Baggage Check Live: Who are these arbiters of achievement?

Jun 25, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior will be 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.

She’ll discuss her recent columns and answer any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more.

Waiting for the chat to go live? Read Baggage Check columns.

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Hi, all!

So, I am happy to announce that this week we will spend the ENTIRE chat on...... Q-tips!

Seriously, thanks for bearing with me last week. And though some of you no doubt were staging a full-scale revolt, I did find it humorous and heart-warming that so many of you weighed in with help. After all, it's not every day that I suffer a bizarro medical-ish dilemma mere minutes before the chat begins and it was my honor to get your take on it. (By way of update — and then I promise no more talk of it — I decided to assume it was a faulty swab, that nothing remained in my ear, and wait for my ear to tell me otherwise. So far so good.)

So, what's on your mind this week? In the column, we've got someone whose boyfriend keeps his ex hidden (or tries to.) And we've got a daycare-among-friends situation that isn't working out so well.

What have you got?


I was really dismayed but the bashing and snickering at this that went on last week. We live in a world in which billions of people believe in reincarnation and multiple lives, including most adherents of Buddhism and Hinduism. Heck, I recently read that 30% of Christians believe in reincarnation. Dr. Brian Weiss, a psychiatrist at Harvard, has written extensively about his work in past life regression; the University of Virginia has collected 2500 cases of children's past life experiences and has had active study in this area for 50 years. If you read about this area some of the examples are staggering. I don't think it's at all a "red flag shooting sparks and fire on bystanders" that this therapist does past life regression, and I would invite you to do your own research. Many alternative modalities such as acupuncture and chiropractic were once regarded as quack medicine but are now widely accepted. More importantly, for those of us who do believe that we live many lives and the purpose of each is to learn, your scoffing and the subsequent making fun of all this was disrespectful. Thanks for listening.

I am sorry if you felt that it was disrespectful. But I think we're talking about apples and oranges here.

Believing in reincarnation is not what was leading to the snickering. Purporting to offer mental health treatment for psychological disorders through the technique of exploring past lives is what got my goat — and it is an entirely different thing. I will never apologize for demanding rigorous empirical validation if someone is taking money under a mental health license in their claims to measurably help someone's suffering. The stakes are far too high. And though it was never my intent to bash anyone who believes in past lives, it is still my professional, ethical duty to help someone steer clear of a provider who is offering non-validated treatment — especially when the person suffering is specifically looking for treatment that is proven (as most people are — why wouldn't they be?). 

I find playing the piano or gazing at the stars to be an almost spiritual experience. I occasionally take coincidences as a "sign," or believe that someone I love who is no longer on this Earth is still with me in some way, or showing herself in the flowers in my garden. I can entertain the thought of reincarnation or past-life experiences with respect and curiosity, and certainly can't rule them out. But that is a FAR cry from me sitting in a therapy office and prescribing those things as treatment for someone else's trauma, claiming I know best somehow, defying the research. Again, apples and oranges. Would I say it was a humongous red flag if someone offered a trauma therapy that was entirely based on star-gazing or piano-playing, even as I believe in those things spiritually and personally? Absolutely.

The standard for showing efficacy and utility in actually treating mental health disorders is very high, as it should be. And let's be clear — that has not been met by past life regression techniques. Full stop. Not even close. Heck, if all these people are studying past life regression so extensively, then it is even MORE telling that it has failed to be validated as a treatment for depression or trauma. And so the serious red flags remain.

I never want to be disrespectful here. But it may be an even greater danger for me to tell someone who's suffering that they should prioritize a provider who uses non-efficacious techniques over one who is following the research and adjusting their treatments accordingly. I think that would be disrespectful to the person in need of help most of all.

When my husband and I first started dating, he didn't keep me from meeting his ex-wife but he didn't go out of his way to introduce us. She and I have had a few brief exchanges over the years, but she's very clear about the fact that she hates me. She was the one who asked for the divorce, and she and my husband still have a very contentious non-relationship, with zero co-parenting. I have never asked him about this topic, but I assume that he has wanted to maintain a very healthy separation between his past life with his ex and his new life with me. Perhaps that's what LW1's boyfriend is doing by keeping her from meeting his ex. Or maybe he asked for the divorce and senses that the ex would feel very hurt by the presence of the new girlfriend. Or maybe the ex knows about the girlfriend and has insisted on not meeting her. Whatever the reason, I understand LW1's interest in meeting the ex-wife, but there are a lot of complicated emotions swirling around a divorced ex-couple and their kids, and things may be pretty messy under the surface. LW should certainly continue to talk about it with her boyfriend, but be patient. Things move very differently in new relationships when there are kids and a former partner involved.

