Baggage Check Mental Health Advice: I have questions about my gender. How can I show the real me to my spouse?

Dec 03, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your questions about relationships, family, mental health, motivation, work-life balance, well-being, and more. Read past Baggage Check columns here.

Get mental health tips and an early glimpse at Dr. Andrea's next book "Detox Your Thoughts" by following Dr. Andrea on Facebook or Instagram.

Important disclaimer: this chat should not be considered a substitute for one-on-one psychotherapy, and is for general informational purposes only. (Dr. Andrea's advice on 80s song lyrics and snacking, however, is completely official.)

Hi, all. How is your Tuesday going? I'm so glad to see you here.

Some early planning: you probably figured this already, but we won't be holding a chat on the 24th or the 31st of this month. Which gives us only two weeks after this one before we sign off for 2019. Unbelievable!

So let's make the most of it. What's on your mind?

I grew up seeing my cousin "Anna" several times a year as she lived a few states away from our family. She is three years younger than me and we are now in our later 20s. Anna, even as a kid, seemed very type-A and stressed. In the past several years, she's gone through a few career changes and moves to different states, the death of her beloved dog, and dealing with her fiance "Brad" living in another state during medical school residency. In our family, Thanksgiving is a really big deal, the one holiday that 60+ people travel to from around the country for several days of events. When Anna wasn't there this year, we all assumed she was spending it with Brad and his family and got evasive answers from her parents. My aunt/her mom then let it slip to one person that Anna was in the middle of in-patient treatment for OCD and anxiety. I'm glad she's getting help obviously, but I am a little concerned that the truth came out possibly by accident. I heard it second hand. I don't know if Anna wants our entire family to know. Part of me wants to text her and say I'm supportive of treatment and I hope she is doing well. But we aren't super close, and I don't want to add to her anxiety by thinking that everyone is gossiping about her. But I also feel like pretending nothing happened the next time I see her is not great either. Should I pretend that I don't know?

So not only were you not the one told, but the person who WAS told was told by accident (and then went and told you.)

Yeah.... between that and the fact that you aren't super close, I would keep respectful space intact. Clearly it was your aunt's (and likely Anna's) instinct to not let people know, a least not yet, and you want to honor that.

That said, this can still privately inform your behavior. You can maybe show some extra empathy, make your "How are you?" a little more meaningful when it does eventually come along (though not making it one of those "How. ARE. You."s that makes it seem like you are popping popcorn and waiting to be entertained with someone else's misfortune.)

Just be a loving cousin.... and a human being. You are showing your kindness already by wondering about the right way to go about this, and that will take you far.

I find myself being obsessively drawn to ongoing political issues and it is causing me to ruminate frequently. I can sense that it is unhealthy, but I argue with myself that I have to at least pay attention because of the fears I have for our country. I had a therapist encourage me to consider other areas of my life that may be the true root cause, and work on processing those. Was that good advice? Where do I begin?

It could be, if there are other areas of your life that are causing you to feel even more out of control or helpless or sad or angry.

It could also be, though, that we live in an absolute sh*tstorm right now, and it is truly harder than it has been in quite some time in order to NOT feel awful about what is happening. I mean seriously. We don't have to pretend here, do we? This administration has raised the threat level on all fronts-- existentially, emotionally, and for many subsets of people, logistically in the form of their actual legal rights.

I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a therapist who hasn't seen a significant uptick in stress and negativity that is directly related.

(And to play devil's advocate, then even a therapist who was supportive of this administration-- I don't happen to know any, though I think Pence's wife is an art therapist so there is at least one on this Earth-- then being that this administration by definition thrives on instilling fear in others about various subgroups of people, and revels in that, then that too is increasing fear and anxiety. Even if you support that increase of fear, it is there, objectively, even if for the wrong reasons.)

So, yeah. The struggle is.... real.

