Baggage Check Live: Don't be the helicopter or the snowplow

Sep 03, 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.

Follow Dr. Andrea on Facebook here.

Welcome, everyone!

It's a big Back to School day for millions — and since I've never really left academia I still get that sense of anticipation, so many decades in. Nothing like the smell of a brand new box of crayons!

So, how are you?

In today's Baggage, we have a showdown of who gets tagged "it" in being the one to leave a marriage. And in Letter 2, we've got someone who wants to make big life changes after the loss of a friend. But when is too much too soon?

Let's get started!

I submitted a question last week asking for advice about making conversation with my kiddo during a camping trip. Thank you for your advice, and thank you to the chatters who also offered their thoughts. I thought I'd check back in to report that our trip went well and we had a great time! There were no awkward silences; in fact, kiddo talked my ear off the whole time. It turns out that teenagers know everything ;) so I mostly just listened and asked follow-up questions. After we got to our campsite, we sat and watched the stars for a while (so many stars!) and even saw a few shooting stars. Our volunteer activity the next day was a lot of fun and everyone was super impressed with kiddo, so I got to be a proud step-mama watching him work hard and enjoy himself. He said he wants to make this an annual event, which I fully support. It was really a great trip, especially since things were fairly rocky with the kids a few years ago. To anyone in a step-parent position who may be struggling, just keep trying your best and approach the situation with love, and eventually the kids will come around. Teenagers are especially wily, but sometimes they can surprise you.

Oh, what a marvelous update! And it even has some shooting stars! Thanks so much for writing in. I find it hilarious (and so gratifying) that your worrying was for naught and it turns out he was more than willing to fill silences himself. Camping 1, Teenage Boy Stereotypes 0!

And I have no doubt it's a testament to how much effort and time and thought you've put into your relationship. Bravo — you have every right to be proud.

So this summer I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I will need surgery, but not chemo. I am totally 100% sure that the cancer will not kill me, its my lot in life. I could have diabetes, heart disease, psoriasis etc, but I got this cancer. My good friend is taking it much harder than me. His dad died of colon cancer, after living with a colostomy bag for years. He is my rock and I am not happy with his unhappiness at all. How can I help alleviate his discomfort while he is driving me to hospitals for appointments and pretty soon surgery? I feel fine, surgery should pretty much cure me, but his big sad eyes are killing me.

First, I'm sorry for your diagnosis (though I promise you I am not letting my eye get sad and big.) And it sounds like you have a very healthy perspective and are coping very well.

Given your friend's loss of his father, though, I think at some point you have to accept that his lens is different than yours through this. It's very common for something like a diagnosis to trigger feelings of past grief and loss all over again, and although your prognosis is way different and you may need and want him to be a cheerleader instead, his reality is different — and not necessarily unhealthy for his own journey (even though I hate the word "journey") within grief.

So I can totally understand that it's tough for you that he is taking it so hard, but know that this represents his own grieving of his father as well as his feelings about what you are going through. And it's not necessarily within your ability (or your right) to alter that.

Sure, you can gently and lovingly remind him of your perspective, and how maybe you feel luckier than his Dad, and how the situations are not the same. And you can let him know that you wished he didn't have to feel unhappy about it.

But I think just as being a good friend can involve driving someone to hospitals, it can also involve understanding that grief can be a lifelong process, and his journey is his own — you can support him in it through some acceptance. And by all means, if it gets too much for you and you need something different, don't be afraid to reach out to others for additional support. Your needs matter too.

Good luck with the surgery! Please keep us updated!

