Baggage Check Live: The invisible yardstick

Aug 06, 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! How are you? I see a lot of questions in the queue already — it is great to have you here.

But first, a question for you. I am in the throes of Detox Your Thoughts revisions (fun fun fun!) and want to freshen up some of my examples. Do you have a negative or dysfunctional thought that follows you around, over and over again? That you can't shake, no matter how hard you try? Well, would you mind sharing it? What I'm looking for is likely just a single sentence — "I'm never going to find a partner." "I'm not good enough at work." "People find me boring." "I bet I have a disease." Anyway, would love to hear some of those if you have them. Thanks!

In today's Baggage, we've got someone looking to get off of anxiety meds, wanting to fly solo. And in L2, what happens when your partner becomes a different person around their family — a person you don't particularly like?

Let's begin!

Good answer. He can ask to be kept out of it, but otherwise he should try to stay out of it. Our relationships with our siblings are amongst the oldest ones we have, and we often act a lot differently around our siblings (although I hate to break it to the LW, but we're probably -more- ourselves around our sibs than less so). I and mine still play "what did you have for lunch today?" when we've got three of us in the back seat of a car, even though we're in our fifties.

Thanks for this. It's so true — that history with siblings predates almost all of our other relationships, and it can pack quite a punch.

I hasten to add, I do think plenty of people regress back when with their siblings. So it's not necessarily that they are revealing their true selves, but instead that they are reverting back to old patterns of behavior that were ingrained in from way back when, and became conditioned responses to the very particular stimuli/triggers. Of course, in this case it sounds like the sisters are still very much part of her life very frequently in the here and now, so her reactions probably aren't coming from as far down under the surface, you're right. 

LW, are you out there?

This is the voice of my own recent experience, not medical advice. I recently tried to, with medical supervision, reduce my SSRI. (I've been on one SSRI or the other for 20 years.) We were hoping to eliminate some things we thought might be side-effects. I reduced the dosage by 1/2 pill each week —first 6 days in between halves, then 5, then 4, etc. It started out ok, I got to the half-dosage, and then evened off to a reduced dose. (this particular med is prescribed in 30 and 60, and I reduced to 30.) It was okay for a bit, but then depression came back; the doctor felt it was similar to post-acute withdrawal. I stuck it out for 3 months, and then decided the side-effects were worth it (again, with medical advice) and went back to the higher dose. I've done TONS of CBT and talk therapy in the 20 years in between. It helped, it didn't get as bad as the original depression, but it wasn't a great place to be, either. Your mileage may vary, of course. Different person, different med, different length of time on the med, etc. Wishing and hoping the best for the OP.

Thank you for this. I think we all are wishing and hoping for the best!

Yeah, "your mileage may vary" has never been more true. Even if we knew the specific medication of LW, that doesn't mean we could completely predict what their experience would be. That's why it seems safest across the board to make sure a doctor is involved, at the very least.

Possibly more important than involving a therapist, the person should involve a doctor. Weaning off these drugs can cause all kinds of physical problems which might lead to heightened anxiety. I had taken a medication for RLS which is also used for anxiety. It was a year before my sleep patterns and other symptoms of withdrawal fully abated. I would recommend a medically supervised slow withdrawal, as opposed to "stopping on my own."

Well said. Thank you. Wow, I'm so sorry the adjustment was so long for you! Hope that means that the Restless Leg Syndrome symptoms had abated enough to go off the meds, at least. I know that RLS can be a beast.

1. Is your anxiety actually well controlled or do you just want to stop paying for meds? 2. Do your meds have withdrawal symptoms or a need to taper slowly? 3. Do you have a plan in place for handling anxiety attacks that won’t involve going to the emergency room (since you stated concerns about health care costs) 4. Do you have a plan for your overall increase in anxiety symptoms, if that should occur when your decrease or stop meds? 5. Have you considered other ways to help manage your anxiety (therapist, self help books that guide you through similar exercises, employer or school based programs, etc)?

Very well spelled out. Thank you!

[In response to last week's chat] My mom was one of those people who never forgets anything. She could recite conversations I had with my childhood playmates (or her own) when I could only vaguely remember the person. For years I thought there was something wrong with my memory until I realized other people couldn't do it. I also can't remember the prologue of the Canterbury Tales, but had a wonderful professor who could hold conversations in Middle English, with a rural Kansas accent :-)

In the Venn diagram of accents, your professor may be in her very own category! Love it!

