Baggage Check Live: Drink that wine and breathe

Apr 16, 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.

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Hi, all. It is lovely to see you in the queue already. What is on your mind this week?

In this week's column, we have a person whose new coworker just might be poaching her friends. And in L2, we've got a brother who has estranged himself from our LW.... and the pain is oh so real.

Any words of support for these folks?

Let's get started!

I read something recently about "existential therapy." It sounds like the core message is "You're gonna die! Get used to it!" (But I may not have fully grasped the subtleties.) Over the years quite a number of therapies have been popular for awhile and then faded away. Freud has become practically a four-letter word. Now "cognitive behavioral therapy" is the flavor of the week. Do you have any thoughts on what these various psychotherapies have in common and how they differ, and is CBT really best for everybody?

Well, to be fair, CBT's "flavor-of-the-week" status has been going on for several decades now!

That said, people do have different needs. I'm laughing here about your Cliff Notes version of existential therapy. The main thrust of it is searching for meaning even in suffering, and it draws a lot from Viktor Frankl's work after his time in a concentration camp during World War II. Modern research has really borne out the fact that meaning matters immensely when it comes to our mental health and well-being. So it may be a particularly good approach for those who are ready to look at the big picture and make sense of what they're doing on this Earth, rather than focusing on the alleviation of individual symptoms in the moment.

I’m an adult in my 40s and really struggling with my relationship with my Dad. He’s a racist, an Islamophobe, a homophobe, and thinks Democrats are out to destroy the country. He has been this way for years, but it seems to ratchet up the older he gets. I unfriended him on social media because he posts about 10-20 times a day, at least half of which are cringe-inducing, and I don’t want anyone associating me with him. It’s honestly just hugely embarrassing. He’s an educated man, but you’d never know that by looking at what he posts. I have told him that I think his posts are unacceptable, but he continues on. If he were anyone but my Dad, I would not have any relationship whatsoever with a person like this. But he’s my Dad and grandfather to my kids. He gave me a good childhood and provided for me. I feel a sense of obligation to not just cut him off. But I’m so angry at him. He doesn’t talk about his political views around me because he knows it won’t end well, but I am so disgusted by his beliefs that I find it hard to even be around him. I’m just repulsed. We do a family trip for a week every summer and I just really dread it. Any advice as to how to get through it? I would ditch it if not for my Mom and siblings, this trip is a big deal to my Mom in particular and it would crush her if I cancelled and didn’t bring the grandkids. My vacation M.O. for the past few years has been to just pour a big giant glass of wine every night to keep my calm. But maybe there's better ways to handle this.

I am sorry. The "drink that wine and breathe" coping mechanism seems to be as good as many that are out there, honestly.

So-- if he presumably abstains from bringing up these hateful views in front of you, then that does give you a ray of hope for being able to relate-- but you have the unenviable position of just trying to compartmentalize as much as possible. You've already taken the step to unfriend on social media, but might your vacations benefit from this mindset as well: to leave your awareness of that part of him at the door, and to deal only with the father/grandfather/board-game-player/baseball-fan/spaghetti-eater/whatever-the-heck-he-is-besides-a-racist person in front of you. It's not a perfect system, but it at least allows you to maintain a relationship for the sake of your mother and your siblings.

And if he does manage to keep these views away from your children, then that is another argument for at least trying to meet him where he is as well. (Down the line when your kids are older, or if the opinions ever seep out in front of your kids before then, then that provides an opportunity for a nuanced and real conversation about the difficulties of loving someone who has views you find abhorrent.)

Growing older and more set in one's ways, and perhaps more anxious and fearful and suspicious, combined with the toxicity of oversimplified, viral memes on social media-- well, he wouldn't be the first to start to become someone that it's hard to love. But as long as he can make the effort to just be Grandpa during these trips, then you can choose-- if you so desire-- to keep taking deep breaths and accept what he is willing to give in those moments, at least.

As luck would have it, both my mother and also my mother-in-law are both strong independent women who live on their own. But they are now both in their 80s and suffering from mental decline. My mother is getting paranoid about people and doesn't want help even though she knows that there probably really aren't people interested in murdering or raping her. But she refuses help. And then my mother-in-law has become extremely mean to any relative that doesn't help and give homage to her as the matriarch of the whole family who should be worshiped. All the relatives who live close have given up hope and believe they need professional help. Any ideas for convincing these two that they need assisted living without us getting caught up in their delusions or tornado? (To be clear, they each are separate cases and don't live near each other.)

