Baggage Check Live with guest Amy Morin

Oct 15, 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.

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Welcome, all! How are you this week? Any other Nats fans deliriously sleep-deprived but loving every second of it?

Today's a special week not just for baseball goings-on but because Amy Morin, LCSW, will be joining us in the second half-- and Amy herself is something pretty special! Here's a bit of background:

Amy Morin is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and psychology lecturer at Northeastern University. She’s also an international bestselling author. Her books, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, and 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do have been translated into 33 languages. The Guardian dubbed her “the self-help guru of the moment” and Forbes calls her a “thought leadership star.” Her TEDx talk, The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong, is one of the most popular talks of all time with more than 10 million views. She’s a regular contributor to Forbes, Inc., and Psychology Today where her articles on mental strength reach more than 2 million readers each month.

Okay, clearly we are very lucky to have her. Shoot your questions over to her about all things resilience, emotional strength, or anything else on your mind. She'll join us halfway through the hour, but as always, I'll be answering questions myself throughout as well.

Let's get this thing started!  

I am in my 40s and play a team sport for fun and exercise. I play in a recreational league with friendly teammates who are competitive during the game, but not overly so and we are all genuinely laid-back about whether we win or lose. My problem is that I can't get my mind to be quiet. I have a constantly running internal monologue about, basically, how much slower and worse I am at this sport compared to others and compared to myself when I was in my 20s. I'm too slow - missed the ball - should have made that move - missed that shot - I'm not good at this at all - that sucked - ugh I'm terrible - and on and on. I would never say or think these things about anyone I play with and would be horrified if they said these things about themselves. But, apparently it's ok for me to say it to myself? Objectively, I'm not the best or fastest player out there and I never was - but I used to enjoy the game more when I wasn't so hard on myself. How can I get my brain to be quiet and let me enjoy my sport?

Ah, the old "I'll talk to myself in a way that I'd never, ever talk to my friends because it would make me feel like a horrible person" conundrum!

(This voice usually loves hanging out in dressing rooms and boardrooms, but clearly it finds its way to athletic fields as well.)

I think you should start by identifying this as a separate voice. Seriously. It's a voice, but it doesn't have to be YOUR voice. (Yes, this is total "Detox Your Thoughts" territory and I wish that confounded book was out already!) Right now you're probably fighting against this voice because at least part of it is deemed credible, worthy of engaging with. And that's the first problem.

Let's label this internal monologue as an entity separate from you: Joy Stealer, Bullying Jerk, Pissy Pessimist... or even just Negative Voice. You've got to start engaging in what we call cognitive defusion and self-distancing, which means not only do you separate that voice from yourself, but you separate it from the assumption of truth. You give yourself permission to accept that it is there-- but you strip it of its power by treating it like background noise that need not be engaged with.

(I believe we've used the term "heckler in your mental audience" here before-- and that's exactly what it is. It is there, but the less attention you give it, the less it will keep talking back.)

So, instead of "I'm not good at this at all," you reframe it: "I'm having the thought that I'm not good at this at all. Hello, Negative Voice. There you are. You're trying to keep me from being engaged in the moment, and you have nothing to teach me. So I'll take a breath and let you pass."

It takes practice, for sure, but hopefully that gets you on the road to it!

Good Afternoon, I've seen this topic discussed in here before but I'm frustrated. I grew up in a very toxic dysfunctional household. My mother was an unmedicated bipolar with multiple personality disorders. My father was a serial womanizer in addition to having two affairs that each lasted 14 years and overlapped. My mother always took care of the finances. Since her death I was content to stand on the sidelines until I got called in by adult protective services because my sister's couldn't keep their hands out of the cookie jar. I got my dad's financial ship righted in the water but he only has enough money to cover minimal expenses for two years. My sister's are convinced I stole millions and they don't understand my mother's facade as Ms. Gotrocks was just that. There is credit card debt in excess of $100,000. My counselor was helpful in navigating the whole mess and last Monday at our session he mentioned it would be the last as he was retiring. AWWKKK!!! He also mentioned that he could continue to see people for $50 under the table, reminding me that ours was just a financial arrangement all along. I have great insurance and only pay $10 a session. I don't feel like dipping into my own pocket for the remaining $40. How do I now go about finding a counselor and getting him up to speed before I get swallowed up in the toxic flames of my family?

Ouch. I am sorry that your counselor's retirement has added to your stress. There are aspects of it that are admittedly unclear to me-- why did he not give you more notice? Has he attempted to connect you with someone else in your same network? If he is going to continue to see clients, then what does "retirement" even mean, and-- far more frightening-- what could "under the table" possibly mean? Who would he be hiding from? He's either licensed to see private clients or he's not. If you were seeing him through an agency where he is not supposed to take the clients outside to a private practice, then that's part of your answer right there-- if you don't want to see him privately, then inquire about seeing someone else at the same agency, who presumably takes your insurance too.

