Baggage Check Live: Sharing a virtual pot of tea

Dec 11, 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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Hi, everyone! I see there are lots of you in the queue already. Welcome!

What is on your mind this week? Staying warm? (Are you finding your hygge?)

Today's column brings a LW who is at the marital brink with their wife's increasing slobhood. And in L2, we've got someone who's been a longtime listener about their friend's work drama-- and is now realizing they may not have been getting the full picture.

Any advice for them?

Let's begin!

I'm a 40something single mom who is dealing with the usual stresses one might expect at this stage of life - juggling a very high-pressure executive job with steadily increasing responsibilities with caring for my school-aged kids (including one with significant special needs) and a modest amount of household and self-care (at least most of the time, I manage to keep the house relatively tidy and fit in 4-5 workouts a week). I started therapy about 6 months ago for a number of reasons, one of which being that I felt I wasn't handling all the pressures of my responsibilities well (i.e., increasing mood swings, periodic feelings of burnout, etc.). Therapy has helped a good deal; my moods are a lot more stable, I'm able to be more "present" during time with the kids, and my work performance has also improved. One thing my therapist keeps saying, though, is that I'm not "leaning in" enough - that I'm phoning it in in terms of certain aspects of my life, that I'm settling for "good enough" instead of outstanding, and I'm generally setting a sub-par example to my kids by pursuing adequacy instead of excellence. And that alarms me! The last thing I want to be doing is harming my kids with not demonstrating a strong enough work ethic. I'd love to lean in more, but I'm not sure where to find the time and energy - my plate already seems really full! Looking for some quick advice about how to dig deeper to take my life performance to the next level, for the sake of my kids who deserve the best.


Shouldn't it be up to you whether you are leaning in "enough?"

We're not talking about you lying on your couch and throwing Cheetos at your kids for their dinner. You're present with them, you're doing okay at work, your house sounds functional, you're getting exercise. And you're doing it all while flying solo, for goodness's sake. So whose yardstick are we valuing here?

I'm not saying the therapist is wrong-- it could really be that there is some stagnation or self-sabotage going on here, keeping you from living the life that you truly want to be living-- but I'm not certain from your letter that that is the case. And I'm even less certain that there is a significant problem with "good enough."

I mean... since when? Isn't "good enough," by its very definition, good enough?

You're telling me your plate feels really full and yet someone else is alarming you by telling you that you're not excellent enough. That someone happens to share my profession, but that's not going to keep my BS meter from going off.

So, how do you really feel about whether things feel adequate? Your kids sound like already they are getting very good stuff from you. And if you burn yourself out seeking excellence by someone else's standard, that is the absolute opposite of giving them the best.

The OP (from last week's chat) stated, "In my estimation, doing something admirable or noteworthy requires having 1) exceptional skills/knowledge and also 2) a driving passion." In many instances, I'd argue there's a 3rd element: luck. Everyone knows the Wright brothers invented the flying machine but people the world over were working on the problem of heavier than air flight at the same time. They just happened to get there first and if they hadn't someone else would have. They were in the right place at the right time with the right background. People who have attributes or ideas that make them successful might not be as successful at another point in time or in other circumstances. I might not ever be known beyond my little corner, but I just try to do the best I can with what I have and believe that will be enough.

This is so true.

It's amazing-- and sometimes scary-- how much luck can play in to our life circumstances, for better or for worse. But I think the more we can embrace that realistically, then the less judgmental we will be about others, and the more we can accept that certain things are out of our control... and focus our energies into the things we can.


The original question/answer really struck a note for me. I remember reading (in an advice column, no less) of an oncology doctor who had made huge impacts in his community and as he was retiring a large banquet was being given in his honor. The person who wrote for advice was this doctor's child who did not want to attend the banquet. It seems that they felt like the good their father had accomplished had come at the expense of his family and they didn't feel they really knew him. It's sad but I think it illustrates the point that it is really hard (impossible, maybe?) to "have it all" and there are many ways to make a meaningful difference in the world or even just your world.

Very, very true. We all have hard choices to make about how to spend our talents, our attention, and our time-- and who or what to give all those things to on any given day.

It's not uncommon in the DC area in particular to see people struggling with those choices-- having their inner circle bear the weight of their aspirations out there in the larger world.

But true meaning can come even in the "simplest" of endeavors that fill up a life, even when there is no award-worthy professional aspiration, or blowout retirement banquet. 


