Baggage Check Live: Twilight Zone office

Jan 15, 2019

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.

Want to read more? Read Baggage Check columns.

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Welcome, everyone. Thanks for being here today!

First things first, boundary-setting. I've got a new guide out that tackles it. I see some boundary-type questions in the queue, so I'm putting this out there as a starting resource.

In today's column, we see someone newly joining an office-- and it seems less than welcoming. And in L2, we've got a Mom struggling with her guilt over a car accident that injured her son. Any extra support for those letter-writers?

I hope everyone is staying warm-- and that on Week 4 of this shutdown, my federal worker chatters are hanging in there.

And a very warm "Welcome Back" to Zainab!

Alright, talk to me!

I had an uncomfortable discovery this weekend… I was in my boyfriend’s place for the weekend getting ready to go out. I had left my clothes over his dresser and when I picked them up a piece of paper was under them. Thinking it was a receipt from a dinner I had paid the previous night, I opened it in automatic to verify before discarding. To my surprise it was a parking ticket and the date caught my eye immediately because it coincided with my grandfather’s death anniversary. All of a sudden the memories came rushing to me. Not memories of my grandfather’s death, but of me calling my boyfriend that night because I was feeling down (because of the death anniversary) and him not picking up. That night he called me back hours later and told me he had fallen asleep early. I didn’t think anything of it at that point. Fast forward to when I found the parking ticket… The parking ticket was created less than 30 min from my call on that night and it’s from a place where people go for the restaurants and bars. I started thinking the worst so I decided to ask him about it. His answer: He was out with his guy friend and doesn’t recall anything about us talking that night or he telling me that he had been asleep. Then turning sarcastic about me claiming that I didn’t meant to snoop. The whole incident has me feeling uneasy. I don’t think his answer makes sense, but I feel he cut off any chance to discuss the topic and I’m not sure how can I bring it back in a productive way. Or should I let it slide?

I think it'd be hard to let slide at this point. Because now it's not just the original question to be weighed down by, but also the unsettling interaction about it afterward.

It's that latter part that sticks out to me as problematic-- his dismissiveness and seeming defensiveness, and then mocking you.

Yes, this needs to be brought up.

I'm thinking there are many possibilities here-- including the fact that he truly doesn't remember, never meant to lie about it, was abducted by aliens that night.... we don't know. And you might have to be okay with not knowing. I don't know how long ago this was, but it's true that he may not be able to recreate everything and totally explain what happened.

It's also potentially true that he knows darn well that he lied, and is going to dig his heels in with the playing-dumb through infinity and beyond.

And if he lied, there is still more uncertainty-- he could have been out with a male friend, yes, and not seen your call and then felt bad about it later because he knew you were upset and he should have been there for you. He could have been out with a male friend and not taken your call because he didn't feel like it. Or he could have been out with a male friend in the sense that I am an NBA basketball player, and the truth is actually that the "friend" is named Tiffany and that's the reason he went incommunicado.

So-- we don't know any of that, and don't need to make it about that because there are clearer things to talk about right now. Bring it up in the context of this: you brought up something upsetting to you, and the conversation seems to have made things worse. That you were sharing your feelings and somehow it was perceived by him as an accusation (rightly or wrongly) and things went off the rails from there. That you did not mean to invade his privacy and had assumed it was your own receipt but that once you saw it, you couldn't unsee it, given the date that was on there (I know some chatters are going to say that for you to scrutinize the date meant that you really were snooping. But if the date was so significant to you, I can understand it jumping out at you.) But that overall, you wanted to work something out in your mind that was nagging at you and somehow it seems to have created a problematic dynamic that feels worse.

So... go from there. This was a conflict with bruised feelings on both sides-- how will you two handle it, together? How will you communicate respectfully and empathetically and, if need be, take responsibility for your actions?

That will tell you a lot about whether this can turn into a pattern or not. And yes, in the interest of once-bitten-twice-shy, if you are absolutely certain about the dates and times in your head, I wouldn't blame you if you were a little more scrutinizing of his explanations in the future. He brought that on himself if not by the original incident, then by his handling of your questioning it.

I work in a small office of eight. We have the chaos of a startup but have been around for decades. Half of the staff have been here for 20+ years, the other half less than 5. I started a year ago. Odd culture that creates a lot of distance for such a small group. People don't say hello. When I first started, I got the impression that I was strange for doing so. I've noticed dishonesty in little things, a little bit of mind games, there's some sexism and these things do come from the top down but folks are guilty at all levels. It's quite constant that I wonder if I'm seeing it right. I'm pretty good at separating work from home, so I can walk away at the end of the day. Overall, as a group, we lack compassion and decency. When coworkers have had significant family issues, there's indifference. We're inefficient, after wondering why many things have been done a certain way, I've come to understand that self serving attitude drives many behaviors and actions. Do you think this comes from fear, the general fear and insecurity anyone might have? But I've been around and have never seen it create an atmosphere like this. Is there anything I can do? I don't sense any allies within the office to make a catalyst for change... which is why I sometimes think I'm in the twilight zone with everything a bit off. Some of it just kooky, which I think might be normal office weirdness. Any thoughts or advice?