The key is to learn at what point on the spectrum the fear is spinning your wheels, making you feel more helpless, taking AWAY your strength and insight-- versus when your fears are keeping you aware and energized and active and open-eyed and able to make a plan. So, fear that makes you speak out and act in ways that you feel are part of your duty as a citizen? Let's keep that. Fear that rises to the level of keeping you awake at night so that you don't function in the morning, or lashing out at your loved ones because your nervous system is so out of whack? Those are the thoughts that you have to identify in the moment as being excessive and dysfunctional, and work on new visualizations and techniques to breathe through them, all while keeping your eye on what you can control. 

You are not alone!

This year has been rough on me and my spouse, for a number of things outside our control (parental health issues, jobs, etc). I'm trying very hard to not get burnt out, but the day to day grind is exhausting. Beyond "this will pass" are their any words you would use to keep your spirits up when it's looking like there are at least a few more months of rough patches ahead?

I would love to hear if any of the chatters have any words!

But I can't help but suggest a visual. Or a metaphor. Sayings are great-- and I hope we'll get some (and I definitely can think of some additional mantras if none show up)-- but have you considered making a larger metaphor that is a picture you can turn to in your head?

Swimming through a rough part of the sea that will eventually become calm? Building a shelter to ride out a passing storm? Climbing a mountain that will eventually get you a beautiful view and a chance to relax? The possibilities are limitless.

With the visual and whatever saying you may come up with, I think an important key is to keep in mind what you can do to take a little control of the situation. Notice that all of my metaphors were not just things happening TO you, but you doing something active to make progress in moving through. Even if there is no end date in sight, each day is an actual accomplishment. It is not just waiting for things to pass. It is actively moving through them.

I wouldn't want her family to be blindsided though. What do you think about LW reaching out to Aunt to let Aunt know that 'someone told me I felt I should tell you so you're aware and not blindsided'. That way Aunt can figure out how she wants to handle this - especially if some relatives text Anna ... . I mean I would want to know family were whispering about my daughter - but then I'm a 'let it al hang out' sort of person.

Thanks. It's a very good question, and it depends in large part on whether OP thinks she was one of many people told, or just one. (Although, is there ever just one?)

OP?

Neither of the two previous chats are retrieved when one clicks on the link. - The link shows up in the address part of the browser but the content does not. Thanks. A regular reader

Ack! I have heard on and off from some of you about this. And I have noticed it myself at times, though I can't replicate it at the moment (it seems particularly to happen when I search for a specific chat by name, rather than by date.)

I am producer-less, as you know, but maybe putting this out there into the digital universe will somehow be fruitful.

Is this part of the confusion? I can let go of my feelings on something (I think) to a large extent, once time has passed, but that doesn't necessarily mean I forgive the person who did something egregious or want to let them back in my life. Especially when that person isn't sorry for what they did. I've let people go and heard others say that I have to forgive them, and wondered why? What does that mean? They showed me who they are and I don't want that in my life anymore, what's forgiveness got to do with it?

Yes.

Forgiveness to me is one of those words (like "gratuity included!") that means a yillion different things to a yillion different people, and I think it gets even more confusing because we have data that forgiveness is associated with higher levels of emotional well-being, so clearly it's important to consider... and yet everyone defines it differently for themselves.

So, I do go into this in the book quite a bit, but my gist of forgiveness is more akin to your gist of "letting go." You release yourself from the need to make things "even" or get revenge. You don't carry the anger any longer. You accept that something has happened, even if you don't want it to have done so. You realize that hate corrodes its container. You give yourself permission to take your own meaning from a situation and to grow from it if you so choose, rather than it being dictated that the other person must continue to "pay."

Other people's definition of forgiveness looks more like "Forget it ever happened, accept their apology, and let things go back to how they were before."

Nope. Not how I look at it. Forgiveness does not have to mean giving up justice, nor does it have to mean not remembering and learning from the fact that someone did something, nor does it have to mean letting someone back in your life.

Almost two years ago I starting questioning my gender. After a year of couples therapy, my wife and I have come to agree to disagree about this issue. I am okay with presenting as a man, but would chose to be born as a female if I could. She was relieved to know I have no plans to transition. It is just not something I'm comfortable or interested doing. I still think about my gender questions daily and am talking with a therapist about it individually. How do reassure my wife that I'm the same person, but also slowly try to make this internal part of me a private part of our life together as a couple? I don't need her approval or expect her to fully understand, but it would be nice to be seen by her for who I am becoming inside without it threatening our relationship.