I've been getting a lot out of your Detox Your Thoughts mini-course -thank you! Trap 11 really made me think. I don't use social media anymore, and don't think I 'curate' my life experiences. However, I do wonder where you would draw the line between the kind of approval-seeking narration and creating narratives of your experiences (especially negative ones) as a way to process them, whether in therapy sessions or outside of them. I definitely have a tendency to feel the need to talk about upsetting experiences, and not just once or with one or two people. In the past, I have often felt that talking with different people is what helps me cope with these experiences and figure out a way to move beyond them (and talk therapy certainly reinforced that approach). I'm now going through a divorce (so lots of grief and upsetting things happening) and have started feeling like I need to talk about these things a lot in order to be able cope. I'm lucky to have a support system that has been able to accommodate this (as well as weekly sessions with a therapist), but I'm also wondering if there's an aspect to that urge to talk about stuff over and over that isn't all that healthy because it does, in a way, seek validation from others even though that validation doesn't really change what I'm experiencing. Due to certain childhood experiences, I'm already very oriented toward what other people think, and I guess I'm wondering if my coping mechanism isn't also reinforcing a more dysfunctional way of relating to my own experiences and to other people around me. Thanks for your thoughts!

Ahh. This is a great question-- and I think you've hit on a particular nuance here that is really, really important.

When people are overly seeking validation from others for their experience (like the proverbial person not enjoying their kid's piano recital until they can brag about it on social media), that validation gets in the way of you being engaged in the moment and enjoying the experience for its own sake. The need for the audience interferes with the power of the experience.

In the cases you are mentioning, I am guessing that your need to discuss actually bring clarity and helps you cope. You are going through negative, stressful things-- not necessarily ripe for enjoyment in their own right-- and so your discussion of them helps you untangle them, understand them, and find a path forward through them.

Or like when I have something unfortunate happen to me but look forward to the way I'll be able to laugh about it later with my husband-- dramatic voices, jazz hands and all.

I think it's a pretty fundamental difference. In the former situation with the social media, the prospective audience takes something away. In the latter, the audience helps give something.

Now.... I don't know what "over and over" means. Is it possible that you are in a cycle of just ruminating on negative stuff or the drama of the divorce, being egged on by your friends, in a way that's not truly helping your well-being? (Well, you certainly wouldn't be the first!) But I can't know from your letter if that's the case. I'd just say that at its most basic, if talking to them is generally helping you develop insight into these hard things happening to you, that is a positive, not a negative.

Gah, this therapist seems a bit like an unrealistic taskmaster! This woman is already doing FAR more than many people -- I got tired just reading what she manages to accomplish (all of that and several workouts a week?!). "Life performance" - what does that even mean? You are not a Broadway actress nor an an Olympic athlete. And no one is "outstanding" in every aspect of their lives! That is entirely unrealistic.


Fire that therapist ASAP and find a decent one. What kind of therapist tells an overwhelmed single mom that she's not doing enough?

It sounds much nicer for you guys to tell her to fire her therapist than for me to do it.

Thank you!

This burns me - forget whether you're discontented, children are already under so much pressure to be perfect the last thing they need is their mother 'modeling' that for them. Of course, if you're disconnected from your kids ... but the way you write, I don't think that's really the case.

Couldn't agree more.

Let's up the unrealistic expectations for everyone, so that our kids can have even more depression and anxiety!

(In response to last week's chat.)

You are presumably working and providing for yourself now, right? Can you afford to support a child on your own, or at least contribute significantly? It sounds like you are both putting the burden entirely on him, so he is freaking out. Remind him that you will be sharing the financial responsibility.

I'm not certain if the burden felt like it was entirely on him-- even just a 20 or 40 percent loss of income is no small thing when considering a baby (all those *&%$ extra zeroes in college tuition and all that) but your point is an important one-- the full financial picture needs to be looked at here. Thanks.

Hi there ! I've been in a pickle about this issue for what seems like ages now, and I am in dire need of some advice ! I'm a freshman in college where I am rooming with my best friend of almost 5 years. In the early stages of our integration into college we decided to join a club, where I ended up meeting my now boyfriend. Before we were official, he and my best friends hit it off well at club meetings because of common interests, but for almost the whole duration of the relationship he and my best friend have been talking constantly, to the point where he will ignore my message to talk to her. I brought the issue up, but told them I was happy that my best friend found some friends (she's very shy, especially around boys) but that I was conflicted about how I felt about their relationship. I'll hear her laughing when texting him and they play online games together without my knowledge (Had to literally squeeze it out of my bff). He does however invite me to join, but not until I have inquired my bff as to what she is doing and if it's with him. Is he just trying to civer his tracks by seeming considerate ? Am I just overreacting ? Kind Regards, The freshman.

I am sorry if this is hurtful, but the first thing that comes to my mind when reading your letter is that it is unclear to me why you are actually with this guy.