I know that starting over with someone new can be very daunting and even feel exhausting. But if you stay within the same agency, then perhaps you can request that your notes be shared (or which you may have already given consent for) so that some of the background doesn't have to be rehashed. At most, though, one session will probably get the new person up to speed. (After all, you said it to me here in a paragraph or two!) Don't let the burden of starting with someone new keep you from solid help. That would be the only "wrong" way to go about this.

My husband and I have been married for nearly 5 years and we have a baby that’s less than a year old. My husband is wonderful in so many ways, except that some things frustrate him more than what I would consider normal. For example, in moderate or heavy traffic, he is nearly always very irritated. He doesn’t drive dangerously, but he changes lanes over and over, acts frustrated and yells to himself that the other drivers are idiots. It seems so silly because no one can go any faster, because it’s traffic! I tell him it’s okay and maybe don’t worry about it and he snaps at me to just “let me be annoyed.” I tell him I wish he wouldn’t get so upset and try to discuss it rationally about how he could handle it differently and he says it’s irrational and therefore it’s not something he can control. Maybe these things wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I’m very sensitive to other people’s moods and his bad mood rubs off on me. Sometimes he gets over whatever was annoying him and I’m still upset about the situation! I can’t tell if he acts more upset than he actually is and therefore gets over it quickly? Regardless, I need to know if I need to get better at ignoring his behavior (I try not to engage and just “let him be” a lot of the time) or if he needs to get better about regulating his moods? Any tips would be great!

I think two things are being conflated here, and it's important.

Letting someone have their feelings-- for instance, being annoyed-- does not mean being forced to tolerate aggressive driving, yelling, and the kind of constant, unjustifiable belittling of strangers that is not exactly a fabulous thing for a child to grow up with.

So. In math terms, it's this: Being Annoyed Is Not Equal to Behaving Badly Because of It.

If I am reading you right, then he is saying that yes, his frustration is irrational. And you are saying that he shouldn't get so upset.

I see both of those as running counter to the solution here.

The solution is for him to still be frustrated-- sure. The Beltway will do that to folks. But he needs to find a path to manage his frustration differently. This CAN be done; it is not "irrational" or helpless. There are behavioral tools, breathing techniques, visualizations... you name it. It's not regulating his moods per se, although that will help. It's about not letting his moods regulate his behavior.

Make sense?

Honestly, there are such ingrained distortions here about the ways that feelings and behaviors are connected that I really feel like it would take several sessions with a skilled CBT or ACT therapist to work through them. 

Does he really believe that this is the kind of father your child should grow up with? Or is he willing to be vulnerable enough to recognize that this can and should be worked on?

Think to yourself, "I dropped the ball" and not "I dropped the ball so I am stupid and clumsy." Practise, practise, practise this.

Yes. And if the latter part of that sentence comes automatically, just identify it as the a-hole loudmouth that it is.

I have a history of skipping meals and using various other behaviors to make up for what I eat, but I've been making a fairly successful effort to stop over the past 6 months. My friend/new roommate loves to bake multiple times a week and constantly wants to talk about food, but she never eats anything she bakes and has a single egg, yogurt cup, or nothing for most meals. Our other roommates have told me that this makes them uncomfortable and I feel horrible about myself and completely out of control for eating a cupcake with breakfast or a couple of cookies at night. It makes me want to skip meals because I can't go in the kitchen when she's hanging out at the table. She clearly has her own issues and I want to be respectful and help her, but how can I draw boundaries to protect myself and my recovery?

This is a tough situation that has the potential to undermine your recovery, so it is good that you are taking it seriously. If you were newly sober and had a roommate who binge-drank and left a series of liquor bottles around that were worthy of a Mad Men bar cart, you would put your sobriety as your first priority and main focus, right? And wouldn't overconcern yourself with helping your roommate?

So, it is not your job to delve into your roommate's issues with her, or to put her needs above your own recovery. Sure, if she is amenable to help, you may be in a particularly opportune place to support her. But right now, supporting yourself should be the main focus. And at some point, I need not complicate it with my eating disorders/clinician lens: if she is frequently baking things that she does not eat and you and your roommates don't want either, then that is a problem that needs to be addressed.

"Sarah, I've seen how much you like to bake. It's gotten to the point that having a lot of extra baked goods around is tough on some of us, though. I'm not sure who you have in mind as the recipient of the food, but is there any way that some of it can be put into the freezer or given to others after it's done? I feel better when I don't have cupcakes and cookies around as a regular thing."

To be clear: I am NOT saying that your eating these cupcakes and cookies is bad! I don't want to add to that voice as will. Put if it is like the liquor bottle, in that it then sets you on a path of overcompensating or skipping meals or generally keeping you from having a positive relationship with food and your body, then you deserve to speak up about it. Especially because it sounds like it's not necessarily good for her either-- whatever it may represent.