Well, I think you need to get more specific with her-- and perhaps yourself-- about what some of these subtle changes would look like. What does making it more part of your life as a couple entail?

If you're talking about the physical, outward aspects of it-- like maybe privately having some aspects of your gender expression veer more feminine or female, in your own home, even as you are not wanting to transition in the outside world, then start to think about what that means.

If you're talking about more inward aspects, like really wanting her to not "agree to disagree" but rather to actually GET who you are in terms of these more female aspects of yourself, then that is yet a different conversation.

Again, I think the more specific you can get, the better. It's hard to expect her to get on board with something when you're not sure what that something is (or at least not expressing it.)

If it's still a larger, more profound issue-- like the fact that you don't really feel like she understands you, as she views you as simply a man when that is not how you view yourself-- then unfortunately, that is a little harder to operationalize. And you can't automatically make it happen, even when there is immense love there. In any of these examples, it could possibly be that she's not capable of giving you what you're really, deeply wanting. And if that's the case, then you have further exploration to do individually in terms of what you can be fulfilled with, as a person and as a married person.

Please keep us posted.

I don't necessarily have specific words for you, but I do try to notice and be grateful for the small things ... a person who holds the door for you, somebody who asks you about your day or remembers that you like sunflowers, your child giving you a hug. I find if I make a point of being grateful I can be kinder to others myself. And that feels good. Also, take some time off if you can. Two mental health days in a row, at a minimum. I'm fairly certain you can feel a really bad migraine creeping up. Best of luck.

Good stuff here! Kind of you to share it. Thank you.

Your explanation of forgiveness sounds like acceptance to me. I have trouble with the word forgiveness because one of its synonyms is absolution. Acceptance I can do. Forgiveness which implies "hey, that was okay" when it wasn't doesn't always work

It's true. Yes, to me, forgiveness is more of an internal process and is not synonymous with absolution, which feels more like an external referendum on whether someone has paid enough of a price or been sorry enough. In my mind, forgiveness is independent of that... it's not like, "Okay, I don't forgive you yet, because you haven't fully paid the fine, but once those extra dollars come in, then you are forgiven." It's a more profound emotional experience of letting go.

I moved to a new city last year. While I’m a bit introverted, I am making new friends through my favorite hobby. Things have been going well, but I’m struggling with how to deal with another newcomer with similar interests. This person can be quite charming, but also apparently needs to be the center of attention at all times - turning every conversation to themselves, engaging in attention-seeking behavior, and so forth. This can be annoying, but I have remained polite and cordial. Lately, though, this person seems to be targeting me - in any event, they've taken to directing belittling comments at me and literally scowling at me when I'm talking. I do my best to ignore this when it happens, although it's become frequent and unpleasant enough that I’ve withdrawn from a couple of groups we’d both been attending. But this isn’t a large city, and our hobby community is fairly small; I don't want to pull back from hobby groups entirely. Is there an alternative way to handle this? My partner thinks I should respond in the moment instead of ignoring the putdowns, but I don’t want to cause any scenes that would make my new-found friends uncomfortable.

So your newfound friends are just comfy as can be with this person belittling you?

I'm guessing not. I'm guessing they already ARE uncomfortable.

And in fact, they may be made even more uncomfortable by the fact that you're not standing up for yourself.

(And if they're not made uncomfortable by you being belittled, then let's revisit our definition of "friends.")

I'm not trying to come down on you here-- you have done absolutely zero wrong in this situation and don't deserve this behavior. But that's just it; you don't deserve this behavior. Refusing to draw a line and establish that it's not appropriate is also going to hurt your friend group over time. Because what if this person then starts belittling them? You've already established that it's acceptable.

I'm not saying you have to turn it into the Peloponnesian War.  You should still be civil. You get (or anyone else gets!) belittled, then you pause, make eye contact, and say, "Wow-- that wasn't very kind." And so on. 