He's got a closeness with your roommate that he just doesn't have with you.

Now, I say this as someone who had a couple of amazingly close male friends in college where it was totally platonic. So I'm not trying to jump on any "If he's that good of friends with your roommate, then there must be romance/chemistry/sex going on" bandwagon. I think that is often unfair and misleading and just dismisses an entire swath of really great friendships.


What does he actually have with you? How did you get together? Why did you choose him, and how did he choose you? When he ignores you for your roommate, he is essentially choosing her in micro ways, over and over. He was hiding some of the stuff, even, trying to mask the closeness he has with her.

If it were me, it almost wouldn't matter at all whether they have romantic chemistry or not. He is already choosing her, and she is a constant reminder of a type of closeness that you don't seem to have with him.

I am sorry.

Web page reloaded on me, sorry if this is double post. Today's letter about sloppy spouse and some of the comments have me wondering if I might have adult ADHD. I have 20 projects started that never get finished. I can't get my house cleaned and organized. I'm behind on everything in my life (or so it seems). If I might have ADHD, where do I start? Do I go see a GP, a psychiatrist? I'd like to finish a few things in my life...

Certain GPs would be able to do some basic screenings, but a neuropsychologist would be the place to be for a true diagnostic assessment.

Now, I'll put in my two cents that I think for all of us, these issues like organization/executive function exist on a spectrum. So whether you check all the boxes or not of actually having the diagnosis, there still might be some resources out there that can help.

And it's worth mentioning that conceptually, ADHD symptomology really needed to exist since childhood in order for it to be a valid diagnosis. (It is, after all, a neurodevelopmental disorder.) That said, lots of things can mimic ADD in adults, like stress, sleep deprivation, anxiety, and depression. Worth checking out on all fronts.

My extended family will be gathering to celebrate Christmas, and I'm trying to not get anxious about it. I'm sure that many readers have similar feelings! Individually most everyone in my family is a nice and relatively reasonable person, but these large gatherings seem to elevate emotions for everyone. Do you have any general or specific tips on how to deal with these types of events (particularly when they are longer than 1 day!). Thanks!

Yes. You've got to build in space, and do it beforehand. That could mean excuses to remove yourself at certain times, or if certain conversations come up. Giving yourself permission to sometimes take a walk or help with the dishes or play with the little-uns just to get away. Know you your biggest comrades are, who you can enlist sometimes to take a breather with you. Flex your firm-but-polite muscle when it comes to setting boundaries (not staying up later than feels comfortable, not getting drawn into questions that feel intrusive, etc.) Try to get some exercise and sunlight to whatever extent possible (another point in favor of the brisk-walk-to-get-away.) Limit alcohol if it will get in your way. Choose some pleasant topics to rely on as go-tos if things feel uncomfortable. Even consider a low-key activity that can serve as a tension breaker or distractor.

Finally, be kind to your body in the moment-- practice some breathing techniques, some visualizations, some progressive muscle relaxation, etc-- that can help calm you during the onslaught. Because even mostly pleasant gatherings can be an onslaught to the central nervous system!

My boss is an intelligent, humorous, person to work for. The problem is that she is exceedingly cheap and will not buy new/different clothes. She wears a pink or orange t-shirt and black pants to work everyday. In the summer she changes to capris. And when it got cold, she wears a cotton shirt jacket. Everyday. The same jacket, which is so old and fraying the insides of the collar are hanging out as strings. While we work in a casual academic environment, this is not acceptable for someone in her position. I used to work in a contractor environment in a big city and know how much her image is hurting her. Her teenage daughter is always well dressed, as are her friends. She is not respected by her boss and colleagues, which she acknowledges. After 3 weeks of the same shirt (she must wash it on weekends) I tried to hint by giving her anonymously some clothing catalogs in a interoffice envelope. I went away for vacation for a week, came back, week 5 of same shirt. We have great thrift-stores in this town, I just don't understand. She grew up in poverty in Taiwan, and I guess just can't stop being frugal. I can't talk to her as it is not my place and she needs to save face. I don't know what else to do. Any suggestions?

It sounds like you care about her and respect her quite a lot. Is it really out of the question for you to have this conversation with her? I know she's your boss, but what kind of hierarchy are we talking about here? Because it sounds like it would be a kindness. In the meantime, let's be done with the whole stealth catalog business. (To be honest, I don't think that ever had a chance. If she's already not prone to want to shop for clothes, then that's an even quicker toss to the recycling bin.)

My gut is that you've got to be more direct, in an empathetic and helpful way.