"Overall, as a group, we lack compassion and decency."

Well, I think we've found a nice sound bite for the company website! 

Seriously, here-- your place does sound fundamentally flawed. Not in a downright abusive way (which unfortunately I see more commonly than you'd imagine) but in a slowly-seeping-toxicity type of way. Things missing that should be there. Herd mentalities about drifting to the lowest common denominator. Inertia in the direction of a big, fat, BLAH.

What troubles me most is that you don't necessarily know of any allies. Though that doesn't mean there aren't any. Might someone, on the surface, not also realize how much you want things to be different? Are all of you sort of suffering from the demotivational aspects of not wanting to be the ones to stick your necks out?

I do think it all ties in to fear. Office cultures-- like any culture-- get ingrained over time when any given individual finds the risks of changing the culture to be greater than the benefit of trying to do so. And collectively, that can make some pretty awful things stick.

I would say it is time to give some serious thought to some small interventions. How can you try to steer the ship on a micro level, little by little, day by day? Speaking up against sexism? Being the one person to show compassion when someone is having a family issue, and trying to organize help/donated sick days/a gift card for dinners/etc? Maybe even going so far as to suggest some team-building exercises (which can be nauseating if done tritely and poorly, for sure.)

I can't pretend that you have some humongous chance of singlehandedly changing the culture (and if you can't, you should consider whether it's worth it to you to look elsewhere.) But if you start rolling a small snowball, you may be surprised at how many people join in to add to it and really get it going.

A friend of mine has proudly told me that whenever he attends a wedding, he finds each of the people getting married and offers to drive them to the nearest bar if they don't want to go through with it. He even made this offer to the man marrying his daughter! I realize I'm not in control of his behavior, but is this as strange as I think it is? He says that it would save the couple a lot of heartache if either doesn't really want to get married, I say it's not his job unless he's close to the people involved and has some reason to think they are having doubts.

For whatever reason, this is making me laugh-- and I can't seem to stop. Humans just never cease being interesting, do they?

Yeah, it's weird for sure. The fact that he makes this a blanket policy in his life, no matter who the couple is and what his relationship to them is, is.... fascinating. I think the big downside is that he may not realize how-- most likely-- he is actively sending a message to those individuals that he thinks they shouldn't get married. I mean, how else would someone take it? (Especially if they didn't know for sure that this was his quirky, blanket policy?)

But he thinks he's doing a public service, clearly, and likely has some personal reason to believe in this crusade. There is no doubt a story there-- and I would love to hear what it is!

Do you have a mentor? If not, try to identify one. "I am trying to figure out how I fit in around here/ can best contribute/ whatever. Would you be willing to help me?/Would you like to go for coffee and discuss?

Good idea!

To LW1 from today's column, I have worked in the same agency for 10 years. We are a friendly group and not very clique-y, nevertheless, I have observed over and over that people group up according to hire date. So the newer hires end up befriending each other in groups of two or three. Later they develop deeper friendships with the folks that have been around a while but at the beginning it seems like those in the same boat with you are the low hanging fruits of friendship.

Great point. Here's hoping there's a new hire at LW's company soon-- and then LW can buck the trend and reach out to them more proactively!

Is it really "cliquey" or is that your social anxiety talking? How much social interaction is needed in your line of work? Can you strike up conversations about the job, asking questions about how such-&-such was handled by your predecessor or something? If you get short curt answers, there's a clique, and that's unfortunate. If people warm to you when you offer to share your cookies, that's a better sign. Sometimes longtime co-workers are just oblivious when someone new joins the team.

Great points. Thank you!

I suspect Dr. Andrea is right that you are magnifying the exclusion because of your social anxiety, but take baby steps. If you have a lunch or break room, find a time that people are gathered there, pick a table with an empty chair "May I join you?" Then you can sit quietly until a natural spot in the conversation allows you to join in, if it does. Someone may ask you a question! But you have demonstrated your interest in them, which is a first step. If people go out for coffee, pick the most approachable person and ask they let you know when they are going as you would like to find/check out the local coffee places. If you can make small overtures, you will likely eventually be included in the office groups.

Baby steps are important for sure. Thanks!

Your second letter touches on something I have thought about occasionally over the years. Thankfully, I have never been involved in an accident that injured anyone else, but I imagine that if I killed or seriously injured someone in an accident, it would be so devastating to me. How do people cope with the fact that they seriously injured or killed someone, whether or not they had control over the events that led to injury/death? I have been to therapy for far less traumatic things and it has helped, but it's hard to imagine therapy helping me deal with the fact that I took another person's life.

You know, I strongly believe this is a HUGELY under-served population when it comes to psychological research, support, and awareness. Those who have significantly harmed others through an accident-- you never hear much about their life's aftermath. And yet they are out there, and are at a heightened risk for all kinds of mental health disorders, and suicide as well. And our culture doesn't necessarily know how to handle these folks. We want to flock to the victims (which of course is understandable) and vilify the perpetrators, even in an accident. And so that makes them even more alone.