(And now we will hear from folks who say to make sure that you haven't done anything directly to be targeted. My guess is that you haven't, though of course it could be worth a look.)

Having read your chat and other advice sources for a long time, it looks like many issues fall into three categories: 1/ Somebody's doing something that I want him/her to stop; 2/ Somebody's not doing something that I want him/her to do; 3/ Somebody did or didn't do something that I wanted him/her to do yesterday/last year/when I was 12, and I'm still upset about it. Do you have any blanket advice that covers all these bases?

Now that would be interesting as a research project! I dare say this chat veers a little more internal/cognitive/emotional than that, but when it comes to interpersonal and relationship dynamics I bet you are on to something.

If there's blanket advice, it would be this: You are in charge of your own behavior, not someone else's. You have both the right and the responsibility to establish the parameters of what you are willing to put up with-- yeah, boundaries-- and live your life according to them. And communication is absolutely essential when there is conflict-- but communication alone will not necessarily change someone else's behavior.

I have a friend that is passing through a hard time health related. But he did something very wrong to me, that didn't consider my feelings and made me very sad... Now I'm having this hard time of knowing if I should talk about it with him... Because this may not be the appropriate time for him… But we talk every day and have fun and he acts like nothing ever happened… I think I’ve already forgiven him in my heart… But I still feel this need to tell him that what he did was wrong, so he doesn't do this again with anyone else… By the way he speaks about certain related topics, I almost sure he still continues to think what he did was OK. So I have this urge to teach him a lesson somehow… And at the same time I’m very sad that he can’t understand that he did hurt me… But as a said, he’s going through a difficult time in his life (totally unrelated to what he did to me, because what he did was just before the health problem came up)... So now, I’m full of these emotions but have to keep all of them to myself… And at the same time I wish I could help him to become a better human being, somehow I feel this important. But he’s happy living the way he is, only hurting the people around him… So I wouldn't be helping him, but the people around him to be happier… But as a friend I should put him first, no? I’m very confused about this...

There are a lot of "This, but that" aspects here, so let's break them down as I see him.

Yes, he is having health problems. But he is also having fun, and speaking every day to you.

Yes, you have forgiven him. But he also lacks the insight that would keep him from putting you through this all over again.

Yes, he is happy the way he is. But other people are getting hurt in the process.

My therapist Magic 8-Ball is pointing to..... talk to him.

(Yeah, I know. Any Therapy Magic 8-Ball worth its salt would say that every time.)

Pick a relaxed time and remember that you are not trying to bring him down-- you are trying to help expand his perspective. "Hey, Jordan, this is tough for me to bring up and I don't want to be insensitive. But I don't think you realize sometimes how it affects people when you do XYZ. You did it to me, and I was hurt. I've gotten over it, but it still nags at me that you might do it again. Can we talk about this?"

Along with the 'that's not kind' I like the open your eyes wide with look of confusion - 'why would you say something like that'?

Another great one! Thanks.

I am old enough to remember Vietnam and Watergate, and by comparison what's happening now seems almost trivial (although the long-term consequences might be deeper). But what's different is that there were common sources of information that everyone shared. Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley were some of the most respected people in America. Today there is a firehose of information, much of it inaccurate or incomplete, and people can choose outlets, particularly social media, that only reinforce their pre- and mis-conceptions. What do you say about an environment where the very notion of facts is under challenge?

I say that it makes me want to move to Iceland.

No, you are so seriously right. And I am no political or journalism scholar but I don't think there's any doubt that the very concept of news-sharing and information-gathering is under threat. I don't think there are easy answers, although growing awareness is a start.

And that's before we even get into all of the deepfake technology that is apparently coming down the pike.

So, how about those Northern Lights?