My son just went off to college - when we were on the tours he was excited, even commenting to me how it would be hard to make a decision between two schools. Now he fell in love with a girl who lives near our home, school is 4 hours away, and he keeps telling me school isn't for him, that he's going to come home and get an apartment and just work. I'm so upset about it - half the time he tells me about stuff he's doing and he sounds excited, and then he tells me he has to argue with himself to leave his room, open emails from teachers, etc. I tried to get him to talk therapy a year ago but he hated it. What can I do? I guess I can let him come home and fail? It's so hard to sit and watch it happen.

I can imagine this is really hard to sit back and watch.

But ultimately, you can't make these decisions for him. You can only enact your own personal boundaries and stand by them. For instance, maybe you say that you don't cover his rent, even temporarily, if he drops out of school. Maybe you don't co-sign on an apartment until he's completed a year of college.

It's unclear to what extent this is due to the girlfriend versus just not wanting to be in school-- obviously, it's probably some dreaded combo of both. But you can most certainly try to convey to him that it is far too early within his college career to make any decisions that could be permanent. Adjustment takes time, freshman year can be tough, it's a big change. If he is having some issues with depression (which I could certainly imagine), then-- even short of trying to convince him to go back to therapy-- you can talk about the ways that that may be distorting his lens. But ultimately, you do have to sit back somewhat. You can support, opine, and draw your own boundaries, but it is his life, after all.

Please keep us posted.

Hi - my husband and i are telling our contractor tomorrow that we are letting him go. It’s been really tough and our project is way over budget...there have been mistakes. We have decided to end positively as possible with a termination agreement (we saw a lawyer) but i am actually fearful of his reaction. We are prepared for the worst but I couldn’t sleep last night. We have a new contractor lined up to take over....but the old one could make life difficult if he wanted to

So, what are you most afraid of? If you are afraid of some sort of retaliation, then that is a different animal (you've got to document, document, document, and make sure that your termination agreement is airtight, and of course make sure your home is secured.)

If you are afraid of the general ickiness of ending this relationship, then remind yourself that you are doing it for a reason. Assuage your guilt by being as respectful and professional as possible. Slow down your breathing, and try to maximize feeling like a team with your husband. Have a mantra in mind ("We need to move forward," "This is awkward, but necessary," "This will be over soon," "This is a business relationship, and we are all doing the best we can") that you can turn to.

Has anyone else out there been through this? With the horror stories I hear about construction projects, I am guessing so!

Wow. For someone who is going through so many challenges, you are incredibly articulate at describing them. You could get a new counselor up to speed in under five minutes if you just print or email what you wrote here and give or read it to them. As for finding someone, if your current counselor can't give you recommendations, then your insurance company should have resources. I know every insurance co. I've ever used had an online directory where I could search for treatment providers by discipline, zip code, even gender. You're already a great advocate for yourself, so just tell the new person what you told Dr. B.

So true. Thank you!

Maybe you should note here that not everybody should go to college, and even people who should go shouldn't necessarily go right out of high school. Working at a crappy job for awhile can be a tremendously maturing experience. Maybe this kid could come home to be near his girlfriend and take some classes at the community college (and every community has one). Maybe Mom (and I'll bet a lot it's the Mom) is just invested in this for the wrong reasons.

Could be, and it's worth exploring. But presumably Mom has paid for tuition this semester. Is it really that bad of an idea to at least wait until the end of the first semester to make that decision?

You just said that the retiring therapist might be asked to pass his notes to a new shrink. That makes me wonder how detailed are a shrink's (like yours) notes? Are they a few words to remind you of what's going on, or a detailed summary of the session, or what? If I was going to a new therapist, I would be very leery that what the previous therapist thought worth noting was not necessarily what was most important to me, and might not even have been recorded or interpreted correctly.

It really varies by therapist, but most of them are pretty straightforward and objective about what was discussed, what goals were set, what symptoms were described, what alternative ways of thinking or behaving were settled on, what themes were worked on, etc.

Clearly, though, if you're leaving a therapist because of a poor fit, then you wouldn't want to the new therapist to be beholden to their notes, which is why it'd be understandable if you chose to not have them shared. But if it was a good fit, it can fill in a lot of blanks in a more efficient manner.

And now we get to welcome Amy!

(Welcome, Amy!)

Hi everyone! I'm excited to answer any questions you have today.

Thank you so much for joining us today everyone!

I knew a guy like that when we were that age. He got his girlfriend pregnant, they had to get married, so he had to drop out of school in order to work full-time to support them.

The potential plot thickens!

I look forward to reading your book. One thing I wonder about my own mental resilience is whether I am just destined to be someone who falls apart easily. My mother and father both were very prone toward drama and melancholy. Little things got to them a lot and they would retreat from the world when things became too much, which seemed nearly constant. They did the best they could and loved me and I don't want to blame them but I also wonder if there is a genetic part here that I can't get past. I have tried to build my mental toughness all my life (sometimes in ways that went too far the other direction) but I always feel like I am affected by things more than other people are.

Mental strength is certainly affected by several factors, such as genetics and life experiences.

You can't control whether you have ADHD, for example, which might be a complicating factor when it comes to building mental muscle. 