Yes, it's so true, the variances in memory. And when you think about the ubiquity of FALSE memories, it grows even hairier. For instance — I don't want to place doubt on your dear ol' Mom, but with no corroborating evidence can we really be sure these memories are accurate? When only one person remembers something, are they a super-rememberer? Or might they be embellishing without realizing it?

This seems like a rather self explanatory question but truly has me going back and forth. I have been single for a very long time (just never really met anyone worth pursuing relationships with) and have been now in one for a little over a year. He is a sweet man even if at times we have our obvious clashes (in a sense not sure if these clashes are from personality/cultural differences or basic relationships up and downs). Sadly I truly don't know. Having been single for so long doesn't really give me the experience to figure out if this is normal or if I am being impatient. I am 42 years old, so clearly I have been used to doing things for and by myself and not really have to answer or have confrontations with anyone except for family members. He has been married before, but not in a relationship that I consider of "equals" or of true love (long story). So I question then........when do I know we are really right for each other and we need to navigate normal ups and downs in a relationship.....or we are just not fundamentally compatible with each other? I have reached a point where I think maybe things should end........but I don't know if I am doing it out of frustration and lack of patience (and I should learn to navigate us better)....or if I am just actively trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Thanks for your advice!

It's good that you are thinking about these issues. Unfortunately, there aren't any easy answers.

But I also think I can declutter this a bit for you. What is "normal" becomes a bit extraneous here — that only becomes relevant when it helps you answer whether those things will improve or not. So, what are either of you doing to see if those potential incompatibilities can improve?

These things that are making you most frustrated — how would you learn to navigate them better? Do they represent fundamentally different philosophies/values? Or do you they represent things that are behavioral quirks/lifestyle differences that could be adjusted with some motivation?

I'll borrow a classic advice columnist's tool and ask you whether you think you are more fulfilled with him or without him. If the answer right this second is "without," then it's worth just figuring out if there are fixable things to change that answer — and by fixable, that means there is both the motivation AND ability for you EACH to adjust to fix them.

I bet we could use some more specificity about these seeming incompatibilities.


A longtime family friend has been kind to me beyond all proportion for 30 years. We have had a wonderful relationship, characterized by really solid boundaries (funny how that works!). Her husband died a few years ago, and her attention has since shifted to me, and those boundaries are suddenly fluid. She has no idea she's doing this. She has handled her husband's death very well, but in part because she handled it so well, I don't think she is even aware that one of her ways of coping is to transfer her energy from him to me. I find myself resentful of this change in dynamic, but I also feel ungrateful. She is not a "talker," so there's no way to discuss this with her without doing more harm than good. I need a reframe. Can you help? I'm going for a visit soon and I don't want to be a jerk.

I want to find a little wiggle room within the "there is no way to talk to her about this without it doing more harm than good."

Can growing frustrated with her about this, and perhaps watching it get worse and worse over the years, really be the optimal solution?

I think the more that you can get specific, the less it has to be some big thing called THE TALK. It is hard for me to be specific here, of course, without a better clue of what the boundary issues are. Is she expecting a level of emotional intimacy with you that is just too lopsided, making you feel like you need to be her spouse? Is it a matter of her asking too much of you? Asking you too much about your own life? Trying to have too much say?

I need more here. But I stand by my gut reaction, which is that even a subtle, simple intervention in the moment when she is doing these things can go a long way toward getting you on a better trajectory. I don't think it's fair to either of you to let the friendship go too far off course when there may be tangible ways to adjust it.

That said, I love a good reframe, so let me know more details and I will do my best!

Hi Dr. Bonior, hoping you can offer some words of comfort, hope and faith. Five days ago I experienced a miscarriage at 7 weeks, my first pregnancy. I am devastated. I'm generally a happy person, extremely lucky in my life and grateful for lots. This traumatic event has shaken me to my core. I understand how common miscarriage is, how it has nothing to do with a mother's behavior but instead genetics and science, but I can't stop crying and am trying so hard to be brave, optimistic, and move forward with my life. I have taken time to grieve and my husband has been incredibly supportive throughout it all. I know we will start trying again soon, but how do I fight the feelings of fear and anxiety this next time around? How do I ensure that I take the time to grieve but continue living my life without losing too much of myself in the process? How do I navigate the line between self care (How many boxes of Kraft mac and cheese is too many?) and wallowing in my grief? And furthermore, how do I talk to my close girlfriends about this? I very much want to break the stigma and silence associated unnecessarily with miscarriages, and I think opening up may help aid the healing process. But I'm also scared to talk about it, I don't know how to begin and how to tell people, or if I even for sure want to. Any advice and/or optimism much appreciated.