Even within the traditional therapy experience, sometimes there can be a bit of a disconnect. After all, many therapists are used to handling overanxious people who feel guilty for everything-- and so part of the process is talking them out of the guilt by more realistically assessing the situation and concluding that it wasn't as much their fault as they made it out to be, that they were overemphasizing their own role-- that it would have happened anyway, etc. In these other cases, though-- that's simply not true. Part of the process is reckoning with the very cold hard true fact that it WAS your fault-- and getting on to the path of forgiveness. Of yourself. Whether it comes from elsewhere or not. And finding meaning in it, and making amends in ways that feel good to you, and learning to accept the whole of your life and your path.

A while back I read something on this. Ahh... here it is. I think this ends up discussing resources that an individual who was suffering in this way had started. Because there aren't nearly enough, but at least it is a start. Can't squeeze in a reread myself right now, but I think it will be illuminating.

I wonder if there is also PTSD. I have several friends who have used EMDR very successfully - including one who was in a terrible car crash (she's fine now). Something to consider ... .

Yup, great points.

EMDR definitely shows some promise. The data is not all there and it isn't a magic bullet for everyone, but it has helped a lot of people (and I'm glad your friends are among them!)

To the LW in the accident: Your son deserves to be seen as a person, not as a reminder of something bad. It does him a disservice that you can’t look at him and see him. He deserves a mother who can be present with him. Get help so you can deal with these feelings and be able to be present for him.

Definitely an extra nudge for LW. If you can't do it for yourself, understand that doing it for yourself will also help your son and your family!

(In response to last week's chat.)

This can be a wonderful way to honor her. For me and my situation, it would've been too painful to do a noticeable thing like that. So instead, I included one of my grandfather's favorite flowers in my bouquet. No one but close family knew (and I pulled out that flower and gave it to Grandma before tossing the bouquet).

I love this. It doesn't have to be a big attention-grabbing gesture to have incredible meaning. So glad you were able to do this.

OP might consider having a wedding in her grandma's presence and having the reception later. Alternatively, finace and OP can just seek blessings from grandma, with/without any ritual or ceremony

It's a good idea to explore-- a way of having something with Grandma beforehand, even if not a full-fledged symbolic ceremony, that makes her feel part of their joined lives going forward. Thanks.

No, please, anything but that! If you have an example of a team-building exercise that wasn't nauseatingly trite and poorly done, I'd be interested to learn about it, but my experience has made me jaundiced; a group that lacks compassion and decency is going to regard team-building as grist for their poor behavior mill. But if one person starts a compassionate idea for a colleague with home-life difficulties, it could start to change the culture.

I am guessing you are right about this, because, yeah, unfortunately I wasn't exactly brimming with specific examples when I wrote that sentence!


You say you've just started there. Yes, it would be nice is they made you feel welcome, but I don't know that you should just to the cliquey conclusion just yet . They might simply be oblivious. I'm gregarious so I'd probably be more proactive than you, but take the initiative that people have been suggesting re: cookies, etc and see if it warms up. If not, then you do have reason to feel they're being unfriendly - but you might find it just takes a bit of time for things to warm up. In time, you designate yourself as 'new hire welcomer' ... .

Well said!

Observing that in a lengthy post there was not even a brief mention of liking the job: why bother investing time + energy on the low chance of change? Surely better for the OP to seek a more congenial environment, no?

It's a great point. Granted, OP seemed to be someone who didn't carry this home with them in a negative way, but even so I am prone to thinking that life is too short (and workdays too long!) to waste time in such an environment when there are better ones out there. Thanks!

Several years ago, my ex called off our wedding, told me to move out, and broke up with me. All without warning that something was amiss. All in one week. I immediately cut off all communication and moved on. About two years later, I married a long time guy friend and had a family. I figured that calling off a wedding and ending a relationship were deliberate decisions. Years later, I have an angry ex. He's upset that I "just walked away" and "didn't fight" and "moved on." He says he was scared of the wedding, that he had/has anxiety, and didn't know what to do but that he didn't intend for any of the subsequent events to happen. (What?) I'm not sure what to say except I bear zero responsibility for his life after I left and that if he really did want me, he shouldn't have told me otherwise. (Isn't that a given?) If he hadn't done what he did, I wouldn't have the amazing husband and kids I have now. I'm so frustrated that this has bubbled up. Is there a way to wipe this whole relationship from my memory?

Unfortunately, no.

But methinks it's time to cut off contact with this guy again. What- he's going for the Triple Crown of screwing with your life?

You need to take that sentence about bearing zero responsibility and embed it in your brain. It is perfectly true and concise. This is not your circus. No doubt he has regrets about what-- for him-- was probably a terribly mangled decision and action, that may have indeed changed the course of his life for the worse.

Not for you, though. It was actually a lucky break. But you owe him nothing at all now. I'm not sure if you still have mutual friends or how he is contacting you, but tell him exactly what you said-- that you are very happy in your life, and that you bear zero responsibility for his choices. Then tell him that you are going to go back to living your life and he needs to live his.

Nope, I'm calling bs. He absolutely remembers the situation around which he received a parking ticket. Could he not remember it was the same date as the funeral, sure, possible. But he remembers how he got the ticket, especially if it's so recent it's still sitting on his dresser. (I still remember my parking ticket, it was 10 years ago). I think this is veering towards gaslighting/red flag territory.

