Baggage Check Live with guest Susan Cain

Sep 24, 2019

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior will be online to take your comments about her advice column, Baggage Check, and any other questions you might have. These comments may appear in an upcoming column running in Express and online.

She’ll discuss her recent columns and answer any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more.

This week, Andrea is joined by bestselling author Susan Cain. Susan is the author of "Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts," and "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking." Her TED talk "The Power of Introverts" has been viewed more than 30 million times.

Waiting for the chat to go live? Read Baggage Check columns.

Follow Dr. Andrea on Facebook here.

Hi, all.

It's another week and we are here! Not something I'll take for granted anytime soon.

I'm so glad you're with me. For those of you who saw on social media, we've gotten the green light to keep on truckin' here at least for the next couple of months. Few things could make me happier!

It's also a special week because at 1:30, we'll be welcoming Susan Cain to the chat. Susan and her Quiet Revolution have singlehandedly altered our cultural conversation about introversion and what it means to be "quiet." I'm honored to have her in this space. It looks like she has quite a few questions already, but absolutely send her anything on your mind about introversion, social lives, and finding your own quiet and calm in this noisy world.

What else is on your mind?

One last thing, that is certainly not least. We have Rachel here with us one last time, donating her time so generously as she did last week. Not only does this mean she wants to save me from accidentally detonating this entire system, but it also means that you all who make up this community have meant something special to her, too. Rachel, you've been amazing and we are so sorry that this has to be your final time. Thank you for all you have done! You will be so very missed.

With that in mind — let's get this show on the road.

Thank you Andrea, for those kind words!! I am so glad I got the chance to work with this chat for the past six months. Also, I'm thrilled this community will continue. I will be a loyal reader :) 

I have a friend whose been unhappily married for 24 years and now that her only daughter is a junior in college (living away), she and her husband don't have the daughter around to act as a buffer. Each time the summer is over, I can see both of them amp up their emotional and financial sniping at each other. She's been talking about getting a divorce since her daughter entered kindergarten. I'm done offering suggestions because while she wants the divorce, she doesn't actually want her life to change, doesn't want to work and expects him to file and leave the house. He doesn't see a need for that to happen. In addition, she's been seeing another married guy for going on two years now and thinking that he was going to leave his wife for her. She's desperately unhappy, but can't seem to realize that if she wants a change, she's the one who has to do it. I am finding it really difficult to be sympathetic anymore. Basically, I just say that I'm sorry that she's feeling that way, that it must be very difficult, but really I just want to shout "Wake the Hxll up and do something or quit complaining." I've stopped answering phone calls and texts from her just to preserve my sanity. Any ideas how I can disengage from this?

You sound like a kind and caring person, whose politeness is ultimately not doing her any favors.

I mean seriously — it seems like you feel you're protecting her by not giving her your honest opinion. But are you actually protecting her, though? Politeness when it condones someone's keeping on a path that's not good for them is not always kindness, and not always the right thing.

How about a wake-up call a little less stark than the one you quoted, but a reality check nonetheless. "Fiona, I've got to be honest here. It is sometimes really frustrating for me to hear this. I try to be empathetic, but what I see is the same thing over and over again— you are unhappy and want a change, but nothing happens. I know it's difficult. I know change is hard. But you either want it or you don't. I'm not sure I'm helping you by listening this way over and over again. If it's frustrating for me, I can only imagine how frustrating it is for you. What do you think could get you out of this rut once and for all? Is that what you really want?"

My sister-in-law told me recently that she and my brother are not doing well. She wants to cheat on him, she wants to meet other people, she wants out, she's not "in love" with him anymore. My brother confirmed all of this, but doesn't want anyone else to know. He believes it's a mental health issue/mid-life crisis type of thing for her, and he is hoping that it will get better. However, they have not gone to marriage counseling. They pretend to be a happy couple at family events. They have two young kids, married 11 years. She goes to all the family weddings and baby showers, but doesn't want to be a wife and a mother. Do I have to play along with this façade?

I guess it depends on what playing along means.

If it means being a good auntie to their young kids, passing the potato salad on command, talking civilly about the Nats, clinking glasses during someone else's toast ... well, yes. Yes, indeed. I think that's exactly what you do at family gatherings.

If it means being pulled in to lie to others for them, or to lead the charge in throwing them an anniversary party, or to do anything else that your conscience isn't okay with, then that's a different story. But I don't see simply keeping quiet and refraining from shouting "ACTUALLY, THEY MAY BE ON THE VERGE OF DIVORCE AND SHE WANTS TO SLEEP WITH SOMEONE ELSE!" when they are dancing together at a wedding as being part of any facade. Their lives aren't your responsibility.
You have inside information, and I imagine it's painful and uncomfortable for you. But to be the best support for your brother and his kids (I'd throw your sister-in-law in there too, but I'm guessing she's not exactly topsies on your BFF list after this revelation) you may just have to keep quiet. I don't view that as deception. I view that as being respectful of your brother's life and privacy and the fact that it's ultimately neither your right nor your responsibility to solve this for them.

Tough, I know!

This year has been one of upheaval for my family. My father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January and passed away from a chemo-related blood infection in March. My mother, who has Alzheimer's, is coping with the loss of her husband, her home, and a new living situation in an Assisted -Living community (she cannot live on her own - my father did everything for her). My brother and I are also coping with our loss and our mother's resentment over her new place. My aunt, who was my dad's sister, passed away over the weekend. His brother is ill and in the hospital. We are a close family and every one of these events is heartbreaking. And I miss my dad so much. He was my guy. I've been divorced once and widowed once, and he was my rock. His unconditional support never wavered. His absence from my life feels like a gaping wound that refuses to heal. My son is in college and my daughter started her freshman year of college this fall. Aside from my pets, I am alone in my home. I have stopped caring about my house, my appearance, my finances, my friendships. I go to work, come home, and go to bed. On weekends I sleep in, play a specific computer game that I like for 12 hours, then go to bed or sleep in my armchair. I order takeout, or get my groceries delivered. I've been calling in sick to work. I take meds for PTSD and major depressive disorder. I am numb and am just getting through the day so I can go home and just be. I was in therapy for almost 5 years - began after my husband's death from suicide by overdose - but quit after my dad died because I had just had enough. I want to go back to see my therapist, but I just stopped going to see her. She sent me a letter that I didn't acknowledge, saying she would accept me back if I responded two weeks after her letter, but if she didn't hear from me she would close my file. I'm afraid to call her office and ask to come back. I don't want to start over with another therapist. But I also don't want to talk to her about everything. And explain. I have a difficult time with people's facial expressions/reactions, specifically expressions of pity, empathy, or sadness toward me. It give me anxiety just thinking about it. So...now what? I feel stuck. I can't go back and I don't see a way forward anymore. I just want my life how it was.