And you can't control what happened to you as a child--growing up with a lot of drama may have affected the way you see yourself and the way you interact with others.

But that doesn't mean you can't build mental muscle. Just like someone with a family history of obesity could still make healthy choices that allow them to become physically strong, you can still make choices that help you become mentally strong.

Clearly, you have some self-awareness, which means you're already headed in the right direction. It's never too late to build mental strength.

Wow, it's been decades since I've seen that expression (which I remember well from my youth).

And the times, they are, a'changin!

Hello, My father-in-law is driving me bonkers. His offense is that he attends every single one of my oldest son's sporting events (son is 14). He is the uber fan. He attends each game, knows all the players, and continually calls out cheers and/or 'feedback' during the game. This is hardly a horrible thing, and I realize that I may be the one who needs to get over herself with this. But last night I got to the game and he was sitting there, with my friends, settled in and didn't stop talking for the whole game. He is a very charming person and he loves my kids dearly. But I admit that I wish he wasn't at each game. I want to attend some games without having him there, I want to watch my kid in peace and talk to my friends/other parents, and honestly I want some space! I don't know how to broach this, if at all. My spouse doesn't see why I am so bent out of shape and, again, I realize that this is likely more about ME and less about him. I don't know what is underneath it all.

Well, where is Spouse in all this besides not seeing it as a problem? Is he at any of the games and able to run interference? Can there not be times when you are set up in a different part of the bleachers to catch up with Sue about her gallbladder surgery while husband sits with Dad farther away?

If he is totally unable (or unwilling) to run interference, then you have to take it into your own hands. You get up and walk around when you need space. When he gives a wee bit too much "feedback" to your son, you mention "I wonder if this time we could let him bat in silence?" Or, you have a real conversation about it: "Fred, you know how much I love you and the fact that you are such a supportive grandfather. Sometimes, though, even a positive thing can feel like too much. Would you mind toning it down/taking a breather/skipping this weekend's games so it could give us some alone time with Son?" 

Yes, awkward. But if it's really affecting you, you need to seriously consider speaking up about it.

(Okay, now I'm ready for the "Stop whining and be grateful for Grandpa" posts.)

I am glad you are here in our world of Baggage Check today, as I read your book and got a lot out of it. But one thing I still struggle with immensely is change. I know you say that getting better with change is key in becoming strong mentally. But I am terrible with change and I resist it. A lot. It gets in the way of me making changes in my careers and relationships. Do you have any advice for how to better embrace change?

I'm thrilled you liked my book. Thank you for the kind words.

Change can definitely be tough. After all, there's no guarantee that you'll make your life better. And that uncertainty can be tough to tolerate.

But change often does improve our lives. In fact, there's a study that included people who were all on the fence about making a big change in their lives (in terms of job or relocation). As part of the study, they agreed to leave the decision up to a coin toss, which meant about half of the people made the change. When they followed up with everyone six months later, they found that the people who made the change tended to be much happier than the people who stayed the same.

So you might write down the pros and cons of staying the same versus the pros and cons of making a change. Looking at that list can help you see that there are risks, but also potential benefits and that may help you move forward.

You can also "argue the opposite." Whenever you start thinking that a change isn't going to work out, argue all the reasons why it may work out even better than you  are imagining. That can help you develop a more realistic outlook.

Finally, remind yourself that even though it feels scary, your anxiety doesn't have to stop you. Move forward one step at a time even when it feels uncomfortable. With practice, change will feel less scary.

The therapist I was seeing was in private practice, his own office. Who he is hiding from is the IRS. Because he is now collecting social security he is limited in how much income he can earn. Hence the undeclared $50. He did find someone to take over his lease, I just don't care for that person. As he explained he hit his income limit faster than he projected and he had to stop earning now. Boom, no warning.

Got it.

Wow, wow, wow.

That table he's under is very, very dirty.

And for him to try to involve you in this web... especially while simultaneously pulling therapy out from under you all of a sudden.... oof.

Yeah, you can find someone new and get them up to speed. It will be easier than you think, I bet.

I respect the OP's anxiety concerning terminating their contractor. Could the husband handle the meeting on his own? I don't mean to dump the problem on him: rather, it's his way of supporting his spouse. Plus, it might make the session go more smoothly (it's not two-on-one and OP's anxiety isn't present and obvious to the contractor). Just an idea….

Well, this would work, except I got another letter from Husband about his own anxiety about it!

(Kidding.)

OP, whaddaya think?

I think the OP might consider toning it down/taking a breather/skipping this weekend's games, since presumably they have plenty of alone time with son, which Grandpa doesn't.

It's a good point. Thanks.

And that does speak to a larger question of whether some of Grandpa's exuberance is because this is the only outlet he has in order to show affection and interest in his grandson. Maybe more alone time with him really is in order.

Or, he gets plenty of additional time and is just the type of Superfan with a closet full of foam fingers.

OP?