Could be. Especially depending on how he handles a more nuanced conversation about the whole shebang.


Can we get an update on what came of this situation: Did you go to Thanksgiving, OP? Did you FIL apologize? Did your husband step up? Did he take the 4 kids without you?

Yes, this is definitely one where I'd love to hear an update as well. Thanks for the reminder. OP, are you out there?

FYI, Laura Bush was the driver in a crash that killed someone. I forget whether she was a teen or the victim was a teen, but Mrs. Bush was quite young either way.

You are right. And they were both teenagers, in my recollection.

Yes, it's understandable that that was something that needed to stay in her past from a political/media/privacy perspective-- I'm guessing the victim's family wouldn't want that rehashed on a national stage-- but it does pain me that there seems something of a missed opportunity for a dialogue about this very issue!

(In response to last week's chat.)

I'm a reproductive health care provider. I can tell you from experience that my practice is frequented by people of all faiths who give themselves a "pass" to use a service that they would condemn for others. They always have good reasons for doing so, they just fall down when it comes to realizing that other people also have good reasons. Please use this experience as a way to explore your faith more deeply. In what ways does it recognize our fallibility, our frailty, and our shared humanity, and in what ways is it harsh and unkind? Who gets mercy and forgiveness, and who does not? Do you still feel that you (and your child) would be welcome in your congregation if people knew? If not, I hope you will work to change things for the better.

An important point-- you really raise those last points beautifully. Thank you.

Did he just now pop up, or has he been in touch with you in the meantime? If he just popped up, ignore, block, whatever -- don't engage. Actually, that's a good idea even if he's been in touch over the years. Cut him off and enjoy your life now. It's the best revenge.


And it sounds like she doesn't even need revenge. She dodged a bullet with this guy.

Even before you linked to that New Yorker article I was trying to place it. But a different article had a profound effect on me - fascinating 'city of refuge'

Ooh, I look forward to reading this. Thank you.

Won't help the LWs now but; After taking a position years ago where the team was really toxic, I ask to meet and chat with potential coworkers as part of the interview process. This has been very helpful, and bonus, it often impresses the potential employer.

Yes-- prevention is sometimes the best medicine! Thanks!

Trying to make you feel guilty for snooping...he's gaslighting you! Dump him.

I'd need a few more details to be certain of this-- there are definitely still the potential two sides to this story-- but I do agree she needs to be vigilant and that this further conversation is quite warranted.

Easy to say, but in an economic atmosphere like today's, saying "just find another job" can be rubbing salt in wounds.

Definitely easier said than done, an important point. Thanks.

If you haven't read the comments section under today's column please do so. Scroll down until you get to a post from "TulipTree". It is a wonderful summary of kinds of guilt. No, I'm not the original poster but I thought it was a very helpful post.

Thank you! I think I may have seen and responded to that. Here's a link!

I'll see if I can get him to tell me why/when he started doing this and report back.

Please do!!

There's no way this came out of nowhere.

Imagine a life where you had to guess if your husband meant what he said or was really .... feeling something entirely different. That would do my head in. You are not responsible and you have a wonderful family. I feel sorry for him - but the fact that he is bitter towards you does not speak of good husband material.

It's true.

I feel for the guy as well-- no doubt he is in pain now, and if he really called off the wedding just because of poorly-acted-upon-anxiety, I feel sorry for him even more. But he doesn't have the right to mess with her life now, that's for sure. I hope he gets the help he needs.

When future Illinois Governor, and 1952 and 1956 Presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson was 12, he shot and killed a girl. LINK:

Holy moly. This I didn't know.

Wow. And I doubt that political candidates/spouses are overrepresented here. I do think there are a lot of people walking around harboring something like this, and it makes for a very complicated type of pain. Maybe some of them reading this will know that they are not alone and be inspired to get some support.

I wrote in a month ago about struggling with the concept of seeking pleasure vs. meaning in life, and my anxiety that “I won't be "the first", "the best", or "the only" anything.” I really appreciate your response and those from the other commenters. You all helped me see that one reason I was struggling was that I was raised to never “toot my own horn”: if something I did was good, other people would recognize it. And of course that meant that if something I did wasn’t recognized, then it must not be good. In addition, I was encouraged to always be considerate and helpful to others (which is wonderful), and therefore that my own wants and needs should always come last, if at all (which is… considerably less wonderful). I realized that I had internalized these ideas to the point that I was completely outsourcing my opinion of myself. Rather than asking myself what I might be proud of doing, or (heaven forfend) enjoy doing, I kept looking for external standards of worth and meaning, even while despairing of ever measuring up. Now, I’m finally beginning to understand, and really absorb, that it’s not selfish or conceited to let myself be the final arbiter of my own worth; in fact, it’s the only approach to life that makes any sense. And I have to say, what really helped put it into perspective was “Leaning…Sideways?”, the single mom – who sounded like a literal superhero to me – who was concerned that she was not really striving for “excellence”, and was being told as much by her therapist. My immediate response was “…the f***? Get a new therapist, now!” Then I realized that the advice I wanted to give to her was the same advice I needed: you are the only one living your life, and so you are the only one who gets to decide the “best” way to live it.

Yes, yes, yes!