Oh, my heart is hurting for you so much. I am so, so sorry about the layers upon layers of loss that have surrounded you.

There is so very much to say here. But ultimately, there is a simple answer to your question. Please do try to get back in therapy. Yes, your file may be "closed" (every therapist has their own administrative style, but in my case, closing a file basically means nothing, beyond the fact that I maybe become less likely to get hummus on it.)

Can you write her a letter?

You need not spell everything out if that would be too painful, but you can give her an outline of what has happened, your current level of functioning, and tell her your apprehension about calling, but that you know it would be helpful for you to see her again.

Seriously. You are going through so much, and you are curled up in a self-protective ball (who can blame you?) that is ultimately cutting you off from support.

I also wonder if you could bring yourself to check out a grief group. I know that sounds like the opposite of what you'd want to do given that you don't want to talk about everything and you don't want to deal with other people's expressions toward you. BUT, sometimes being around other people in grief is actually a beautiful way around that. They get it. They don't say the cliches. They don't scrunch up their face in the foreignness and awkwardness of big, gaping grief that defies words. They can just sit there with you in solidarity.

I've seen grief groups save people's emotional lives. Truly.

But your isolation really does concern me. So please try your therapist first and keep us posted.

You will have a lot of supporters here, I know it. I'm glad that you wrote — that was a step in and of itself.

you're still here!

Thank you! I guarantee you I am even happier!

Just a note to tell you how happy I am that you are here again this week. I so value your thoughtful advice, and while I’ve never submitted a question of my own, I have quite often reflected on what you might say during challenging situations in my life. Thank you for being here.

Thank you! This is so kind. And funny, too — because my clients tell me sometimes that they hear my voice in certain situations. It seems I am intruding upon even more people's brains than I may have realized!

Hello- I've got a real problem that I need some advice on. I'm a middle aged man with a wife and child and fairly accomplished in my field. My marriage is good, though I know that I hurt my wife from time to time with thoughtless comments. I have always had a hard time connecting with people. But it has dawned on me over the past 5 years or so that people really don't like me. It's got to be something I'm doing since it isn't reasonable to think that the problem is solely with everyone else. I grew up in an abusive household and was sexually abused at the age of 4 or 5 by a neighbor, so I am sure some of this has impacted my ability to interact with people in a positive way. I think I know why I am the way I am, but where do I go from here? I know I must have developed a pattern of behavior throughout my life that although rooted in fear and insecurity has turned me into a monster that no one likes. I need some real techniques for how to deal with people without putting them off. I just don't know how I can go through the rest of my life being this person. Help.

"A monster that no one likes." Oh, this is hard to read! I don't really know you, but I have a very strong gut feeling that your assessment of yourself is far from true.

I see everything as connected here. You suffered real trauma — that presumably went untreated — that had a ripple effect on your relationships and behavior throughout life. It probably robbed you, so tragically, of a very basic level of trust and comfort with other people that every 5 year-old deserves. And that 5 year-old turned 6, and then 10, and then 20, and then 40.

The problem as I see it isn't how your deficits relate to other people. It's how much you've been denied of yourself.

The fact that you view yourself in such a negative light (even if the "monster" phrasing was a joke) tells me that you could really use some support getting to know yourself, getting to heal, and learning to accept parts of yourself in a more compassionate way while also working on ways to help your relationships feel better to you.

Without knowing the specifics of what these thoughtless comments are like, what makes you say them, and other ways that you come across, it's hard for me to give specifics. But starting with your wife's perspective — really listening to it — can help. And then, if you are up for it, prioritizing this in therapy.

As you hinted at, knowing the why without understanding the how-to-change part is insufficient for real growth. But a good therapist can help you make a plan for the latter.

Hi Dr. Bonior, my sister sent me in your direction as she's a big fan of yours. I'm in my late 20s. Since preschool, I've been friends with S. We were close as kids and despite going to different high schools and colleges, have remained friends all these years. However, even since high school, she has driven the friendship along more than I have. She has never let on that my lack of effort in our friendship bothers her. We now live pretty far from each other; 8 hours by car. Over the last couple years, I've come to realize that S isn't somebody I really want to be friends with anymore. While she has at times been very supportive and a good friend, she is often negative, selfish and lacks self-awareness. The negatives have been outweighing the positives for me for quite some time and I feel we have grown apart. However, our distance has smoothed over a lot of these bumps, and so I haven't addressed any of my feelings with her. I have tried to put some emotional distance between us but S hasn't seemed to pick up on it, probably since she's used to putting in more effort. She is now planning to move back to our small hometown soon (where I live) and I know I'm going to have to address this properly. At this point, I don't know if I should end it, or talk to her about how I feel. I know she is very excited about being closer to me, which frankly, I am dreading. Any advice? I hate the idea of ending a lifelong friendship, but also don't see myself being as close with her as I know she'd like us to be.

This can be such a quandary, I know. I do tend to see friendships as a matter of degree. And as much as you always have the right to end any friendship that does not feel healthy for you, I think sometimes when you have had a friendship since childhood that has such shared history, it takes on aspects of a family relationship. You may not be as compatible as you used to be when you were sitting next to each other with your lunchboxes, but you could still potentially be a meaningful part of each other's lives. So if you choose to end it (again, totally your right), it is just something you have to put more deliberation into, since it has some characteristics of family estrangement (especially since we're talking about being together in a small hometown!) rather than just slowly fading away from an acquaintance.