I can imagine it really feels like a double-whammy to be dealing with these parallel situations at once.

You are not alone, though, and I am hoping some chatters will chime in with their own experiences with having these types of conversations. Here are some things that are important as I see it, however. First, presenting a united front-- not as a ganging-up intervention, but making sure that you and all the siblings are on the same page and will be staying on message. It's not uncommon for triangulation to occur, where one sibling becomes the "good" one who goes rogue and enables the parent a bit more, undermining-- even unintentionally-- the other siblings' efforts. Be matter-of-fact but empathetic, emphasizing above all that you want what is best for these women and being very specific about the ways that their lives could be easier/smoother/more comfortable/more enjoyable in the new arrangement. Address the fears without getting into the weeds of the more paranoid aspects (having specific answers to their concerns about assisted living, for instance, without having a twenty-minute back and forth that lends credence to some of the more paranoid aspects of their thinking.)

And finally, do seek out some professional support. Most communities have some sort of social services/senior services organization that can help with these types of transitions and conversations. Even some workplaces have this as a benefit. Look into it from all the various locales that you and your siblings and partners and your moms are coming from.

You are not alone in this!

The second LW from this week's column struck a chord with me. My partner's teenage son has done something similar over the years - decided not to speak to my partner for months at a time; this time, it's been 9 months, and we don't expect to hear from him before he heads to college in the fall. My partner is a great parent and I get along with the son, and we're always flabbergasted as to why the son decides to cut off contact without any explanation or willingness to talk about the problem. The LW mentioned that their brother has always had anxiety and anger issues, and we certainly see that in my partner's son. Eventually, the son may want to have a relationship again, but unless he deals with his issues, there will always be periods of estrangement and reconciliation. How should we manage any kind of relationship with the son, knowing that he may decide to break contact again over the smallest things?

This must be quite the hurtful roller coaster to be on, I am sure.

I am assuming this teenager obviously doesn't live with you two. So, does the person he lives with (presumably your partner's ex?) have any intel on this? What is that relationship like? Is that person part of the solution, or part of the problem? The more of a team mentality that your partner and that ex can have, the better you can all weather this.

Ultimately, though, it's about learning to accept the limitations of control that you have, unfortunately. You'll need to manage your expectations accordingly and just be ready to be open and loving and supportive when contact is made. (To a point, of course. If this happens for another decade, for instance, you both could be forgiven for drawing whatever boundaries you need to draw so as to not spend the rest of your life on the roller coaster.)

Shortly, I (along w/husband and children) will be leaving on what has been our annual spring break trip to visit my parents. Only this time, it’ll be the first time since my mom passed last summer. Last year this break was spent mainly in the hospital dealing with the re-emergence of chronic health issues, she quickly deteriorated and passed in July. My stepfather began seeing someone last fall and apparently it has become serious enough he’s planning on her being there during our visit. While I’m fine with him moving on, we all tend to have better lives with companionship and love. I’m having a hard time with the interjection of this new person into my life so quickly and especially during what is already going to be a highly emotional and difficult trip. He did ask and my husband thinking my feelings about him moving on meant that I was good with his plans for the trip and conveyed so to my step-father. Suddenly I’m anxious and sad (feeling she’s been replaced so quickly), it’s exasperating my own abandonment/insecurity issues and I’m worried about how I’ll cope for the week. On top of that I have a long-standing issues with social anxiety and have a hard time connecting with people (awkwardness, shy). My plan is to make sure I can leave if I need to in the moment. To make some excuse and go cry somewhere, but that’s only useful to a limited degree. I’m just not sure how to mitigate my feelings of frustration with my stepfather and husband for creating this overwhelming first trip back and how to force myself to socialize with someone who’s replaced my mother when experiencing that level of discomfort and sadness.

Ugh, this really hurts, I am sure. It is one of those situations where you can want the best for someone even as it hurts you  inside. You are allowed to have mixed feelings here-- just like you are allowed to be okay with the general idea of your stepfather dating even as you don't want to have to spend a week making small talk with this new person as you are still understandably grieving your mother.