I've been married to my husband for almost three years, and we've been together for about eight. Our marriage is in no danger of failing — we're very happy together, life is good, and our relationship is built on mutual trust and respect. But we both have pasts, and pasts can lay traps. My husband's past came up in a very big way last week after his dental appointment. During a routine cleaning, they found cavities on either side of his mouth that are going to need two visits to fill. Ugh, right? But we've got good jobs, good insurance, and enough time off saved to take care of this. However, this wasn't the norm for my husband, and what should be a minor annoyance precipitated a substantial anxiety episode. When we got down to the bottom if it, this stemmed from several episodes in adolescence and young adulthood when his parents failed to get him necessary medical care, and he was on his own until he could scrape together enough money to pay for it while his health suffered. I recognize this as neglect, and I'm certain he could benefit from seeing a counselor (especially since he's worried about doing this to our future kids). The question I have is should I encourage him to seek individual counseling? Or, considering this could involve both of us and I have some minefields of my own, should we go to couples counseling together? And how can we evaluate a counselor to address the effects of childhood neglect on an adult life?

It's certainly a personal decision for anyone, whether or not to seek therapy. But a great general rule of thumb is that when your daily life is being affected negatively, it's worth taking some action. So, I don't know how often these "traps" come back to haunt your husband — and how much damage they do in the meantime — but that seems key. A once-in-a-while freakout about some medical work (and goodness knows, dental work is often its own special circle of Hell for people emotionally) that gets better with some discussion doesn't sound dire. But when you mention his childhood, my guess is that there are a lot of ways that it affected him, in terms of basic needs not being met, and the anxieties that that could bring. So I would be surprised if that past doesn't haunt him more often, even when a dentist is not involved.

All this said, though, the most important question is how he feels about it. Have you broached the topic at all? Does he recognize that maybe he deserves better than to have to endure this level of anxiety when things like this come up? Does he understand that it could potentially get better?

As for the potential of couples counseling, it really depends on how explosive the minefields are when combined. If so much of your stuff is about your own childhoods, it seems that individual counseling would be a great starting place. As far as evaluating a counselor, the good thing is you don't necessarily need one specific modality here. You need someone warm, insightful and empathetic who will have concrete ideas about better coping mechanisms for his anxiety — how to alter his thought process in the moment, how to use physical tools to calm the body — essentially you need someone who will take insight about his childhood and turn it into action.

Dear Dr. Andrea, I think I might be the friend the woman from last week was writing in about. I'm not sure it was about me, but isn't the very definition of a narcissist one who thinks it is always about herself? For the record, I am most certainly not rude to waitstaff, as I was one at various times for a total of approximately five years in between office jobs. And I don't remember having an argument with my friend. Ever. Over three years ago, my friend and I were going through very challenging times in our lives (not having to do with our friendship), and rather than lean on each other during our difficult times, she said that she needed to take a break, but hoped that our friendship would survive (I lived several hundred miles away). It ultimately did not, since there was no communication between us, at her request. I reached out to her one year after our "break," and she responded to an email that I sent, but then no communication after that. I have since moved back into the area, and sent her another email only last week. She never responded. It hurts that she didn't respond, but I did some real soul-searching over the past several years apart to try and decipher what it is about myself that I could have done wrong or what I needed to change. I learned that the bottom line is that I most likely need to speak less and listen more. I can obviously survive without her friendship, but that I would rather have her in my life than not (hence, the recent email). I know that ultimately, all relationships eventually come to an end, whether through death, or divorce, or just growing apart. People come into your life for a reason (yes, I'm talking to you, delayed flight pizza lady), so I guess we can assume that they might leave some time after that reason has been fulfilled. I guess the only thing I would like to say to your readers is when you are trying to end a relationship (whether it is a friendship or a romantic relationship), it ultimately makes the process of closure that much harder when one is not honest about why one is wanting to end the relationship. One half of the relationship (the Dumpee, if you will), is left floundering, trying to figure out what about themselves needs to change - not necessarily to fix the current relationship, but for the sake of any future relationships. That is the last bit of kindness you can give to them - honesty. If you can't say it to them face-to-face, at least write it down and let them know. Thanks for letting me vent, Dr. Andrea.

And thank you for writing in.