I was raised in a fairly well-to-do household. I was safe, I lacked for nothing essential, and my parents made sure I was educated to do well in life. The problem was that my feelings and desires were more or less flatly ignored. I coped with this by learning to take up as little emotional real estate as possible. I do not recommend this as a coping mechanism, as I suspect it was a major contributing factor to the bouts of depression and anxiety that I suffered for about fifteen years. I finally figured it out when I met my husband in my 30s, and my parents disapproved so strongly that they didn't tell anyone about our engagement (after roughly four years of dating). We got engaged in June, and I learned that last bit shortly after Christmas. There were other things, like the way they treated him when he was around, the things they said about him when he thought he wasn't listening, and the way they lied to his face about stuff I'd told them, but this was the last straw. We eloped two years ago in January. I still don't regret putting myself and my feelings first for once- depression free since 2017!- but I know I hurt them, and it comes out every time during our limited contact. I still love them, they did amazing things for me as a kid, and I would like to find a way they can play a healthy role in my life, and in the life of their future grandchild(ren). Is this even a reasonable goal? And how do I begin to rebuild this connection? Preferably without the stifling of my own emotional needs.

It is most definitely a reasonable goal.

As long as you recognize that it is limited by their own limitations, too.

This isn't "Start eating more kale" or "Use one of those weird flosser things every night." This goal will live in die in large part by what they are capable of, and though you can do your part to guide that and open yourself up to it and let them know what you are hoping for and trying to get them on board, ultimately you cannot control what they are willing-- or able-- to do.

And the fact that you have come so far (bravo!) is no small thing. You are wise to keep in mind all the ways you don't want to lose ground on that.

So, I would start small. Maybe with a letter? Or a phone call if that can actually feel comfortable. The goal is for you to plant a seed. ("Mom and Dad, I miss you. I don't like how we have limited contact, and I know I have hurt you with the elopement. I am grateful for a lot of things you did for me as a child. There are also things that I know have been difficult for me, though. As an adult, I've put in a lot of work on learning to manage my emotions in appropriate ways-- to feel things in ways that I didn't always feel allowed to when I was young. The elopement was part of that-- for me to take control of my own life and remind myself that I matter and that my feelings matter and that my husband matters. I am at a point now where I would like to find a way to form a new relationship with you two-- to find a way to connect again and build from there, rather than going back to the person I used to be. I would love to talk more about this if you are up for it."

That is my quick and dirty version... but it's a start.

I have a relative who doesn't celebrate Christmas for personal/religious beliefs. Her and her spouse will still try to show up to our family celebration because she knows it's very important to our family. But I know she is hurt that the majority of our family dismisses her beliefs by continually buying her Christmas gifts after she has asked nicely for the past 15 years not to. They always ask her "what are you and spouse doing? Did you exchange gifts between each other yet". When they know that for the past 17 years of her marriage that they don't celebrate Christmas. Her parents and sister seem to think that she is just being difficult and every year seem to 'forget' that she doesn't celebrate Christmas. I'm very close with her and she asked for my help with this dynamic.

15 years is a long, long time for this nonsense.

It's also a long, long time to believe it will get better the next year.

Ultimately, she has to decide. If this behavior is just not going to change, does she want to opt out? She wants to show up because she knows it's important to others. but does that outweigh her own discomfort about her own wishes not being recognized?

If it's bothering her enough to seek your help with it, then it seems that it's time for a frank outlaying of the situation. (Some would call this an ultimatum, cough cough.)

"Hi, gang. I look forward to seeing you next month and I hope we can continue to spend that time together for years to come. It's been fifteen years, though, that I have asked you all to please respect my wishes not to buy me gifts, and it's been fifteen years that my wishes have been ignored. I know you probably find this silly, but this weighs on me, makes me feel less than, and goes directly against my own personal/religious beliefs. It's getting to the point where the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Now that it is around the corner, I have decided that it is important enough to me to have my wishes respected that I need to take a stand. Once again, I would like to show up and just be with you all. I am asking one final time for you to not buy me gifts. I'm afraid that if it becomes the 16th year where my wishes are ignored, then Bob and I will not be here next year."

I know there is all KINDS of baggage with this issue-- could it also be that they just feel physically uncomfortable exchanging gifts with each other when they have nothing for her? Could it be that she and Spouse take a walk or sit in another room with coffee or go watch a movie for part of the time that actual gifts are being exchanged?

How do I know if I have Seasonal Affective Depression, or am just feeling a little melancholy around the holidays? What is normal, anyway?