The fact that your stepfather asked your husband about it means he is likely open to the fact that this might not be the easiest for you (why would it be?), and so I would encourage a revised conversation. There's got to be some middle ground here, and perhaps your husband-- or you, if you feel comfortable-- can go back and ask for it. Presumably your father and this woman are not living together yet, correct? So why would she have to be around for this whole trip, or even the bulk of it? Can you meet her over a meal or two but also have plenty of time getting space? Having time with just your stepfather and your kids?

He needs to know your vulnerability and sensitivity around this issue-- and again, these feeling are totally understandable and should not come as a surprise. And yes, upping the self-care for yourself-- creating lots of space for yourself during this trip, times that you can be alone if you need it-- are going to be key as well.

Please keep us posted!

My spouse is always the life of the party and an extrovert. She group chats while we are together at home, I caught her flirting through texts with someone out of state and sending pics of herself jogging and received affirmations from the texter of how sexy a woman she is. I told her I don't appreciate her texting during our time and she has stopped for awhile. I told her that flirting creates intimacy with others, is cheating on us and detracts from our intimacy and crosses our marital boundaries. She admits she was flirting (she was caught) apologized but doesn't know why she did it. "We don't text all the time just 5 or 6 times in 6 months" I told her once is too many times! It's all about feeding her ego, am I wrong and how do I move forward?

If indeed it's about feeding her ego, then she's going to have to figure out a way how to get those needs met within the reasonable confines of a committed marital relationship. This could involve her doing her own work to figure out what she might be missing, self-esteem-wise, or it could also be about you two perhaps having a few sessions with a couples counselor who can give you both the forum to reestablish expectations for your marriage and help you each understand where the other person is coming from. But ultimately it's all about communication. Is she ready to be vulnerable and look at how her behavior may be jeopardizing the emotional intimacy she has with you? I can't tell you that answer here, of course, but if she is truly ready to look at this and make a commitment to change, then there is hope.

A few weeks ago someone wrote in about a their mother making a big deal about her birthday, in her perspective. I have a relative who is similar, though not demanding us to go visit. It just so happens that 4 out of my family members have birthdays within 4 days of each other. My in law comes wants to come to visit usually 2 weeks after, and when his birthday is. Fine. It is usually fraught, because it seems no matter what we do, dinner, gift, it is usually not enough, and he will spend his time on the phone lamenting to friends how "bad" we are. This year it was because we didn't have cupcakes for him. And then tells us how well his friends take care of him at home. This year, he had talked to me before the visit and asked about it, and I had mentioned that we just had halloween, parties at school and had a little celebration at home and with friends, and its just sweet overload, and maybe we could take a pass this year. But that just made me the witch who is "mean." Any perspective? Or am I just mean and petty?

I am guessing you realize that of course this does not make you mean and petty.

At some point, you have to decide how much of his demands you are willing to just roll with (some would say "suck up") for the sake of conflict avoidance, knowing that ultimately he is viewing things through his own lens that you cannot control. There is no right answer for everyone about where they will draw the line. Perhaps getting cupcakes would have been worth it to you to avoid some of the belly-aching, though perhaps it wouldn't because the stress of having to capitulate to that would have been too much.

I do think that trying to establish expectations beforehand could help — and it sounds like you tried to do that, though I am unclear what he said when you warned him/asked him about not doing cupcakes.

But the bottom line is, this is often fraught, which goes to show that there is only so much you can do to change his views. Don't over-personalize it. Figure out where your line is, draw it, and then give yourself some compassion.

Can you please offer some advice, or point to a resource, to help to decide whether it's time to switch therapists? In case it's applicable it is for an 18-year-old who suffers from social and other anxieties and possibly bipolar 2. TIA.

There are a lot of potential variables here. It's worth considering switching therapists when progress doesn't seem to be happening, when there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about what the progress should actually look like, when there is little rapport between therapist and client, when the therapist doesn't seem to "get" the client — those are just a few that come to mind. It might help to have more specifics ... is there a plan that is being worked on? What are the treatment goals, and how are they happening (or not?) What does the actual client think about the situation, and whether there is progress being made? To what extent have the concerns been conveyed to the therapist, and what has the response been?