First, let me say — not that I want to get into the habit of getting into the weeds of potentially figuring out who someone is referring to, as that also jeopardizes the notion of anonymity here (which is like the motor oil that keeps this chat running!) — but I do not think you were the friend that was being referred to, if it makes you feel any better. There were a few contradictory details but also, the timing is totally off because I think that letter was sitting in the queue for a week or two. 

But I am glad that it has prompted some revelations in you, though difficult to come by, of course. Making yourself vulnerable enough to look at your behavior and think about what might need to change is very hard for anyone, but so rewarding. I think that bodes so, so well for you and your relationships.

Your final point is so well-taken —  and one that I try to drive home with some frequency not just here, but in all of my interviews about friendship due to that hot pink book. The kindest thing is not always the easiest or most comfortable. But disappearing from a friend's life without giving information that could help clarify what's going on and why, often leaves a ton of hurt in its wake. And it's not doing the Dumpee any favors, as you mentioned.

Thank you again for writing in.

I am in my 30s and have worked for the same organization since I was a teenager. I have earned two college degrees over the years and enjoyed moderate success. I recently got a promotion where I'll be doing the sort of work I had always hoped someone would pay me to do but I'm struggling with what my leaving my old department means. I spent about 10 years growing a young team, having a heavy hand in shaping procedures and overall culture. It grew at least tenfold over that time which has unfortunately meant that the high quality performance I worked to create got diluted. I've been watching it further erode under a micromanager who isn't very knowledgeable and yet nitpicks the performance of her direct reports to the point that anyone good leaves ASAP . The constant turnover leaves the team without much experience which I think deepens their issues. Meanwhile, my most recent team is being handed off to someone who is knowledgeable but who has an abrasive personality and creates conflict wherever she goes. It makes me feel guilty knowing this is what I am leaving for a group of wonderful people who always told me how much they loved working for me. At the same time, I was so incredibly bored with my former work and am excited about my next position especially because I will no longer be anyone's manager - something I have absolutely had my fill of. This change is the right one for me. How do I stop feeling bad about the impact on everyone else?

Wow. If only all managers cared so much about their managees (and soon-to-be-ex-managees at that!)

Wait. Is managees a word?

I digress.

So I think your "feeling bad" is admirable, so I don't want to totally obliterate that completely away, and I do think you could use it as fuel for potential conversations where you (if possible) use your wisdom to help guide these new managers or troubleshoot situations as they come up, as a potential mentor. So I don't think you have to pretend like everything's hunky-dory or that your guidance will never ever be needed or useful anymore.

That said, remember that each and every one of your former supervisees (there's the word I was looking for) is on their own path, free to make decisions about whether to stay or whether to go, able to learn things from not only an excellent manager but also to have unfortunately had to learn things from a not-so-great situation as well. That's how workplaces work. It's not up to you to keep paving the way for them. I think you've already given them a gift by showing them the potential for how a good manager can be. (So let's face it, they're already better off from some.) That can actually be a guiding light for them and give them the fortitude to leave if the next situation grows too dysfunctional.

I suppose this is reminiscent of parenting and is all a way of saying, don't be the helicopter or the snowplow. They are grownups, and they've got the tools now to decide what works for them and what doesn't. Everyone is on their own path, and you happen to have found one that sounds absolutely excellent for you-- which is how it should be.

They will eventually find theirs too.

Can you find someone else to drive you to these appointments? If so, maybe talk to your friend about what would be easier for him — helping you through this so he can find some healing himself, or just being your good friend in another capacity.

Worth thinking about another option if it is too much.

Thanks.

Let me start by saying 2019 hasn't been one of my favorite years so far. My mother-in-law passed away in February (after a lengthy, slow decline). My father passed away early in August after a much shorter decline. The day before Dad passed, I had finally decided that everything I had tried to do to deal with my depression on my own just wasn't working, and went to see my primary care physician. He prescribed a mild dose antidepressant, which I have been taking for a month. I have a follow up with him this week. I think I feel some better, but I'm not sure if things are working well yet. My brain still feels a bit scrambled, and I'm not quite back to normal self. How long do I need to keep trying the medication, or do I need to look at other types of treatments? Thank you for bearing with my rambling!