Not, let's establish this-- I'm taking it on faith that you KNOW that it is hurting her. I can't be sure of that. Academic worlds are known for being welcoming to some idiosyncrasies (says the professor who wore the same pair of shoes summer to winter. Hey, they fit well!) So-- I don't want to be endorsing your meddling with her unless you truly have reason to believe it is hurting her.

Given that her situation sounds rather extreme even by my standards, I'll assume that to be the case.

Again, I know you have qualms because she's your boss. But what I would normally say is to choose a private time, tell her that this will be an awkward conversation but you want to have it because you respect her and want to be able to help a situation that you think is harming her. Then just be kindly direct. "I've noticed that you wear the same shirt for weeks at a time, and while I don't think it should matter, I think that other people may find it unprofessional and it could be hurting your standing."

Because what she did or did not do with that information is up to her, but you'll know that you've done your part.

So... the boss piece. Is that really a dealbreaker against having that conversation as two human beings? Especially since she is intelligent and humorous?


In addition, romantic partners are often hostile if they are afraid/think the relationship is on the line. If the LW wants to stay married, it might help to come to the sloppy wife with: 1. Reassurance that you love her and want to stay married 2. Concern about factual changes to the level of cleanliness and what has triggered that 3. Asking how you can solve it together - does the wife pay for a laundry or maid service? Do you make a chore chart (including paying bills, yardwork, etc) and reapportion the work? Does the wife agree to work on this at all? It’s worth trying to look at what you each do now and divide and conquer, and commit to reassessing regularly. My husband and I both worked full time when we married. He stayed home when we had kids. Now, he’s a full time college student (and parent). My job was slow but had on-call time then we moved and my job is now longer hours but no on-call. As our situation has changed we have reassessed and redivided the responsibilities based on our preferences (he likes cars, I like gardening), our strengths (I’m better at laundry and don’t mind cleaning the kitchen; he’s a better cook and doesn’t mind cleaning bathrooms), and our relative time (we let things slide when we had newborn twins and an under-2 older kid).

This is very well-said, and fabulous and well-reasoned advice. I do worry that LW and Wife have already gotten to a breakdown in communication that would make this respectful, reasonable type of conversation rather unlikely, but it's worth a shot!


I think a sign of bad parenting is when the kid doesn't even realize he/she had crummy parents. My partner takes the lessons of his childhood as this was the one and only way to do things. His parents were not monster chaining to toilet in the basement and they had means so he was always comfortable. It's just he isn't the youngest, but near there in a large Irish Catholic family and his parents were pretty neglectful and assumes this is normal. The baby is crying and he just sits next to it and I look at him and he says, "What, I checked everything, Not hungry, No dirty diaper. Babies cry, it's what they do." And can hear his mother's voice as he says it. His family is also so mean to him. I remember when I meet one of his childhood friends and he told me, "I've never heard one of siblings ever say one nice thing about him." He's so much happy and confident when he isn't around them. How do you tell someone their family sort of sucks.

Yup. Babies cry. It's what they do.

Babies also have the audacity to need love. It's what they do.

There's a whole spectrum of how cuddly people are-- both babies and parents. And maybe your husband will never be the ooey-gooey-lovey-dovey type. And that's fine. But perhaps some gentle education is necessary, and you don't even need to connect it to his family right away. "I've been doing some reading about attachment/development, and it apparently really helps for a baby to feel secure and like their needs are being met if you hold them more/when they are crying/INSTEAD OF JUST SITTING THERE NEXT TO THEM." Sorry. I got a little riled there.

That's a nice little entree into the world of "There are perspectives out there that differ from the one you were raised with, and maybe we should educate ourselves on them to make the right choices for us and our baby." Depending on how receptive he is to this, it might be a natural progression-- with him being open to articles, pediatrician's advice, books, blogs, etc-- or not. And if not, then the conversation needs to go deeper about his family. Not "They suck," but more a real discussion about how every family is different in terms of emotional expression and support, and what is his vision of what his new family should be like? How might it differ from how he grew up, and how might it be the same? And how might it jibe (or not) with what your vision is?

It's a discussion that-- on some level-- every co-parenting couple has to have. Sometimes it's not one big discussion but a million little ones. Or a million little "discussions" that are really arguments.

But you've got to start somewhere.

squeezed in between thanksgiving (a traditional time of childhood abuse) and christmas (a traditional time of childhood abuse) is the anniversary of my sobriety date. which also means the anniversary of the end of my drinking. years of therapy! yay! years of sobriety! yay! building healthier boundaries and taking care of myself and blah blah blah blah yay. it's the darkest time of the year, literally. i'm feeling all the "ugh" today, and none of the joy. hoping for coffee with a friend and a better outlook tomorrow. thanks for listening.

