Baggage Check Mental Health Advice

Jan 14, 2020

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.)

Hello, all!

How is your week going? I am holding yet another chat in the environs of Amtrak, although this time I am just in Penn Station (if we get cut off it's because my signal was subpar. Apologies in advance; I will switch to my phone as an emergency measure if that happens). This trip to NYC was a lot more fruitful than my November one, because-- letting cat jump out of bag-- I was on the Today Show this morning. It was an important topic (in my completely non-biased opinion) as I was talking about the likeability trap that women face in the workplace, in the Jenna and Hoda hour. I was on with Alicia Menendez, MSNBC anchor and author of The Likeability Trap. What is such a trap, you ask? In a nutshell, it's the fact that the more likeable a woman is deemed at work, the less competent she's thought to be. But then she's often held off from a promotion because she's not "likeable" enough. Moreover, if she actually does get that promotion, her perceived likeability drops. Double binds abound.

All this while people are saying to be "authentic" at work and bring their whole selves. I am so glad that this issue is being talked about more!

Now, on to other issues-- like yours. What's on your mind today?

Hi - My brother essentially lost all of his life savings to an investment scam and he is in denial that he will get his money back. He thinks if he pays more money to them that they will give it back. I know this is not going to happen but I need to figure out a way to convince him his money is gone and that he needs to stop wasting his time and energy to get it back. He has not reported it to the FBI and I am assuming the FBI would tell him he will not get it back, but I think he is scared to report it because in his mind it will quash his ability to get his funds back. How can I get him to see straight?

Oh, I am just so, so sorry.

Much like with pyramid schemes, there is a cognitive dissonance piece at play here-- facing the shame and embarrassment of the reality that he was duped, along with the even harder reality that that money is truly gone-- it's just too hard for a lot of folks, and so they'd rather still believe. (Or, in the case of pyramid schemes, suffer in silence and not warn others, pretending that they didn't really lose their money after all.)

There's also the tricky "backfire effect"-- in that confronting someone with solid evidence that contradicts their beliefs sometimes makes them dig in even harder.

What it all boils down to is the discomfort and fear that would come from him really reckoning with the loss of the money, and the way he would view himself to imagine that he made this big of a mistake.

So, empathy first. Couch your message in a way that educates him about how many people fall prey to these things. That it's not his fault. That it doesn't make him stupid. Ask for further support from others, not in a way that he feels ganged-up on like an intervention, but rather in a way that helps him know that you all have his back and you want the best for him.

If he really can't be convinced not to give them any more money-- and I'm presuming here that he's not considered a vulnerable person in terms of the law, so indeed he has the full legal authority to do whatever he wants-- then you can ask him if he will agree to some parameters. He spends X more dollars and that is absolutely it, or he waits Y amount of time and then decides that indeed it is not going to happen.

This is tough, though, because-- and it's not dissimilar to addiction in this way-- ultimately you cannot control his behavior. You can only let your concerns be known and offer love.

Any help in these cases, chatters?

I have a question that stems from the last chat of 2019. One of the chatters responded to the letter about the ex-husband who was a hoarder. The chatter wrote, "...Is it an option to call the fire marshal and ask hizzer to do a home visit?" What is 'hizzer'? I know I'm late to the party, but I've been out of the country for a few weeks and am slowly catching up on everything I've missed. Happy new year, Doc and chatters!

Happy New Year right back atcha!

I took "hizzer" to be an abbreviation for "his or her."

Hello! I have a (hopefully) low-stakes question about feeling competitive at yoga and how to deal with it. I know yoga teachers always say that you should focus on yourself and your own journey, but I personally find it very hard not to look around the room and clock how flexible others are, or whether they're doing a full handstand, or what their body type is, etc.. (Also, due to the nature of their job, yoga teachers are really fit and good at poses.... so I don't find them the most credible sources!) I definitely want to be more kind to myself and others in my thoughts, but at the same time sometimes feeling competitive is helpful because it motivates me to work a little harder! Any wise advice for how to find a good balance (no pun intended)? I personally think finding some more diverse yoga teachers would help, since I know there are people out there who don't fit a stereotypical image but are really amazing at yoga.

That inner voice needs some detoxing! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

I think a reframe is in order here. Being that yoga focuses so much not only on the poses themselves but how they affect your mind, then it's important that you realize by hyper-competing at one aspect-- the physical one-- you are actually sabotaging yourself to do "well" at the mental aspect. That you are only seeing one part of the picture when you look at what others are doing physically. Think about what you want out of yoga-- surely it's not just strength and flexibility, but it's a sense of calm, a sense of self-acceptance, a feeling of being in tune with your body and able to step outside of ruminations for a bit as a conscious, mindful and gentle observer of your thoughts.

There's no part of that that is well-served by "OMG HER DOWNWARD DOG IS SO MUCH MORE BENDY THAN MINE!"

So. Do you want to make yoga only about your body, and external markers of physicality?

I would check out some mindfulness and breathing and visualization techniques about learning to acknowledge that inner voice, but then detaching from it, and watching it pass.