How would you recommend helping a partner work on their mental strength without offending them and making things worse? Should I just give my boyfriend your book? He is a chronic stress case, a worrier who refuses to recognize the problem or even consider seeking help about it.

Good question. You certainly don't want to lecture someone else or tell someone what they should do.

But, you can support your partner's efforts in growing stronger. You might talk about what has worked for you. Discuss the coping skills you use when you're stressed out. Or, read my book and tell him it helped you and invite him to read it as well. 

You also might share how his worrying and stress affects you. Saying something like, "I know you worry a lot. And when you talk about all the things you're stressed out about every time we are on a date, it makes it tough to relax and enjoy our conversation. I want to know, what can I do to support you?" 

You may have to set some limits too. If he constantly complains or vents to you, listening to him may not be doing him any favors. (Studies show venting actually increases stress). You may need to suggest that you talk about more pleasant topics so that he feels better--rather than worse. 

Okay so I googled your 13 Things! Definitely want to delve deeper. What I see as my biggest weakness is alone time. I have gone from relationship to relationship in my 20s without really spending any time on myself outside the bounds of being with someone. I know this is a common problem and that it means that I am probably running from something... but what? In your experience, why do people have such trouble being alone?

Some people are afraid to be alone with their thoughts. They need constant distractions from the conversations going on in their heads.

Others only feel worthy when they're with someone. They feel like they're good enough only when someone finds them attractive or when someone is paying attention to them.

So you might consider what happens to you when you are alone. Do you feel anxious? Sad? Lonely? Does your desire to be in a relationship ward off those emotions? 

And while there's nothing wrong with being in relationships, it's healthy to feel uncomfortable emotions sometimes. And being alone can be an opportunity to learn about yourself and gain confidence in your ability to deal with discomfort. 

Our adult (mid-30s) son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren (5, 3, and 9 months) live 30 minutes away. We adore them all and see them often. The problem: We observe a lot of what we consider poor parenting. The children are often dirty and wearing dirty clothes. Their nails aren’t ever cut. They wear shoes several sizes too small. There’s old and spoiled food in the refrigerator, which is offered to the children. Their house and car look like a bomb went off. Our daughter-in-law is a SAHM, and we have reason to think she pays little attention to the children when alone with them. (We’ve started paying our trusted housekeeper of 25 years to clean for them once a week, and while she is discreet, she occasionally tells us about worrisome behaviors. Like Mom is upstairs asleep while children are downstairs unattended.) We’ve spoken privately and gently with both of the parents to suggest strategies, with zero impact. We see them at least once a week (at their invitation), and give baths, do laundry, clip nails, buy shoes, clean the house, etc. The grandchildren soak up our attention and say things like, they wish they could stay at our house instead of going home. Both parents had traumatic brain injuries as kids, and while they are functional, they are both space cadets to a great extent. My husband and I, in our mid-60s, would like to start enjoying some travel and relaxing on weekends (we both still work), but we feel an overwhelming need to help the little ones, so we end up working like dogs at least one day out of seven. Any advice for us?

Oh, this is so tough. And you sound like you are doing all the right, involved, compassionate things.

Yet you can't keep this up forever (nor could anyone. Nor should anyone have to.)

The Traumatic Brain Injuries-- do they have any ongoing support for the effects of those? Do they recognize the ways in which those may create challenges to their parenting? Are they still under a neurologist's care, or on someone in the medical field's radar?

It's hard to tease out what is depression versus the TBI versus the vicious stress/avoidance cycle of living with young children, where falling behind with caregiving duties can start to turn truly to neglect.

Your conversation with them needs to be more frank, though. "We've watched this for a while now and we've tried to offer strategies. We love you and the grandchildren to pieces. But we are really, really concerned. They need more care and attention and daily needs-meeting than you are providing. Can we have a serious conversation about this? I don't want it to get worse, but I really need more from you than what I am seeing here."

I do admit I am curious why women need their own book but not men? I totally get that gender differences matter here, but I wonder if just setting up the premise that women need help being strong and men don't... well, is there something about that that doesn't sit right?

That's a good question.

A common question I received from readers after my first two books hit the shelves, was, "What does it look like to be a strong woman?" After all, we're often told Navy SEALS and elite athletes (which are usually men) are the epitome of toughness. So I wanted to give women and girls a guide to what strong women are like.

Also, women experience different gender norms and cultural expectations. Women, for example, are often called "too emotional" or "crazy" when they show anger in the workplace. A man who shows anger is more likely to be respected for being passionate.

Also, girls are being given some interesting messages about role models. For example, at age 5, when asked to point to a picture of a "brilliant person," kids tend to point to someone of the same sex. Boys point to men and girls point to women. 

But, when they ask kids at age 7 to pick out someone who is brilliant, almost all kids point to a man. Clearly, girls are getting the message in school that men are more brilliant.

And I don't know too many men who have experienced issues, like being cat called while walking down the street.

I could keep going about why I wrote a book for women, but hopefully you get the point: gender norm differences, societal pressures, and different ways in which we raise girls all can lead to some unhealthy habits that rob women of mental strength.