We are all listening!

There is a ton of struggle out there this time of year. So we hear you. I promise.

But don't let the darkness take away from what you have already accomplished and are continuing to accomplish every single day. Sobriety is a big deal. Working to get through the effects of child abuse is a big deal. Facing the darkest days of the year (as an aside-- if seasonal stuff is at play, might you consider a lightbox?) is a big deal.

You are a big deal. And I raise my coffee to you and hope that tomorrow-- especially with a friend-- shows a little more light.

Does the OP mean that ordinarily nice people become snarky or defensive, or does selfishness manifest itself, or what? More detail would make it easier to add to Andrea's advice on how to manage a crowd. "Oh, now, let's not talk politics" maybe, or "let's change the subject, have you seen X movie?" etc.

Great question.

Big numbers do tend to amplify everything. (Ever tried playing "Pit" with 11 people? Riot police were called.)

Let us assume that the OP is correct that (a) the boss is indeed wearing the same clothes & (b) it is harming the boss's career (we can't be certain of either, but I digress). And this is the OP's business…because? I mean, yeah, I get Good Intentions and all. But the OP truly has nothing better to meddle in? At all?

Well, I was taking it as an altruistic sentiment that OP doesn't want to continue to see Boss being hurt by this, since OP respects boss.

If the tables were turned and it was an underling doing this, we would definitely say that the supervisor owed the person the kindness of helping mentor them on this issue for their future career to not be hurt (even if there was an ulterior motive in the supervisor finding it offensive themselves.)

In this case, since it is the boss, I see your point that it might be none of underling's business.... but doesn't the human kindness element still potentially apply?

One of your semi-regular recovering alcoholics here: Please know that I'm joining LW in sharing a virtual pot of tea right now!


I am raising my own mug too. OP, you are far from alone.

Just as another perspective, the big thing that stood out to me in OP's letter was that "she had to squeeze it out of him". I'm sure from her perspective the boyfriend is "hiding" something, but could it also be that she needs to check her own behavior/expectations? AKA. maybe he's not hiding that he's playing games because OP doesn't know the names of every video game buddy he has? Not to imply that OP is being controlling, but potentially something to think about. I'm not much older than her and I still have friends who get hung up on stuff like this and don't understand why I don't freak out when my boyfriend has dinner with his female best friend

It's definitely a great point.

This could be like some sort of game of chicken, where boyfriend detected suspicion from the get-go, so started acting "guilty" from that point on.

I still do think it's not a good sign if he'd much rather spend that much more mental energy connecting with roommate, though.


I recently read a book on dot (bullet) journaling and you were cited! Do you use this technique yourself?

It depends on what you consider bullet journaling. Do scribbled, stray checklists on pieces of Georgetown blue books from 2013 count?

Yeah, a lot of places have wanted my take on how bullet journaling can be helpful from a mental health standpoint for those who choose to do it. And I do think it really can. My own personal technique is a little more... free-flowing.

Your boss has a boss, too. It's that person's responsibility to bring up the clothing issue. Is that person never in proximity to your boss? I suppose that's possible. But comments on unprofessional dress needs to come from that person.

I can see the thinking here, for sure.

It sounds like Boss's Boss already doesn't necessarily care enough to have this conversation, though. Hope I'm wrong!

So am I. LW has achieved an enormously good thing and should be celebrated. "My life is so much better now" could be a good mantra. I'm a lifelong depressive who's finally learned to manage my thoughts, so I'm familiar with long deep struggles. Hugs and cheers to the LW.

This is warming my heart so, so much.

The struggle IS the achievement. It really is. And bravo to you for traveling the path as well. Thank you so much for writing.

Dr. Bonior, Thank you so much for your columns, chats, and the work that you do. I've already gotten a lot out of the "Detox Your Thoughts" newsletter. I'm wondering if you can offer any similar CBT advice for anhedonia. I've been managing depression for years. I'm functional, I work, and from the outside it doesn't look like there is anything wrong with me. I'm okay, but I can't seem to get out of this state of not feeling like doing anything. There is nothing I look forward to. I do things because I have to do them or because they are expected of me. I can't remember the last time I truly wanted to do do something, or was able to lose myself in an experience. Mostly I feel like I want to be home alone. I do my best to fake enthusiasm when needed, but I don't feel it. I'm afraid I may never look forward to anything again. Do you have any advice on how to overcome this? Is it even possible? Thank you.

It's definitely possible, so please don't lose hope.

