getting the help you need for dealing with it.

I think one of the things we're all wondering is how much this Mom was ever on board with traveling in the first place. If I remember correctly, the LW described her as adventurous.... but we don't really know what the objective baseline is. Chime in if you're there, LW!

Any advice for when and how to broach #MeToo topics with a tween girl? That is, healthy friendships, relationships, work situations? And how to recognize when something isn't right, and do something about it?

This is SUCH a great question, and it's one of those things that I wish more people would ask.

I view all these conversations as being things that should never just suddenly be brought up, but rather be a continuing dialogue that varies by developmental stage. Like: a 3 year-old discusses and learns and understands how we shouldn't use our bodies to hurt others, and that hitting hurts, and that our body belongs to us and is ours only, and that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and are great things but also don't tell us much about who we are inside. Whereas a 12 year-old learns that bodies at their age are changing and that sometimes people make negative judgment about bodies (or seemingly positive judgment that is also just a version of negative judgment because it reduces us to just our bodies instead of whole people with personalities). That sometimes our bodies and our hearts and our minds aren't in sync. That kissing and hugging and physical affection and sex should always, always, always involve respect and be mutually desired. That our instincts are very important-- that we should listen to our gut when someone makes us feel uncomfortable, and we should talk to someone we trust about it, even if we don't exactly understand why or what's going on. That no one, ever, has a right to touch our bodies in a way that we don't feel good about. And that it's okay to have mixed feelings, and sometimes our bodies feel confusing and when we are teenagers we may feel things that we don't always understand right away, or may feel urges to do things that aren't always in our best interest, or might feel guilty about things, and that these feelings will come and go and hormones can make them feel more intense. That we never, ever have to do something with our bodies just because it might make someone else happy (again, a continuing discussion that shouldn't come out of nowhere-- it can start as toddlers, not forcing kids to hug people they don't want to.)

Then, of course, there is the whole discussion of workplaces in general, and what is the reality of what some people have had to put up with, the change that we are undergoing as a culture now, and the importance of speaking up.... I think so much of this depends on how much your daughter is open to talking about this stuff. It could be anything from hour-long, profound back-and-forth discussions to a completely silent wall, where at least you know you are planting seeds to grow into later thought. I think so much of helping our kids know what to do is to help them learn how to put in place a good support system-- how to choose friends that are empathetic, supportive and set good examples; how to develop relationships with other trusted adults that are solid and respectful (and how to let go of our own jealousy in that process when our kid confides more in a teacher or guidance counselor or friend's parent than they do in us.) So much more to say here, but given that you are already asking these questions I am betting you are ahead of the game.

Two more quick thoughts: a) as uncomfortable some of these topics are to bring up, waiting too long can lend a permanent awkwardness and discomfort that is hard ever to overcome-- it only gets harder! and b) we need to be talking about all of these things with our boys every bit as much as with our girls, if not more so! Here's a piece of mine from a while back on this topic.

Has anyone out there navigated these discussions yet with their child-- unsuccessfully or successfully?

What is Aspergers?

It depends on who you ask! It's currently one of those diagnoses that is in limbo because it does not actually exist in the DSM-5 (what psychologists and psychiatrists use) but still can be diagnosed by those who use the ICD-10 (like general practitioners.) But terminology wars aside, it is considered part of the Autism Spectrum, and typically involves a level of functioning that is on the high side in terms of academic and cognitive potential, compared to an "average" (if there ever were one!) case within the spectrum. The deficits of Asperger's are primarily social in nature, so a lot of missed nuances, taking things literally rather than being good with metaphor, not understanding social cues, having a hard time taking the perspective of the person you're talking to, etc. So you might have someone who is doing fine or even excelling in the academic parts of school, but really suffers with making and keeping friends, having social interactions, knowing what to do in groups, understanding the back-and-forth of social conversations, etc.

The interesting thing about all of this is that now that awareness is skyrocketing, some people are being diagnosed as adults (the issues were always there-- it does not suddenly spring up in adulthood-- but they might have gone unrecognized.) Anyone out there arrive at this diagnosis later in life? Or maybe a loved one?

No no no -- first find a counselor for yourself both as support and to give you the tools you need to cope with your husband (who sounds, by the way, like a royal pain in the butt). A good therapist will be able to advise you on your options for dealing with someone who's all "his way or the highway" and after that, couples counseling might happen.

Yes, yes, yes. I feel like she was already in individual counseling-- memory is not serving things up very well right now-- but if she is not, it seems an imperative first step.

Thank you!!