I am just so, so sorry.

First, the ray of hope — it has been only five days. You are in the thick of it now, and it probably feels impossible to imagine that it will get easier, that the waves of pain will lift and let you breathe again. But, the waves of pain will lift. And you will breathe again.

I do think that reaching out to others can be a significant part of the healing process. You don't need to be a one-woman breaking-the-stigma machine, but I would urge you to nudge yourself to open up to your close girlfriends about it, indeed. There is no right way to talk to them, just like there is no right way to feel. Let them listen. Let yourself be vulnerable. Neither of you has to have the perfect answers. It's about letting someone else in to your pain.

You may also really benefit from talking to other people who have been there. There are support group possibilities, whether in person or online. So don't worry too hard about losing yourself in this process ... for now. This is part of your life, part of your path, for the moment. And moving through it isn't something you can (or should) avoid.

As for the Kraft mac n cheese, if there is an amount that is too many, I haven't yet heard of it. (One trillion and five?)

I know you aren't alone here. Chatters, anyone want to lend some hope?

I also act differently — more aggressive, less thoughtful and considerate — around my family of origin than I do around anyone else, and I didn't notice until my wife pointed it out. It is a very ingrained defense mechanism and it's hard for me to recognize when I'm doing it. My wife asked me to not do that when interacting with her, and points it out (privately) when I do. I'm very grateful for her patience. To the letter writer, I'd say if your wife has expressed dissatisfaction with this part of her relationship with her sisters and appreciates the outside perspective, then keep patiently pointing out the behavior when it occurs, but don't expect it to go away any time soon.

I love this. It's so common for us to be blind to these dynamics with our family of origin, because they were there so early that they became part of our development and we never had any other way of looking at things.

You were open and willing to understanding this behavior better, and wanting to work on it.

I'm not positive that is the case with LW's wife, unfortunately. But we can hope!

"Instead that they are reverting back to old patterns of behavior that were ingrained in from way back when."

Sadly true. My brother's ex and her siblings were like this, and her parents participated. They were so insecure and competitive that they all, interesting and intelligent people, were hell on each other when they got together. They seem to have mellowed a bit with age, but it was just jaw-droppingly awful for decades.

That does sound awful!

Oy, was that part of the reason that she is now the ex?

As someone who was long one of the relatives responsible for a mentally ill in-law, among the things we learned is that mentally ill people actually have a LOWER rate of violence than the population at large. I shudder to think how they're now being turned into the latest political bogeyman for public massacres. Please, what can we do to fight back against this false, harmful stereotyping?

Oh, it is just so, so frustrating. It does so much harm in further stigmatizing folks with psychological disorders, and it also obscures and muddies the real problem. Which — let's not dance around here — is in VERY large part, access to firearms. 

I think, like countering any misinformation, we just need to be consistent and calm. Not get riled into meme wars that just make people dig their heels in further. Use reasoned, sound and patient "arguments" that don't get inflamed by emotions or oversimplification.

We know what contributes to a risk of violence, and it's generally not mental illness, as you point out. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of a crime than perpetrators. (But of course, the unusual cases where mental illness are involved are the ones that are most likely to make headlines, or be turned in to an episode of Law and Order.)

A history of aggressive/violent behavior. A desire for infamy. Resentment toward groups of people or humanity in general. A fascination with past shootings or violent acts. These are the typical threads that connect mass shooters — and misogyny and white supremacy are commonly in there as well. Oh, I forgot the one thing that every mass shooter has in common. Hmm. What was it? Oh, that's right. A gun.

None of those meet criteria for a mental illness.

The thought I try hard to shake but never seem to quite to is: “I am unlikable (or unlovable)”

Ah, yes. A common one. Often goes hand in hand with the idea that love has to be earned or merited or "deserved."

Thanks for this —I hope you continue to make headway on it!