Well, the larger question of whether it's "normal" (which I'd switch to mean "Is it something I need help for") is to what extent it is getting in the way of your daily life. Are your relationships affected? Your productivity? Your sleep? How much distress are you actually in? What dent does it make in the life you want to be leading?

But then the difference between holiday melancholy (which is particularly pronounced if you have a history of loss) and Seasonal Affective Depression can often be seen in how early it sets in. Usually the seasonal stuff starts to happen right as the time change hits. Granted, that's also when some overzealous decorators start reminding us that it is the holiday season, so there's a confound there. But you may also be able to tell by the fact that you feel significantly better on days when you get outside more.

You could always try a lightbox to see if it helped!

You can also just say “ouch.”

Yes!

There have been a few posts today from chatters who state they are currently in therapy (one explicitly asking if their therapist had offered "good advice"). As a layman, I'm surprised that Dr. Bonior doesn't have a generic response along the lines of "I don't want to derail or otherwise complicate the hard work you and your therapist are conducting. You should raise your concern with them." An exception to such a response would be a description of behavior by a therapist that was unambiguously inappropriate and/or unethical (such as the one a few weeks ago who wanted to be paid cash under the table). Thoughts?

No, it's a good point, and I hope that I often say things around those lines.

In the case of the political chatter, I felt my duty was not to negate at all what the therapist was or wasn't saying, but rather to validate to OP that a lot of people are feeling very similarly, no matter what their individual circumstances. I wanted to paint a bigger picture of what I have the opportunity to see on a macro level.

But yeah, I do take pains to not assume something about any other person's therapy experience just from one side of the story, and I can recall many times urging people to speak to their therapist about the concerns they bring up in the chat. Often, it just takes a little extra nudge to do so.

. . . you can't take your pets. Sad but true.

And now that Buster just read that, he has become concerned!

No Iceland for us, buddy.

And your point is?

Another good one for certain moments.

You can't have it both ways. You say - reassure my wife that I'm the same person, - make this internal part of me a private part of our life together as a couple - don't need her approval or expect her to fully understand, - would be nice to be seen by her for who I am becoming inside - without it threatening our relationship These are contradictory positions. She is reading your ambivalence and feeling unsettled. You can only say that you are not ready to transition today, What you may do in the future may change - i'd say, even very likely to change. So address it. Ask her if she will, for example, stay married if you were to transition. if not, would you sacrifice that for marital comfort/joy whatever have you considered her position? What it is like for her to be in this relationship? She may well support you, but you have to earn it. And support does not necessarily mean staying married. Or is that what it means for you?

There are a lot of great points here. Thanks.

Though I don't want to get bogged down in the possibility of officially transitioning in the outer world. Because the here and now matters, too-- it sounds like OP already has areas of themselves, needs, that are going unmet in the current moment. No matter how they are living in the outside world. But yes, there are a lot of mixed things here.... and it would be great if OP could iron them out for more specifics.

Hi, Dr. Bonior! I really enjoy your chats, and I hope you can help. I am a 55 year old widow. My husband died by suicide almost 3 years ago. He was a disabled veteran with a lifelong history of depression. He was also a middle-aged white collar worker who was forced out of his position and could not find another job in his field. He - erroneously! - believed himself to be a failure and did not want to be a burden on his family, so he made the choice to end his life. I understand his reasoning, although I disagree with it completely. My emotions are complex - some days I'm sad, some days I'm angry with my husband, some days I feel gratitude for the life we had together and for our wonderful children. I get through the hard days by reminding myself of what Rilke said, that "no feeling is final." I know I am depressed and I believe that I would benefit from medication, but I know that therapy and medication usually go hand-in-hand. The thing is, I don't know what there is to talk about. I believe I'm managing my grief appropriately. I'm eating a proper diet, try to exercise, try to maintain a decent work/life balance, and try to find joy where I can. My financial resources are limited. I put money each month into an HSA, but I'd prefer to save it for something catastrophic, like an injury that has me out of work. I have insurance, but frequent co-pays would be hard on my budget. Is therapy really all that necessary for depression treatment? What do you think?