Oooh what an interesting topic! In my experience, if you are both likeable AND competent, you are really in trouble. It's very threatening.


And then you are deemed selfishly ambitious!

What's the actual nature of the scam? How does he imagine that giving them MORE money would get back what he's already lost? Ask him to explain how that could happen. And if doesn't get the cops involved, he is allowing the scammers to hurt other people, maybe with more to lose and less chance to recover.

Points well taken.

The denial can be so strong, though.

I used to be that way. In my view, it's not healthy. If you're really in a good place, motivation comes from you and has nothing to do with anyone else. Sometimes I'm *inspired* by people. But it's not because I'm competing with them. It's because they're amazing. Lastly, yoga is a dangerous place to compete, because some people really are more flexible than others. You can injure yourself trying to keep up.

The competition mindset can be fierce, for sure.

Oh, so true about the yoga flexibility piece. I have heard some horror stories about people really injuring themselves.

In politics, too. The question about Hilary was is she likeable/electable when clearly that was irrelevant since 45 was not/was.

So, so true.

Alicia devotes space to that in her book, in fact. I finished it under the wire this morning but it is really, really good!

Hi Dr. Andrea. I need some help with handling some really scary thoughts. About a month ago, my baby had a fall (everything is fine; baby is healthy and safe). It was dramatic enough that when I saw Baby on the ground, I thought the worst. Since then, I replay these events all the time. I have nightmares. I feel sick to my stomach every time I think about it. I harbor no ill will toward those involved (through a series of freak events, a loved one dropped Baby onto pavement). But I just can't let it go. I just want to stop seeing the fall over and over and I don't know how to make it stop. I know I need to find a professional to talk to about this; my current therapist isn't really meeting my needs. I think I need to find one who can prescribe meds, but...I have about 3,000 reasons/excuses why I haven't done it yet. I guess I just need advice for how to deal with it, and a kick in the pants to find a new mental health provider.

I am so sorry.

Since you are already amenable to tackling this in therapy, then if you truly do want to look for a new provider, I would focus your search on those who specialize in trauma. Let's be honest here-- this was a trauma, and yes, your baby was fine (thank goodness!) But the visual has gotten baked in to your psyche, and your body has (as the book of the same name so eloquently states) kept the score.

The goal is to eventually neutralize the visual-- disempower it of its ability to retraumatize you. There are a lot of techniques to help with this (once again, some will be in Detox!) but some of the best ones involve grounding techniques that bring you back in the here and now. Because a lot of trauma research is showing that when you reexperience a trauma, your body physically goes back there, experiencing fight or flight as if you are actually, truly back there. You can remind yourself that you are indeed NOT there by replacing it with some new visuals of the here and now-- where you are sitting, what the room looks like, and better yet, a visual of your happy, healthy baby no longer on the ground.... and instead throwing Cheerios or whatever. You also can begin to disempower the bodily sensations by engaging in breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.

This is doable. I promise!

It's commonly known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy, and it keeps a lot of people stuck in bad situations.

Yes, indeed.

The Sunk Cost fallacy is everywhere-- even in subtle situations. Worst of all is when people stay in bad relationships because of it-- the idea that they've come this far, they don't want to have "wasted" their 20s or 30s or whatever on a bad relationship by ending it.

One of the best ways to counteract this is to truly begin to reckon with the fact that that money (or time, or investment in a relationship) has indeed been spent. It is not retrievable. Now, do you want to have that investment mean something by using it as insight that will help you avoid losing MORE time/money/etc? You have a blank slate. You can't control what you've already spent, but you can control what you choose to spend going forward. And you can actually get the most value for your money/time/etc if you use it as a teacher that will inform your choices in the future and that will leave you better off. 

The reason I've been going back to my yoga instructor for more than ten years is her constant emphasis on this. She always says, "We don't come off an assembly line. Some of us can manage this and some can't, and here is a modification if you have a bad-knee/tight-hamstring/etc." Maybe the OP should look for such an instructor?

The instructor matters so much. I like yours!

Many scattered thoughts: (1) lots of smart people lost everything to Bernie Madoff. Your brother fell for a scam but he's not the first. (2) are you prepared to help him financially if needed? If so put some tight controls on how he's using the money. (3) can you think of an independent third party to talk to him about the money? I know you want to help but he may feel like you are judging him when you try. (4) hope he does go to the FBI. Point out these scammers are taking money from other innocent people and he can help stop it. Good luck!

Great points-- much appreciated!

What does that even mean? What's "likability?" I have worked in large corporate environments where men and women display a variety of characteristics, and I say competence is never a bad thing for anybody. But if by "likeable" you mean someone who brings her personal life into the office, who intrudes into other people's personal business, who takes routine disagreements as personal affronts, that all works against them. Some people don't realize that what they imagine makes them "likable" doesn't. And what kind of research have you done? I recall you saying that you have never worked in the kind of workplace that most of us experience every day.

Oh, to be clear, it's not me doing the research, either scientifically or firsthand. It's me citing others' research.