 

That said, though, this has clearly been a long time in coming. Your incompatibility may very well be a dealbreaker, and you certainly shouldn't be forced to kep up this friendship. But I vote for talking to her about it, given the history. At the very least, his will keep you from ghosting her and her wondering what is wrong. At best, it gives her some insight that could be helpful to her. (I know, I know. A lack of self-awareness doesn't exactly help people take feedback well.)

So, you could go vague-ish ("You've probably noticed I can't seem to put in the time to connect like I used to; to be honest I feel us moving in different directions, and I wanted to be honest about it rather than stringing you along") or more direct ("Sometimes when we're talking I feel like you're not really listening/making it about you/insert whatever it is that she does here.")

I know, icky and awkward.

But, I promise, small town plus her high expectations plus you lifelong history will make it even worse if you try to just slink out of the friendship without an explanation.

Please keep us posted!

 

"Do I have to play along with this façade?"

No, you don't have to. Not quite the same, but my brother was married to a horrible woman. They had two kids. I have never said a bad word about her to the kids and even force myself to ask after her health. I never wanted the kids to feel as though they had to take sides. Now, after many years, my niece and nephew know they can trust me. They don't even ask for anything - they just reach out from time to time. And I'm glad they feel they have that relationship.

Yes! I think the relationship as an aunt with the kids is paramount here. Thanks.

"But doesn't want to be a wife and a mother."

Wait, she doesn't to be a wife — or she doesn't want to be a wife and mother? Because those are two very, very different things.

Yes, that stuck out to me as well. There didn't seem to be any actual evidence she wanted to leave her kids except for that line (hence my assessment that OP was not her biggest fan at this point.)

My husband has a celebrity crush on a former teen star. She is now in her mid-20s, but he is old enough to be her grandfather. Her character was a nice girl, and she seems to be a lovely young woman as well, with no drug or DUI arrests or sex tape scandals. Her old show (where she was a teenager) is still on almost every day and he watches it almost every day. He found her address on the internet and wanted to send her a birthday card, but even he realized that would be inappropriate. I guess what bothers me the most is that he tries to involve me in this, telling me when she posts something on Instagram or when he spots something new on an episode of her show (that he's seen 20 times). I know he's feeling old and realizes he never could been of interest to a woman like this, but it almost feels as if he is having an emotional affair with an imaginary girlfriend. He even said once that he really didn't want to meet her and destroy his fantasy. So, how do I compete with a perfect dream girl?

There are celebrity crushes (mine is Betty White) and then there are intrusions into a marriage.

He's watching her show almost every day, talking about how he wants to contact her, relaying her social media posts to you....I almost feel like even if we weren't talking about a woman, the intensity of this (that borders on obsessiveness) could be a problem in and of itself. Does he have other interests? Other shows he likes? Other celebrity's quinoa-and-cranberry lunches that he wants to see on Instagram? 

And is this a recent thing, where it represents a change in his personality or behavior to the point where it might be worth getting a full medical workup? (This wouldn't be the oddest symptom of cognitive decline that I've seen.)

If this is all within a crush-gone-wild, though, then I think you need to level with him. There is no "competing with a perfect dream girl" needed here. There is the reality that you share a marriage and that she is a fantasy-- but one that is attached to a living, breathing woman who is taking up more space and attention within your home life than is fair to you. "Babe, I know this is your thing. But honestly it's getting to the point where it feels like too much. The focus on her is so intense that it almost feels like an emotional affair. How can we start to wean you off this so that I don't feel like a outsider in my own home compared to this fantasy world?"

If he can meet you there and has motivation to reckon with how big this has gotten and how much it has affected you, then you can start trying to reconnect with each other.

Hi there! Love your chat and your column, so hope it continues! In the past three months or so, I came out to my parents as asexual, biromantic (no interest in a sexual relationship, fine with romantic relationship with guys and gals). I've come out to a few friends and my sister. As it's Bi Week, I want to post on Facebook about it (it's already in my Twitter and Facebook blurbs, just nobody that is already a friend reads these), celebrating my sexuality. When I first came out I mentioned to my parents I wanted to do something like this and they immediately shut me down. They said it was something you told in person and my mom gave me an exasperated sigh and basically told me not to. I imagine it's because they're afraid of familial backlash. I've already tested the waters telling one of my more conservative aunts and she was fine with it. On the one hand, I totally understand and want it to go as smoothly as possible for them. On the other hand, this is my life, my sexuality, ME, and honestly, if family members don't want to communicate with me because of it, so be it. And there's also an aspect of "Why won't Mom and Dad support me in this? Why can't they see this is important and that they should support me even if it means some tough conversations with loved ones?"

I am totally with you on this, but there's a nagging little question in my head: how old are you?

My gut instinct is it's your life, your image, your right to control your own narrative. Again, I am with you! But I can't help but acknowledge that the answer here definitely can veer in a different direction if you are, say, 13 (where, if parents have the right to determine whether you are allowed to be on social media, then in theory they should also have the right to have a say in how you use it).

Are you still out there, and would you mind telling me how old you are?

"I've got to be honest here. It is sometimes really frustrating for me to hear this."

Oh man. Literally. A very close friend whined to us for ten years about his long-distance affair with a married woman (they taught at the same summer school). We finally pointed out that she had no motive to change anything, having her cake and eating it, too (her husband was apparently a nice person who made quite a good living), and he responded that no, she was unhappy and conflicted about the situation, and we said nobody stays that unhappy and conflicted about a situation for more than ten years. And then we dropped the subject. He did finally break up with her, but don't hold your breath, OP.

Ugh! I'm exhausted just imagining what that was like for you. Being a confidant should not progress to feeling like you constantly have to beat your head against the wall!

I think a longstanding friendship deserves one, kind effort to explain what the problem is.

I agree!

That is a hard way to live. I wonder if he would consider group therapy. If he goes in with an open mind, explains his background and his concerns, they will be able to tell him how he comes off socially.