I am so sorry to hear of the losses you've had this year!

As far as the question "How long do I need to keep trying the medication, or do I need to look at other types of treatment?"

Well, I'm going to scratch out the "or" in that sentence.

I want you to have your cake and eat it too.

Depending on the med, it's reasonable that even two months could be needed to give it a fair shake. But I also want to address the idea of "getting back to [your] normal self."

That might not be the most helpful yardstick here, at least right now.

Because the loss of a parent — on the heels of the difficult loss of a parent-in-law — is a Big Deal. Of course you know this, but grief is a process that doesn't just get "fixed," whether by therapy or an antidepressant. So I wonder if you could open yourself up to the ways that this may change you, and get some support in finding that new version of yourself.

So, naturally, I would love for you to consider individual therapy or a specific grief and loss group in addition to the medication.

But I am guessing you already knew I was going to say that.

What are your thoughts about it?

My circumstances were different, but once I realized the marriage was over, I asked my husband to leave immediately (it was my home). I didn't want to live in a morgue. It sounds to me like that's what your life is like —living in the coffin of your dead marriage. You deserve happiness. Who cares who initiates the divorce? Really, it doesn't matter.

Thanks for this. And congratulations (presumably!) on getting out of the coffin!

LW, are you out there?

 

Can I just say how delighted I am with how this turned out? My stepmother was a terrible person who felt threatened by my father's kid, and I love any story where a stepmother is not only trying to do the right thing, but does it.

It really was heartwarming, wasn't it?

I'm so sorry that your own stepmom was less Shooting Star and more Fairy Tale Stereotype.

Hello Doctor, I just wanted to provide an update on my situation that I described to you in the April 2nd edition of the chat. I'm the one who wrote asking how long it might take for someone on new medication for bipolar II to stabilize (specifically my long term significant other.) In the months since he started his medication and therapy earlier this year, things have gotten significantly more stable for him, even as they got worse before they got better. His dosage was increased on the mood stabilizer/anticonvulsant and he was trying out trials of an antidepressant as well though he has since gone off of that one and maintained much greater stability. I think that was also due to his other circumstances leveling out (started full time employment etc). I wanted to thank you very much for providing some perspective at that difficult time in my life and relationship, even if it was that there is no definite timeline to stability and it is ongoing work to maintain it. I want others whose loved ones are starting treatment for mental illness to have hope that things will get better for that person with time and trials - even if that road involves some bumps. Thank you!

It is so kind of you to write back in!

That is really, really good news to here. The meds often do take time, more time than we'd like. But when you can get some positive momentum, then other circumstances (like jobs!) can fall into place better and you can get the cycle moving in the right direction.

So glad. Thanks again!

On top of seeking out other treatment, also give some thought to seeing a psychiatrist rather than your PCP for medication. Your PCP was the best first step, but a psychiatrist is a specialist in brain chemistry. They might know of a different medication, or a different dosing, in addition to other therapies you may want to try that could prove more effective. I'm sorry about how your year has gone, but you're being proactive about your mental health, which is a great step.

Ah, yes, thank you for this! I glossed over the fact that it wasn't a psychiatrist even doing the prescribing. Could be that having that extra level of specialization could tweak things a little better in the meantime.

Hello again, OP here from last week. It's the day after the chat, and we got a text today from the wife of the couple I had written about. She explained that the reason for not being in contact was because she and her husband have very recently separated. My husband and I are really heartsick and so sad for the couple and their young daughter. We expressed our love for ALL of them, and assurances of support for them. She and we planned a follow up phone call for a specific date. So, now we know why there was no contact for a while, but honestly would rather it be them dropping us instead of their marriage being in trouble. I want to thank Dr. B. for her good advice and perspective, and say thanks again to the chatters who posted their insights and suggestions.