And indeed the research directly contradicts you about "competence." A woman's likeability measures often take a hit as her competence measures grow.

I'm confused why the person you describe would be deemed likeable when they are intruding on others all the time? That's the opposite of likeability.

There are all kinds of tangible measures of "likeability" used in the research, that hold high levels of concurrent validity. The qualitative terms we use to describe a woman's likeability, though, are different than what we use to describe a man's. I'm telling you, the research is fascinating (even if-- again, cool your jets-- it was not done by me) and you should really check out Alicia's book.

It's at least possible that if he goes to law enforcement there is a chance he could get some money back, especially if other people have also been scammed and the cops go after the scammer on behalf of everybody. If he doesn't report it he is sure to get nothing.

Very good point. Thanks.

My significant other and I don’t live together but spend about half the week together. Recent construction at my apartment complex has meant that I’ve temporarily moved in. I’m finding SO drinks a lot more than I thought: ten to twelve drinks a night, when I thought it was half that. Today, I grabbed their travel mug, not mine, by accident,and got a surprise: it was filled with alcohol, not coffee. They’ve admitted an alcohol problem and are in counseling. Should I say anything about my discovery? To them? Their counselor? I have been supportive of efforts to quit but don’t want to be the liquor police.

I can understand your wanting to bring this directly to their attention. It must have been something of a shock to see just how much more significant the issues is than you realized.

That said, they have admitted to a problem, and are in counseling. (I assume it is targeted substance-abuse counseling?) How far are they along in the process? Are they claiming sobriety?

I don't think a "gotcha" moment is helpful if it is already understood that they are struggling and in the beginning stages. If they are purporting to their counselor and to a program that they are X days sober, then, then it is worth a gentle conversation with your SO bringing up your concerns.

This is a really good reason to get a handle on competitiveness, and to make sure it's not harming other relationships. I've distanced myself from friends who are fundamentally competitive to the point where it affects the relationship. If your sense of self depends on what other people are doing, you may find yourself disparaging other people to feel better about you. I'm distancing myself from a few people right now who do this. It's just not a nice way to live.

So very true. It's a great larger point-- how much of this competitiveness bleeds into places outside of the yoga world for OP?

How much Chardonnay did you imbibe during the segment?

ha! I remember that being a thing when Kathie Lee was on there with Hoda... I'm guessing it's taken a backseat since Hoda and Jenna now have young children.

Think of how much better you're doing than all the people out there (like me) who can't bring themselves to get off their butts and onto a yoga mat.

There's always that metric, for sure.

OP here on the sports mom who's losing it on FB. She and I chatted at the rink last Tuesday evening after your chat. I offered her a cuppa tea anytime (I don't drink anymore) and told her about the XX Community Counseling center that I'd used to help me over some hurdles--that uses a sliding scale for fees. Some of her FB posts later in the week (from the bar) seemed worse and some better. I'll stay warm and offer those two things. Thanks.

Thanks for this update-- I am glad you were able to plant the seed and make the connection. That's the best we can hope for, for now!

I'm a yoga teacher - and by the way, I'm 52 and not bendy, although I'm fit. More on that soon, but your feeling that some competitiveness in yoga is motivational is a false friend. People's anatomy varies - especially the hips and it's possible that you it's simply something you'll never be able to do. I have tight everything - especially hips and I use blocks to help me get better openness for example. There are poses I'll probably never be able to do beautifully - my poses with back bends just look silly. I'll probably never be able to put my heels down in Downward Facing Dog. This is why it's about you - not anyone else. Find out for yourself where you want to improve and work towards that. I could go on a rant about yoga in the US. If possible, please find a new studio. I did my teacher training ad Embrace DC - it's full of people who are all different shapes, all abilities, all walks of life. My group in teacher training had people of all abilities too. It is out there. What you want is a teacher who can help you personally progress. Private yoga would be best for that, but they can be found in group classes too. The teacher should be able to give you modifications to help you go deeper into the pose. For example - my back is so tight, that if I push up into wheel (backbend) my wrists are in the wrong place and vulnerable to injury - I know either to put blocks under them agains the wall or to hold on the the teacher's ankles. This is how you make process.

Love the yogis in this chat! Many, many thanks.

My husband is getting ready to retire soon. He claims he has plans, but he has a history of head injury and depression. The depression has gone untreated for what he believes to be good reasons which I cannot go into here. He is frequently exhausted with no or low affect. Left to himself, he tends to just slump in front of the TV. I'm very worried about his mental health after ending a job he's had for 40+ years. He thinks he will be fine, even though most of his structure, social interaction and mental stimulation comes from his job. He's been warned by some retirees that his sense of identity will take a hit; others say they wish they'd retired sooner. What can I do to help make this easier?

Well, my mind naturally goes to whether you want to challenge him on his "good" reasons not to get treatment.

I mean, there are certain truths here: he has a history, he has not yet had access to the tools to manage it, and he is about to enter a phase of life that will significantly increase his risk.

That is serious stuff; unfortunately I can't just give you some magic words to make things better.