Ooh, this is a great idea.

I don't recommend group therapy enough. The classic psychotherapy group — with a variety of people dealing with a variety of challenges — can be such a good forum for healing, in all its mess (and its beauty).

Thanks.

My wife, 12-year-old daughter and I were involved in an automobile accident earlier this summer and my wife was killed by the airbag. My daughter and I were treated and released. When we got home, I deposited "Ellie" in her bed and collapsed in mine. I woke up a few hours later to find Ellie in bed with me. I just held her in my arms and went back to sleep. This was repeated for the next few days until after the funeral when she was waiting for me when I went to bed. When I asked her if she would rather sleep in her own bed, she started to cry and said "Why? We're not doing anything wrong." I couldn't come up with an answer, so we've been co-sleeping ever since. I thought maybe after school started, she would stop, but no. She seems to be recovering nicely (her mother was pretty hard on her, pushing for achievement and a prestigious career, so I think she is glad to have that pressure gone). If she doesn't end it, I will, but when? I must admit it has helped me get over MY loss and it was her idea, so I don't see the harm, but I love her so much I don't want to create a problem for her in the future. Are we doing something wrong?

I am so, so sorry for your loss.

I have a feeling this will draw a variety of opinions here, and I want to be respectful above all else. Let me make it clear: I do not think you are doing anything wrong. And I think we need to recognize that there are wide cultural variations on sleeping arrangements, and Americans tend to have a knee-jerk "privacy above all else!" (except when it comes to their social media feeds) that can sometimes be oversimplified, in my opinion.

That said, there is a lot wrapped up here. You do live in a culture where this would be deemed odd at some point, if it's not already, which could cause her (and you) problems. There is something to be said for the fact that as she enters adolescence, there is an increased need for bodily privacy and one's own space, as she comes to terms with her growing body. There's also the fact that the longer this goes on, the harder it will be to stop it.

In an ideal world, it would come to a close on its own, without any stigma, feeling completely autonomous to your daughter, and allowing her to move forward in a way that feels healthy.

But if that doesn't happen? Then it gets tricky. If she still wants this arrangement when she's, fully, physically, a woman? If you eventually start dating someone new? If someone else gets wind of it and turns it into something ugly?

Sometimes, even when no one is doing anything wrong, things can go off the rails.

I think it could be helpful for you to consult a skilled therapist with experience with children and adolescents. (That's not a bad idea just for the traumatic shock of her mother's death and the accident, anyway — even if she seems to be coping well.) You've both been through a lot, and you could use help in navigating this strange and sometimes lonely world ahead. Such a person could help give you their understanding of how your daughter is coping and how to help her move forward.

In this stressful world, I’m so glad this chat lives on! Thank you for listening. We need you Dr. Andrea! Subscription renewed. :-)))

This really does mean more to me than you know. Thank you!

Does your workplace have an Employee Assistance Service (EAS)? The staff there could help you navigate this horror-storm at least by advising you on how to handle your job while you try to recover. Also, March is not that long ago. You're really beaten down. I truly hope you find the right therapist.

Thank you for this compassion!

OP, are you out there?

Dr. Bonior, what do you think of writing to the therapist and basically saying, "I want to come back but I'm afraid of your facial expressions/reactions, specifically expressions of pity, empathy, or sadness toward me."? As a therapist, what would be your response?

I think this would totally be a reasonable way to express it. If I read such a note, I'd like to think I would be honestly really pleased that my (former) client was able to express this, and was advocating for their needs, and it would make me reflect on how I could be welcoming to them at that stage in their life.

I was the embarrassing partner for my first husband. He was always hissing at me to be quiet or knock it off. I felt like a child. He was the only one in the room who seemed to not enjoy my company. My current partner absolutely adores my sense of humor and finds me rather charming, as most people seem to. Maybe I'm misreading people and everyone just tolerates me, but my current partner makes me feel like I'm the life of the party everywhere we go. I feel like everyone should be made to feel that way by the one they love. Maybe your husband truly is a boor, but you chose him, you supposedly love him, act like it and support him.

In reference to last week's discussion — I love this. Thanks.

It really does go to show, the match is what's important. Thank goodness there are different strokes for different folks. Otherwise, how hard it would be to find happiness and the person that was right for us!

Perhaps it's helpful for you to frame this as "no-one really knows what's going on within a marriage." You have two wildly different interpretations — you can't really know it's a facade? Support them as you best you can. Mostly be a great auntie and place of stability for your nieces/nephews.

Yes! I'd even venture to say there are three different interpretations: brother's, SIL's, and OP's. (And then, of course, the elusive "truth," which none of us can ever totally access given our own biases!)

Hi everyone, this is Susan Cain — I'm thrilled to be here and to answer your questions!

(and to connect with me later, do try me on Facebook or on LinkedInAnd do sign up for my newsletter — we will not share your email address!!)

Welcome, Susan! I see you have been bombarded in the queue already, and we are so glad to have you here. Let's get this started!

Maybe it would be a good idea to start calling her out on her selfishness, negativity, etc. by way of indicating to her that the relationship is changing or has already changed. Have you let those instances slide, in the past. If you start pointing out her negative behavior, you might get her to drop you without having to take any further action.

Good point!

Hi Susan! I am curious if at some point you think it’s just our genetics that determine things like introversion? I grew up all my life among very social and gregarious parents and I always felt like something was wrong with me because I was not like them (or my sister for that matter.) People who know my family always say I must have just wanted quiet because they were so loud and demanding of interaction, that I needed my own space. I don’t know if it makes me feel better or worse that maybe I was just like this right out the gate and was destined to be this way. I am curious your thoughts! Thanks!

Hi there! Well, like all traits, introversion-extroversion is a big mix of nature and nurture. But, there's tons of evidence that many babies are born with a temperamental bias that predisposes them to lean one way or the other. (This has been shown via studies where scientists track babies who are just born, and follow them for decades.) There's a good chance that if you investigate further in your family tree, you'll find other introverts like you!