I don't really have anything to add to your published answer to this week's question about friend stealing, I think you covered it, but I wanted to say that the accompanying picture was cool.

Glad you liked it! Ben doesn't get enough props for his work week in and week out!

Haven't dealt with it so much with family but definitely with close friends who may have well as been family. Last time it happened I used a "let go" ritual, literally imagined her in a bubble, wished her well, and watched her float away. It doesn't take care of all the feelings, but it took the edge off. Another resource that worked for me was TRE: Trauma/tension Release Exercises (David Bereli). I used the book then took a number of sessions with certified trainers. Helped letting go of old nonsense ...

Thanks for this recommendation — though I can't personally vouch for it out of lack of familiarity.

But I love the visualization idea. A lot of times, the symbolism — and making the break a tangible one that can be envisioned — can be helpful. Also, the wishing her well — many times it feels strange or uncomfortable or "unfair" to do that, and yet it does seem to help people let go.

Thanks.

Hi Dr. Andrea, thank you for these great chats. I'm due in 3 months with our first child and I am struggling to figure out how to communicate about my needs to my husband, who is wonderful, but we aren't experiencing this pregnancy the same way (I know, duh) and I don't know how to communicate my needs/requests/hopes/expectations without worrying that they are too much or over the top. He feels like we have plenty of time to get everything done, whereas I want to do all the baby purchasing ASAP. (Why wait?!) I am buying the books our doula recommended and asked which he would be interested in reading but ... no answer yet. I want to get our wills set up, find a pediatrician ... but I'm the only one doing the research despite attempts to ask him what parts he wants to take on. We are usually a great team and I know he's excited about the baby but I feel like I'm doing everything on my own to prepare on top of actually growing the baby! I can't tell if he is overwhelmed, truly doesn't understand the needs or just doesn't think it's urgent yet. And I can't figure out how to communicate about this without feeling like I am just being crazy, unreasonable, hormonal, etc. Am I?

How about this as an opener:

"I can't tell if [you are] overwhelmed, truly [don't]  understand the needs, or just [don't] think it's urgent yet."

See how you are already halfway there?

I think you may be looking at this as a false dichotomy — that by definition, one of you is "wrong" (and that if it's you, then that means that you are "crazy") when in reality, it may just be different styles of approaching this transition. And what a big transition it is — where all kinds of feelings and styles and different ways of doing things are bound to emerge.

There doesn't have to be a right or a wrong.

But there does have to be a team mentality in terms of closing the gap between you.

So, talk to him. Tell him that you want to move forward on certain things because it feels right to you (and for what it's worth, now that you're about to enter the last trimester, it feels right to me as well!) and if it doesn't feel right to him, you both need to find a way to adjust so that at least you are moving forward in tandem — at whatever pace — rather than at odds with each other.

There could be a million reasons behind his own particular pace being so different from yours at this point, and none of them have to be "wrong." But you won't know until you actually hear him out — and also convey how these things are of significant importance to you. Since you are typically a great team together, then that bodes well for you being able to collaborate on this and figure it out. Try to banish any potential worries about being "crazy" or "hormonal" and consider this conversation very important practice for the actual joint-parenting gig to come.

 

This whole thing is very sad, but nobody is at fault here, and frustration with them sounds like the grief talking. I would separate your very valid feelings from your frustration and simply say you thought you were more prepared to handle this than you are, and see if a solution can be worked out jointly.

Yes.

Grief is a long road, and the loss of a parent has all kinds of effects, effects that need and deserve loving care and empathy. I like your wording about not being as prepared as you thought — this is nobody's fault, but there's no need for OP to have to be hurt more than necessary.

Thanks.

In other words, LW1 in the column already had something NOT in common with all the other group members. If LW1 is correct in assessing being left out, I suspect it was something that would have eventually happened anyhow, and that the addition of the co-worker is at most accelerating the inevitable. Dr. Andrea is right about trying to plan one-one-one activities with a group member. Or maybe the events are simply telling you that this wasn't a well-suited group to you after all.

Thanks!

I am hopeful that the group can still have potential as continued friends for LW — but maybe just in a slightly different form.