I saw so many parallels in your letter to that of "Leaning....Sideways." And I am so glad you saw them too, and it helped lend you a new perspective about just how skewed your standards had become-- and where you were looking to to decide if those standards had been met.

I am so, so glad to hear this. Thanks so much for taking the time to write back!

Don't know if you still want a follow up - I missed last week's chat and read it on catch up. But if you're wondering, I'm the OP from the pre-Xmas chat whose mother in law is terminally ill. Christmas was as bittersweet as expected but an unfortunate decline in her health simplified things. She can no longer get out of bed, and is very tired, so we followed her direction - which boiled down to wanting to spend as much time with her granddaughter as possible. So when MiL was alert enough, we brought the little one in to play in her room, to the delight of both, and did bedtime stories and milk on grandma's bed. We took pictures and made videos, and I managed with only a little crying during the week. We got chances for conversations with my MiL while the little one was playing. Right now we're trying to visit regularly, and follow the same pattern - my daughter is always excited when it's time to go into Grandma's room and show her a toy or puzzle. Even bedridden, they have a beautiful connection. We know it's going to be awful soon, when she's not there, but are trying to live in the moment.

This is heartwrenching-- but beautiful as well.

I am so sorry to hear that your mother-in-law's condition has deteriorated so significantly. But how absolutely lovely that she and your daughter can spend such meaningful time together. This is exactly the hope in these times-- those rays of light. Thank you so much for letting us know.

I'm in my 40s, and I broke my femur a few months ago and fell again recently. I'm having a lot of intermittent pain that is being treated (with physical therapy and tylenol). My sister and I have a house together, and she has complained about my tone of voice when I'm talking with her when I'm in pain. She isn't complaining about what I say, just that I sound frustrated with her. I really don't know what to do about this, beyond asking her not to initiate conversation when I'm struggling to get around the house. By the time I get home after work, I have really run out of energy to fake normalcy. Is it reasonable for me to ask her (for the next few months) to just not talk to me unless I'm sitting down?

I think that can be reasonable if done in a collaborative, respectful way. Something like:  "I'm sorry that my tone has been harsh to you. I don't want to be that way, but the truth is when I am trying to get around, the pain is such that it makes it hard for me to have my usual voice. How can we get through this? What about if when I am moving around and in pain, we have some sort of signal or understanding that I can't talk right then?"

And something NOT like: "Look-- just don't talk to me unless you know it's okay."

I get the feeling your relationship is okay overall, so I'm hopeful that you both can have a respectful solution to this.

I'm really sorry about your injury-- sounds very trying. But this can be part of how she can support you in the healing process.

1) Actually it's a very good job market now. 2) Regardless of the ever-changing economy, it's always better to recognize one has options than to imagine one doesn't.

I'm guessing that the bottom line is that tone matters in how to suggest it. Every industry is different no matter what the overall market, so it pays to not assume that it would be easy to jump ship. I do agree that it's always important to recognize options, though!

First of all, thank you for your detox. I finally got to it over the weekend and it was so helpful. Some of the topics were a refresher of things I've learned in therapy and some were new. Regarding forgiveness, my mother was controlling and neglectful at the same time. Lucky me! I do have compassion for her because the formative years of her life were not easy. How does one forgive when the problems that need to be forgiven are ongoing (control more than neglect at this point as I am an adult)?

Thanks so much-- I am really glad that it has been helpful for you.

I think what's important here, first and foremost, is to not conflate forgiveness/compassion with acceptance of the behavior in its current form. For instance, your compassion can let you understand your mother's difficult upbringing, and empathize with her for that, and understand that she may have done the best she could when you were growing up (and even now.) But that does not change the fact that your life is your life right now, and you have the right to choose to be treated fairly and respectfully, in accordance with your own boundaries and autonomy.

So, you continue to handle those current, ongoing problems in an active way-- setting appropriate boundaries, giving feedback when she is doing emotionally harmful things, trying to establish healthy ways for you to spend time together and model the type of relationship that you want, etc. All of that is just as important-- if not more so-- even as you forgive her for her limitations.

I think scripts could be helpful here-- exactly what kind of behavior are we dealing with in her?

I have a wonderful, close friend who also happens to be a therapist. He is now in a position where I genuinely believe he should be seeing a therapist. I suggested this, and he responded with a lot of excuses. One of these excuses was he was afraid of professional consequences. He currently practices in a closed system, where information tends to leak. I realize that if the threat is real to him then it's real. I was wondering if this is anything you've seen in your career or if you knew of some resources I can send his way regarding peer support/truly anonymous and confidential services. Thank you!

I hope your friend realizes that if he truly needs emotional help right now that he is not getting, then that will also affect his abilities at work.

It is up to all of us therapists to be realistic about when we need help ourselves because-- the horror!-- we are human beings who also have tough and terrible things happen to us as well.

My take is this: a good therapist not only acknowledges when they may need help (and I must put the disclaimer here that I can't automatically assume he does just by your take, but for the purposes of this I'll assume it) but also takes the steps to get it. For them not to is not only hypocritical, but potentially harmful to their own clients. I wholeheartedly endorse therapy for anyone who needs it, therapists included (and have definitely done it myself).