 

So glad to see you here in my favorite online place! I have to know-- you obviously have mastered public speaking. Any tips of the trade for getting over that hurdle as someone on the quieter side? I am hoping to get a promotion soon that I have wanted for a long time but its big drawback is that it will involve a LOT more presentations and speeches. Thanks!

Oh yes you can DEFINITELY do this. Literally no one was more afraid of (and terrible at) public speaking than I was -- and now I do it as a huge part of my career! The answer is to practice speaking, but in small and manageable steps. Don't begin by giving a high-stakes work presentation. Instead, join an org like Toastmasters, where the stakes are low and the atmosphere supportive, and practice there. You will be amazed at the strides you can make. Best of luck to you!

My husband and I married young and just a few months after our marriage he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Looking back there were a few signs of this before we married but it was mostly brought on by the marriage and other big life changes we experienced at the time, and probably his age. He treats it with medication but does not do any other therapy. Fast forward to now, 20 years and 3 kids later. One of our children also shows signs of anxiety and we have her in therapy, but she is young so we haven’t explored medication. I am increasingly tired of dealing with both my husband and my daughter and their moods. They are both glass is half empty people who cannot see and appreciate the good things in life. I feel like a terrible person, but I just want out. I obviously can’t stop being a mother to my daughter, but sometimes I think I’d be much happier without my husband. Does that make me a horrible person? Is it ever okay to divorce someone because they have a mental illness? When you marry it’s supposed to be for better or worse, right? Sometimes I just can’t face another 40 years of this and I think this is not what I want out of my life. Am I terribly selfish?Are there support groups for family members of people who struggle with mental illness?

There are definitely some support groups out there for exactly this purpose, both online and in person. Time prohibits me from finding them at this moment, but please do consider a search.

You speak to a more nuanced issue, though, which is this question of compatibility and "for better or for worse." There aren't any easy answers. Yes, on the one hand, it seems just as cruel to leave a partner with a psych disorder as it would be to leave one with cancer. On the other hand, there is no shortage of ways that our psychological make-ups affect, in a very fundamental way, the people that we ARE with our partners. To pretend that it's exactly equivalent is to deny the ripple effects that psychological disorders can have in terms of the mood and behavior of both parties in the relationship, and the delicate foundation of trust and intimacy that is crucial for any relationship to survive.

Would I advise you to give an ultimatum? No. But would I advise you to absolutely start opening up about how exhausted and emotionally drained you are? Most definitely. Again, there aren't any easy answers here. But I do think you need some help figuring out ways to live with your husband that don't feel so draining-- with his help. And if that's not doable, then in my mind, taking care of your own emotional well-being by leaving a relationship that has grown toxic most definitely doesn't make you a horrible person.

Short answer: is marriage counseling a possibility? If it's not, what might that say about the motivation within you both?

Yes, my husband has other interests — he watches OTHER shows with pretty young actresses. Maybe he's just a dirty old man, LOL.

Oh, boy!

Not quite the update I was hoping for.

Hi, Susan! I was wondering how you reconcile the introversion/extroversion difference among partners. I am the quieter one and my husband has adjusted well to doing certain social things on his own, I don't always attend his work parties, he has his own friends, and so on. But what I still struggle with are his behavior patterns around the house. He is just a loud person. He chatters a lot, has music or the TV on nonstop, shouts down from one floor to the next if he has a question. I used to like this about him when we met but over time I can barely tolerate it. I want my mental space!

Hmm. It sounds as if you've negotiated a way of handling social outlets...now you have to do the same at home. I don't know the layout of your home, of course, but are there areas that you could designate as your quiet space, and other areas that can be his music and TV places? It sounds as if you have two floors, which suggests this might be possible? Could you also talk through the ways in which you see each other's attention? It's possible that he has a need to connect with you frequently, just as you have a need for more space and for a certain way of seeking each other's attention. If you have good communication, you should be able to each share your needs and develop work-arounds that suit you both. Good luck!!

 

I went to my agency's EAS several months before I retired, because I found I was crying on the drive to work every day. I already saw a psychiatrist for depression and was on meds, but something happened that was the last straw, so I called EAS. I got an appointment the next day with a very kind psychiatrist who listened to my fears about retirement — I'd been looking forward to it since the day I started working! But couldn't help wondering whether I'd be lonely or depressed, whether my still-employed husband would be jealous, whether my widowed mother would start to depend on me too much, plus a few other situations ... anyway, he talked to me very thoughtfully and sent me back to my psychiatrist for a temporary increase in my medication. So I second the recommendation for the EAS.

I'm so glad that contact was helpful for you! Sometimes having someone listen in a nonjudgmental and hopeful way is worth so, so much.

If the guy has a wife and a child and a successful career, it's probably not right for him to say nobody likes him. Many people dream of having what he's got. But I note that in my experience, what makes some people hard to be around is they always want to "win," in some sense. They always want to have the last word, they have opinions on everything that they share freely, they make "clever" remarks that others see as offensive, they insert themselves into others' conversations, etc. Try talking less and listening more and see if it helps.

Thanks. Could be one potential area to think about!

I'm so thrilled you're still here. That's all.

And even better that you're still here!

A few chats back you told us you screen prospective clients pretty extensively before you grant them an appointment. Who do you accept, and who do you turn away? It's a cliche that shrinks like to see a YAVIS: someone who is Young, Attractive, Verbal, Intelligent and Successful. Is that your preference? Obviously anybody can have problems, but somebody with those characteristics is likely to have more life options, more manageable problems and more resources to deal with them than us non-yavises. Do you take on people whose lives might have taken a bad turn years ago, maybe even in earliest childhood? What do you say about fees, payment and insurance reimbursement? And when you turn someone down, do you refer him elsewhere, or is he on his own?