This phrase from LW2 today struck a chord with me. It seems very dismissive. Obviously the brother does not think this disagreement was "relatively small." Even with "anger and anxiety" issues, this disagreement caused real, profound hurt in the brother. Maybe the LW should try to change their perspective a bit, and exercise a bit of empathy when reaching out to brother again. If you diminish others real pain (even if you don't think you would feel the same pain), it would make the other person not want to be around you. Not sure that is going on here, but it is not a "relatively small disagreement" if it led to total and complete estrangement.

That's a good point. Extra empathy can go a long way, though I could certainly understand that it's particularly hard to extend in this case given the long-term history. Thanks.

Please meet with a reputable geriatric care manager. They deal with this sort of situation every day and can help you with how to discuss this with your moms, where might be a good fit for them and help you with the financial choices (if you want that). The moms don't have to be there. I did that for my mum (who admittedly is pretty easy going) and it was incredibly helpful. The person I saw has an hourly rate and I ended up going twice. She also can provide other services.

Very helpful suggestion, and much appreciated!

Ha - I have had the same conversations with my husband (and am due around the same time). This is our second child so I went through this once already, too! I think there are various common factors at play here, including the classic "nesting" instinct at this time in the pregnancy and it also tends to be more "real" to the expecting mom that a baby is on the way than the father who can't really experience it as viscerally. Anyway, it depends on how your spouse best operates. For us, what I have found that works best is to tackle some projects together. Also, my husband finds tasks like "create a will" completely overwhelming but he is excellent at more straightforward projects like "assemble a crib." So, ask for help but also recognize your individual strengths. And take good care of yourself during this major life change!

So helpful, from someone who has been there. Thanks!

Thanks for publishing my note ... other techniques are literally, "send them some love." I agree about it seeming unfair, but it's like forgiveness ... it has nothing to do with the other person, and everything to do with me.

Yes!

It really can be a helpful technique to extend empathy and grace and compassion-- even just mentally-- to someone who on the surface seems not to necessarily "deserve" it. It can be really freeing for the person doing the sending, which is no small thing. 

You can stick to non-political/non-inflammatory topics. There's a lot of material there. Alternatively, if are prepared for it, engage him in a real conversation. Ask him how he came to his beliefs.  Recall a time when he did not have that view, and ask what changed that. Approach the conversation in a way that you want to his view and would be open to adopting it. And counter with your actual observations of how say a Muslim affected you positively. He may never persuade you to think like him (nor you him) but you may plant a seed. If nothing else, you might have a little more insight into his world view and his fears. A little good-natured humor might help too

I like the optimism here!

I get the vibe that this might be a bridge too far for OP to want to tackle — and I can certainly understand that. But if they are eventually up for it, it might be worth a try someday. Thanks.

Can you offer any generalizations about (a) folks who appear to want help but actually only want others to listen and/or (b) folks who feel primed to proffer advice however unwelcome it may be?

Ah, yes. That these two types of folks don't always do well when they date each other!

This is continuation of last week, I believe — where we talked about the inherent conflict between the person trying to help their coworker and the coworker's not really wanting it despite seeming to ask for it.

I think communication helps immensely on both sides. People recognizing their own tendencies and then coming out with it ("I really want to try to solve this with you, but that might not be what you're looking for. Do you want me to just listen? I want to make sure I'm helpful in the way you want." Or, "Before I go on, I have to warn you — I feel like I need to just vent about this. I know I can't solve it right away and so I don't want to even go there. But if you don't mind listening for a bit, that would really help me handle these feelings.")

My spouse was recently witness to our child telling a thrift shop owner that an item that 20-something Child had set aside was paid for when it wasn't. Spouse later confronted Child, who was dismissive. Spouse doesn't want me bringing it up to Child, as Spouse fears that if I do, Child won't trust Spouse. I'm quite disturbed by Child's act, but will respect Spouse's wishes. What's your take?

Well, I guess I don't know what you were hoping to accomplish by bringing it up to Child.

Child has already been confronted and is not willing, or so it seems at least, to face the reality of their actions. And being that they are an adult and are long past discipline age, let's be realistic about what the conversation would accomplish. Were you hoping to lay down the hammer in a way that your spouse didn't? Were you hoping for a heart-to-heart? A warning to toe the line?