I have no idea the exact mechanisms of his situation-- I don't really know how his seeing someone outside of his "closed system" would potentially get back to them (it's not like he'd go to a coworker for therapy) so I don't know how further to address his concerns.

But confidentiality has its same strength whether the patient is a therapist or not! And yes, he would need to take care to see someone that he wouldn't always be bumping into at professional seminars, etc. But depending on his location, that shouldn't be that hard.

Prior to getting married, my husband and I had only one real issue to work out- where we would live. I am from a small city where my family and friends still are. My husband's family was in the next city over and some friends were in that city and others were scattered on the East Coast. In the end our compromise was living in my hometown city, ultimately where we both looked for jobs. In the first several years of marriage, my husband several times a year would spend either the night up to long weekend visiting friends. I was more than okay with that- I am more introverted than him and getting a weekend alone to recharge was perfect! Now however we have a six month old daughter. She's sleeping through the night occasionally but not 100%. We are both exhausted from working full time and parenthood. Now the problem is that my husband really wants to take a weekend trip. He either wants the three of us to go together or he will go alone. I completely understand his desire to see long time friends and for them to meet our daughter. But we did one overnight trip a month ago to see his friends and she she was a disaster with napping/sleeping that threw us all off for a week. I feel like I need to be the bigger person here and just tell him to do a weekend on his own. But deep down I'm too depleted to spend a weekend alone with the baby. FWIW my family and friends in town are enthusiastic but I don't trust them with the baby for longer than an hour or two. But the longer this goes on, the more my husband is worn down. Is there a compromise I am missing?

There's no perfect compromise here, no. You will end up depleted, or husband will end up missing his trip. So the best I can advise is for both of you to be completely honest and open about the costs and benefits, and respectful of the other person as much as possible. For instance, does he know just how depleted you would be? Or is he dismissive of that? Do you understand exactly why he wants this visit? Does it have to be now? Is there something about your family and friends that really is warranted to not trust them with the baby more than an hour or two? Or is that part of being hard on yourself and feeling deep-down like you should do everything?

No two couples will have the exact same calculus for this. I am sure many readers right now might be saying "Of course he shouldn't go on his trip! What gives?" But again, there may be different nuances here to each of your needs-- this could be a lifeline for him, or maybe just a trivial thing that indeed should be put off.

So-- talk it through, and try your very hardest to see the other's perspective, and come up with potential alternatives-- like timing trips for when she's sleeping a bit better, or his going away for a shorter time or meeting someone halfway, etc.

I was just diagnosed with a terminal illness and have probably seen my last holiday season. I've told my closest friends but how do I tell my more distant friends ? Also, how do I deflect their curious insensitive questions? Even some of my close friends ask questions for their own curiosity that I don't wish to answer. I need some scripts because I tend to get angry when they ask for descriptions of my symptoms, treatment, and how much longer I have. Even when I tell them I don't wish to talk about the details. Months to live

First, I am truly so sorry to hear this. Of course, words fail in these situations, and there's a chance that sounds beyond trite-- but it's true.

I would hate to see you bogged down by logistical/etiquette dilemmas when you deserve to be spending your energy on stuff that feels much more meaningful and fulfilling and enjoyable. So I would say-- enlist some help. People in the "distant" friend category that you want to contact directly, contact directly. But otherwise, it is totally appropriate for you to enlist a close friend or family member to call/send an email/write a social media post/whatever ("Jane is taking some time to herself right now but asked if I could get information out to some of her friends. Unfortunately, she has been diagnosed with X. Here is what we know, and here is the path she is on right now. If you have any questions, feel free to respond to me first.")

Of course, this is why a lot of people start a caringbridge website or the like-- those links have a way of spreading to those who need and want the information, and then you could have one place to disseminate info (or have a friend or family member do it for you.) Some people use Facebook in the same way, whether to get the initial word out to the "distants" or to deflect questions or give updates. There is no right answer here. It is ALL about what feels best for you-- you are the one who gets to call the shots. And again, once you determine what those shots are, enlist those who would love to help you put them in to action.

These forums could also serve as a place where that friend/family member-- or you-- could formally remind people of HOW TO BEHAVE LIKE A HUMAN IN THESE SITUATIONS, LIKE STOPPING THE INTRUSIVE QUESTIONS. (Ugh ugh uuuuuuugh, people!) They are probably not asking out of malice, and they are dealing with their own feelings because they care about you, but there is no excuse for not taking your hints and/or respecting your wishes. 

When someone asks something insensitive, now is not the time to coddle them. Pause, give them a meaningful look and say, "Stephanie, I'm not up for answering that-- I'd really love it if we could stick to XYZ." When they persist, say "I'm really confused here-- I told you I don't wish to talk about those details. I know you care about me and want to know, but you don't seem to realize how hard this is for me. If we're going to spend time together, I need you to respect that. It's not negotiable." If THAT still doesn't work, then pick a trusted friend with some football training to offensive-guard their clueless behinds right out of your home.

Some years ago, Postie Gene Weingarten did a heart-rending report on parents who had accidentally left a small child in a hot car, and the child had died. Perhaps an article on how people cope who have accidentally killed someone would be illuminating.