I'm probably a bit unusual in this regard, since my openings are so few and far between (my practice is small.) I have two really huge things going for me: one is that in DC, there are a lot of really solid mental health professionals, so it's never the case that it's "me or no one," as it might be in a small town with only one or two providers. I also am at a point in my career where I know very realistically how and with whom I can do my best work, so I can be pretty clear-eyed about my limitations, whether they be in terms of specialty, or what I can offer in terms of logistics (if I would need to be on call overnight for someone, then I am not their match.) So, the short answer is that I accept someone that I know can benefit from my particular skill set. I know, for instance, that I do my best work with people who are motivated and ready to change — maybe one reason why I never got much into working with kids, or with couples, where that isn't always a given — and of course I would be naive if I didn't recognize that sometimes being motivated to change emotionally is easier if you aren't desperately trying to put food on your table. So I can't pretend that having people who are more stable in terms of resources sometimes makes it easier for them to commit to therapy. It's really hard to categorize people into boxes otherwise, though. Sometimes the people on the surface whose lives are the most stable are actually suffering in a way that is completely destabilizing under the surface. If I turn someone down, I try to refer them elsewhere, but this depends on the nature of our contact (many of them found me through listings where they can find someone else, and probably are already doing so.) And for sure, I spell out everything about insurance, fees, and the like.

You are the perfect person to pose this question to. I am struggling to understand my introverted daughter. She has always been quiet and sort of in her own little world (she is very creative in poetry and art) but now that she is a teenager, it is hard for me to know how she's really feeling. She gets good grades, but she really seems to have only one friend, another girl who is on the reserved side. They spend ALL their time together to the point where I sometimes have wondered if there is a romantic relationship going on. Though my daughter is well-mannered and does what we ask her to, I can never seem to be sure that she is happy. It's like there's a whole world within her I'm not a part of. It doesn't help that my husband and I came from large, loud families and have never quite gotten used to how our family is in comparison (she is an only child.) Thanks.

Hello and thank you for being such a caring mother. 

We could talk about all kinds of techniques, but the most important work to be done, as is the case for most parents in your situation, is in your own heart. Because whatever you feel for your daughter inside invariably communicates itself to her, whether you express it in deliberate words or not.

So...ask yourself how do you feel about her quiet ways really? If your true feelings are somewhere between mystification and disapproval, first, you can own that and know that you're not alone in feeling this way, far from it. And second, to really explore the places where your daughter is lit-up -- for example in her poetry and art. Can you really dig deep there, connect with her there, take delight in her interior world -- which is likely a place of beauty and inspiration?

Re her one friend, the question to ask yourself is whether she is happy having only one friend. For some kids this is ideal, for others they wish to have more but don't know how. If your daughter is the former, then you most likely don't need to worry about it; studies show that kids with one or two friends do just as well as those with larger social groups.

But most of all -- the best way to gain insight into your daughter's inner world is to cultivate sincere delight for what is to be found there. She will sense that, and feel motivated to open up (though probably not as much as you hope, not least bc she's a teenager)!

I wish you all the best!

S

In my opinion, finding a young actress' address online and wanting to send her a birthday card goes beyond what is ever appropriate behavior. This is borderline obsessive/stalking behavior.

I could see shades here... I do think it's not insignificant that he decided not to send it. (At least we think.)

But yeah, I feel like the doggedness of this is problematic. Whatever is underlying it is worth figuring out.

Thanks.

I agree with Andrea on everything. My father and I did co-sleep every now and again when I was about the same age and it wasn't at all "funny." I get that this is helping you both. But I do think there has to be a drawing down, end date etc. — it's important for her to begin to be comfortable in her own bed and own room again. Can't say I know how to do that — but thought I'd give that perspective.

Thanks.

I do think this sometimes takes on more baggage than it needs to. I appreciate your perspective!

What about sleeping in separate beds in the same room? Still the comfort of proximity, but not quite so intimate?

Maybe this could be part of the stepping-down, although I imagine logistically it's not a small undertaking to move things around! Thanks.

Hi, I'm a corporate lawyer who is definitely introverted (though not shy per se). I'm often sitting in meetings where I'm there to know what's going on rather than contribute directly, for example scientific meetings where I'm there mostly to collect information or if a question/issue arises. I'm happy being quiet most of the time and will chime in as relevant, but I've had the feedback that I need to talk more, often by people who talk a lot themselves. Other than making pointless comments that don't help the discussion, is there a way of participating meaningfully when I'm really not contributing? When asked for feedback, I do seem to be doing my actual job well, and many others seem fine with my less verbose presence.

Yes this is a frustrating reality of work life -- people do tend to assess your performance by how often you contribute, regardless of necessity or quality. Perhaps before these meetings, you could prepare a few comments you might make or questions you might pose, and then just make sure to vocalize them. It's annoying but will probably go a long way for you -- and you might even find you enjoy it. I also recommend speaking up early, as this has a way of directing positive attention your way and making you feel happily in the center of things (with other people directing positive eye contact at you, etc.) Good luck!

 

I have a sibling that always causes unnecessary drama over the holidays. Last year, the parents even cancelled the family getting together after the antics of the previous year. It was great! Sib apologized to parents but not to me or other sib. Now parents are hitting that the holidays may be back on. I really don't want to go, but know my parents would be disappointed if I don't. FWIW, other sib feels the same. Do I suck it up and go for my parents, or stay home and relax, knowing I've disappointed them, which will make me miserable anyway?

I don't think that going solely because you'll feel guilty if you didn't is the right answer here.

But I also think that it would be unfortunate to start a precedent of avoiding the holidays all because of this sibling, letting them poison or erode your other family relationships as well.

How about leveling with your parents? "I'm so torn here. There's been so much drama with Sib, and we never even got an apology from them. I feel like we're in a bad cycle here and it makes me want to avoid the holidays, but I also don't want to disappoint you. What do you think we could all do together to make this a more functional situation?"

Would your guest like to define "introvert?" Seems like some of that depends on the environment. My social behavior depends a lot on where I am and who I'm with, as I suspect it does for most people. Not everybody can be fairly characterized as a beer-swilling frat boy or a timid recluse.

Yes, most people, even those who feel decidedly intro or extra, say that their behavior varies according to situation. And then some people really tend to be smack in the middle, and psychologists call them ambiverts.

One time-honored way to think about I and E is where do you get your energy. Introverts, no matter how socially skilled, tend to get energy from being on their own or in more mellow settings; extroverts from the reverse.