So my hope in writing 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do, was that I'd be able to address the issues women are more likely to experience than men.

Can you really ask someone not to come to a public space? Seems weird. He's not in your house. Most importantly, how does your son feel about this? Would he miss Grandpa's cheering section? Or would he be grateful for a break? And, it seems like the other parents are his friends, too, if he's there all the time and chatting with everyone. How will you feel/react when other parents ask questions about where Joe is and knowing you're the one who told him to stay away. For the in-law aspect of this, would you feel the same way if it was your dad? As the parent of teens, it seems like maybe you just miss your son and bonding with other parents. Or maybe you miss your dad. Is there any other way for you to get those things?

These are all good points. But I wouldn't get too bogged down with the "ask someone not to come to a public space" aspect of this because it need not be that confrontational. This isn't a restraining order. It's not a matter of barring Grandpa from games. It's about getting him to see the bigger picture that sometimes his cheering can be a bit much, and a better balance overall is needed.

Your point about what Son feels is excellent, and certainly worth asking. Thanks.

What kind of relationship have they had with him? Is he a decent guy who got in over his head, or a rip-off artist, with which the home contracting world seems to be full. The tip-off here is the reference to cost overruns. The contractor should be fulfilling his contract for the price agreed to; if he's demanding more in the middle of the job without a clear and convincing reason, that's a big red flag. He's an employee and you don't like his work; you're entitled to fire him. Ask your lawyer how to handle it and follow his advice.

Thanks for this. Makes sense to me!

Hi Dr. Bonior, My husband seems to have alexithymia ... since that isn't an "official" diagnosis, I've been struggling to find tools to help us communicate well within our marriage. For the past 10 years, I've been trying to use the "When you do X I feel Y because Z" type statements, but this seems to put him off (and now it makes sense). What to do? Bonus if you can provide help that's not 1:1 counseling, as it seems to make him worse. (Also worth noting that my little sister and late father probably had it too, and they tended to get much worse when trying counseling, because it's just too much about talking feelings and the like!). Thanks.

So, my first question is what his level of awareness of the situation is. It's very different for you to secretly suspect this and be trying to navigate it on your own, versus his recognizing this in himself and buying into the fact that it is a challenge for you both to address together.

(For anyone wondering, Cliff Notes version: alexithymia involves a difficulty with recognizing or even, for some, feeling emotions. The language of them feels foreign, and it is exceedingly hard to recognize what one is feeling, or certainly what someone else is feeling as well.) 

So, that's the first variable, as I see it. The second is exactly how this manifests. Does he feel things but not know how to label them and understand them (and therefore manage them)? Or does he not tend to feel things at all?

In the former case, I've seen folks helped by learning how to identify the physical experience of their emotions and what that means, which helps them learn to better label and understand sadness, guilt, fear, anger, etc. In the latter case, it's a little trickier, because there may be sort of a hole there in the experience itself, so they need to do more work in figuring out what's blocking things.

Unfortunately, this is one of those conditions where there's not a wealth of awareness out there-- and so I don't immediately have any books or resources to offer you. But hopefully you've got a starting point.

Have any other chatters dealt with this?

Gosh, I feel like mental strength is exactly what I don't have. I'm somewhat accomplished at a lot of things and a fairly moral person, but whenever things really get challenging—whether learning a new skill or having a difficult conversation, I often just... give up. I know part of it is about perfectionism and a fear of failure, but I also just seem to be missing discipline. I feel like I just have a really weak character that never seems to get stronger. Is there hope for me?

Yes, there's always hope!

And you're exactly right. Perfectionists often give up early because of the fear of failure. The solution often involves facing  your fears one small step at a time.

With practice, you'll see that failure, mistakes, and rejection aren't the worst thing in the world.

Consider it a behavioral experiment. Challenge yourself to do something hard and hold yourself accountable. 

If you're really struggling, consider getting professional help. It's a common issue therapists help people overcome.

I am in a major funk. I am 29, just graduated from professional school, am having trouble finding a job, and moved back in with my parents while I'm looking. I see my friends from pre-grad school getting married and having children. I see my friends from grad school starting new, exciting jobs. And here I am, sleeping in my bed with the princess sheets I loved when I was 4, trying to move forward. The employment situation is somewhat in my control and somewhat not (I chose a field that is a great fit for me but notoriously difficult to break into). I worked really hard and did really well in school, and it's hard for me to see people who barely made it through float into great jobs in their field while I am struggling to gain traction. This professional frustration is spilling over into my personal conduct. I am angry all the time, jealous, and short with my parents who are allowing me to live rent-free and totally don't deserve this. I've realized I am an altogether unpleasant person, in both thoughts and actions. I've tried to change this on my own but haven't been successful. I'm not sure this rises to the level of requiring therapy, but I would entertain the idea except for my financial and insurance situation. No money, and no insurance. Any ideas on where to go from here?

Those princess sheets are the bomb, though!