You bring up a lot of great points. Thanks.

It's so true — he could very well be trying to protect LW, or be scared that Ex will be absolutely horrid and hurtful to her. He needs to find a way to communicate this, though, given that it is bothering LW so much and she is communicating that to him.

My guess is LW2 is paying a minimal amount to have her neighbor care for her children. If she wants enrichment activities and learning, she needs to investigate actual daycare and preschool. And yes, they will cost more. There's a reason.

Yup, could certainly be a factor!

Have you tried taking four or more children under the age of 5 out for "educational experiences?" Are you kidding me? First, most experiences are educational for the 4 & under set, and play most of all. But what sort of experiences are you thinking? A water tray, sandbox, finger painting, or making cookies — totally doable! A trip to the Smithsonian, that's unlikely unless she is super woman. A walk to the park, yes, that's completely possible if it is nearby, but 4+ children, and possibly some of them not walking, maybe just walking, and others running, climbing, exploring? Stressful and difficult. I think your expectations may be unrealistic.

It's worth spelling out how exactly what her expectations are, for sure. I am a HUGE believer in play-based learning and think all too often people want too much "structure" too early in their kid's education. But there's a full spectrum available here, as you point out. No Smithsonian needed, but outdoor time at a park — and all the things you mentioned — sure is nice.

A note to our chatter who wrote in with a tech issue about accessing the chats on the Post app as a subscriber. I passed your comment on to tech folks, and I was told it was fixed. They also said it was helpful feedback! Thanks for writing in. 

I have a friend who is pretty awesome. We have seen each other very much lately. One minute we were hanging out and having fun, the next thing I know, we haven't hung out for a month. When I ask, I get the "I'll let you know." Usually I trust it but not lately. During this time however, things have between us feel odd. When I do see her at work, its almost as if I'm bothering her. However, she doesn't act this way with others. What do I do, and how do I approach this situation? It's really stressing me out.

If it's stressing you out this much, it's worth talking about. Do it in private, and be friendly and respectful, but also direct. "Hey, I've noticed that things feel a little off between us lately. I hope I haven't done something to upset you. If that's the case, I hope you'll tell me about it. I value our friendship and want to keep it going as before."

No one's saying this will be a non-awkward conversation, but at least with any luck it will help you figure out where you stand.

I find myself in a really tough spot, I love my boyfriend but his friends cause me a lot of anxiety and drama. I communicated a boundary to one of his female friends in a healthy way & the other two girls in the group have decided I’ve got to go. His closest female friend called me & told me it was a good thing I went to therapy for my anxiety, but that doesn’t excuse all of my character flaws. Ouch. This is the only thing me & my boyfriend fight about in our relationship & I want to support him interacting with these friends he’s grown close to for about a year now, but it makes me miserable to be around them. He’s defended me but I can tell this puts him in a tougher spot than I, and I don’t want to be in a relationship by jury but also don’t think it’s healthy or fair to ask him to cut ties. Any advice for coping & compromising?

So, to me this boils down to what his "tough spot" looks like. You are miserable around his friends, who are being unkind to you (at least from what you've put here. I admit that I'd love to know more about the "communicating the boundary" piece —seems there could be some very interesting back story there — but I also don't want to blame the victim if things are as they seem) — so what is his solution? He "defends" you, but is that working to either change their behavior, or make you feel better? Or is that just to make him feel like he is "trying?"

This isn't that different from the situations where a partner's family is unkind toward the partner. Ultimately, BOTH people have to choose  whether the treatment is acceptable to them, and go from there. Is there an easy "compromise" when someone's closest friend is actively disrespectful toward their SO and trying to oust them?

Maybe chatters have one, and I'm all ears. But to me, the problem is going to keep cropping up unless Boyfriend draws a stronger line.

I wrote in about my husband who kept putting off learning to drive (what triggered me writing in was him saying in passing that it wasn’t “a priority”). I was gearing myself up to have a proper talk about it, using your helpful script and the commentators’ input, but as it turned out I didn’t need to! Either he decided it was time or he picked up on my (likely unsubtle) frustration with him, but he’s since got his learner license, and has lessons booked in starting next week. It’s a long road (ahem) still to go, but I’m much happier with the situation. (The planned “big move” across country is on hold for other reasons.)