To me, this is an important part of the depression that is NOT being fully managed. It's a crucial symptom that needs to be treated in its own right. Yes, you are functioning in daily life, but anhedonia is depression is anhedonia is depression. It needs more help, and more substantial help than some quick cognitive tools, unfortunately.... especially since it's been so long-lasting.

I am not sure of what regimen is helping you with your depression, but I would look into upping it-- medication, therapy, exercise, mindfulness techniques, searching for meaning. I also think a full physical could be helpful for you if you haven't already had one-- thyroid issues, vitamin/nutrient deficiencies, sleep issues-- there could be any number of things that are keeping this "blah" there.

You say that you can't remember the last time you truly wanted to do something. But do you remember that there was a period of time when you did? If so, you can try really hard to work from there-- what was it, what was different, and what kinds of tools of treatment can be set up to get you back there.

Please recognize that this is still true, significant depression, even if you're managing to function from an outsider's perspective.

You deserve to have some spark.

(In response to last week's chat.)

It's funny - seeing the question in black and white made me realize it's a bit silly. The reason I feel like a failure is that I'm unhappy even though there really isn't anything "wrong." I've always believed I ought to be able to make myself be happy through sheer force of will... but maybe there's more to it than that. The personal malaise has been several years in the making, but the changes at work (which I previously really enjoyed) have really triggered my desire to make a leap. I've been looking at jobs in a bigger city where I have friends, and finding that I don't care whether my husband wants to go or not. It just doesn't feel that great... but neither does what I'm doing now.

Winning a wrestling  match with happiness through sheer force of will.... now that sounds pleasant.

Seriously, I hope you can give yourself a break and believe that you deserve to make the changes in life that lead to increased well-being for you. And to ask the hard questions, even when you don't like the answers. And to create the circumstances in your life that are right for you, rather than forcing yourself to just love whatever situation you find yourself in, come Hell or high water.

It sounds like you have a lot of thinking to do. Please do keep us posted!

Does the LW have specific evidence proving that the boss's wardrobe choices have in any way harmed the boss's career? And if so, has that harmed LW's own career, as the boss's subordinate?

Ooh, now that is an angle I hadn't thought of. That could definitely make it more of OP's business, officially.


I've walked in your shoes and am raising a cup of Earl Grey tea to you. I'll have 19 years in January. It may not be rosy every minute but yes, the promises are kept.

19 years! Here's to you as well.

I am so in love with the community we are building here. Thank you so much for chiming in!

Re dealing with "thanksgiving (a traditional time of childhood abuse) and christmas (a traditional time of childhood abuse)": Being brain-muddled by alcohol or hungover doesn't make these problems go away, it only makes it harder to deal with them, along with the physical effects.

Very, very true. Thanks.

RE: Dressing better. Believe me, it is hurting the boss. I worked for a company where the owner dressed like a peaock. Think very loud and garish colors, with wild makeup that was better suited for the runway. We were in a very conservative field. She fancied herself very avant gard, (think bright yellow eye shadow all the way up to her eyebrow line) She looked like big bird and she still rocked a 1980's perm in the year 1999. I had corporate CEO's pull me aside and say they'd only deal with me because they couldn't keep their composure with her weird looks. I didn't stay tehre long becue I was hired away by one of those CEO's. It would be a kindness to tell the professor they should dress more professionally, but the best thing to do is to get HR to tell them (I didn't have an HR departmetn to fall back on). This is the correct way to go. It's an academic environment, so I'm probably right in thinking there is an HR department.

Okay, sorry, I first must say you had some great lines in here!

I do think sometimes academia is truly different than the corporate world in terms of expectations about dress or other interpersonal quirks. But the HR suggestion is a helpful one to think about. Thanks!

My friend and AA sponsor of many years has become a conspiracy theorist. She is obsessed with a conspiracy theory related to an event whose ripple effects have cost my husband his job. When I told her this, she shrugged and said, "Well, he can get another job, right?" She is not the only person in the rooms that I know who engages in this kind of delusional thinking. I pointed out to her that these theories have actual destructive effects on people's lives, and she told me that when I was ready to make amends to her for my anger, she would be happy to talk to me. I am having a couple of problems, number one of which is I think that belief in delusional systems is on a par with taking drugs or alcohol - it's an escape from reality, and it hurts people. The other one is I am disturbed at how much negativity towards recovery this is bringing up for me, a new awareness of the kinds of mind games that people play. Do you have any ways I can reframe these issues to help me get back into the swing of things? I just moved and have not connected really well with the recovery community in my new area due to lack of trust and lack of interest in fighting through the jungles of mind games that I feel are waiting for me.

Well, I know we have people in the recovery community who are often helpful in this chat, so I definitely want to hear from them.