Oh, how I wish I could just wave a magic wand and tell you that you are doing just fine. That exploration involves stalling sometimes. That embarking on a path that can lead to a strong sense of purpose and meaning-- like a professional field that's a great fit-- is not always the easiest road to take. That comparing yourself to others-- especially just what you see from the outside of their lives-- is something you will look back on decades from now and recognize so clearly was such a waste of time and emotional space.

I don't possess that wand, though, and so instead I will say this. "Angry all the time" most certainly rises to the level of requiring therapy. Not because something is wrong with you, but because you deserve better than to feel that way. And your parents deserve to have some calmer interactions with you as well.

There are a lot of low-cost options for therapy, from graduate school training programs to community clinics to private providers who offer sliding scales. Yes, it takes some effort to seek them out. But even starting that effort will put you on the path toward change more than doing nothing.

Please keep us updated.

If they observed any other parents endangering their children's lives and health through action and inaction, they would call CPS. The fact that they are relatives here doesn't change the obligation. And both parents are brain-damaged!? Call the authorities and let them deal with it.

I can see this standpoint, for sure.

But the reality is, there's no way to just "let the authorities deal with it" without the grandparents being directly affected and involved. In fact, they obviously very much WANT to be involved in these kids' lives. It's not a matter of foisting the issue off on someone else, especially when it may permanently scar their relationship with their own children, and perhaps scar their grandchildren as well.

I do think that if nothing changes on the part of the parents, then yes, that road can be pursued. But I'm hoping some firmer and more serious conversations (not ultimatums, though that would be tempting) would allow this family to stay together and get on a better path.

Trying to help my sweet sensitive smart 18 yo teenage nephew strengthen his confidence, resilience, motivation. His issues probably too complex, multilateral, and longstanding to solve in a chat so would greatly appreciate suggestions of reading/resources to provide ideas and help guide me (a non-parent).

That's great that you want to support your nephew. Even though you aren't the parent, you might find my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do, to be helpful. It has exercises for parents of teens that can help with things like confidence and resilience. 

If your nephew enjoys reading, you might give him a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do

Aside from books, just being a positive person in his life will go a long way toward helping him. Teens who have jobs, good social support, and a sense of purpose tend to be more resilient so be sure to assist and support in those areas when it's warranted.

This question is for Dr. Andrea or Amy. Any help is appreciated. I am fortunate to have a job with coworkers who respect me (and each other) professionally and are also genuinely caring. It is a friendly office culture. I am naturally outgoing and enjoy being part of this and other communities but also have some introverted tendencies, understand that this is a place of work, and am good at reading social cues, so pretty much never interrupt people at their desk just to chat. People do often do that to me, however, even when my door is closed. I have gotten much better over my many years of working at communicating honestly when I’m in the middle of something, but, admittedly not nearly as well or as soon as I actually need to, for fear of being impolite. (I have read and thought extensively about this and know I need to work on it.) Now I am grieving the loss of someone very close to me, at the same time as I have a couple additional significant emotional stressors AND a lot of work on my plate. I just want to be left alone at work for anything not strictly work-related. Please help me with some empowering advice/thoughts/scripts. Thank you!

It can be tough when well-meaning co-workers bring up a sensitive issue at work. They may feel better once they say something and walk away, but it may leave you feeling worse than ever because they disrupted your work to remind you of something painful.

You may simply need to acknowledge that. Say to someone, "I appreciate your sentiments, however, it's too painful for me to discuss during my workday."

When I returned to work after my husband died, I enlisted the help of my supervisor. She requested that people in the office not talk about my loss during the middle of the workday (it was too hard to do my job as a therapist if I were talking about my grief in between patients). That worked well for me and my colleagues respected my needs.

You might find asking a supervisor for assistance is warranted as well.

If it's the same people approaching you over and over again, you might simply need to train them in on what is helpful. Say things like, "This sounds important. The best way to communicate it would be via email" or whatever your preferences are. I'd also ask, do you need to answer your door if it's shut? Depending on your office culture and your role, the answer might be no. 

When you first set healthy boundaries, things may get a little worse as people test your limits. But with consistency, they'll begin to honor the boundaries you set.

Can one of your friends sit with you away from the group every once in awhile? I have friends with very involved parents and they asked similar things of me and other friends. It is nice to socialize without a parent every once in awhile. Having a parent there all the time, really does change the dynamic.

Yes, this was definitely what I was picturing. As someone who has done her time multiple times over on bleachers across the land (or so it feels like!), I'd say that changing seating arrangements up can be natural and freeing for everyone. There's no law that says that certain friends or certain family members always have to sit together.... nor do you even have to stay the same place for all quarters/innings/whatever!

Thanks.

That's doesn't mean the grandparents walk away. They might sue for custody, or get therapy for the parents, or disability money, or something else. But nothing can happen without official intervention.

For sure. But the grandparents didn't sound anywhere near ready to pull that trigger. I think it warrants a more serious and pointed conversation first, with the reality check that starting that process may permanently and negatively affect their relationship with their children.