That's just wonderful. I'm so glad. (Maybe he read the chat!) I really appreciate your writing in.

Last week's discussion had several comments on a woman who had gone to some sort of healthcare provider and was given a diagnosis and supplements and the person who posted about it thought it was wrong/bad/not advised. The additional comments included that moldy oldie, "she just wants attention." She probably does want attention. She knows something is wrong, and can't find anyone to tell her what it is. She hasn't found an MD who can pinpoint the problem and treat it. There are many common diseases that take years to diagnose (look up "diseases that take a long time to diagnose" and you will get a list of 15 serious diseases that cause problems, some of which take years to diagnose because they're diseases of exclusion, including MS and Parkinson's.) Women have this problem more than men because physicians often discount women's pain and women's descriptions. The woman in question likely grabbed on to what she was told by the healthcare provider because it was AN ANSWER. The world of medicine is full of people who don't have clear cut problems and easy diagnoses. Read the Post's medical mystery feature for more examples. Mocking someone because they're unable to find someone who can help them among their current physician choices or disdainfully saying "she just wants attention," as though wanting someone to actually pay attention to the problems she's having is wrong misses the point, which is that she doesn't feel right and that is being ignored by the people who are supposed to help. Mocking her in what is supposed to be a psychology column doesn't make the situation better.

I don't recall the exact context of someone saying that she just wants attention, but hopefully I didn't make it seem like I endorsed that. If I did, that was a lapse on my part. My biggest concern was her getting the true help that she needs.

You bring up a lot of empathetic and insightful points about where she might be coming from. Thank you. Living with medically undetermined and mysterious symptoms can be Hell on Earth, and I feel for anyone who is going through it. Unfortunately, it does make someone more vulnerable in being potentially taken advantage of.


I really want this on a tshirt! "I fear that cow dung is actually an ideal scenario here" Thank you for the hearty laugh!

ha! Thanks. Although being that it seems I've already been playing it fast and loose with the scoffing at non-empirically-validated treatments lately, I probably should slow it down and not get on CustomInk anytime soon.

Hi Andrea, I just heard "The Daily" podcast (May 24, Confronting a Childhood Abuser) about an adult man outing a man who fondled him when he was 13yo. I feel for the victim, but also feel that it became an obsession for him 20 years later, where he contacted the perpetrator's family, then ultimately met with the perpetrator and recorded their discussion, then leaked it to a whistleblower site. I'm curious what you think about that situation and about outing abusers in general? To date, no charges were ever filed, and I guess his statute of limitations expired. But the abuser has since been charged in another abuse case, stemming directly from that earlier victim's efforts. I guess I'm a bit torn as to what my question is — did the victim go too far, not far enough, turn into a vigilante, do the right thing? What say you?

Oh, it is so tricky. There aren't any easy answers here. And sometimes what is justice for one person doesn't align neatly with what is best on the whole. And sometimes healing and justice are at odds in complicated ways.

I do know that I believe that someone who has been harmed has the right to their story, and that the only "should" is that there are not really any "shoulds." And I think it's far too easy to start blaming a victim if their response to their pain and abuse doesn't automatically fall in line with what we think should be done or what we would have done ourselves. I think the same kind of public reckoning that can be helpful for certain survivors can be harmful to others. And I also think it is tough to separate out our own discomfort (like "the perp's poor family!" or "it's been 20 years!" or "this sounds like an obsession!") from the equation, when in reality the survivor is who deserves the empathy. And that is not even beginning to address the world we live in in terms of the online shaming culture and how things have been known to get-out-of-control toxic when big publicity is involved, when it becomes hard to argue that it is somehow setting the universe right.

So — I really don't have any answers for you, except that in my ideal world, every survivor of abuse gets the full support that they need, and the healing and autonomy and time and space to decide what really makes sense for their own well-being. They deserve it.

When do you know if anti-depression medication is working and effective? My doctor recommended Prozac for low to mid-level depression. I've been taking it for about two months and I really have no idea if it's working. I don't feel significantly new levels of optimism, positive self-esteem, or motivation — all of which I've been lacking for most of my adulthood. I'm just not sure what to expect from these medications. I'm in therapy as well but everything just seems like a long slog, and my lack of motivation to change much of anything really seems to impede progress in many ways. Thanks!

I am sorry that it feels like such a slog.