Yes. I think it really would.

That was one of Gene's biggest lightning rods that he's ever written, I believe. And one thing that sticks out to me as a psychologist-- and a point that Gene often makes as well-- is just how certain we tend to be that it couldn't happen to us. (It's far more comfortable to vilify the parent in those situations, because that makes us feel safe and secure that we couldn't lose our own child in the same way. Because we're better.) Whereas in reality, those situations are typically the perfect storm of factors-- changes in routine, etc-- that creates the very real cognitive error of thinking your child has already been taken where they needed to be. (People often assume, "How did that parent not think once about their child that day, and remember they were in the backseat?" In reality, it wasn't at all that they didn't think of their child that day. It was that when they did think of their child, they thought they had already been dropped off somewhere, etc.)

So, yeah... a whole other spin on the issue, since typically the person they have killed is their own child. And there are often some interesting gender dynamics in how hard we want to punish the parent as well.

Here's the thing - we all go though difficult periods and find it hard to be our normal, sunny selves!! I think it's a lot easier to handle a loved one being snappy or the suchlike if you know a. the person is trying and b. there's an end date! I love Andrea's script - and would consider adding that the pain is very depleting you at work and for now could she give you a bit space for half an hour or so after you get home to relax and get back your equilibrium. You hope that your healing will be get you back to normal soon. Also - a lot of people don't know that a broken femur is a huge deal, they don't break that often.

I really like this. Thanks.

Yes-- femur is no joke. I can only imagine the pain.

Your ability to empathize with what makes her this way will inform the way you draw your boundaries and help you put them in a way that is firm but doesn't escalate the situation.

I agree! This has the potential to go a lot more smoothly because of her understanding.

Thank you!

just make sure the dates are not transposed. if the date is correct DTMFA

ha! I love the extra prudence with being careful about the dates..... and then flooring the gas if the dates were not transposed.

For those who don't know this acronym... hmm. Zainab, what are we allowed to say here?

Ha, I had to look this up myself! But yeah... just look it up on Urban Dictionary.  

It sounds that this weekend is something important for your husband's wellbeing. Is there some way he could reciprocate with something that is really good for your own wellbeing - can be going away yourself, or something else. I'm concerned that there seems to be no-one outside of your husband you would trust with your daughter. I don't think that's healthy - everyone needs breaks and you and your husband also need to tend your relationship.

Very helpful considerations-- much appreciated.

It runs the gamut from simple things like what I eat or don't eat to big things about which house I want to buy. I think the current issues are a manifestation of her anxiety about my being single/not a parent (which I'm mostly fine with). Because I do not live the life she wants for me, her control instincts come out. It's not constant but I am always bracing for it.

Got it.

I think that becomes a combination of being mindful of what information you give her in the first place-- it's one thing if she is watching what's on your plate when you are physically there, it's another thing if you are sending her housing listings before you make an offer, etc. So that, and then having a way to deflect her when she wants to start digging in to an intrusive escalation. So you be careful about what you choose to let her in about-- and maybe throw her some bones every once in a while of letting her opine on things that won't run the risk of being emotionally trying for you. ("Yes, Mom-- you choose the restaurant. Hey, Mom-- I'm trying to choose between these two scarves. Which one do you like better?") But when she is butting in too much, you draw a firm but respectful line. You take a breath. You recognize the positives in why she's doing it ("I know you are saying that because you want what's best for me/care about me/are worried for me") but then you establish your boundary without apology ("But I need to choose what's best for me, and I hope you'll respect that.")

Ooh-- thank you! No time to vet but will look forward to reading.

Meaning does not have to come from winning an achievement medal!

Is fantastic, thanks so much for the ideas and the scripts!

Thank you! I'm thrilled it may be helpful!

Caring Bridge is great - and you can enlist someone to update it if you wish. I'm so sorry you're facing this.

Yes. Thank you.

Why? Does the baby have health problems that people who could ordinarily feed and change your baby couldn't cope with? Or have you lost your perspective?

I do wonder about this. Definitely there could be reason to be wary of these folks, but outside of a specific reference to that, I think challenging it is warranted. Thanks.

Dump the father-mucker's derrière?

hahah! Love the French thrown in.

What do you think, Zainab?

Close enough. 

You may get an occasional pass for being cranky but expecting (demanding?) others to forgive you for your bad behaviour is manipulative and presumptuous. even abusive. there is no such thing as "faking normalcy" . You are responsible for your behavoir. at all times.

If this is about the sisters and the broken femur, I wasn't getting that vibe, though. She's asking for how to work on this so that her sister WON'T be hurt.... rather than steamrolling her way through hurting first, apologizing later.

Good reminder of the ring theory - comfort in and dump out. Do not let these friends take out their own feelings and frailties and concerns on you. They should be getting that from someone else.

Thank you. I'm only passingly familiar with the ring theory-- the idea of rings of people around you, the person going through the crisis in the center, and you can only complain to the people in rings that are out there farther than you. Whereas you should be sending comfort to those who are on rings closer in than you. Is that the gist?

If so I like it.

Gene has made this a mission because he nearly did this himself. He makes no bones about the fact that if his daughter hadn't spoken up at the critical moment, he'd have left her in the car. He won a well deserved Pulitzer for that article.