I suppose a place to start is by starting a conversation about what he wants out of retirement. What does he want his days to look like? What will be a sign that it is working for him? What will be a sign that it is not going so well? What does he consider to be taking care of himself? Is he okay with being exhausted all the time? How will he fill his time? What will he want his social interactions to look like?

I feel like we need to hear from him about that-- because only then can we know how bad things need to get before he will actually consider that something needs to change. He is lucky to have an empathetic and thoughtful partner by his side, though!

Is actually why I have become less competitive over time. When you realize that you can do a pose one day, and not the next, you start to realize you shouldn't even be competing with yourself from yesterday, let alone your neighbor. It's a relief to be able to let yourself off the hook, instead of pushing pushing pushing.

I like this! Thanks.

On another board someone advised women who are new hires NOT to bake brownies and bring them to the office, as they then won't be taken seriously. So true. How many men do you know who bring brownies to work?

It's such a double-bind, though.

A man who does some sort of nurturing housekeeping thing in the office is often deemed helpful-- it's a bonus, a net positive. A woman who refuses to do it because it is not her job and the men in the office have never been asked to do it, well, she takes a hit. If she does it, it's just expected, and doesn't provided a bonus.

I'm tabbing between you and Gene Robinson, and someone just posted about candidate Stacey Abrams: "I am against her as a VP candidate. She's the right generation (the purpose of the question/answer if the Presidential nominee is geriatric), but I just don't care for her. She lost a close election, perhaps by fraud, but that alone is not qualifying. I get a little too much, "me, me me" vibe from her. " This is the likeability trap. Would this person have posted this about a male candidate? Probably not.

Politics is such a field that is rife with this.

"Me, me, me" is definitely viewed a little differently with different gender lenses.

I know I'm not the only one...I'm fine talking one on one and writing reports, but when I have to give a work presentation I get all sweaty, blotchy, and stuttery. I feel like I'm coming off as not knowing what I'm talking about, even when I'm a subject matter expert and well-prepared. Which then makes me even more nervous as I feel the talk going off the rails. Any tips for calming my nerves?

Have you thought about something like Toastmasters? I've never had direct experience with them but I know a lot of people have been helped by them, and indeed they seem to use the same basic premises of things like systematic desensitization that are used in CBT for this type of performance anxiety. And they would have true opportunities to practice in real-life situations.

If you want to tackle it on your own, I would focus on cultivating some relaxation exercises that work for you in particular. That will start with observing yourself-- like what are the EXACT ways that your particular body manifests anxiety? What are the EXACT dysfunctional thoughts that go through your head? Then you'll need to work on counteracting the bodily anxiety (lots of visualization/breathing/progressive muscle relaxation tools there) and learning to label and acknowledge the thoughts as an unreliable narrator, letting them pass but not fighting them.

Good luck getting started!

I fear a friend is getting scammed financially by a woman he recently met at a vulnerable point in his life. When asked about providing her with money, he says he's "a handshake and a look in the eye kind of guy," who respects privacy and doesn't demand evidence, adding that he "can see [it] in her." Honestly, I'm ready to wash my hands of him and let him get taken to the cleaners by her, except that by the time he accepts reality, who knows how badly off he'll be. Am I correct to write him off?

Well, I think there are different meanings of write him off.

Write him off as in stop the fight of worrying about what he's doing, and accept that it's not your responsibility? Sure.

But write him off as in end the friendship? That's a deeper calculus that doesn't necessarily have to correspond to his dysfunctional choices. And of course, the more vulnerable he may become, the more he may need a friend!

I think there's a difference depending on whether the man bought the brownies himself, made them, or his spouse made them.

The plot thickens!

My advice would be to get a copy of the will. Email or write the relative who has the items giving them a polite deadline for turnover - “I will pick them up when I visit on the 12th” perhaps along with your thanks for their caretaking and understanding of the sentimental value. (you can enlist others to join in this, eg when I visit with [list of relatives] on [date]). That gives the possessor a chance to reply in writing that they refuse to turn them over. If not, go get them. If they write back that they plan to keep them, ask directly (in writing), “Are you refusing to give my property to me?” If they refuse in writing then go to an estate lawyer for a consult. They can tell you your next steps. For low monetary value items, it might be small claims court. For valuable items you may have to go to probate court or sue. Then you can decide what to do with that information. In fact, the next step could just be saying “my lawyer says I would need to [next step] to get the items if you won’t give me my property willingly. Please don’t make me take that step.” Good luck.

Thanks. I wanted to revisit this briefly from last week because you all had a lot of good things to say about it! Hoping for an update from the OP when the time comes.

I would say a woman who bakes brownies for her new officemates (as opposed to long-time colleagues) is personalizing her job in a way that is inappropriate. Are people supposed to be nicer to her because she brought brownies? Does partaking create a debt that needs to be repaid? What about people who have allergies or dietary problems? Most men wouldn't bring brownies to work because it's not suitable workplace behavior.