"I'm sure I messed up the document I just filed."

Yes! So what eventually lets you get over it? Time?

(This is where some people start to develop some compulsive rituals... to various levels of effectiveness (or ineffectiveness!)

I'm a sh!^&y mom. (I am not an abuser, but I'm super lax on screen time and I don't make them eat vegetables, and I am not involved in school and don't put them in extra classes/clubs ... makes me feel a lot of guilt.)

Got it. The Mom guilt is alive and well in so many. Our culture doesn't do us any favors in that regard either.

Extra classes and clubs and broccoli aren't what make a good parent. And I am sure you know this. It's consistency and patience and warmth and love. But I know, it's very hard to shake.

How do I detox my thoughts when the thought is a very real, very present concern? After this weekend, I can't shake "I'm scared my loved ones will die in a mass shooting."

I am sorry. I hope that will pass with time.

The more visceral and horrifying the stakes of something happening, the more it activates our central nervous system and puts us on high alert.

And as much as it is abundantly clear that far, far too many people die in this country due to firearms — and it's something I wish every day that action will finally be taken on — the odds are likely not anywhere near as high as you fear.

I'm curious — when someone is given a prescription for anxiety meds, how long is the prescription usually good for? Six months, a year, or longer? Wouldn't the LW HAVE to re-visit the issuing doctor/therapist to get a "refill" or at least see if the prescription should be ramped up or down or maintained as is? It would be nice to know some of the "many reasons" why the LW wants to go off them soon, like if the meds are causing other problems with their life.

It's a great question. In my experience, it really varies — not just with the med and how long the person has been on it, but also with the doctor.

In an ideal world, I think it's pretty clear that someone SHOULD have supervision. I think a lot of people try to do it on their own, though, whether weaning (diminishing dosages, cutting pills in half, et cetera) or going cold turkey (which carries the biggest risk of all.)

This woman's family "game show" is the way they relate to one another. Her husband's annoyance is not going to get her attention b/c she doesn't want to be out of the game. He could try irony and say outlandish things as a way to shine a light on the dynamic, but that's hard to pull off if you don't have that kind of personality. Best idea is to just be out of earshot.

It's true — something is reinforcing that dynamic, keeping it going, making it more comfortable or appealing than the alternative. The motivation to change it can't really be surgically implanted in from someone else.

I live work right off the Capitol square where the dreaded Vos-beast lurks. Every morning on the way to work, someone has written VOS SUCKS or DUMP VOS, etc. on a curb visible to anyone driving uphill to the Capitol. This has been going on for years & mysterious writer has never been seen. The message used to alternate with calls to impeach the former governor. I completely agree with the sentiment, but what drives a person to do something like that for years? The wording changes every few days, so this person devotes a LOT of time to writing in colored chalk on a curb.

I am fascinated by people who stick doggedly to a behavior, whether for better or for worse. Sometimes, it leads to amazing progress and momentum — thank goodness to these people. Other times, its a behavior that isn't necessarily helpful to anyone. And of course, other times it is a symptom of a stuck neurological pattern, like in OCD.

I am guessing that in cases like the one you mention, it simply is a way of expressing something that feels good to express, and it becomes self-reinforcing for that reason. And it CAN make a difference.

[In response to last week's chat] If you are not mad and don't want her to change then why is it an issue? In other words, own it. I do believe that you cannot change others, only yourself. But you can communicate frankly and kindly. Since she was your friend, you at least owe her an explanation for why you are ending the friendship. If you do not want to be listening all the time, talk. if she interrupts you/hijacks the conversation back to her topic, do it back to her. She may like what you have to say (best outcome; friendship thrives) or she hates it (worst outcome; friendship withers) to anything in between. It is easy to terminate a friendship.  Both parties lose. What's better is to nurture it. Use it to learn how to deal with difficult people.

I love this sentiment.

I think in last week's OP's case, she was certain she wanted it to be done, though. So she just wanted to wash her hands of it.

I am so sorry for your loss. And it is a loss, even if it's common and has nothing to do with "fault" or "blame"! I found it hard to deal with my miscarriage because I was trying to deal with a very private grief when, often, we grieve publicly and others know about our losses. Give yourself permission to "wallow," as I called it, for a little while. Don't let yourself do it indefinitely, but please do it. Take care of yourself. Seek therapy if you find yourself struggling. I did - my first-ever time in therapy! It was really, really good for me to go. You'll probably be terrified again the next time that you are pregnant. But you'll probably be a little bit less nervous each day. And I have faith that you will get through this, hopefully with a sweet little one in your arms soon. You are not alone. <3

I love the compassion here. Thank you.