This. Did the OP ever actually say to Mom, "I'm looking forward to being able to travel with you once you retire" or "wouldn't it be fun for you & me to go to Peru?" or anything like that, or was this plan all in the OP's mind?

It would be great to know this, wouldn't it? Thanks!

I hope LW finds a better outlet for her anger and hurt, although hopefully not by doing even more damage to her marriage. I certainly hopes she addresses it though. I had an unfaithful boyfriend in college; I never wanted to revenge sleep with someone but I also didn't confront my anger which might have been worse. I'm married to a wonderful guy now almost 10 years later but I'm still angry/not over what college boyfriend did.

Yes, this. The anger piece can be corrosive, even if someone eventually "forgives" on the surface.

I am sorry for your experience! Do you mind if I ask how the anger still manifests? Might it not be too late to confront it, even though you're in a presumably happy marriage with someone else?

Crazy coincidence- I had a question about the coming together of ideologically opposed groups of overzealous brides, and the subject line examples this chat gives perfectly summed up my question! But I am so blown away by this coincidence that I've completely forgotten my question.

haha! I am not sure if you are being real or not, but I  love these kinds of coincidences, so.....

Hi! I know this might sound completely nutso to some people, but my misophonia is bad and getting worse. So many sounds bother me! It is especially bad at work (cubicle farm) where I have to deal with sniffing, loud keyboard clacking, and phlegmy coughing; and at home, where my young son WHISTLES and constantly pops and cracks his knuckles. HELP! What can I do? My doctor says avoidance is key, but I just can't wear earplugs 24 hours a day.

Doesn't sound strange in the least. Misophonia is only now getting more attention in mainstream press (I want to say Kelly Ripa came forward about it in the past couple of years?) But a lot of people have been suffering for a long time and not even knowing exactly what it was. There is some mixed research beginning on systematic desensitization, I believe. It's worth looking into, the idea of a cognitive-behavioral specialist in this field. I know there are some researchers that work on it specifically. To the extent that misophonia might work similarly as some other aversions, it may respond well to this type of treatment (which would be gradually exposing yourself to certain triggering noises, but doing relaxation exercises to try to temper their effects over time) and could perhaps at least stem the tide of it getting worse.

Hang in there! As someone whose kids are no longer super-young, I can say, the noise doesn't seem to decrease with time, unfortunately!

(Online only, please) A family member regularly sees a psychiatrist, and we have some concerns that we think should probably be brought to the psychiatrist’s attention. It is nothing life-threatening, but we are concerned the psychiatrist is not getting the full picture about the patient’s ability to function. We are listed as people the psychiatrist is permitted to talk to, but we are further concerned that the psychiatrist will tell the patient that we reached out on this issue, and there will be a trust problem within the family. I suppose that this varies from practitioner to practitioner, but are there any guidelines we should be aware of, or do you have any general advice? Thanks!

You are wise to be mindful that this can be complicated. The truth is, since you are not the patient, then technically you don't have any hard-and-fast protection about what the psychiatrist may or may not choose to disclose to your family member. The basic answer is to express your concerns beforehand to the psychiatrist: that you understand he or she may not be able to offer confidentiality about your disclosures, but you are absolutely concerned about the damage they could have if your family member knows you disclosed these things. Of course, I would like to believe that the psychiatrist will choose the course of action that mitigates this potential and has the patient's best interests at heart, always. It is a risk-benefit analysis on your part, for sure, that depends on the level of trust you have in the psychiatrist's discretion and competence.

Also important: have you thought about talking to your family member directly about your concerns, and the impact it could have on their treatment if their psychiatrist is not getting the whole picture?

Frankly, I probably wouldn't like "the group" as coworkers either. They all came from the same company, and still apparently cling together, and consider themselves as outsiders. It's quite difficult for me to believe that out of the entire company, that only the six people belonging to the group have school-aged children, yet that's how the OP presents the situation. "The Group" need to make more of an effort to assimilate into the company. "When we are in the office no one ever speaks to us. Not even a Good Morning." Just how many snow days ARE there? It sounds like you're RARELY in the office. And do you say "good morning" first?

Yeah, there's definitely the potential of a clique-y situation here that gets more apparent now that you've brought it up. Thanks for that.

As for snow days, you'd be surprised. And "snow" days. Can I tell you that this is the first week since DECEMBER 18th that my kids' school system, for instance, has had an entire full five days of school without holidays, in-service days, or snow/ice/mush delays or closures? I kid you not!