Oh, no! You hit the nail on the head — sometimes being dropped would be better than knowing that people you care about are going through something so tough. I'm sorry to hear it.

As far as the friendship, you sound like just the type of empathetic person they both could use, though. I have a feeling your friendship can be a source of strength for them.

My daughter graduated from college in May and is home full-time. More than once a month, she will come home from work very upset. Last night this happened. She woke me up and was crying. The gist of what she always says is that she feels very disconnected from people, she has no friends, everyone hates here, she doesn't see the point in living and that the only reason she is alive is because she knows that it would be so hard on me to lose her. This has been going on since she was about 13 years old. The first time she said things like this, I took her to the hospital immediately and she apparently has never forgiven me for over-reacting as she puts it. She has seen counselors and been on medication in the past although she is doing neither currently. She says they have never helped and why bother. During these episodes, I am supposed to stay quiet and just listen— she says she needs to vent — and she goes on and on in what starts to sound like a dramatic monologue. Meanwhile, I am terrified that this time is different and she might mean it and really hurt herself. She gets very angry with me when I beg her to get help and to try counseling again. Day to day, she seems fine most of the time although during these episodes she will say that is all just a front. Other times, we have a good relationship and have fun together. She often writes extremely very dark (but also very very good) poetry about loneliness, feeling invisible or people not wanting her. She has very few friends and those friendships often have severe ups and downs. Last winter she initiated a breakup with her boyfriend of 2 1/2 years and in June, the young man she called the love of her life broke up with her. Often when she talks about friendships and their problems, she will bite my head off if I try to engage in dialogue about the problem. I try to just listen now but I wonder if she does the same thing with friends (I have asked and she denies it). Would you please provide some direction on how I can help her. I am terrified and exhausted. Thank you.

This sounds so, so tough, and that you've been dealing with it for a long time. I can only imagine the toll it has taken.

Which is why my mind immediately goes to: are you getting your own support? You need to put on your own oxygen mask, so to speak.

I understand she is totally resistant to going to counseling again, which could be out of fear, a sense of hopelessness, not wanting to put forth the effort ... or it could also be that she's basically got a captive audience where she gets to call the shots of dumping out her pain without actually taking responsibility for working on healthier ways of managing it.

That sounded so, so harsh I bet. And it's not my intention. But my point is that it's not fair for her to steamroll you unilaterally without letting you help her. And essentially, that's what she's doing — by refusing to add to her support network or take your suggestions about getting the professional support she needs, she's creating a relationship that is causing you a lot of pain and is totally on her terms, without regard to your own needs.

Boundary-setting runs the risk of becoming a cliche, but it is so needed here. "Debbie, I love you. I hate seeing you in pain. I try to engage you about how to get on a path toward feeling better, and you shut me down. I understand that you probably don't realize how difficult it is for me to see you hurting and yet not want to take steps to work on things. But sometimes it is so difficult that it is almost unbearable. What would it take to get you back into therapy? If the answer is an absolute no, then that is your right — but it is also my right to limit some of our conversations in a way that is healthier for me."

A colleague of mine, whose work I respect but is a bit of a loudmouth, has developed a habit of stopping by my desk every morning and loudly commenting on whatever I happen to be eating. He is a bit older and does this in a highly condescending manner, saying things like “Uh-oh! Better not disturb him while he’s eating his breakfast! Looks like an egg and sausage bowl today… we all know how moody he gets if he doesn’t go without breakfast!” (I'm 38.) The stated office policy has no problem with eating at one’s desk, so it isn’t like he is trying to “shame” me into not breaking a rule. I have held up a hand and asked him to “Please don’t do that” while he is in mid-sentence, but that just brings up “See? See how he’ll get?” I find it difficult to complain to HR without sounding like a whiner. Help.

Oh, my goodness.

Is this guy for real?