And I did not jump to recommend therapy to OP because I know I probably do that too much for people's tastes already. But it is definitely a solid option if things don't get better on their own, and I am so glad that it helped you. There are therapists who even specialize in pregnancy loss (and infertility, for that matter.)

I'm having the same issue of today's mom. I was always known to have a very good memory and I can remember stuff from a very young age like going in vacations with my dad when I was 18 months and the clothes I was wearing when I started pre-k at 3 years old. But now when I recall these memories, my family is being dismissive and saying that I remember because I saw videos or photos of it (which was not the case for several events that I remember).

It must stink to feel dismissed, for sure.

My guess is that it feels uncomfortable or threatening for them to think that their own memory skills don't measure up.

Not really dysfunctional, I guess ... but I'm constantly asking myself why I can't get my sh!* together, be more driven, etc. Not that my life is a mess! But I know I could try harder to get a better job/pay raise/keep on top of cleaning/etc. ... and it's hard to figure out where self-motivation turns into self-flagellation.

Ah, yes, this is a common one!

It's that invisible yardstick, forever telling you that you're not enough as you are. Somebody built that yardstick for you — even if it was just the culture that you're a part of. It'd be pretty great to be able to burn it once and for all.

I hate my body ... or if I could only change these few things about my body I would be happy. Etc.

Ah, yes.

Brought to you by the TV/film/magazine/Instagram industrial complex, no doubt.

This is a common one that I address a bit specifically in Detox. Thanks!

When I start doing it, I realize it's an expression of anxiety coming from somewhere else (my mother thought self-esteem in kids was unbecoming, so I am very good at telling myself I'm a screwup, hence worrying about the filing AFTER it's done). I make sure I have a process for double and triple checking what I file, and then I trust the process and tell myself mistakes are OK if the process somehow broke down. And I don't work with people who say I'm too uptight, because being uptight BEFORE the filing is how you assure yourself you've done your best AFTER the filing.

Got it. Sounds like you have a very functional system in place! The fact that the double/triple-checking stays double/triple (rather than veering off into quadruple/quintuple/fifteen-tuple) is what's key.

Dear Dr. Bonior, I have been living in stress, grief, chronic pain and chronic fatigue, frequent migraines since the age of 11 and out of nowhere panic attacks that often wake me from a sound sleep, in addition to other times. Other than the migraines, the other difficulties in my life have been happening for almost 25 years beginning with the deaths of my parents. I’ve been on medications for pain, stress and depression for some fifteen years. This put a full stop to my work, took a very sunny life and tossed it into a storm — it really has to stop and I am ready to try therapy (first attempt was a total bust.) Would you recommend CBT or ABT as a starting place for me? Anxious for light.

There is light out there for you. I know it.

I am so sorry for the pain that you have experienced, and for so long. And also sorry that the first attempt at therapy was a bust. It might be helpful for me to hear more about why that was a mismatch in order to guide you further, but yes, I would definitely recommend Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) or mindfulness-heavy versions of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.

There is hope. I promise. I've seen the difference that it can make.

Sadly not. The good part is that her two children are wonderful loving kind people who get along great; she didn't manage to pass that attitude on to them.

That is a good part, a very good part!

I couldn't help but notice that the letter writer's age is 27. Is it possible that the letter writer is coming off of their parent's health insurance which is why they're looking to go off anxiety medication as cheaply as possible?

Ah, good question. LW???

A close relative is in co-counseling. I’m skeptical; seems to me it’s just two layfolk mentally massaging each other, i.e., no trained therapist involved, thus seems self-serving rather than liberating or helping the counselees to get unstuck or move forward on their issues. Can you comment?

You know, it's hard for me to comment on this because not only do I not know much about co-counseling, but most importantly I don't know much about what your relative's original issues are. Might it be more helpful than, say, just venting to a friend about a problematic issue? Perhaps, so I don't want to knock it. But should it take the place of empirically-validated treatment for, say, depression or anxiety? I feel comfortable saying nope to that.