Well, I'm loath to use the inappropriate brush because different workplaces have WAY different vibes and moods and interactions and levels of collegiality and unwritten rules and relationships.

Plus, let's be honest, I'm loath to paint anything involving brownies as inappropriate!

This is where Alison at 'Ask A Manager' has it nailed. Frown and say 'gosh, I'm on deadline for X and Y - do you want me to put the on the back burner / tell John I won't be able to finish into time. OR Agree to do it, and make it rotating. 'I'll be happy to get the coffee and pastries for the meeting this time. Since it happens every week, I'll make a rota so no-one's over burdened.' Volunteer for things that aren't care taking, so you're seen as helpful but not put into that role. Alison is amazing - she shows well how to do what men do, but in a manner that doesn't make you seem like you're not a team player.

Alison really is amazing! This is great. Thank you.

If he wouldn't keep mentioning the topic I'd drop it, but he seems obsessed with discussing it (sees himself as some sort of "white knight" rescuing a "damsel in distress").

Got it.

That's when some gentle "Hey, Frank, you know my concerns about this-- it's kind of difficult for me to hear this as we're at odds here. Do you mind if we shift the topic to something else?" may come in handy.

Oh, my goodness! Total sympathy from another about-to-be retired person. Meanwhile, regarding his totally valid (to him) reasons he has not been treated for depression: don't make it about him make it about you and go together. This is going to be a huge change for 'ME' and in order for 'ME' to cope with it, I need YOU to go with me to start. (Maybe getting him there in the first place is what is really needed to get him to stay.) Good luck.

Great idea. Thank you!

The post presumes that the withheld items were explicitly named in the will. Do we know they were?

I believe that that was what OP had mentioned, yes.

I've become friendlyish with someone so invited her to come to dinner this Wednesday. I texted Monday to confirm that still works for her, as it was a bit loose. She texted back yesterday evening 'How about almost no dinner and we do some yoga together? I'm huge. many food emojis'. I teach yoga - she is not a client. I've heard this happens, but acting this way is not something people in my community do. I feel like she's mistaken my home for a resort and she's choosing a package I have to offer. I sidestepped the whole thing and replied 'Sounds like meeting for coffee / tea would be the best option. Where would you like to go?' Clear - no? She doubles down and replies this morning 'Lets go to your place. Just light. I can bring tea!' I'm gobsmacked. Obvs dinner is now not on the menu - because I'm put out but also because it's just too nerve-racking to make her dinner given that she thinks she can order off a menu. I really don't want to say 'come, just for tea' ... because I do need my dinner and if she spends forever here I'm liable to get hangry. Believe me - no-one wants that. I'm tempted just to say again 'Lets just meet up somewhere for a coffee / tea. That's what works for me - or we can get together another time. Thanks indeed.' I don't want another round - she's nice enough yet obviously clueless - but The Resort Is Closed!!


It's funny, you hear someone expecting a short order cook, and I hear someone with some potential food/body image issues.

Now, that's no excuse for bad manners, but I wonder if this is a particular hot spot for her and it's triggering all kinds of things, perhaps making her act in a way that she wouldn't otherwise.

So, I would take that as a mental note that maybe food/calories is not going to be a thing that you all engage in together, and yes, steer her elsewhere. "Hey there! I tend to like more than light dinners and don't want to be eating in front of you like that so why don't we regroup and do something outside the dinner hour?"

Do your presentation several times in the mirror. It will become more fluid and you'll see how you're coming across. That can be alarming at first, of course, but it gives you a chance to smooth it out. Video doing it. Ask someone to sit through it ... .

All of these can help with the desensitization; thank you!

Is it just coming from you, or is the teacher encouraging it, or is also coming from the other class members - or is it a combination? No matter what the source, it can really be dangerous so be careful - as my own competitive yoga injury reminds me frequently ...

Ouch! Sorry to hear it.

As many have heard, the definition of insanity is described by some as, "doing the same action over and over again and expecting different results." I'm trying to determine if my actions are insane or enlightened. I have a boyfriend I broke up with after catching him in many lies. Some were important, some weren't. Most were designed to make him look like he had more money and prestige than he actually has. The first few times I broke up with him for it, he promised to do better, but of course, old habits die hard and the lies continued until I broke it off completely because I could not live not knowing what was real. He is now with a wonderful therapist who he sees every two weeks and has uncovered the childhood trauma and neglect that made him feel "not good enough" so he felt he needed to pretend to be something he wasn't. We actually started with her together as a relationship therapist, and he continued after we broke up. He wants to reconcile once his therapist feels he is healthy enough to be in a relationship. I have told him I need to take a good while to be by myself because 2019 was a terrible year for me. Three major players in my life died, and my emotional bandwidth was so taken up with his lying and our problems, that I never got to process my grief. I have told him that reconciliation is possible, but not for a good while because I just want to "be" for awhile. Am I nuts to even consider a future with him down the road? On the one hand, I've had a good deal of therapy myself, and realize that redemption is possible with a good therapist. I did some embarrassingly dysfunctional things in my life before I did my therapeutic work. But then there's that side of me that thinks I'm a total idiot. Am I insane or enlightened? Thank you for reading this.