He's like a walking SNL skit, only not as funny.

I'm wondering about ignoring him completely during these episodes. Stop positively reinforcing them without any kind of attention whatsoever. I mean honestly, he sounds a little off-kilter enough that I'd not want to engage him.

Does he do this to anyone else in the office?

Chatters, what say you?

No, you do not get to "use it as fuel for potential conversations where you (if possible) use your wisdom to help guide these new managers or troubleshoot situations as they come up, as a potential mentor." That's about a dozen different types of boundary violation. The person the new managers should go to for advice is their boss. You can — only once — tell the boss you're leaving (who will be the new managers' boss, too, yes?) that you are available to run ideas by and mentor, if the new people want it. But only once, and you only do it if you're asked. And even then, you listen sagely and avoid giving advice. How do you handle feeling bad? Boundaries. You recognize your limited power in this situation, and don't try to solve problems that aren't yours to solve. You do not undermine the new managers by interfering. You do not give them advice and you do not let your former employees come and complain to you. You focus on your job and let the new managers and your old boss do their jobs. Congrats on the new job!

Yes, that makes sense. I really meant "if possible and appropriate," which I neglected to include.

I think I was envisioning a scenario where OP is doing some semblance of training these new managers, or being approached or consulted still on aspects of what is going on since they are all in the same office. But yeah, that is not necessarily the case here, and it could easily turn into an intrusion, so your point is well-taken. They have to approach OP themselves and actually want the feedback, in case I didn't make that clear before. Thanks.

Unfortunately, our family has had enough loss that we have a term for those first couple months after someone close has passed: swiss cheese brain. Loss of a parent is a particular fog that really does just take time. The world becomes a different place and that just takes re-orienting. If the OP is even thinking that maybe the medication is helping then it probably is. I would suggest to the OP to be gentle with yourself and your expectations.

This is so very kind. Thank you.

I am so sorry that you've had to come by this wisdom the hard way!

"How can I help alleviate his discomfort while he is driving me to hospitals for appointments and pretty soon surgery?" Wow, I think this chatter is pretty awesome, but as a subscriber to the theory of "comfort in, dump out," I think she needs someone else to drive her to appointments and support her, if possible. Her friend should not be relying on the poor chatter for reassurance when she is the one with the illness. Recovery from major surgery is hard enough without being someone else's emotional support.

Very true. This arrangement may be doing more harm than good for both parties, depending. Thanks.

This is the much operated on senior sleepy head from a few weeks back. Thank you, Dr. Bonior and the Baggage Check universe. While I am still experiencing uneven sleeping patterns, I'm much improved by your observations and suggestions. I followed up with my various caregivers. My medical team reviewed my meds and switched one from morning to evening. That seems to have helped. I have also told myself to stop worrying so much and/or feeling guilty about the amount of sleep my body is telling me I need. My surgeon reminded me that training myself to pay attention to what my body is telling me and taking appropriate action is exactly what I need to do.

I am so glad that things are moving in a better direction!

And yup, it's amazing how many times our own expectations just add a whole additional level of stress and dysfunction to what is already going on. For the time being, your body needs what it needs-- and it deserves kindness too!

Thanks so much for the update.

I am giggling incessantly. I don't want this to stop. I want chatter to write in every week with the latest absurd commentary on breakfast.

hahah I mean seriously, sketch comedy immediately came to mind for me as well.

(PLEASE tell me this guy has a monotone reminiscent of the late great Phil Hartman.)

Bring in two sausage and egg bowls next time. When he starts up, offer him the second one and tell him that he's moody before he gets *his* breakfast.

Love it!

(Not that I officially condone what would likely lead to an escalation....)

LW, send your question to askamanager.com. She has dealt with all work-related situations for years so I bet she will be able to provide you with some advice with dealing with that colleague of yours (let's hope you'll be able to avoid involving HR). All the best of luck!

Yes! And in fact I want to have Alison on here as a guest sometime! Need to get on that. Thanks.

