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Carolyn Hax Live: Name-dropping shock-collar (June 23)

Jun 23, 2017

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Hi everybody. 

This will be the last chat until July 14. The next two Fridays (i.e., the ones bookending the Fourth of July) are the slowest of the year, so I'm taking the hint and having some summer.

This could have been me. At 30, I divorced and hid my new paramour from my parents after they tried to persuade me back into my emotionally abusive marriage. Small things would either pop me into a bought of deep depression or terrify me into a panic attack. The way it worked: someone, maybe a friend or my new bf, would put me in a situation that I deemed dangerous. No one else saw the danger. I felt powerless and scared. I was labeled irrational and threw temper tantrums. Eventually, my new bf insisted I go into therapy because I was depressed and overreacted so often. I found a recommended therapist (by asking acquaintances) associated with the local college. She used a sliding scale fee. In therapy, we figured out my mother has NPD. Everyone else with loving mothers viewed her relentless requests as coming from a point of loving kindness, from a woman who "knew my needs better than I did". My bf and friends had no reference because they never experienced fully out of whack parenting. Before therapy, there were days when I stayed in bed for most of a weekend reflecting and trying to feel emotionally safe. Sometimes I felt paralyzed. Therapy lifted the burden of pretending I had a great mom when the truth was she was abusive. My mom was manipulative, controlling and lied to get her way. I looked selfish, but it was the other way around. Eventually, with the help, I realized the trick was to get the middleman to recognize that I had a right to say no. Period. With the pushback gone, so we're the panic attacks. Therapy seems daunting but think of it as seeking a doctor for crippling or acute pain even if it comes and goes. Or a very scary allergy with an unknown cause. My therapy removed a huge burden of outside forces that, because I had been born into them, I couldn't see. Like Marty Feldman's Igor quote "what hump?" My irrational reactions became understandable once viewed from the right frame of reference. My wish for the OP is to find that kind of relief from the anguish that triggers the panic. You might find out that it wasn't you all along.

This is thoughtful and important, thank you, and I have no doubt it will be helpful for people in a spot similar to the one you found yourself in. 

And, Eye-gor. I'm a little verklempt. 

I suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and the best thing that ever happened to me was when my therapist recommended The Anxiety and Worry Workbook. It uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to slowly help you past your fears and anxiety. I still take meds but I use the tools I learned in that book almost daily.

I am not familiar with this (yet) but you are one of a few people recommending it in response to that column. Thanks muchly.

Dear Carolyn, When I was 18, my mother revealed that the father I grew up with was not my biological father. She claimed that she didn't even know my bio father, and never contacted him again after their brief weekend fling at his college. The conversation we had was very emotional, and resulted in my stepdad leading her away, sobbing. Fast forward 12 years, without any further conversation about this. I decided to broach the subject again with her. This time, she kept to her story that she didn't remember who he was. However, towards the end of our conversation, she admitted that she DID know who he was. She got out her phone and proceeded to show me my bio father's Facebook profile, along with statements such as, "one of his daughters looks just like you." She has known who this man is the entire time, but did not want to tell me because she wasn't sure what I would do with the information (i.e contact him). Another wrench is that he was apparently in a long-term relationship in college (when I was conceived) and that woman is now his wife and they have 4 children. I want to contact him, but I'm getting a lot of pushback from my mother's family. They said I have such a great dad already, what if my bio father and his wife have conflict, he doesn't even know I exist, do I really need this drama? I feel like it's a human right for a person to know if they've sired a child. Please help.

There's a lot here so I'm going to try to sort it out as basically as I can.

First, I'm sorry this is how your mom chose to handle the news. It is obviously a complicated emotional problem in many respects, involving her own shame for having such a secret to keep, plus her impulse to protect the father you grew up with, plus her impulse to protect your bio-father and the family he created with his then-girlfriend. There are a few decks of cards involved in the house the trysters built. However, if she were to have it to do over again, I hope she would use the do-over to be more transparent with you, sooner, and to be clear about the fact that the information is now yours to handle as you see fit--while also making it clear that she is there to talk it over with you as you figure out what you want to do.