Hope this helps!

I'm busy at the lab bench so can't read in real time. But I am doing my happy dance that you are here!

A happy lab bench dance! I love it!

(Some people will skim that as "lap dance," I suspect. Perhaps it's like a Rorschach!)

For the last few years, I have the suspicion that people don't really like me. My kids, my sisters, even friends. Is asking that question helpful? I figure everyone would just deny it, because to admit it would be just so very uncomfortable. How do I get over this awful feeling?

I'm sorry. Walking around with this vulnerability sounds really painful.

I would start with the person that you feel most emotional intimacy with — maybe not your kids because that relationship is more complicated, and you can't necessarily be considered peers on the same playing field.

But why not start with a friend or a sister, and tell them that you want to talk about something hard for you that you'd love it if they could carve out some time for. A real conversation, not just asking that question. (And in fact, I'd venture to say that you don't want to ask the question in exactly that way, because it doesn't allow for nuance and indeed might make them overcompensate.)

"I'm struggling with doubts about how I am perceived. I trust you, and value our connection. And I really hope to have an honest conversation about this, even if it feels strange. I sometimes feel like I'm not liked, and it's an awful feeling. I want to find a way to be more authentic in my relationships, and so I don't want to have you just automatically say that that's not true. But maybe I'll start by asking you if there are things that get in the way of our relationship? Things that don't feel so good about me, or the way that we interact? I'm being really vulnerable here, because I am hopeful that I can learn some things and that it will be worth it."

I have a friend who doesn’t show up for things that she had set plans for and blames social anxiety or not being in the right headspace. I get that she is not comfortable at parties and stuff but why RSVP yes if you are going to disappear? At what point is it just a convenient excuse for not feeling like going somewhere and not putting forth the effort?

Most people who do this are acting in good faith. At the moment they accept the invitation, they're probably in the comfort of their own home/space, and have every intention of actually attending. Then the moment comes and the discomfort, or anxiety rises to the fore. I suppose you could see it as a spectrum: from effort to discomfort to anxiety....and it's possible  your friend is at the more anxious end of that spectrum.

That said, I have a friend who says yes to practically every invitation but then excuses herself graciously quite early in the evening. No one minds this, and it's a great way for her to keep her connections alive in a way that works for her. I pass this on in case it's helpful to your friend.

Hope this helps!

I have a new co-worker. Well -- actually -- a new supervisor. And I cannot figure out if she is introverted or she is just a non-friendly type of supervisor. Or maybe that she takes a while to settle in and feel comfortable in a new environment. Any suggestions for clues to help answer this?

Can you try to connect with her one-on-one and see if that makes a difference? I would also try to figure out what topics tend to light her up, and try to connect around those.

Good luck!

Just throwing in my 2 cents with some of the craziness about "co-sleeping" I've (mid-20s F) experienced in the past. Had people utterly horrified that my father and I shared a hotel room when I was moving to college; Friends creeped out that my brother (early 20s) and I will still share a bed/room if two aren't available on a family vacation; Shocked my college BFF when she found out my brother and I grew up sharing a bathroom. She had her own because it "wasn't appropriate" for the only girl to share with her two brothers. When I would visit I couldn't use the bathroom attached to the guest room because that wasn't the "girls room." That the guest room I slept in had an entrance into her brother's room was totally fine though (still not sure of the logic on that one).  In short — I agree with Andrea that OP and his daughter are doing nothing wrong, but I get pushback from people for just this sort of thing. Although it did stand out to me that daughter apparently said to OP "we're not doing anything wrong." At 12 I don't remember if I would have even known about what could be "wrong" with that situation (but kids are getting better education about consent/predatory behavior these days!), but that means that daughter knows some other people might not like the look of the arrangement. And pre-teens (especially pre-teen girls, IME) can be vicious. Just something else to consider with all this

Thank you. I couldn't agree more with this.

You know, I meant to point out more clearly what you did — thank you for doing it. The fact that daughter said that already meant that she at least somewhat absorbed some cultural baggage about it ... perhaps even as extreme as feeling shameful about it, on the one hand. Or, for a more positive spin, that she is learning indeed more about consent and predatory behavior so it is more on her radar. Either way, that's not an insignificant factor here.

Thanks again.

I am an introvert and I’m ok with that. But sometimes in a big group or a work meeting it’s hard to speak up since I need time to think before reacting or responding. I can carry on a conversation fine one-on-one. Any tips for an introvert in an extrovert world?

Yes -- I hear this question/problem ALL THE TIME. It's so common. I mentioned this to another question, above -- one great technique is to think in advance of the meeting of a few comments you might make or questions you might raise, then give yourself a push to speak up early. Not only will this raise your standing in the group, but it will probably make you feel more comfortable and at ease, as others start directing positive attention towards you, and you feel more fluent and warmed-up.

Good luck!

Thank you so much for the follow-up! When she first told me all of this, I asked her what would happen to the kids, would he get full custody? All she said was, "I just want out." She wishes she could just go away on a long trip by herself. I told her she should do that. She said she's afraid she wouldn't come back. My brother is now mad at me because I told my parents and our other sibling. He insists that things are better between them and that they will work it out. I just don't know what/who to believe.

Got it. This definitely lends an extra layer here, and I can certainly understand your concern. To flip the perspective a bit, it does sound very much like she is trapped in a life that she feels is exhausting her beyond what she can handle. Whether this is a mid-life crisis as in your brother's estimation, a desperate need for a recalibration of child-rearing responsibilities (maybe things are lop-sided in terms of emotional and logistical labor?) or a case of depression or any number of other things, it does sound like she needs some help. This isn't sustainable.

How amazing to have a chat with two amazing women - thank you! Your book was a godsend, but for those I can't convince to read it (my loving husband), how can I help explain my comfort zone as an introvert. An example — in a social conversation, my husband will often share news about me (Susan got a promotion!). It comes from a good place and is meant to be positive, but it's often awkward. It's not that I'm shy or have false modesty, it's just that I know when I want to share news and with whom, and when I don't. Other than trying to talk it over after the fact, how can I make him understand it as a priority? 