Wear headphones while eating!

A great tool to help with the ignoring. Thanks!

I can really relate to this scenario. My parents had plenty of money and excellent health insurance, but were shockingly neglectful and frequently ignored their kids' health issues. I had untreated strep throat it seems like every fall and they never took me to a doctor. My sister had a broken ankle for a week before the school forced my parents to get her checked out. I've had a lot of therapy and it made a huge difference in understanding I was worthy of medical care. I still wait too long to go to the doctor, but I've gotten better. I'm sure lack of medical care isn't the only thing the chatter's husband's parents neglected, just currently the most obvious.

Yes. There are probably all kinds of ways that it crops up, and if they become parents someday, it could intrude in even bigger ways.

I am so glad that you have been able to find your way forward through this, though. (See, OP? There is hope!)

I am sorry that the one writer had meaningless relationships with the godparents but it is not meaningless to me. I am one of many godparents to a child and was asked by the more religious parent and I take that duty seriously, even if it is difficult. I also had two wonderful godparents (my fathers sister and brother in law) )who were chosen for religious reasons but they always viewed my relationship with them as special, and it was. My father died unexpectedly when I was 19 (and my mother when I was 22) and in college and random my godfather's wife started sending me money — odd amounts at no particular interval. It was not until years later I realized she would send me a portion of her bingo winnings. A godparent can be a special relationship with moral guidance, learning to bid at auctions, play cards etc. My godfather had only gone through the third grade but was one of the best businessmen I had met and a great story teller.

This is really, really sweet.

Yup, I think godparent relationships can come in all shapes and sizes... and there is room for closeness and connection no matter the degree of religiosity.

Thanks.

Never give your kid orange soda on a hot day before a ride in her aunt's brand new Cadillac with white upholstery :-) Aunty never forgave me!

Oh, dear! Laughing here.

An additional carsickness tip I neglected to pass along.

Finally writing back, been away and getting caught up on the chats. Everyone's comments and support has been so helpful. I guess the thing I didn't highlight is the ruminating. I think about bad things that happened again and again. I do accept these thoughts, but they are constant and interfering with my daily functioning. Someone mentioned that I should focus on the good parts of the marriage — but even my good memories seem bad. I believe the reason he left is because of some lurking jealousy that I never noticed (we have very similar career paths). I never saw signs of it during our marriage. But looking back, it seems like there were signs of it everywhere. It's hard for me to deal with the fact that the person I trusted the most in the world and who was supposed to love me would get upset when I was succeeding. I think that's why being at work is so hard. You asked why therapy didn't seem helpful —because I'm not comfortable speaking face to face with a stranger about something so personal, and talking about it just seems like ruminating more. The advice the therapist did give me was helpful, and I followed all of it the best I can. I talked a lot with family and friends who understood our situation and knew both of us — I'm not really bottling anything up. I'm not really asking anything specific anymore I guess. I just want the ruminating and anxiety about work to stop.

Got it. I am sorry that the rumination has been so hard.

I do think some mindfulness techniques could help — learning an entirely different way of handling your thoughts, which strips the negative thoughts of their power (and makes them simply negative thoughts that pass, rather than actually becoming ruminations.) There are good ACT therapists who can help immensely with this, but I understand that it is very uncomfortable for many people at first, and that may be too much of a hurdle to overcome.

"The Happiness Trap" is a book that helps lay the foundation of some of these techniques. And as of March, I'll be able to say "Detox Your Thoughts" is another one!

Keep at it.

Use your smartphone to videotape his routine. Do it for several days, then take it to HR. Does your office have a kitchenette where you can eat your breakfast?

If OP does go to HR, I think having some evidence could really be helpful. As long as the recording could be sort of under wraps and didn't make things blow up in the moment.

Thanks.

Someone who thinks a letter to Andrea was about her. The letter being about someone who always thinks it's all about herself.

She recognized that with some humor, which I totally respected!