It's a disheartening thing for your spouse to have witnessed, and even more disheartening given Child's reaction afterward — but I also don't see what headway you might make that your spouse did not. And clearly if your spouse doesn't want you to bring it up, then that's an added argument not to.

Could I even add in a devil's advocate perspective and suggest that maybe there's a (however teensy) chance that indeed this was a misunderstanding?

Where is your partner on this? You mention this is your in law who is haranging you for not celebrating them enough. Why are you bearing the brunt of their disapproval and can your in law help run some interference. Also, no is a complete answer. Sorry, this year it doesn't work.

Great points.

There is literally nothing you can do to keep someone this manipulative from keeping on trying to manipulate you into feeling guilty. But you can refuse to feel guilty, and refuse to play along. If it bothers you enough, tell him not to visit. Or let him visit and laugh at his antics.

I agree that there comes a point where you just need to give yourself permission to let go, label his demands as unreasonable and having everything to do with him and nothing to with you, and move forward. Thanks.

If this was just about cupcakes, throw some in your shopping cart. I get the impression it's about that nothing is enough. Quite frankly, if people take better care of him at home — why is he visiting you??

ha! Touche.

Yeah, I would definitely endorse the "What's a package of cupcakes? Consider just doing it" mentality if it didn't seem there was already a long history of even gifts not being enough. Thanks.

It could well be that the excitement of "getting those needs met" OUTSIDE of "the reasonable confines of a committed marital relationship." This involves immaturity as well as emotional infidelity, and is going to take harder work and harder admissions on the part of the excitement-seeker.

Very true.

Either way, that conversation and reality check needs to get started.

Are you speaking her love language? I don't know if you have a role to play in this or not. But it never hurts to see if you're appreciative of her — or if she has a rapacious appetite.

Yup, it's hard to say to what extent this could be "I need so much validation for my attractiveness that most people would consider it excessive" versus "I get so little validation from my partner that I am constantly left wanting." But these are good considerations. Thanks.

I guess this will be the plan. My Dad doesn't verbalize his gross views when he's with us on vacation, but he sits glued to his laptop virtually the whole vacation just re-posting memes on social media, etc. I'm not kidding when I say he's on the laptop probably 12 hours a day while on vacation. It's very sad. And it's just so frustrating to see his big giant screen up all day with whatever the latest political rant du jure is. He has tried a few times to give my teenagers right-wing reading material, but I intercept it and dispose of it.

Gotcha.

Yeah, he sounds so mired in it that I bet it feels virtually impossible to get him out of that toxic mindset.

It could also be that as he gets older, he is a bit more prone to these fear-based tactics (might there be a bit of cognitive decline at play as well?)

Deep breaths. And maybe some chocolate with that wine.

My paternal grandfather was an unfiltered racist, largely because where and when he grew up it was simply the way everybody was. My parents were surprisingly liberal (for Massachusetts in the 50s) and eventually they had to stop having him visit. It was particularly hard on my dad; but they stayed in touch, and when he had to stop working without any savings they chipped in to help support him, even though it was a real strain on their budget. My grandmother (whom everyone adored) was long dead by then — like your mother she had been an ameliorating presence for many years. It sounds as though you’re not an only child — do your siblings see your dad the same way you do? Can you develop a collective strategy for dealing with him? Even if it’s just taking shifts it can be a big relief. I know my dad was grateful for his brothers.

Yes, the strength in numbers with the siblings is an important component here!

I am glad your Dad found a way to handle that situation — it sounds like he had grace and compassion even when it would be difficult to do so.

Thanks.

Possible conversation: 'Dad, I'm happy you've found someone, we all tend to have better lives with companionship and love. I look forward to meeting her. At the same time, I'm sure you understand this is going to be a difficult visit emotionally for me and I also would love to make sure we have one on one time. Can we include New Girlfriend for [whatever you think appropriate]? I'm looking forward to meeting her, but I'd also just like to be myself with my emotions — difficult with someone I've just met.'

Beautiful. Thanks.

Well, it could very well be a "relatively small disagreement" if the brother is prone to overreaction and/or taking things personally.