I am not sure if this is your first antidepressant or not, and I am not sure the type of therapy that you are getting. But you should feel the needle moving at least somewhat. It might be subtle at first, it might be fits and starts, but there SHOULD be improvement — an obviously reasonable expectation for both therapy AND medication, most certainly when they're used in tandem.

It might help to get more concrete and start tracking yourself — even more specifically than with motivation or optimism, but breaking them down further. Have your negative thoughts decreased/become less bothersome? Has sleeping or eating or other daily activities improved? Do you spend more time on activities that are good for you?

As for the optimism, positive self-esteem, and motivation, if therapy is not directly addressing those topics, it should be. Can you bring yourself to address this with your therapist?

Maybe Dr. Andrea should also invoke horoscopes, since ... oh wait, those were already scientifically disproven back in the 1940s.

I don't want to pile on here, but this is what I mean. Do I get an occasional kick out of what (as a Saggitarius) I am supposed to be up to on a given day? Of course. Can I love and respect people who believe that there's something to this? Sure. But would I tell someone that it's a-okay to choose a mental health counselor who supposedly tailors their treatment to their astrological sign? No, no, no.

Sometimes on slow days at work (it's summer, don't judge me!) I like to read your old chats. But when I scroll down and hit the "load more" button, 90% of the time it regenerates the same chats I can already see. I end up looking at a long line of chats from now back to around March. Only rarely can I get back to, say 2018, and then the next time I hit "load more" the most recent chats regenerate themselves. Help!

I'm not sure what's going on here, but I will pass this on to tech support. Thank you for bringing this up. 

How I determine what my "potential" is, so I can live up to it? I have sought therapy probably 10+ times in my life for various reasons ranging from anxiety to grief to practical relationship advice; the common thread, almost every time, is that my issues originate from being an underachiever. I would describe myself as a pretty average middle-aged DC area professional — I have a master's degree and a responsible senior management job that I juggle with my "sandwich generation" family obligations. I exercise 4-5 times a week, read a lot of books and keep my house fairly but not obsessively tidy. What else am I supposed to be doing at this (or any) stage of my life? I know I'm not extraordinary, but I do (what feels like) my best to be a good parent and generally good citizen of the world. When I try to add more to my already full plate (such as extra work or volunteering responsibilities, or even hobbies that require more than a modest amount of time and focus) I start to develop symptoms of burnout. But maybe I need to push through that to shed the mantle of underachievement?

I feel like we've seen similar themes from chatters here, and I can't help but wonder: who are these arbiters of whether someone is achieving enough?

I mean, you sound like you are achieving quite a lot. Where is the yardstick coming from? I'm not saying that we should automatically rule out the idea that you aren't living up to your "potential" — but I want to know who the Hell gets to decide that.

What do you feel is missing in your life? Where do you derive meaning? What makes you feel the most engaged with the world around you? How do you satisfy what feels to be a sense of purpose (if anything?) What gives you satisfaction? What seems worth your time?

Those are the questions as I see it. I fear that the whole "achievement" thing is way too external, when to me it should be about how YOU feel. I certainly would never argue for burnout as being an optimal state to "push through" in order to meet someone else's standard, you know?

Maybe this means nothing, but it could be a red flag. I have dated (and, sadly, married) abusive men, and it's pretty much standard for them to vilify the ex-wife. (She had to be the bad guy, or he doesn't have a selling story about what happened.) It doesn't say he has vilified her, so that's good, but keeping the new partner from ever being able to speak to the former partner is another tactic that an abuser would use. He would never want them to chat. Sometimes, he says things that make the new partner never want to talk to the former partner, and sometimes he works hard to keep them apart. Just food for thought.

Thanks for this. We certainly can't assume that this is the case, but it's worth keeping an eye on. And it all boils down to the same "answer"— that he needs to communicate with her about what is actually going on.

I am sorry to hear about the abuse that you have suffered!

"His closest female friend called me & told me it was a good thing I went to therapy for my anxiety, but that doesn’t excuse all of my character flaws."

Quite frankly, I would not like to have friends who would call up my partner and say this. It's cruel and it's liberty taking. What does your boyfriend see in these people — can you see good in them?

Great question!

One adult person and 4 kids under 4? No way should she take them on outings. Play IS educational to children. Perhaps she should re-evaluate what she expects, what it would cost (time, effort, additional chaperones/caregivers, etc), and then buy some puzzles, books, and games for her very very young kids.