I guess the biggest question is whether her scarf was apricot as she watched herself gavotte!

(Apologies. But betting a few of you probably know what I mean.)

It sounds like you are in a perpetual loop. even a downward spiral. You should get help for yourself as a co-dependent. Neither offer her advice nor listen to her drama.  She will survive. If you have to listen to her, it must be on your terms — that she must treat you civilly at all times, for starters. You decide what those terms are. We give people the permission to treat us badly.  If you wont allow her to walk over you, she'll find another or learn to treat you better.

Thank you.

Boundaries and her own support. Boundaries and her own support. Boundaries and her own support.

Couldn't agree more! But I can imagine how scary and heartbreaking this must be for OP. And it's going on a decade and a half.

So, the little green men in the computer were unkind to me and Rachel today and ate a response (wonder what Annoying Breakfast-Commenting-Coworker would say about that?) but someone wrote in making the point that when it comes to ending a friendship, sometimes the message about why they are ending it has been sent and sent and sent and is just falling on deaf ears. And that it can feel exhausting to have to try to send it one final time and still put that non-listening friend's needs ahead of your own once again.

It's very true — as is occasionally the reverse side, where someone thinks that they're sending a message that they're not really sending very strongly at all.

And when a friendship is off-kilter, the match between message-sending and message-receiving is usually pretty unbalanced, to be sure.

The key, I think, is to re-up your listening skills and truly try to hear what someone else is saying.

Only if it's in Nova Scotia.

YES!

I knew that wouldn't fall on deaf ears. Thank you for indulging me.

(When's the next total eclipse of the sun?)

Grandma let me drink a whole quart of grape soda when I was 5. I eventually disgorged it all over the furniture. And ever since (60+ years) I've never been able to drink grape soda.

60 years!

My own similar brush with root beer led to just a 20 year hiatus.

Give him one chance to explain why he is doing this. Fair warning that this had better stop. Now. Next time he pulls that, chew him out. Loud enough that more than a few can hear.  Embarrass the hell out of him. Don't accept "its only a joke" defense. He'll avoid you like the plague.

These are some options if OP decides to get more-- ahem-- active in managing the situation.

Thanks.

I understand that he's not breaking any rules by eating at his desk, but couldn't he eat breakfast before he gets to the office? Or in a break room?

Well, perhaps. But if Breakfast-Narrating Coworker has some sort of issue with the eating, this is certainly not the way to handle it, right?

Document (maybe even record) the next time Work Loudmouth pulls this stunt. Then go to his supervisor and explain that Loudmouth is creating a Hostile Work Environment. This will strike fear in management's heart because it can be a forerunner of a harassment lawsuit if it's not nipped in the bud.

Another piece of ammo if OP actually decides they want to go that route. Thanks.

That's all I wanted to say!

Yes, indeed!

It will now be in my head until Thursday.

As someone who is going through breast cancer (done the chemo, surgery, radiation next up!), she does need someone else to drive her. When you are going through all that, it should be entirely about you. Yes, it's said the friend lost his parent, but she has enough to deal with on her own. Believe me I know this.

Thanks. I can certainly see this.

Good luck on the radiation. Write in if you need us!

Not to be doom and gloom, but isn't truly breaking free from this dynamic OP's acceptance of the fact that it is not her responsibility to, nor can she, prevent her daughter from harming herself? That's just why it's so hard. My heart goes out to this person.

Yes. It's scary as *&%$, and it goes against every parental instinct there is. My heart goes out to her as well.

But as you say, ultimately understanding and reckoning with that — terrifying as it is — can grant OP some emotional freedom and do a lot for her well-being.

Thank you.

Thanks so much for being here today. The time flew, as always.

Have a good week, whether you are getting into the swing of things after a vacation or a new school year or just the same-old, same-old.

I'll look forward to seeing you next week, and in the comments and on social media.

In the meantime, more breakfast sausage for everyone!

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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