But I also feel like an important part of what is going on here is that there is a broad leap being made between your sponsor's conspiracy theorizing and the tenets of the recovery community in general.

And when you think about it, isn't that kind of like a conspiracy theory in itself? To assume that if one person in the recovery community has beliefs that are not rational, then the entire community is riddled with a jungle of mind games?

It could very well be that your time with this sponsor needs to come to an end-- her inability to empathize with your viewpoint is a big sticking point on its own-- but presumably if you have been sober in recovery for many years, something is helpful and working there.

So, can you bring yourself to be open to inroads with this new community in your new place? Understanding that recovery communities are just like other communities-- they are full of people wonderful and annoying, caring and not-so-caring, brilliant and not so sharp, over-caffeinated and under-caffeinated. Can you trust that your own recovery does not have to fully align with the exact beliefs and values of another person-- even if that person's your sponsor-- and yet the community as a whole can still have so much to give?

How moralistic!

I think a lot of folks are burdened by this idea-- that we should be able to be happy no matter what. And it's true that at some point we can adjust how we respond to things-- that's a helpful thing to work on. But all too easily it becomes "I shouldn't be affected by negative things, and I should just settle for things that aren't good for me!" which is obviously not fair to anyone.

I work in academia too, in the sciences. I have a colleague who, when he has an important meeting, dresses up in his formal, ceremonial sweatshirt that does not have holes in it. Most of us would not notice someone wearing the same shirt every day for weeks at all. And I'm a woman.


Yes, I do think it's important to establish that standards may be different.

Man, this is why I could never fully leave academia.

I find this behavior really disturbing. What new parent would not be concerned about a baby crying for no apparent reason? He didn't ask his wife to give her opinion, didn't proactively say that he checked everything and could not figure out what the problem was. A baby's cry triggers a strong emotional/physical response in parents so it's really hard to ignore it when they are older and you are trying to get them to sleep on their own. This response seems to point to a real lack of empathy and attachment.

Yeah, it's hard to know how extreme it is. For sure, sometimes babies have to cry and there's not much you can do but grin and bear it-- my son's abject distaste for his carseat comes to mind-- but this sounds far beyond that.


I wrote a while back about realizing that my mother had deliberately(and fairly easily) turned my sister against me and that I finally had just walked away from both of them, giving up all hope that they would ever be the people I wanted them to be. It took me a while, though, to switch from "WHY aren't they the people I want them to be?" to "but ah, having finally realized they never will be, and moving on, my life is so much better now!" When the old negative thoughts creep back in (as they are wont to do during the holidays) I remind myself how miserable I was when I was still trying to win their love, and "my life is so much better now!" just pops right back up. It's still hard sometimes, but it gets better with time.

This is truly great.

It's a process, for sure, but the more you chip away at it, the more natural it becomes.

And I bet that freedom tastes amazing.

Thank you so much for this update!

It's got to be awful to have no good memories of the holiday season. That would be hard for anyone to face every year. CBT could help the LW focus on "from here on out, I'm going to enjoy Christmas carols and snow" or whatever mantra helps them look forward and not back.

I'd never argue against therapy-- and perhaps there's room for some bittersweet in the snow love going forward.

Thanks for the empathy!

I guess it's my experience that even more important than (potential) kindness (aka Good Intentions) is First Do No Harm. I'd be concerned that, at least potentially (1) the boss may not take the advice well at all; (2) the boss is already well aware and, for reasons of her own, chooses to dress as she does; (3) the boss accepts the advice but there is no alteration in her career prospects. And that continues to overlook that the OP is correct in the original assumptions!

Valid points, for sure.

I think a lot depends on how this conversation could be spun. I admit when OP said that boss was "humorous," I saw some openings there for a potential chat about it that wasn't super formal or threatening. But you're right in that there is still potential harm.

I agree. Isn't the eccentric oddly-dressed professor a cliche of academia dating back decades if not centuries? Of course there is also the double standard, where women are judged harshly for things that are excused in men. But still, academic gossip does not necessarily mean academic failure.

Yup. There's a lot we don't know here. And I'd guess that it makes a huge difference what exact field they are in within academia as well.

My family is loud. There was lots of screaming and shouting a carrying on. The problem was, everyone was shouting and no-one was listening. Yes, it let off steam, but nothing changed and everyone just went on as before, with the same perspectives. I was an adult before I realized that this was not a healthy way to communicate ... .

Yes, indeed. One family's shouting leads to breakthroughs that result in less shouting, whereas another family's shouting just becomes a permanent, annoying soundtrack.