Yup, I would love to hear from OP for some clarification. I didn't get the picture that she was expecting blockbuster trips to the Air and Space Museum, but we don't really know. I also know that — as someone who was SAHM-ish for many, many years — there are many ways to bring interesting, novel experiences to toddlers without even getting in to a car or Metro. It remains unclear where on the spectrum this particular arrangement falls.

I need to have a difficult conversation with my mother about moving her and my father (who has dementia) to live in a place close to my brother. We’ve been talking about this with my parents for three years, and they’ve been on board (in theory). Now the perfect place has opened up for the fall, and my mother says it can’t happen, she can’t cope with the move, they don’t have the money, etc. My brother and I are trying to come up with responses for what we anticipate her fears/objections will be, and are willing to take on a considerable amount of planning and financial obligation. But it comes down to this: she will say it can’t happen, and it HAS to happen. She and my father are totally isolated where they are, no family, no close friends. We worry so much about them, and this move will be so much better for all of us. But how do we move forward when my mother just completely shuts down and can’t/won’t talk through logistics? She does have anxiety, but I also feel like she sometimes uses that as an excuse when she doesn't want to deal. I don’t know if compassion or tough love and guilt are better options here. Help, please.

Here's the thing, though.

She doesn't HAVE to.

It feels like it, but that's not really true. It certainly seems that the move is optimal for all involved, and that her dragging her feet is perhaps sabotaging her and your Dad's well-being.

But if she already feels scared and anxious, then feeling like she doesn't have any say in this whatsoever is only going to make her feel more trapped — and resist more.

So I'm betting, the timeline needs to feel a little less rushed (even if the "perfect" place has a time limit.) She needs to feel more validated in the process. Can you bring in some additional supports — physicians, her friends, even senior services — so that she can hear some additional objective perspectives? (Just don't make it feel like an intervention where she is being ganged up on.)

I am not saying at all that you aren't right, here — but I am saying that if you are already at loggerheads, then viewing things as an absolute MUST-do may actually work against you. Because then she just asserts her autonomy by saying no and staying put and proving you wrong.

Just a friendly note to everyone, please try and make your questions for Dr. Andrea as compact as possible. We get so many submissions that are too long for Andrea to parse out and answer. Sometimes I will remove a line or two to try and cut questions down, but I'd hate to edit out a detail that the chatter felt was important! Shorter questions have a better chance of getting answered. 

Yes. Thanks, Rachel. I hate at the end of the chat seeing all the questions that I didn't have the time to do more than glimpse at because of their length — and I never want to answer those for fear of missing something crucial. We don't want to change your voice or take words away — so if you can condense them for us, we can give them the attention they deserve. Thanks!

“Didn’t excuse my character flaws”?!?

How did BF react to that incident? Because if he didn’t put that “friend” in her place once and for all, his “friends “ are more important to him than the OP is, and I can’t imagine being with someone who’d swallow an insult to me like that.

It's a great question. We don't know what "defending" OP means here. Thanks.

I judge that the reader has discerning taste, reading your chats and not other stuff. :-)

Haha! Thank you. I do like to think there are far worse ways to spend a slow day at work!

What have you NOT achieved? You have an advanced degree You have supervisory/advanced career position You have a family.  You have a house,  You are caregiving,  You are volunteering .... what “aren’t” you doing? And is that realistic? I mean a small part of me thinks I should strive for a Nobel Prize but I’m pretty sure realistically that’s never gonna happen so I try not to let it interfere with my daily happiness.

Yes. This. I'm wondering where this underachievement message is possibly coming from, and also wondering (and perhaps hoping? For the sake of what it says about the field?) that it is not really therapists that are pushing this idea, but rather OP somehow feeling this themselves and assuming that other people agree.

Where is the OP finding these therapists? What kind of therapist makes a patient feel so inadequate? For the record, my knee jerks really hard whenever I encounter a statement about “not living up to one’s potential — as Andrea says, who established these yardsticks?

Bingo. Appreciate it!

"Every survivor of abuse gets the full support that they need, and the healing and autonomy and time and space to decide what really makes sense for their own well-being. They deserve it."

Totally agree with this. Also, in a case like this where the person makes abuse public — even 20 years later it can lead to others victims coming forward and to preventing more victims. To be clear — I'm not saying a survivor has an obligation to come forward — I am saying this in the context of outing the abuser and concerns for the abusers family, expressed in this case. We can also envisage a scenario where the abuser actually abused his family, for example. Now I think the manner of doing this is important — and I actually have personal experience of this — and perhaps it's the manner that's bothering you more than the outing itself?