First of all, I am so sorry for the loss you've suffered. It's a particularly traumatic one, and the grief, I'm sure, is particularly complex, and the grieving process not in any way linear (I guess it never is, though).

In general, the research really does conclude that medication alone is subpar compared to medication with therapy, both in terms of alleviation of symptoms and also later chance of relapse.

That said, I don't actually know your specific symptoms. On the one hand, what you mentioned sounded like a very functional path in the aftermath of such a devastating loss. And that you are taking very good care of yourself, and you even say that you are managing your grief appropriately. On the other hand, you say that you "know" you are depressed. How does it show up? You describe ups and downs, but in what ways does the depression most hit you? Is it lack of motivation? A sense of emptiness? Times where the sadness gets overwhelming? Irritability? Problems with eating and sleeping? Loneliness? A lack of a sense of meaning?

Without knowing exactly what is most tangibly painful for you, it's hard for me to know what therapy-- or medication, or both-- would be most helpful in targeting for you. But I do always like to bring up the possibility of grief groups as well.

"WOW! That's a nasty thing to say!"

To the point!

Are there other problematic areas of your life that you are avoiding? Are you working off your anxiety and anger about those areas by focusing on politics? There is indeed reason to feel anxious and angry about the state of the country, and the world, no question there; the only question is whether you’re avoiding dealing with stressors in your personal life by focusing on the political scene -

It's a good point!

Hi Dr. Andrea, your chats are wonderful! I learn so much. Question - we just had a baby (now four months old) and I am trying to find a new life balance including how to stay in touch with many far-flung family members and friends. I'm realizing that I was usually the person who initiated touching base ("I haven't talked to Aunt X in two months, I should call her to catch up"). I don't mind being the proactive one, but in my current life stage I'm finding that I have very limited time and moreover I feel like others should be reaching out to me and my family to check-in instead of the other way around. Is that fair? With a new baby, isn't incumbent upon friends and family to say "happy thanksgiving" or just "how are you?"Maybe they are just used to me being the person who does that work? I don't want to lose these relationships but I'm realizing that this is the only time that I have ever been the one with the "need," and it's feeling pretty one sided. Where is everybody?! Why haven't my aunts/cousins/friends said "it's been a while, how are you doing?"(and yes, these are positive, healthy relationships. they aren't avoiding me.) Should I reach out to them per my norm, or can I just wait until they do?

Yes, I think it's clear the reason "why" they haven't reached out-- that's never been the pattern.

And to what extent a baby "should" or "should not" change that pattern-- and to what extent others may even realize that, even if it should-- is a whole other debate.

So, I think it would be helpful for all if you if you just spelled out a little more of what you were looking for.

Take it one person at a time, maybe starting with the person that you have the most trust with and that you feel will be the least likely to go on the defensive.

"Sarah, I feel like we haven't caught up much lately. I miss you. I'm starting to realize in several of my relationships that I always took the lead on reaching out, which I was happy to do. And yet now that I have the baby, I find that it is just harder for me to reach out. So I don't do it as much, and that leads to us not being in touch as much. I'm not sure there's a right answer here-- I don't want to put this all on you, as I know you have your own life-- but I'm wondering if we can adjust, together."

Awkward? Perhaps. A little too touchy-feely when we're basically just talking about, say, the frequency of text messaging? Maybe. But it beats the alternative of keeping quiet for no particular reason and remaining dissatisfied as the friendships gradually start to erode.

If somebody in therapy is concerned enough about their therapy to post to a chat site, I would think that would be evidence that something is going wrong. Pretty much the basic premise of therapy is that the client should be able to say anything to the therapist, and be received in an accepting, non-judgmental way. If they don't have that, I would think it's a problem.

I appreciate this. But I also think it can be really, really hard for folks to bring up certain things in therapy, even if they trust their therapist, even if they are doing good work, even if the therapist is excellent. Just as it's very hard for some people to come to therapy in the first place.

Certain things are awkward or embarrassing or bring up fears of conflict or disapproval... it's human, it's natural. So if I can do my part to urge that conversation to happen, then I'm happy.