Is it the equivalent of being somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum? The lack of sensing seems like it to me. Or is it a whole 'nother thing?

It can definitely overlap with the spectrum, and can even be a pretty significant component of it for some folks. But I have also seen it outside of the spectrum in certain contexts. And sometimes I have seen it associated with childhood neglect, but of course not always.

Can you make a start by telling your parents that you are sorry you have been less than kind and grateful to them than you know you should be? Tell them the job hunt is more frustrating and depressing than you expected, but that you're working on both the job hunt and your behavior. Then do it.

Yes, that could start a nice path toward mending that relationship in its own right. And helping the parents know how to be supportive in the ways that are most useful.

Thanks.

Oh, I think I see. If a person has been neglected, they have not been trained to be aware of others' emotions, or they've been taught that emotions are bad and must be suppressed, which is not like Asperger's.

In those cases, yeah, the differences can be pretty stark.

And I can't emphasize enough that there are ranges within alexithymia as well... for some folks, it really just is about learning an emotional vocabulary. For others, it is about learning even how to experience feelings in the first place. And everything in between.

By the way, I read your first two books and loved them. And I listened to the audio book for 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do. I especially liked that one. In your books you touch a lot on how grief can affect your mental strength. But it's still hard to put into practice. People always say you have to give yourself "time to grieve." I don't think I ever did that, and it probably had a huge effect on me in the years after my father died. I was really messed up mentally. The problem is I don't know how to grieve. Does anyone? Is there a right or a wrong way?

Thank you. I'm glad you liked my books.

There definitely isn't a right way to grieve. Grief looks different for everyone and there isn't a timeline on how to do it or how to do it well.

But one common problem most of us run into is our tendency to try and avoid feeling bad. We want to escape the emotions that get stirred up after a loss. 

Some people distract themselves as much as possible. Others, stay stuck living in the past because the present is just too painful.

And it doesn't help that our society rarely talks about grief. We often try to cheer other people up when they're sad because we're uncomfortable sitting with them when they're filled with deep pain.

But grief is the process by which we heal. And allowing yourself to experience painful emotions is key to helping you feel better down the road. 

And it's important to note that being mentally strong isn't about suppressing your emotions. Often, it's about embracing them--even when they're painful. 

But allowing yourself to experience that pain can help you create a new sense of normal for yourself. And while the pain may never completely go away, it can help you appreciate more pleasant emotions down the road. 

Of course, if you're really struggling, don't hesitate to seek professional help. There are lots of grief groups available and therapists are well-versed in helping people deal with grief.

Why would anyone fall in love with (let alone marry) a person with alexithymia? Even if the condition was undiagnosed, the behavior would seem too difficult to put up with.

Oh, people fall in love with others every day who have difficult behaviors. And behaviors exist on a spectrum; it's not like people are just shoved into boxes. They don't have to be defined by one aspect of themselves.

I agree, though, that it could certainly present challenges-- and so I'm hoping OP and Husband can work through it!

Are you excercising / active? It's a cliche that helps - but it does. As does getting out in nature.

Yes! The data bears out that it is no cliche.
Thanks.

Wondering if Amy or Dr. A have any tips about being a jealous person. I have always wanted what other people have got but it seems to be worse the older I get. I even resent people that I consider friends sometimes when they seem to have an easier time with things than I do. I am pregnant with my first child and worry that I will always be comparing my kids to others and will be unkind (at least in my head) if my kid doesn't measure up. Help!

This is a common problem--especially now that social media shows us what everyone else is doing all the time.

There's a great study that shows how looking at other people as opinion holders, rather than competitors, reduces jealousy, envy, and resentment.

So when you notice that you're feeling jealous, reframe your self-talk. Remind yourself that you're running your own race. Tell yourself that person knows something you don't or has information you don't have, but that they aren't better or worse than you.

There's a whole chapter dedicated to this in my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do, if you want to know more. I think you are smart to address this.

Thank you so much for all your great questions today. I really enjoyed answering them!

Thanks to everyone for being here today. You are so used to my saying that the time absolutely flew that it seems trite by now, but it was most definitely true.

And thanks most of all to Amy Morin. It was such an honor to have her here-- and I am excited to get to dig in and read her excellent answers now! Please check out her work if you haven't done so already.

Until next time, be well, take care of yourselves, and Go Nats!

I'm scratching my head here. So no one should fall in love with anyone who isn't perfect?

Couldn't resist ending on this (post-script) note.

Thanks!

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.”
Amy Morin
Amy Morin is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and psychology lecturer at Northeastern University. She’s also an international bestselling author. Her books, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, and 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do have been translated into 33 languages. The Guardian dubbed her “the self-help guru of the moment” and Forbes calls her a “thought leadership star.” Her TEDx talk, The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong, is one of the most popular talks of all time with more than 10 million views. She’s a regular contributor to Forbes, Inc., and Psychology Today where her articles on mental strength reach more than 2 million readers each month.
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