Certainly. But it's true that trying to reflect on how big it seemed to Brother-- even if that was not an objective judgment, and was instead borne out of a place of being mentally unwell-- could still help increase the understanding and compassion within this situation. And that's always a good thing when it comes to trying to mend an estrangement!

"I would ... simply say you thought you were more prepared to handle this than you are, and see if a solution can be worked out jointly." I second this approach. It should not make FIL feel defensive. He may feel defensive anyway, but this way, LW is taking responsibility for feelings and not laying them on FIL.

Absolutely. It was a great use of "I" statements, cliched as they may be!

 

Expecting a baby in 4 months and initially felt some of the same things being out of sync with my husband on who would do what and when (especially in terms of reading/learning — perhaps very understandably he felt learning about labor/delivery was less urgent than I did!) Finding resources that were directed towards him rather than towards me (as many pregnancy books are!) was helpful. The Birth Partner — written for non-birthing partners and support people has been a favorite of his. It was also helpful for me to notice the things that he did think were urgent to prepare — he is more concerned about getting the house ready than me. So it wasn't that I was the only one invested, we were invested in different ways. You don't mention if there are other ways he might be demonstrating investment (and maybe there aren't) but could be worth keeping an eye out for.

Great point.

I am glad you have found a way to work better together as you go through this transition!

Forty years ago (!!!), I enrolled in a three-month-long CBT research program at our local university for people with mild enough depression that medications weren't indicated. While life has thrown me some curveballs in the interim, some of which had me down for a while, I learned coping skills that have served me well and kept me functioning most of the time.

Love it!

Yup, CBT is no spring chicken.

Framed the issue as having her friends taken away. That suggests that her friends have no agency. Absent kidnapping, nobody can really take other people away. It's probably more accurate for LW to identify the fear as being rejected. No question that if true it hurts. But you don't get friends back by acting on your insecurities, or blaming third parties. Confident (not arrogant - just confident) people tend to be the most attractive to others. What do you offer as a friend? Identify your strengths, be mindful you have them, and let everything else go.

Very well put. Thank you!

Kudos to the OP who (a) acknowledges her (unfortunately simultaneous) mother's + mother-in-law's mental decline and (b) is willing to engage rather than ignore the problem. I concur with Andrea that it is critical to have a united front: If there are family members who are unwilling to be fully on-board hopefully they will at least be silent support. I would also recommend investigating whether either woman has executed a health-care proxy: if so, it may be time to invoke it.

Very helpful points. Much appreciated!

Just wanted to say thank you. Your answer was as compassionate as I hoped (I wrote about "no good memories") and you suggested some real avenues for addressing my problem (reframing, mindfulness). Anyway, thank you! Love your column!

And I love your kindness in writing in. Thank you so much for being here!

Difficult parent will ALWAYS bring topics around to his beliefs.

Perhaps. But I did get the feeling from OP that in this case, Dad is able to put forth decent effort into abstaining.

Why can't he spend time playing ball, etc. with his own grandchildren? Are they actually getting much from this relationship?

A legitimate question.

I do fear that there's not much to Grandpa besides this toxicity.

Turn the wifi off?

haha!

Hard to do when it's not your own home!

Dr. Andrea, I submitted the comment about how my dad dealt with his racist father. Thank you so much for your comment! My dad was indeed a man of grace and compassion, and my siblings and I miss him every day.

You are very welcome.

I am sorry your father is gone — but it sounds like he left quite the legacy.

Something else to add: This new companion is not your mother's replacement. It is unfair to characterize her that way, both for her role in your stepfather's life and yours. No relationship or love is ever exactly the same. His love for your mother can co-exist with love for his new companion.

For sure.

But in grief, that's part of what feels threatening, I am sure — the mere idea that someone could move on with someone else and fill at least part of that void with a new person, even if they know that their mother will never truly be "replaced."

Just because something is (or seems to you) new doesn't mean it's eventually going to be debunked. Everybody took aspirin for pain when it was discovered/concentrated/extracted, and it's still around.

True.

And there are many solid components of ALL types of psychotherapy that appear to be the "aspirin" for certain mental health issues!

Once again, the clock is not our friend!

Thanks so much for all the participation today. It always warms my heart to see such support.

I'll look forward to seeing you next week. In the meantime, you can always find me on Facebook or say your piece in the comments.

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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