Going through a horrible and extended slog, I tell myself that I can get through THIS day. And don't look farther. When the slog is even horribler, I tell myself I can get through this HOUR.

Yes!! This is so good.

Is it silly that when I saw Frozen II, I couldn't help but applaud it for what I saw as an excellent application of some solid cognitive-behavioral tools? "Do The Next Right Thing." I mean.... yeah, it may have been sung by an animated woman who has a magical snowman as a best friend, but psychologically, I thought it was so on point.

I don't mean to sound snarky, but this is not restricted to new parents. I moved away from my home state 30 years ago and I STILL have to do the traveling at the holidays, or any other time, for that matter. If not for the fact my parents stop in twice a year to and from Florida, no one would come to see us. One of these days the resentment is going to win.

You are so right, and I am sorry!

I know this is not a politics chat, but what? If it's potentially consequential, how can it be trivial? To call what's going on trivial is out of touch and/or ridiculously privileged.

OP didn't really call it trivial, though. And I do think that there is certainly an argument to be made that Vietnam, for instance, dwarfed what is happening now in certain ways. But just certain ones. And that's why OP made the point that the long-term consequences are certainly not trivial.

I don’t think the fact that someone is in therapy should or does preclude him/her from talking to others, including other therapists, about his/her issues or questions, especially in a forum like this, which is designed to provide generalized comments. Therapy does not exist in a self-enclosed bubble, clients are free to move about in the world and talk to other friends, strangers, professionals - if the therapy relationship is a good one, those external comments and questions will be brought back into the relationship and discussed. Sure, the response should probably include the question or the suggestion to talk about it with the existing therapist - but the question seems to presume a closed, exclusive relationship between therapist and client, which I don’t think is realistic or helpful to the client (or the therapist).

Thanks.

I agree-- and I really do think I try to err on the side of respecting the therapy relationship that someone already has before they write in. There have been many times where I've tried to emphasize that I cannot and will not jump to a conclusion about the therapy with just one side of the story.

That's my own lens, though-- if others see it differently, I do want to hear about it!

I think the chatter misspoke. according to what I see on the Internet ( https://www.pettravel.com/immigration/Iceland.cfm ), pets entering Iceland have to spend time in quarantine upon arrival but are not forbidden. However, Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return. Even Icelandic horses who were born there are NOT allowed to return if they leave the country - due to the risk of importing diseases.

There is no shortage to the things I learn in this chat!

Hmm. Perhaps Iceland is still on the table, then. (Have you heard about their family leave policies?)

I appreciate where the OP is coming from. Having a baby myself what I have found is that sometimes people are worried about "bothering" the new parent - they don't want to call at a bad time like when everyone is trying to catch a nap. I try to make sure people know I put my phone on Do Not Disturb if I am trying to sleep and that I may take a while to get back to them but I really appreciate the call or text. And like Dr. B said, I would say be really clear with your family that you would love to hear from them; I have explicitly told people, "I miss you and want to catch up."

That's a really good point. Thanks!

your goal is unrealistic. Even wishful thinking. Why would you even want to rebuild a relationship with people who treated you so poorly and your husbnd even worse? what makes you think they will be great grandparents to your kids? Maybe they are to their other grandkids but are you prepared for them to carry forward the same treatment to your kids? (it could go either way) You are still craving their approval. Stop. So what if that hurts them? if protecting yourself and your family is what it takes, their hurt is immaterial. When they realize theor hurtful ways dont work any more, understand how they hurt/neglected you, apologize sincerely, then you can consider a few baby steps to letting them back in your life. And be vigilant that they dont fall back to their old ways.

Well, I think there's a bit of a broad brush here, but I do think a reality check is not unwarranted.

Ultimately, as mentioned, it is going to come down to what the parents are capable of. Which may not be what OP desperately hopes for.

The clock has turned on us again. Bummer!

Thank you, as always, for being here. I'll look forward to seeing you next week, same time, and in the comments and on Instagram and Facebook in the meantime.

Take good care.

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University, and is the author of two books in addition to the upcoming "Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover The Life You've Always Wanted."
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