Thanks. This is a great point. I think it's far more common than we realize for the same group of abusers to have many, many victims over many, many years. And when one person speaks up (not that it is their duty to if it would go against their own healing, of course), then that can make it a little easier for someone else to reckon with their own experience, and speak up if they want as well.

If mom is still competent then isn’t it her decision?

Yup, that was what I was trying to drive at, though I think I danced around it a little bit.

I didn't get the impression that the chatter's sister had been through a barrage of doctors and no one had been able to give her a diagnosis for her issues. I guess that's a possibility, but it sounded more like she'd turned her back on Western Medicine completely. Even when one of her healers had diagnosed her with a "serious, progressive neurological disease," she wasn't willing to go back to a medically trained doctor for a workup. That doesn't mean she's only seeking attention for the sake of attention. Still, I imagine it can make the whole process exasperating for her loved ones, like the sister who wrote in.


Yeah, it's hard to know the full picture here, but I did get more of the vibe that you did, rather than that she had exhausted herself with traditional medicine.

I was raised in a very conservative environment, with core values that included very strict expectations of purity/chastity for women. As an adult, I have gone back and forth on this — I feel best about myself when I can adhere to said values, but have given in to temptation from time to time (sometimes casting aside my values for long stretches of time). Doing so always ultimately leads me to crushing feelings of guilt, shame and despair. Any advice? I have been in and out of treatment programs for sex addiction ranging from private therapy, online groups, 12-step programs, etc. but nothing has stuck and eventually I end up acting out.

My first question is this: was sex addiction treatment really something that seemed to align with what you needed? I didn't necessarily hear anything in your letter about sex addiction per se. It could be there, of course, but you talked about casting aside very pure/chaste values for certain stretches, but to me that does not automatically mean sex addiction.

So, I would start there. Was the focus on the wrong thing? It's like someone who goes to AA meetings for having one glass of wine a week due to the stress of their abusive relationship. Yeah, AA can be helpful, but let's not mistake what the real problem is here.

I would start with seeking out a therapist that will look at the big picture — and not automatically give it a label. To work on your entire belief of yourself, and how that jibes or does not with your behavior over time. To look at shame, guilt, and despair not necessarily as after-effects of problematic sex behavior, but as parts of yourself that you have been carrying around for many years, internalizing from the very youngest ages about what it even means to be a woman.

Does this make sense?

From personal experience, what Dr. Andrea described about the needle shifting is very accurate. My first medication made me WORSE, which was obviously a no-go, but my current meds help was pretty subtle. But all of a sudden I realized that acknowledging that XYZ irrational anxious thought wasn't actually reflecting reality was making a difference, when it didn't before. Or that I meant it when I smiled rather than just making the proper muscle movement for a social interaction. Also, the way my doctors went through the trial-and-error process of finding the right prescription was to switch types of meds if they made me worse, but if there just wasn't a change then we started upping the dosage of what I was currently on until there was some effect. I think until we dialed it in I was checking in monthly or so, so I'd reach out to your prescriber for a medication evaluation ASAP. Good luck!

Thank you! I am so glad. You just described a beautiful interplay between meds and therapy — and it's what we most hope for in these scenarios!

Something to remember while your friend is watching your two kids and her two kids, is that taking four kids on outings and educational experiences is very different than taking two. When a friend of mine watched my daughter who was one and a half,  and her daughter that was three, she was nervous to take them out the first few times because she wasn't accustomed to taking out and wrangling two kids at a time so it took some time to figure it out and get comfortable.


And I think that speaks to a larger issue, though. Obviously if this friend was an official, licensed day-care provider than even with such a ratio-- or even with more children-- she would ostensibly be looking for ways to keep the kids engaged and enriched (even through play-based activities.) But that's different than just having a friend keep an eye on your child while you work.

There need to be more clear-cut expectations here.

I am going through something similar with my widowed mother. She agrees in theory that her current house is too big and too much work and cost to maintain. She has taken some tours of senior apartment complexes. But she never follows through to the next step of putting in an application. She refuses any type of assistance, such as meeting with a realtor to see how much the house is realistically worth, or even the consultant I offered to hire that will help match her needs and resources to appropriate properties. I have become so tired of the same conversations that go nowhere over the past three years. I acknowledge that I cannot force her to move, but instead I have set out my own boundaries of what I will and will not do. I think she is making a stupid decision, but she is a competent adult entitled to make stupid decisions. I do not have to ride in to the rescue, however.