Is there another format that would work better for your husband? Books do take a huge investment of time and energy. A quick online article? My TED talk? other? Or, if you have good open communication between you, maybe you could bring it up as a topic during a long car ride or something. You don't even have to discuss the thing about sharing news about you, at the outset. You could just introduce the topic of introversion and extroversion and see where the discussion leads.

Good luck!

Apologies, Susan, I still have to read your book (and look forward to it!). What advice do you offer introverts on dating? I try to go in with low expectations, but when I get nervous, I ask questions of the person, and I seem to get ones who are happy to ramble about themselves. So then they know little about me, and I seem boring, and I know I'm not boring. Just crappy with small talk. Even writing this out just makes me want to stay home and hang out with the dog and read. Advice or encouragement, please!

One thing would be to try to look for new mates in contexts of shared activities/shared interests rather than formal dates (eg group hike, caring for animals, etc etc)

Re dates, you probably don't want to date someone who is happy to ramble about themselves! You want someone who knows and cares enough to ask questions of you -- and I'm guessing that once you're asked a specific question, it doesn't feel like small talk, and you're off to the races.

I just heard an ad for a dating site, though I can't recall the name, that is based around avoiding small talk by getting to know each other a little before the date. I would look this up....good luck!

Thanks all so much for chatting. I need to sign off now, but look forward to connecting in the future. Some great places to reach me are on Facebook or on LinkedIn. And do sign up for my newsletter — we will not share your email address!!

Have a great day — Susan

I am very unsettled by this: "She seems to be recovering nicely (her mother was pretty hard on her, pushing for achievement and a prestigious career, so I think she is glad to have that pressure gone)." This seems at least as important as the co-sleeping issue. She's 12 and glad to have this pressure "gone"? This does not seem to be the sentiment of a 12-year-old.

I did think that stuck out, too, but I wouldn't necessarily call it unusual. Grief reactions can be all over the map. But it does underscore the fact that extra support doesn't seem to be a bad idea. Thanks.

Sounds like my dad. My dad's off-putting behaviors include being rude when we have visitors over that he doesn't know or isn't comfortable with; he will refuse to acknowledge their presence; not say hello; talk as though they are not there; get up from the dinner table when he is done despite no one else being done; go into the kitchen serve himself desert and come back and eat it in-front of the visitors. From what I can tell it's insecurity that presents as rudeness, anger, unfriendliness and just down right odd behavior.

Yes. This sounds tough for you and the rest of your family! And I am guessing he isn't opening himself up to have the conversations about what he could do differently. Which, thankfully, makes OP's prognosis better even if they happen to suffer from similar interpersonal issues. Thanks.

I was just shy of 12 years old when my dad passed away. I co-slept with my mom for a while. After a few months, I still wasn't ready to go back to my own room. My mom made it clear that it was time to leave her bed. So I grabbed my comforter and pillow and made myself a spot on her floor. A few weeks of sleeping on the rock-hard floor convinced me it was time to go back to my bed. Harsh? Perhaps. But I received the comfort I needed while still understanding that she needed her own space also.

I am sorry you had to lose your Dad at such a vulnerable time! But it sounds like you and your Mom were able to find your way of reestablishing some boundaries. Thanks.

Maybe she is comforted by the ghost of Mom in the bed, remembering snuggle time etc. Perhaps Dad could sleep somewhere else for a bit (her room) and then offer to give her the bed for real. In other words don't make her go away, just don't get in bed with her, let her feel like she can still smell mom on the pillow for a while longer.

Interesting point I hadn't immediately thought of. That it's not solely about Dad's presence but it's about the fact that it was Mom's bed too. Thanks.

I'm an introvert and hate public speaking though have gotten better at calming my nerves about it. One thing that's helped me is to remind myself just beforehand that even, say, a 45 minute presentation is going to be over - DONE - within an hour and that nothing that will be over in less than an hour can be that awful. The other thing I remind myself is that a ton of people are going to be paying attention to their phones and not me, and so stumbling over my words might be INCREDIBLY embarrassing to me, but half the audience won't even know it, and the other half will have forgotten in a couple of hours (I still kick myself for things like that afterwards, but these strategies tend to help me in the moment so I can stay focused and get back on track!).

This is my husband and me. I'm the extrovert. He has his own room upstairs and can close the door. I'm actually not that loud, so I think the gives him peace and quiet (we live in a two floor two bedroom condo - so not large, like a small townhouse). Things that I do to help him get what he needs. I always talk on the phone on the other floor. I always use my iPod / earplugs. I know and (almost always) accommodate his rhythms — hates mornings, needs quiet time to boil his head when he gets back from work. What he might need form you: I definitely like to do the Gottman 'bid' and that doesn't got over well. This can be tough —sometimes I feel like he only ever wants to interact with me on his timetable — like he can turn me on and off. This feeling has some validity and is also somewhat unfair. Also — you have to make sure you're saving some of your energy for your relationship with him.

I had the opposite reaction — if her mother was hard on her, she may be happy to have her father all to herself.

Good point. Thanks.

Once again, we've bent the time-space continuum, because I could swear that this chat just started a moment ago.

I want to thank Susan so wholeheartedly for being here. We could have gone on much longer with all that you wanted to ask her! I am just so glad that she has brought such attention to this "quiet" topic — it's clear it really resonates. Please do check out her work and her social media if you have not already!

 

(And if she didn't have a chance to get to your question, but you'd like to resubmit it to me for next week, please feel free. I don't want to assume that's what is preferred, so I'll leave the remaining ones alone unless I see them reappear next week.)

And thank you, Rachel, for this final time of producing. I have been so lucky to have you, and I only wish it could have gone on longer.

To the rest of you, thanks so much for showing up. It matters even more than you know. I will look forward to seeing you here next week, or on social media before then —in the meantime, be well.

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University and is the author of the Publisher's Weekly best-seller "Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World" and "The Friendship Fix.”
Susan Cain
Susan Cain is the author of "Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts", and "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking."
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