First, I am so sorry about the tough year that you are coming out of.

I do think that redemption is possible, and of course I lack a crystal ball (at least one that works!) but I would say there are two highly important variables here. One is how motivate he is to truly work on the lying in particular. Not his well-being in general, not his progress in therapy (though those are both important and sound positive), but really, truly the lying. Because if it became ingrained as a habit/coping mechanism/whatever, then it needs to be targeted in its own right. Insight alone is not enough.

The second factor is what the "many lies" piece was-- and how truly connected it was to the stuff that he is working on in therapy. I think the prognosis could be decent if truly they were things that directly related to his need to appear more prestigious. But if they bled into a way of just dealing with everyday life-- and if the "big" lies had to do with things that fundamentally disrespected you or your relationship-- then I get a little less cheerleader-ish for these chances.

I was planning to post a similar question to today's chat! Funny timing. We have a relative who keeps falling for online romance scams. This person is not elderly although does have some learning disabilities. It's not strictly "my business" (I struggle with feeling responsible for other people's problems), however my spouse and I will one day become responsible for this person's affairs so it worries me now and in the future. What can you do when someone keeps falling for these scams? So hard to watch...

Ugh, so hard to watch indeed, I imagine.

My prior advice applies here, too, but I'm curious about the eventual becoming responsible for this person's affairs. Is that because of the learning disabilities? That may give you a bit more of an inroad, even if it will take time.

My husband and I have been together for more than 7 years, married for more than 4 years. He comes from a religious but liberal Christian family (although he isn't as religious anymore), and I come from a kind-of-religious but not-really-practicing-now Jewish family. At this point in my life, Judaism is more of a culture, heritage, and identity, rather than my religious belief, but I still do little things to recognize some of the holidays or traditions. I have asked my husband many times over the years whether his parents are really okay with the fact that I am not the same religion as them, and he told me they were fine with it. They have always been super welcoming and kind, and I have never sensed that they had any issue with me. Until this year, when I discovered during our Christmas visit that his parents (or at least his mom) do, in fact, have a problem with the fact that I'm not Christian. I don't think it's Antisemitism, really, but rather their belief that my soul needs saving and a discomfort with any of my Jewish practices (especially in proximity to Christmas). So, where do I go from here? My husband believes that his parents can learn and will come around (he's going to talk to them about this issue), but I'm going to have a hard time spending time with people who reject a fundamental part of who I am. I know that many people wrestle with how to have a relationship with family members who reject a part or all of who they are, but how does one decide where to draw the line? My in-laws and I generally get along very well and they have otherwise been very lovely to me over the years, but knowing that there is some deep discomfort below the surface makes me feel kind of icky.

I think this will get better with time, I really do. And I think your husband initiating a conversation about it is a good place to start.

But also, I'd be wary of letting your mind magnify this into more than it is. Of course, it is big-- and I can understand your sense of feeling rejected. No one wants to feel like their loved ones believe that their soul needs saving.

But, on the other hand, there are lots of families who learn that even though they may have different opinions about, say, the afterlife, that the life ON Earth together can be harmonious and loving and meaningful. That the different views don't have to intrude, and don't have to fundamentally feel like a rejection of the whole person.

Which direction this goes in will depend in part on how that conversation goes.

oh a book about perceived sibling favoritism and rivalry, mild or extreme, would FLY off the shelf.

Perhaps it will happen someday when I get out of my Detox haze. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

I hear the food issue too, but the other issue is that she’s expecting to get a free lesson, so I’d set that boundary too - suggest something non-food related, and say something about needing a break from work -

Ahh.... you know, if that is part of the dynamic (and a quick reread did raise the possibility) then it flew right over my head the first time! Thanks for bringing it up.

If you invite somebody for dinner, isn't it reasonable to find out whether they have dietary concerns/preferences? Do you really wanna slam a slab of rare beef down in front of a vegetarian? It sounds like the mistake was inviting somebody to dinner at your house as a first meeting, rather than a "getting to know you" coffee and a snack somewhere else.

I was more getting the vibe that the potential friend didn't want to actually EAT dinner. That they didn't want to really have a meal at all, and that would inherently be an uncomfortable situation for OP.

RED FLAG. "I did what you wanted so now you have to take me back." Don't fall for this. If he's really healthy enough to be in a relationship, it doesn't have to be a relationship with you. Even if he's quoting his therapist correctly (and this is a major IF from an insecure liar), you are not obliged to do anything you don't feel like doing.

I see your point, but wanting to reconcile isn't automatically the same thing as thinking that OP has to take him back or even that he DESERVES to be taken back. The motivation to reconcile is his right. But yes, if it turns into some sort of manipulation or the mindset that OP has to take him back, then that's not great (and not his right.)

If she brings up yoga again, you could ask her which studio she'd like to go to....

Useful technique if it goes in that direction!