Just a humorous story - my family is emotive and lets it all hang out. We are warm and in touch and embrace the mess. We're all like that - at least we were until Cousin Jane (in her 30s) came along. As her mum said - I do feel sorry for Jane, she's so private and the rest of us just ... aren't. Being respectful of that does, of course, make a difference. There are indeed family patterns, not all are good and not everyone fits into them.

Yes! So if everyone tries to modulate their approach when Jane is around, then that is a step in the right direction, at least!

I know the frequent advice when one partner is sloppy or doesn't help with housework is to dig deep into the budget and consider a cleaning service. But at the level the LW describes, I'm not sure that would work. I have a friend who's had multiple cleaning services quit or charge significantly more than the norm to deal with the utter mess and chaos of her home. If a service can't vacuum because there are piles of dirty and clean clothes all over the floor, or clean countertops because dirty plates have been left on them for days and there's no more room in the dishwasher, there's no point in bringing in outside help.

It's true. There's a big difference between scrubbing/dusting/vacuuming versus actually bulldozing layers of clutter away.

Not that I know from DAILY EXPERIENCE or anything.

A while back I had a friend whose baby cried a lot for no apparent reason. It didn't particularly bother me and I spent untold hours sitting with her on my lap, jiggling and what have you. Her parents - siblings - I would never would have just left her without human touch and comfort. Her next stage was climbing out on the roof ... but that's another story. She's made it to adulthood and now has a baby of her own.

And does that baby cry all the time too?

It's so true-- some babies will end up crying a lot not matter what. But you are so right that at least you've got to try to offer the human touch and comfort piece before you resort to the "It is what it is" stance.

Your comments have been helpful. I think some of you are right, I just don't understand academia. It is her decision. I will just let it go (I already tried the joking approach). She doesn't care, I must stop caring.

Ahh... thank you for this update.

If you do get that she doesn't care, then I think that is it, plain and simple. It's not up to you to save her from whatever reputation hit she takes from T-Shirt-We've-Already-Seen-27-Times-This-Month-Alone.

I think it is kind for OP to care about boss that way, even with the discomfort of bringing it up. whether it is fair or not, if her way of dressing is or even may be holding back the boss, or is being commented upon, the boss may need to get a reality check.

It now sounds like the boss just may not see reality in the same way, given the last update. But I agree with your sentiment more generally. Thanks!

How does the OP know that the sloppy dresser's career is being hurt? Has OP heard this from Boss's Boss? Maybe Boss's Boss figures if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

It's a great point. It'd be hard to quantify. And as we are finding out, Boss might not even care if it is or if it isn't.

As a long-time academic in a scientific field, I've observed that just about anything flies as long as you are truly outstanding in your field.

Right, there's probably a level where you can get away with anything.

But if you're not quite at that level, I'm guessing it might hurt you.

Kind of like Aronson's classic studies on the pratfall effect-- if you are already well-liked and deemed competent, a simple goof actually makes people like you even more. If you aren't so well-liked/deemed competent, it helps sink your ship even further.

How is LW's boss's job performance? Capable teacher? Productive researcher? Collegial with colleagues? All of these considerations outweigh sartorial splendor.

For sure!

Sartorial splendor is no doubt quite overrated in many circumstances.

And hey, at least that overly worn T-shirt didn't have a body odor component!

I wonder if you could frame this as a cross-cultural discussion. When I lived in Asia, I asked my students often what to wear to a particular occasion (I too was a casual academic). My biggest surprise was one student telling me that if she went to a social/professional event and someone else was wearing the exact same outfit as her, she'd feel reassured, like she had assessed the situation correctly. When I told her that I'd go home and change if possible, she was shocked. If your boss was raised overseas, mention that as you rise in a culture professionally, expectations change. Refer back to wearing the same sweats to your 8:00 class in college that you wore to bed the night before, and how that is no longer forgivable as you are a professional now. Mention that some people make a point of never wearing the same outfit twice in a week or to events where they may be photographed. These kinds of comments might come across as a discussion of cultural mores, rather than criticism of a superior (and criticism could come across as more inappropriate to an Asian mindset than to an American)

I think this could definitely add another nuance. Though if it's already a bit of a hot button discussion I think it's important to be mindful of the potential offense here too if not done in a respectful/articulate/supportive way.


As in, a "smocking gun"?


It all comes back to him, doesn't it.

Personally I think a smocking gun would be a great addition to my crafting arsenal.

Here we are at the end, unfortunately.

Thanks so much for all the great comments and questions today. I love hearing a multitude of voices! In the meantime, I wish you warmth and light-- in everything that entails-- and will hope to see you on Facebook, in the comments, and in Detox Your Thoughts.

A raised mug of tea to all of you!

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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