I've see this in friends - you need to start every conversation by doing some framing and setting out ground rules. Lawyers understand that depositions are different from amicus briefs are different from cross-examinations, etc. Other fact--and-proof based professions have equivalents. "The purpose of this conversation is for me to explain X to you/get some sympathy from you for my situation Y/ask you to handle task Z. I want you to listen to what I have to say in it's entirety, and then ask me only the 3 most important questions you have. I want you to refer back to the conversation we had about this subject Thursday and remember that the way you asked your questions then upset me, and be mindful that you should phrase them differently." Then go into what you're actually talking about.

Okay, this sounds very helpful.

And also soooo exhausting!

Is it true that a lot of people have to go through this just to communicate meaningfully with their spouse? Good grief, what are law careers doing to humanity?

I really appreciate this framework, though.... even if I hope that not that many people have to use it! Thanks!

Love your chats. Would you ever do a TV show? Would be great to have this kind of forum, with someone who is a psychologist rather than just a reality tv show star, ha ha. But seriously - thanks and would love to see more.

hahah! Again, let me assure you, your payment is coming!

Seriously, thanks for the kindness. As some of you may have followed, I've done a decent amount with TV over the years and there have been a couple of biggish opportunities dangled and near misses, but nothing to speak of at this point.

I blame my boat feet (kidding! Maybe.)

Is it possible this husband has ADHD? I have several family members with that diagnosis and some of the same conversational habits. They are excited about what they have to say, just can't wait to ask a question or suggest a solution - sometimes just because the thought may flit back out of their head - or, as she says, pounce on a particular fact or idea that catches their attention. It can quickly become exhausting to be in a conversation, especially if it is at all emotional or difficult to begin with. If that could be playing a part in this, there are a bunch of techniques people can practice to help address the habit of interrupting and driving the conversation.

Ooh, this is a great point. A lot of times, folks with ADHD are already thinking of what they want to ask next before they can even think of listening to the answer to the question they just asked. And as you say, being interrupted constantly is exhausting. So the disjointed conversation continues and people get farther and farther apart.

Thanks for this!

Once Asperger's entered the mainstream, we all realized that my brother, whom we all described as "brilliant but just not all there" because we had no other way of describing him, was a classic Asperger, or perhaps high-functioning autist. He's in his mid-fifties now, with a good job, self-supporting, and we siblings check in on him and help him out with planning (he's not good at anything without an immediate deadline). My parents took him to clinic after clinic as a child in an attempt to find a diagnosis (we were lucky to live in college towns with medical schools), but there were just no answers back then.

Wow! I am so glad to hear that he finally found his way, and that he's been able to lead a fulfilling life, and that his loved ones "get it" and can give him extra support where he needs it. It is disheartening to imagine how many kids like him never got the support in figuring things out, though, huh? I almost feel like kids (and adults!) who are on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum, ironically, are more likely to go without support for a long period of time and slip through the cracks. Because it is harder to detect in those cases, and as you say, there was a loooong time before these issues hit the mainstream. Sad to hear that even the med schools didn't get it back then; we're not talking about the Stone Ages!

Thanks for this.

Any tips for dealing with a relative who has Borderline Personality Disorder? I think we all understand that's what is going on, but the behaviors of the person still stir up endless drama, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, worry, etc. The relationships between other family members are definitely suffering as we try to deal with what seems like a long term situation with someone who has no interest in getting help.

I am sorry. Having a family member with BPD is a tough road. Perhaps a silver lining is that it is the most common personality disorder there is-- by a large margin-- so there is a decent amount of material out there. I am thinking of a couple of books in particular. "Stop Walking on Eggshells" comes to mind (and no, I don't have any connection to that book.)

Honestly, part of what needs to come is a true and visceral and automatic understanding that this family member's way of looking at the world is theirs alone, and that their lens is blurry because of a significant psychological disorder. That when they lash out, it is a symptom that is about them, not you. That when they judge, it is not objective. That when they stir up drama, it is because of their pain and insecurity. That when they say cruel things, it is because they are scared of being abandoned, so they think it better to push people away first.

A lot of that work can be helped with your own therapy, learning more and more how to set appropriate boundaries and stick to them, emotionally and logistically. Of course, this can vary depending on whether the person is your Mom or your aunt or your child or your distant cousin or whatever. But it is a process. And the more support you have, the better.

My heart goes out to you!

...and then the husband will protest that she shouldn't have been upset, and it'll all deteriorate from there. Sorry, just imagining worst-case scenario. Will it be necessary for the desperate wife to say, "If you don't stop and listen to me, this marriage is over."

Sometimes, worst-case scenario is needed!