“I should have done more for my mother.” Objectively not true, but there’s nothing to be done: she’s been dead for six years.

The guilty rumination. Shoulda shoulda shoulda. I am sorry. I hope in time you can free yourself from it.

"I feel fat." Note it's not "I AM fat" (although that creeps in at times...) It's more that I know I'm not "fat" by anyone else's standards, but after 30 years of an on-again-off-again eating disorder, I often FEEL fat by how I judge myself. And I judge myself constantly.

Yes. I hear this a lot. I am sorry!

I might be really interesting to try to define that feeling physically.... like what happens to your breathing and muscle tension and heart rate, etc, when it comes on-- and how you can counteract it better in the moment.


Put me in the "bad body" category too!

There are a lot of you out there today. I am sorry!

My husband left me very suddenly about a year ago, and we are getting divorced. I've been having a hard time dealing with it on and off — sometimes I am excited for the freedom and feel relief that the marriage is over and I can move on, but most of the time, I can't stop ruminating about how horribly he treated me at the end of our relationship, how completely out of the blue it seemed, and how alone I feel. My family and friends have been supportive, but they live far away, and I can't help but feel that they are just saying things I want to hear. I have been having anxiety that has been affecting my work, and I am very stressed out by it. I have tried seeing a psychologist a couple times, and I just feel like it isn't the right treatment for me. I have been eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising. Whenever I feel stressed about work, anxiety and thoughts about the divorce come flooding back. I really want to decouple the two things. I want to figure out a way to get over the relationship, succeed at work, and move on with my life. I know that time will probably help, but I am tired of waiting. What are some other strategies I can use to get through this?

Well, I'm curious why the therapy didn't seem like the right fit. Not trying to challenge you here on that idea — you know better than anyone what feels right to you — but it will help me know what to suggest.

The split-up was sudden, and it came with being treated horribly before that. It was only a year ago. I am not sure how long you were married, but might you be expecting yourself to get over this faster than is realistic? I completely understand that you are tired of waiting. It feels terrible, no doubt.

But part of what might be making these thoughts linger is —paradoxically — your intolerance of them. Can you view these thoughts no longer as the enemy? Can you instead label them and let yourself breathe through them? Accept their presence and stop the tug-of-war?

I know that probably seems useless. But I don't think these thoughts will automatically go away, nor should they — this was a traumatic thing that you went through. Can you find some creative outlets? You mention the basics of self-care but nothing for you to intellectually turn this into something for yourself. Something that helps you grow. Helps you to find meaning in your experience. Allows you to actually feel, rather than stuffing your feelings in a box.

Please keep us posted.

I'm one of the recovering alcoholics that lurks (and posts) on the chat. I think working my recovery has helped me recognize negative thoughts that don't always go away. BUT I've gotten better a saying I can't solve the problem. I will allow myself X amount of time to stew in pity. Then I will move on. I also am better at saying that is not my problem, I can't fix that person and I'm walking away. I think it's the Ask A Manager site that has the quote not my circus, not my monkeys. You can be a glass half full person. Or the person that says the glass is half empty, the milk has gone bad and I don't like milk anyway.

Hahah I think I know some people like that spoiled-milk person!

Yes. Allowing yourself to say "It is not up to me to fix this" is a very, very hard skill for many people — and I hear it being particularly tough for those in the recovery community. Thanks for this.

"If I don't look at my online baking account, I won't know how much in debt I am. Therefore, everything is fine." (Everything is NOT fine.)

And the kicker here is that in this case, you are just temporarily stuffing your anxiety, but it is there, lurking. As is whatever your bank account's shenanigans are doing!

I have actually worked with people with this very issue. Setting a weekly goal to open a bill or take a look at a balance and take action on it.

I agree with the chatter - the NRA apologists trying to make shootings into a mental illness issue drives me nuts. Women have plenty of mental illnesses yet one rarely hears of women shooting up schools and Wal-Marts. Overwhelmingly what shooters have in common is a huge sense of entitlement, white supremecy world views, deep misogyny, and are imbued with a level of toxic masculinity that is breathtaking to to behold. Many other countries have men with the same issues, yet they don't experience mass killings. What's different? The USA's easy access to assault-type weapons and high capacity magazines.

The research is striking for those willing to look at it.