Yes. I am sorry for this struggle. But ultimately, the truth is pretty clear: she gets to retain autonomy for as long as possible. And even if it doesn't seem to make sense on the surface, there is value in respecting that autonomy — and also asserting your right to draw your own boundaries in the process.


If "Mom" is relying on her adult children for emotional and financial support while caring for her declining husband then she shouldn't get unilateral decisions.

True about the financial piece, but I didn't get the picture that that was happening here. It seemed like OP and sibs might be bringing forth the money IF the move happens.

As for the emotional piece, I hear you, but I think we have to be careful of using that as blackmail. It's tricky to claim that you get to make decisions for someone else just because you are putting emotional effort into their care. OP is always free to draw boundaries as he or she needs for his or her own emotional health.

Overall, though, I totally see where you are coming from — and I would hope it is no one's "unilateral" decision but instead one that is arrived at jointly and amicably, with as many people feeling empowered as possible.

Been there; done that. Dad passed away; Mom is now all by herself in her community, which is an hour away from everything (on dark, twisty, deer-infested roads). She wouldn't move because nothing met her exacting standard; when a place that did finally opened up (in a neighborhood convenient to everything, and in which one of her best friends lives) it's "too much" to even consider moving. Money's not an issue, and we kids offered to help with the closing, movers, etc. She just can't and won't deal with it. When she complains about feeling isolated, we chirp in with "[Sister] and I don't like you living out there either; can we help you look for a place closer to town?" And that's the end of the conversation. She's an adult, and has all of her faculties, so what can you do?

I am sorry. It does seem like "What can you do?" becomes less of an actual question and more of a rhetorical sigh in these situations.

It is sad when the decision HAS to happen because someone reaches the point where they get no choice because their daily health is so compromised. That's got to feel even worse to a person who resisted.

Not sure I agree with Dr. Andrea here (although she is a goddess). We had a similar situation with my MIL, who was on board with moving to assisted living, as OP's parents have been after THREE YEARS of discussion But MIL would then say she couldn't do it right now, or next week, or whatever. So her children finally told her "Good news, Mom! We're gonna come move you on X Date!" And then they did. I know, I know, autonomy. But I think it helped her anxiety about to have it all just taken care of. P.S. She was fine with the assisted living place (which she had approved during the theoretical discussion phase).

This may be the most flattering disagreement I'd ever had! Thank you.

I can't help but think there's some nuance here — like something within you sort of knew that your MIL's waffling was more surface-y, and that ultimately she'd be on board. But I could still imagine other situations where the person really is NOT on board, and that needs to be respected, right?

This seems to be dangerously close to a discussion about whether no means no. Or a dissection of the lyrics of "Baby It's Cold Outside."

ALWAYS. No discussion.

I really don't understand this, though. I just don't think it's that simple. I have worked with several people for whom doing this would have — in their own certainty — created major backslides in their own mental health. Should they sacrifice themselves further?

Of course, if there is reason to believe that abuse could still be going on to others, then things are complicated. But people who are traumatized from having been abused have already had their power and control stripped from them against their will. How is it possibly right to do that again, even with the best of intentions?

This post makes me sad. Clearly OP has been raised to believe any deviation from the ideals of perfection that were taught from childhood somehow represents utter failure — a very black and white view on life. I hope OP finds a great therapist ASAP.

I hope they get some good help, too.

"I communicated a boundary in a healthy way"

It sounds like the "boundary" was perceived by these friends as not a boundary and the "healthy way" that it was communicated was perhaps anything but. That may be the source of your conflict with your BFs friends and why he isn't sticking up for your as forcefully as you would like.

There could be more to the story here, for sure. OP?

"If mom is still competent then isn’t it her decision?"

Yes and no. Certainly a competent adult has a voice in her living arrangements. But if she's in a place where they are too isolated to get services that the dad needs, that's a problem. And if she's expecting her kids to come to her location to take care of stuff or even just listen to her complaints daily about how she can't manage the house and the dad's care, that's a problem too. My MIL announced that she's staying in her house till she dies, but she can't even change light bulbs anymore, so her preferred arrangement only works if we're over there weekly managing her house along with ours. Not sustainable, even though it's what she wants.

Yeah, it's hard to be black-and-white here. Thanks.