I'm one of the long time recovering alcoholics that posts comments. I want to warn you that we alcoholics don't take well to being told we have a problem. He is going to be heavy into denial - no it's not a problem, you are overreacting. He's denying to himself by the way. He will be angry - get off my case! stop nagging! leave me alone! He will try to bargain - I'll cut back, only drink wine, not drink before evening. Alcohol is a drug of choice for depression which makes no sense since it can cause depression. But at some point he will voice depression - I'm a terrible person, you must hate me. Recovery is a very long and difficult road until you get to acceptance and start working to help yourself. You can try to set goals but ONLY the alcoholic can make those changes. I would suggest you educate yourself through Al-Anon or some other outlet so that you understand us. Good luck to both of you! And yes, my life is SO much better now.

Thanks for writing in. Al-Anon is an excellent suggestion, and you bring up some very useful points.

I am thinking that a lot of the variables here really do center around where he really is in his recovery-- both logistically and emotionally.

She might be one of those people who can't take a hint. I'd be more direct with her (i,.e. "Let's just meet somewhere, some other time") and see what results.

The hint factor definitely seems to be at play here!

Hi Dr. Bonior -- 15 years ago, my husband was dual diagnosed (bipolar and alcoholism) with OCD/hoarding. He got treatment for the bipolar and alcoholism and has done remarkably well. The hoarding, however, is becoming a threat to our marriage. I feel like I'm being squeezed out of our home and his life by the space and time it he spends attending to his stuff. I'm not a neat-and-clean freak by any means, but I do have generalized anxiety disorder that's triggered by the chaos of his stuff. And by stuff, I mean both physical items and food. Occasionally, I'll innocently (or maybe sometimes not so innocently) try to remove things from the house like old food or old plastic containers he hasn't touched in 10 years, and he'll notice and get mad at me because I'm getting rid of his stuff. Before we married last year, I lived in his house for almost 10 years; my belongings stayed mostly in storage because he never made room for me. We were ashamed to bring people in the house and there were entire parts of the house that gave me panic attacks. We recently bought two houses (a main house and a guest house) in an absolutely beautiful area where we both enjoy living. His stuff has taken up the entire guest house, and he spends so much time sorting it, inventorying, and repackaging it that I rarely can get him to do anything with me. Mice have gotten into the guest house to get at the hoarded food, so he's had to disinfect the place. His own stuff is even stressing him out! I'm at a loss at what to do or how to start a conversation with him. Do you have any suggestions? I don't want to live the same way we did at our old house, but don't know if I just need to adjust my expectations and or if there's some way of approaching this issue that could create a better living situation for me. Thanks!

Yes, you could absolutely adjust your expectations.

But would you want to?

Hoarding tends to get worse over time, not better.

And not only does it affect your mental health, but obviously, it is both a symptom and cause of issues for him, as well.

Do you think he would be open to talking about this? Even starting with a book on hoarding (there are a couple good ones out there, though their names escape me at the moment; sorry) or-- even better-- seeing a specialist for a concrete set of steps to start addressing it? I think it is an excellent sign that he has been in treatment in the past and benefited from it-- that ought to increase his motivation and decrease the stigma-hurdle piece.

Ultimately, if it's truly clinical-level hoarding, it will likely require a clinical-level solution. I am sorry if this comes across as bad news, but in reality it should offer some hope!

Yes. If I invite someone to my house for dinner, and they later say, "but I don't want dinner," I consider the invitation canceled.

Can't argue with that!

Sheesh. This isn't OP's fault. The person who was invited should have declined if dinner isn't her thing, and proposed something else at the time, not changed the terms after saying yes.

It seems that would have gone far more smoothly, indeed!

I hope for her sake she doesn't have some kind of eating/body disorder, thinking "I'm too big to accept a meal, please help me make myself exercise." I would have compassion but not necessarily want to get involved in the problem.

Honestly, that vibe is what I got at first glance, and I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out to be the case, sadly.

It can be tricky, for sure.

We have had several coffees together. She doesn't have dietary restrictions (I'm a vegetarian), but I always run the menu past someone I invite to dinner, you're absolutely right). This text was to check she was on for dinner, the next was going to be I plan to make X, is that ok. I agree, I should have put that in the original text!! Will learn from that!

But we'll reemphasize that you did nothing wrong!

Call the FBI yourself! There is no rule that reports have to be made by victims. It sounds like you know enough details to make a report, and it is possible there could be some restitution for your brother if a criminal case goes forward.

I am alternating between kicking myself for not thinking of this right off the bat, and being incredibly grateful that you did. Thank you!

Why "many times"? Why wasn 't one "no, they are OK with it" from your husband enough? Were you sensing vibes from your in-laws or was it some kind of desire to pick a fight? Can't you just accept your husband's attitude that they'll come around and if they don't, it needn't affect you?

Well, to be fair, telling yourself that something need not affect you is as effective as screaming at someone to "calm down."

I'm guessing there were vibes here and there, too. So it's been building in some form for some time, perhaps.

Love the blue dress!! As a woman construction company owner, I love the topic. I gave up people-pleasing a long time ago at a cost; few close friendships. None at work. I agree that re-directing language to affirmations instead of labels can be very important to continue to plow the trail for each other. Thanks!