Unfortunately, the people most in need of looking at it don't tend to be the biggest fans of research in the first place.

This is not the same, but maybe helpful - I have asthma. I'd use my preventive inhaler faithfully, the asthma would get better, and then I'd go off the inhaler. But of course the inhaler was what was making me better. Over time — and I'm very fortunate — I discovered the triggers for my asthma. Now that I am able to stay away from them, I find I don't need the inhaler. Whatever you do, please make sure that you're not going off the meds precisely because they're working.

Thanks. Your first point is especially important — I have seen people crash and burn with the "I don't need meds anymore" mentality too early on in the treatment process, precisely because the meds are working, and for the moment, they most certainly DO need them!

Never heard of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. From Wikipedia: "While Western psychology has typically operated under the "healthy normality" assumption which states that by their nature, humans are psychologically healthy, ACT assumes, rather, that psychological processes of a normal human mind are often destructive." Whew! So by way of illustration, how would you approach a client from an ACT perspective vs. your apparently more typical CBT perspective?

Yeah, no offense to whatever Wikipedia editor was working that day, but I do think that's an over-simplification.

To me, the core of ACT actually leads to the opposite conclusion — that we need to accept the presence of certain thoughts and learn to tolerate them. That thoughts can pass and we can get through them. That we can disempower thoughts from BECOMING destructive precisely because we can learn how to separate them from their power. That we all have negative thoughts, and that process alone can't hurt us. It is when the negative thoughts become sticky — because we have empowered them by being so terrified of them — that they become destructive.

The main difference with a classic CBT perspective (though to be clear, I tend to utilize a combination of both approaches, along with some psychodynamic techniques, for more fun terms to throw at you) is that classic CBT involves challenging the automatic thoughts over and over again. Helpful a lot of times, but not so helpful for pervasive, intrusive ruminations that do NOT respond to reason. The fight with the negative thoughts often strengthens the thoughts in those cases.

I'm not good enough. I was raised by a Tiger Mom who I know in her heart-of-hearts thought that she was just pushing me to do better. (Like when I came home extremely proud of a 99.6% in a difficult class and she asked me what happened to the other .4%.) What she didn't realize is that as a child, I internalized those type of comments and came to the understanding that no matter what I do, it's still not good enough. I struggle with this daily.


It's so hard to find the right balance as a parent in terms of encouraging achievement. Your story, unfortunately, is so common that I have a case study in the book that reflects it almost exactly.


My regular playlist: "I'm a failure at everything." "I've disappointed everyone." "I've wasted all my chances to do something good." "Nobody really likes me, they just feel stuck with me." "I embarrass my family/husband." "I used to be smart but now I'm old and dumb."

Ugh, I want to be like "These are great!" because they are so classic and they represent so many aspects of things I'm getting at in Detox, but I am truly sorry that they are so prevalent for you.

It seems so glib to just post these and not provide specific solutions tailored to each one. You all have come through with so many, though, that I am going to post the next few even though I lack the time left in this chat to comment on them individually —  but I do think it's helpful for folks to know that they are not alone.

My constant one - "I just don't fit in anywhere." That thought has been my companion for many years.

Another common one. Feeling truly understood and loved and accepted can be so elusive. Thanks.

Wow — that sounds like something I could have written word-for-word five years ago. Pretty much went through the exact same thing. I promise — it will get better. Time definitely helps (I know that doesn't help the immediate problem). Sometimes (particularly around certain times of the year like the day I found out he was cheating) the feelings return, but that is so normal — it was a traumatic experience and you're allowed to grieve. I bottled up a lot for the first year and by the time year two rolled around, the floodgates of emotions flung open. Keep eating well, working out, and find things to keep you busy/out of the house. Hang in there - you're strong and you can do this!

This is wonderful.

Thank you for taking the time to show some support!

I am so glad that you have seen progress.

Your situation sounds similar to what I went through. My husband used me the last six months of our marriage and then once he achieved a particular goal, he dumped me out of the blue. Oddly enough, the best advice I got was not to trash him. I came to accept that he was not his best self during the last six months, and accepted that it had otherwise been a good marriage (seems the same is true for you). That way, I wasn't flagellating myself for being in a relationship with a jerk, which can perpetuate the pain that already comes from having been rejected. It's just in the category of shiitake happens.

I am so glad this was helpful for you. It makes a lot of sense, and can definitely work as a reframe in certain situations.