And not just for us to imagine it, but for her to perhaps bring it up. It's a great point-- at what point does she need to let him know that she can't stay in a marriage like this? When is an ultimatum manipulative, and when is it a sorely needed wake-up call?

Thanks for this!

I have to say that a major factor in my brother's ability to support himself was the invention of computers. Many "Aspies" go into this field because it fits perfectly with their personality type.

It's true, isn't it?

And ironically, it's also helped them find each other as well, to be able to connect with other people who "get it."

Thanks!

I am a lawyer married to a lawyer (we met in law school). We have the exact same issue that the husband has--nitpicking everything, and saying "oh well we said maybe, it wasn't definite." Sometimes when that happens, we try to tell each other "Have you noticed that we've become a lot more argumentative in our conversations and 'lawerly" instead of being a 'spouse' and just listening?" Granted, we both try to listen and be aware of that and change as needed. Maybe it would help the wife to say "Hey [husband], I get that it's simulating and exciting, and normally I'm ok with it but for now, I'm going through a tough time. Instead of being 'lawerly' can you be more of a 'spouse'"? Maybe that at least would buy her some time until she gets some more strength and then it can be more of a long term plan to go to counseling.

Yay-- it makes sense that a lawyer-married-to-a-lawyer is the only one who can lead us out of this mess!

I like this. It sounds like you have both found a way to b e receptive to each other when things get ugly and communication breaks down. Kudos for that! I really hope the OP can get there with her spouse as well.

Thanks!

In a surprise to no one, I struggle with trust issues even though my husband has never given me any reason NOT to trust him - and even better, he is aware of my trust issues and does a great job of validating my feelings. I mostly get angry at the ex-boyfriend amorphously because a) I hate, hate, hate feeling skeptical about my great husband and b) this awesome guy deserves my trust! It's not husband's fault some jerk betrayed my trust - and yet he is getting "punished" for it! The silver lining is that ex-boyfriend makes me really, truly appreciate what a great guy my husband is (ex-boyfriend really was an [insert expletive]) but having found a strong partner still doesn't make me stop wanting to call ex-boyfriend and scream "YOU NEVER APOLOGIZED AND LOOK WHAT YOU DID AND I HATE YOU FOR IT". (whew, that was cathartic)

Got it. Glad it was cathartic!

Yeah, I can understand your anger, and how it's not really fair at all that your husband has to "suffer" because of some jerk ex of yours. But I wonder if a bigger perspective can be helpful. You are who you are because of the road you have traveled so far in life. Your husband loves that person. Everything-- jerk ex included-- brought you to the point of meeting your husband and being with him. We all bring baggage into relationships from our past-- even the baggage of having had NO relationships if that's the case! You are working to remember how different your husband is from Jerk Ex. Perhaps you can also forgive yourself for being human and having a few scars-- and focus on being grateful that your husband gets it and loves the you that includes those scars, rather than thinking that you are flawed for it.

'Will it be necessary for the desperate wife to say, 'If you don't stop and listen to me, this marriage is over.'" He will probably say he is listening (which is not the same thing has hearing what she is saying). He might also ask her what she means by "over."

haha! And then he will ask for it notarized, right?

I totally see your point. It won't ever end with this guy, unless he really wants to work on it. Thanks!

This is SO helpful you have no idea. I think I'm going to print this out. You should write a book about this. My daughter and I have an open relationship, and discuss general situations like treating people respectfully, choosing kind and supportive friends, walking away and telling a grownup when something doesn't feel right, etc. Right now when she hears of someone *not* being respectful, or downright hurtful, it's like I'm telling her about little green Martians invading the Mall - it's hard for her to even imagine that ever happening because it's not right and not fair. I guess that will change as she gets older. I'm worried about that first time that something happens, or she hears of something happening to a friend - I hope she'll feel strong and confident and stand up to it. You could make some special confidence sauce to go along with that book you should write!

Aw, this is really sweet! Thank you, truly. I am glad it was helpful.

Yeah, in terms of your daughter, it sounds like you are laying a wonderful foundation for her to know the baseline of what's right in terms of treatment within relationships. It's actually pretty ideal for mistreatment to sound foreign at this age-- sadly, for many kids it is already the opposite! The mistreatment is normal.

Thanks again for your kind words!

I feel like people were particularly helpful to each other today-- so amazing to see! Hey, the love was flowing so much we couldn't help but go over.

Thanks so much for another great chat. I look forward to seeing you next week here again, and in the print column comments and my Facebook page in the meantime!

Have a fabulous week.

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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