Can your mother and father visit your brother and spend some time at the prospective home? It might decrease the anxiety and give you all time to talk properly about it. Here's the thing — you can't make them move, even if it would make it easier for you. I understand it's frustrating for you — but a bullying and guilting one won't help. Just like Andrea said if they won't more  — can you get more support? Is it possible for them to move in with your brother? That might be more palatable to them.

Thank you.

I agree that actually seeing the home could go a long way to lessening the overall anxiety in the long-term — even if it spikes it at first.

And if I upset you I do apologize. I'm sorry if you have had problems in the past getting a diagnosis. Heaven knows a doctor visit where you get all of 10 minutes with the actual MD is way too short for big problems. But, I went back and re-read the original post and this is what prompted my comment: diagnosed her with a serious, progressive neurological disease ... disease can only be diagnosed through a battery of tests that take months, and that while nutrition is important, this disease is treated through drugs and medical intervention. The sister is refusing these tests or treatment. She has dismissed all western medicine as quackery. I'm worried she is making her condition worse. Again, I'm sorry I upset you.

For whatever reason, the kindness in this letter just made my day. I appreciate your posting it, and I am sure that the other person will too.

I agree that what you really need is therapy around why you feel guilty for having a sex life. Adults have sex. I was raised in the Bible Belt and know many people who would not kiss outside marriage. That’s not me, though, and that’s OK. I don’t feel I’m inappropriate or promiscuous by MY standard and that’s what counts — not what my parents think, or my college roommate thinks, or anyone else. You get to decide how much and what kind of sex is right for you.

Thank you. You hit the nail on the head.

Outing a past abuser has substantial legal complexities. An adult who chooses to publicly identify a childhood abuser needs to talk to a lawyer before anything else. Many people won't believe him/her, and the abuser can probably take legal action, or at least make threats that will be expensive and time-consuming to deal with.

Thanks. I wish it wasn't as tricky of an issue, but knowing the realities of it can help someone be better prepared.

It should be noted that many religions promise an afterlife, a circle of life, etc. But nobody teaches that you can identify and know some specific historical person that you used to be. That falls into the realm of mediums and other outright frauds. It's not an "alternative" belief. It's a fraud.

Yes. I really don't want to get myself in more trouble here, but I think it's worth noting that there is pretty big differentiation among different practices and beliefs, even when they all involve the after-life.

Though to be clear, none of them have penetrated that big beautiful wall of Empirical Validation for Trauma Treatment.

Hits close to home. My parent commited suicide rather than move 5 miles down the road to assisted living.

This is just devastating.

Ugh, ugh, ugh.

I can't tell you how sorry I am.

I wish you healing and hope. These issues can be so, so complicated.

If you see a decline, talk to a geriatric care manager. What happened to my mum is actually the most likely scenario. She had a fall — is fine but was in hospital for a few days before rehab for her stability and strength. In the end, she moved into the home where she had the rehab and is doing great. This is the most common way for people to leave their home. I had spoken to a geriatric care manager just the week before. It was so helpful. She immediately gave me her top three places for rehab — the book they give you with all the available rehabs is overwhelming. I don't want to be alarmist — but a geriatric care manager can help you think through the various options and scenarios.

This is really great. Much appreciated.

I hope your Mom continues to do well!

But if mom chooses to live alone when she can’t change a light bulb, you don’t HAVE to fix it. As an adult she gets to have the consequences of her actions. You can choose whether you want to facilitate it — just like an addict. You can expect her to hire a handyman or ask a friend to help or otherwise solve the problem herself if needed. She can WANT your help but her residence is her choice and whether to help her is yours.

Yes. There is autonomy on both sides here — which ideally leads toward collaboration for a mutual solution.


Wasn't there a joke about a married Victorian couple — the wife was a bit too animated during sex. The husband stopped and said "Madam you're not supposed to enjoy this."

This is either a joke ... or a sharp sociocultural insight that will send me into a spiral of despair about what Victorian times must have been like for women, and what that means still for modern society.

Only your own actions. So you decide what you can give to Mom & Dad. If Dad has to move, move Dad, and Mom can choose to go with or stay alone. If mom wants to stay in the house, you can say “I can only visit every X weeks, and spend $Y.”

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

And clear communication.

Thank you!

Another 60 minutes (or 60 minutes and change) done. Boo! Thanks, as always, for being here.

I wish you a relaxing, fulfilling final week of June — and look forward to seeing you next week as we kick off July. For those of you who like seeing Buster or my (down to the wire) book progress, there is always Instagram.

In the meantime, 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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