Shiitake does happen, indeed!

Didn't a past Republican Congress (and President) pass a law 10 or 20 years ago that PROHIBITED Federal agencies from doing research on gun violence??

That sounds familiar, yes.

It probably made my head explode at the time I learned it, so I blocked out the details to be able to confirm fully.

I'm so so sorry. I had 5 early miscarriages ... it sucks. But I eventually went on to have two amazing children. So continue to hold onto hope. I did share my experiences with my family, but they were unsupportive (comments that were well meant but ... comments like "It's the body's way of getting rid of defective children" were not comforting. Oof). But eventually I found a community online (message boards) which was VERY helpful to talk about these things with women who were dealing with the same things. I'm still friends with some of these women 15 years later. And I opened up to people in general. And it was a relief to just let it out. I still wanted to hit things sometimes (hey, I still do) but it was more manageable. If somebody says something to me, I still share my experiences, years later. To let them know it is OK, normal, and totally miserable. Good luck.

Thank you!

Finding a tribe of truly supportive people — whether they've experienced what you have or not — can be a true godsend. I'm so glad you found yours. (Though I'm so sorry you heard some doozies first in the process.)

Mine is an actual toxic belief rather than thought. I know intellectually that it's not true, but I believe on a gut level that a man could not be romantically interested in me now that I'm in my fifties. (It doesn't help that it seems I'm invisible to men at my age, thus lending credence to my toxic belief.)

Ugh. Yes, I hear this one too! Here's hoping that reason wins out over that gut instinct over time — and that you meet someone amazing who takes a sledgehammer to that belief.

I can't advocate for my emotional needs with my loved ones because I put them through my alcoholism for years before I got better.

Ah. The old "I should keep paying and paying and paying the price and just suck everything up forevermore" idea. So unfair to your own well-being, which I am glad you at least identify as a dysfunctional belief. Thanks.

Initial thought: I'm a burden ((Insert anxiety)) Follow up thought: My anxiety is a burden ((Insert additional anxiety))

Thanks — and I am sorry. That second one is salt in the wound, I know.

My ex had a much better memory than I do, about things that happened long before we met and after we met. He would badger me to death when I said I didn't remember XYZ, and get really upset. He really didn't seem to understand that when I said I didn't know, it was bc I didn't know, not bc I was refusing to answer. Most of the time it was about things that just didn't matter. At all. Alas, just one red flag amongst many.

Ouch. This is the other side of the coin! I am glad that you got out.

Sorry for your loss. Think of it as an accident - like you were in a car crash. I learnt that the longer you stay away from driving, the harder it gets. So dust yourelf off, and force yourself to drive (or procreate) again. It gets better. Promise.

Thank you for this ray of hope!

When someone I know is trying to decide figure out whether to call it off or not. I usually give this advice, think about 20 years from now with that person. If you cringe at that thought, then call it off because what ever is not working obviously won't work for the long term.

Interesting metric!

I'm borrowing that. It's great.

There can never be enough mushroom expressions.

Oh, good grief. There it is, in black and white. Thanks.

I'm another one here who beats myself up constantly for not being loving enough toward my children, who are now adults.

That can run deep, for sure. the person who thinks he knows-it-all, when he doesn't.

It's true.

Sometimes the jerkiest, most selfish people are — unfairly — a little less bothered and worried than the rest of us.

According to its Wikipedia page, the Dickey Amendment does NOT disallow the CDC from researching the cause(s) of gun violence; it prohibits the CDC from advocating for gun control.

Well, yes, but when the original body of research objectively already points to the fact that we need a reduction in guns and the range of people who have access to them, then doing further research on that runs afoul of the Amendment.

Kinda like if tobacco companies were able to lobby to have it declared that "Suuuuure, you can do research on lung cancer. But that research is hereby disallowed and unfunded if it somehow concludes that reducing cigarette smoking would somehow help prevent lung cancer."

I just saw the time... and I wish I hadn't!

Thanks so much, as always, for being here. And you gave me so many new directions about negative thought examples. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it — as sad as I am that it was so easy for people to come up with ways that they beat themselves up.

I'll look forward to seeing you here next week. Be well and take good care. And see you in the comments and on various social media in the meantime.

In the meantime, here's to good research — and those who pay attention to it!

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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