Thanks so much!

I can only imagine how this applies in the construction industry.

It's so interesting, how different industries can have their own challenges about this. When I was in the make-up care, I had a really interesting discussion with the make-up artist about how the cosmetics industry is both different and the same, in certain ways, as an industry more dominated by women.

Another thing to consider is that perhaps the studio environment is conducive to competitiveness, rather than community, spirituality, and/or encouraging you to accept yourself as you are at that moment. The west has succeeded at turning yoga into an entrepreneurial, purely physical, fitness activity, whereas its origins is a spiritual practice that focuses on breathing (pranayama) and meditation, among other [non-physical] aspects. I would search for another studio or yoga practice that does not emphasize competitiveness and fitness. Yoga is supposed to liberate, not induce feelings of inadequacy.

Another vote! Thank you.

Yes, ever since yoga became more mainstream in the gym realm, it does seem to have taken on a different flavor.

I offer the yoga version of P90X 3 with Tony Horton as a prime example of this-- although at least he acknowledges how contrary to the entire mentality of yoga it is when he slips up and barks at someone to extend their stretch!

You sound particularly SANE. Life is complicated and messy and you're allowing for it.

Yes, it's true. There aren't necessarily any hard and fast rules at play here!

't's funny, you hear someone expecting a short order cook, and I hear someone with some potential food/body image issues.' I do see that, but a. she invited herself to have me teach yoga and b. when said lets meet up elsewhere for coffee / tea she still wanted to come round for a light meal. That's what got me stuck on 'short order cook'.

No, I get it!

I just think there are some layers under her behavior that are more complicated than the typical case.

One of the things I have learned doing yoga is that there are so many layers to it that have to develop for each person individually. I found yoga after being a competitive athlete in college and then doing not much exercise when my kids were little. I totally relate to wanting to be the best in the studio at a pose. However, I am not going to win any yoga competitions anytime soon...or ever. So I turned my focus to "competing" with myself from class to class and just moving forward. Maybe my flexibility isn't great one day but is my stance strong and ready to move to something else? If I can do a handstand one day but am breathing like a hippo then it may look good but isn't really right either. As my favorite teacher says, trust the practice.

I love it. You have gotten to the place that we are after for OP!

Sometimes one's notion of "hoarding" is another's " valuable collection of curiosities," but if you have to buy a second house to hold your spoiled food it's a real problem. What would be the clinical solution here, and how would it proceed?

So, there are some pretty targeted treatments for hoarding, with therapists who specialize in specific forms of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy that are for hoarding. The premise is similar to other obsessive-compulsive disorders and anxiety disorders (working on systematically desensitizing the person to the idea of letting go, challenging their automatic and distorted, dysfunctional thoughts about it, reality testing, increasing the coping mechanisms that will help reduce overall stress) but since hoarding has such an impact on day-to-day life and can truly take Herculean logistical efforts to make changes once the hoard has piled up so high (and affected relationships) then it can need more intensive help than, say, a dog phobia.

Medication can also be helpful in certain hoarding situations.

When my daughter was a pre-schooler, she fell from a high step while walking down the stairs. Unbeknownst to us, the "wall" next to the stairs was not a wall, but rather a curtain. She is now an extremely gifted and advanced high school student, but we credit her winter coat (and guardian angel) for saving her life that day. And we still picture it happening every once in awhile. All this to say, OP, that there are many of us out there who rejoice with you that your Baby is ok, and know the horror of accidents, and the time it can take to get over them, even when there really was no harm done.

Time is an important variable here, indeed. Thanks so much for the first-person account-- how glad we are that your daughter went on to thrive!

Agreed, but it still does not mean that this is the OP's problem to solve. Or to be burdened by.

I agree!

“Sounds like you need a break from food, and I need a break from work - how about an art show?”

There's a nice new possibility!

Think carefully about the impact that might have on your brother before you do that - it could really backfire. And be very cateful about how you do it, lest you expose yourself to liability based on information that may not be complete.

Yes, I am thinking more that there could be some complications here, so I guess it's not an automatic full-speed ahead.

There are a LOT of non-sterotypical teachers out there - you can find them!


Calling the FBI for the guy might not be the solution. They would start by interviewing the victim, and if he says "There's no problem, it's just a misunderstanding, we'll work it out," they can't go much farther. They have plenty of victims actually asking for help.

Yeah, this makes sense, unfortunately. I guess I was thinking of it as more of an anonymous tip, but perhaps OP couldn't get away with that and that I was living in Fantasy Land.

OP would be smart to not have that sort of conversation via text message. Sometimes speaking directly with someone like that makes a lot more sense.

Good point!

Unfortunately, I can't run over today, and in fact have to start my skedaddling back to DC in a matter of moments-- doh! Thank you so much for being here, and for the great discussion. I will look forward to seeing you next week, and on Facebook and Instagram (hey, they gave me the little checkmark thingie!) in the meantime.

Take good care.

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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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