Yes. NO ONE is immune to this.

And those who think they are.... well they may be putting themselves in more danger with that false sense of security.

I forgot that was what won him the Pulitzer! (Forgive me, Gene.)

That depends entirely on what kind of job you're talking about.

Very true.

And get better pain meds. You shouldn’t be so painful, if it can be avoided. Your physician needs to know.

Could be worth a discussion-- though objectively we can't really know! Thanks.

I had a really hard time when my wedding rolled around, and mine had been dead for 8 years. My husband and I had a memory table, where we found a beautiful quote (they can be found all over Etsy/Amazon) that we framed and pictures of all of our family members who had passed away before the wedding, with cards of their name and relation to us. So many people complimented us on this. There were other ways we included their memories, but that was the most obvious one to everyone.

Oh, wow-- that is a really lovely idea. Thanks.

"How about you try to understand that it's the pain talking, and not assume I'm mad at you? I'm having a hard enough time coping with my injury and pain without managing your feelings as well." Sheesh,

Thanks. And here we have the yin to the yang of the "manipulative" response!

I've read so many articles about this. We have the technology (developed by someone who accidentally did this). It alerts you if the child is still in the car seat. He couldn't get anyone to market it because they didn't think people would feel they needed it. It blows my mind that we can stop this happening but don't do it.

It really is infuriating.

I remember hearing the dollar amount of what it would cost. It's ridiculous that it can't just be put in there. It would be dwarfed by the Seinfeldian "Miscellaneous Overcharge" in the line items of buying a car!

Please, please, please, for your own sanity, find ways to be comfortable with others having the baby for extended amounts of time. There may be reasons not disclosed here that some family members or friends are not good choices, but hopefully others are. I am a single mom to a 15-month old, and one of the most important lessons I learned early on in motherhood is that I need a break sometimes. Whether that was to get a pedicure or go sit in a movie theater by myself for two hours or go to a coffee shop and stare blankly at a book, that space is ESSENTIAL. It recharges me a bit, and long term, I think makes me a better mother. Plus, it's allowed me to reconnect with parts of me that have been buried under the mommy stuff, and that's really important too. Please let your husband go on the trip and find ways to make some time for yourself.

Yes. I do think this is an important area for OP to think about. Thanks.

An incredibly nice, popular and smart teenage girl I knew in junior high and high school was accidentally killed while visiting friends one weekend. The boys had just returned from hunting, and were cleaning their guns at the house of one of then before putting their guns away. Unbeknownst to its owner, one of the guns still had a round in it, and the gun accidentally went off, hitting the girl in the head, killing her. This was 60 years ago this spring, and it still pains me.

So, so heartbreaking.

Gun accidents are far too common. This tragedy is far from rare. But I am so sorry it happened.

It sounds to me as though the husband wants to show off his baby, so having the child baby-sat during the trip would negate that wish.

Could be. All the more reason to figure out who wants and needs what here, and why. Thanks!

It wasn't that, it was the liability problem. He couldn't get automakers to include them because the nanosecond one such device failed, the manufacturers would be inundated with lawsuits. They stated this up front.

Ah... I seem to have forgotten that part. Thanks.

That too, though, seems surmountable if people are motivated enough to value the potentially saved lives.

He actually has two - he got one for the article on Joshua Bell playing at L'Enfant Plaza Metro during rush hour.

Ooh--- now I owe Gene a double apology.

And I'm a violinist! How could I forget the accolades for the Joshua Bell piece?

Can one of the LW's enthusiastic family or friends spend the weekend with her? That way, she could have the help of a second person without having to leave the baby alone for a weekend with that person. I agree she should explore why she is uncomfortable leaving the baby with anyone, but in the meantime, this would work to let the husband go away for the weekend while getting her help at home.

Another potential area of compromise. I like it. Thanks!

This drives me crazy. My father was taught to shoot by the gamekeeper on his grandmother's estate in Hungary. Yes seriously - his grandmother's gamekeeper! Gun safety was drilled into him and drilled into him so that it was an in-built reflex. My father would get very worked up about the overall lackadaisical attitude here.

There are so many layers of America's gun problem we could devote an entire chat to it.

And yet cars have seat-belts, shoulder harnesses and air-bags.


Seems like a surmountable problem, indeed.

If he was out with a guy friend, then why didn't he just tell you that when he talked with you, instead of lying and saying he had fallen asleep early? And I really don't like him mocking you. That's a very, very bad sign. You wrote in because you have a hunch that he is being unfaithful, or at the very least, his behavior was inappropriate for your question. Either way, go with your gut on this one, and it is probably telling you to break it off with him. Make a list of pros/cons about him and the relationship in general. If there are other hints or warning signs of disrespectful, mocking behavior, then you have your answer. You wouldn't be leaving him over just a parking ticket; you would be leaving him because of his behavior in that instance and others (if you find more).

Food for thought!

Time absolutely flew today. Thanks so much for being here. I am sorry I couldn't get to more!

I'll look forward to having you here next week. In the meantime, see you in the comments, and on Facebook, and now in the boundary-setting piece!

Take good care.

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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