Second, since there are no do-overs, you need to create that situation yourself: by saying to all relatives, this is your biology, your father, and your decision now. Assure them you won't decide how to use this information without taking into account the feelings of all involved, and the potential consequences-- but this is not about them anymore. You don't owe anyone anything here except compassion and care.


Third, you give a little hint at an unproductive trail of reasoning, when you suggest it's your bio-dad's right to know. Whatever you decide here needs to be mindful of consequences to others, including him, yes--but you can't go so far as to presume you know what he needs. Only he can do that for himself. Since the secrecy means he's unable to decide for himself, you can only decide what your values require. And do so, again, while being mindful of him, his family and of the consequences to all. It's some higher order hair-splitting, but I think it's an important hair to split. If you take action with the notion that you're doing him a moral or cosmic favor, this could backfire on you quickly and hard.

So. Keep yourself within a very basic set of parameters: You're an adult, this is your history, it's now your responsibility to act or not act on it, which means making the most morally defensible use of this information that you can--whatever that entails. 


You don't say anything about being angry at your mother for how she handled this, including the slow release of information, the lying and now the full-family pushback. Maybe you aren't angry, and that would be very evolved of you.

But in case that's an element of your confusion right now, I'll bringing it up: 

Anger would be a natural valid response.

It's one I recommend you deal with head-on, so it doesn't boil over on you.

I also think it's really important to keep it separate from what you decide on telling or not telling your bio-dad. It would be so easy for indignation over the lies and secrecy to push you toward blowing everything up. You don't mention anger so maybe it's not a risk here, but if it is, please be mindful of it. Take any anger to a good therapist first--or just go anyway to sort things out--and then make up your mind on what to tell whom, how, when, and why.

Take care, and take your time, please. There's an old saying, "Marry in haste, and repent at leisure," and this seems like an, "Act in haste, repent at leisure,"  type opportunity. 

Hi Carolyn, My daughter is 11 and has 3 friends from her class at school. One of the girls "Emma" parents are very generous hosts for sleepovers or just play dates. Emma is an only child and has a pool, fun toys, great snacks. The problem is that Emma's parents don't let Emma be a guest. Sometimes I want to have the girls over and my daughter wants to have her friends over and Emma's parents refuse. Since the girls want to hang out, they would rather all go to Emma's than not hang out at all without Emma. I asked Emma's mother if there was anything in particular about our house that concerns her. She said no, that Emma isn't allowed to go anywhere else, ever. My daughter's birthday is coming up and she invited her friends to a local water park for the day. The other two are coming and Emma, of course, isn't allowed. Emma's Mom called and asked why we need to go to a water park when they have a pool. She then offered to host my daughter's party herself, saying she knows my daughter likes tacos so they can do a taco bar and she was thinking of an ice cream sundae instead of a cake since it's summer. The conversation unnerved me, I didn't really know how to explain to her how out of bounds she was acting. I'm starting to get a real creepy vibe from Emma's parents but I don't want to ruin the girl's friendships.

This is seriously messed up. You're right.

Please stand up to Emma's mom in kind and clear and unflinching terms. "This is our daughter's birthday. We are hosting it. Emma is invited." If/when they decline the invitation on Emma's behalf, "I'm sorry to hear that."

If the mom says something again about why a water park when they have a pool, then stick to facts. "Because a pool is not a water park." Or the perfectly good, "This is our daughter's birthday, and we are hosting it at a water park." Don't get sucked into a justification exchange as if there's any legitimacy to what this mom is suggesting.

I really feel for Emma here, because she's the one who suffers most from any fishiness behind her parents' rule(s), but I also think it's time for the other parents in the friend group to stop acquiescing so readily to Emma's parents. You guys all need to take your turns hosting, inviting Emma as you would under normal circumstances. If Emma can't make it, then you say a simple, "I'm sorry to hear that, we'll miss her." 

Note that I'm not advising you to take on these parents or their rules. What I've spelled out is simply your acting as the parent to  your child and providing her with a typical social life. As in, not bending to the rules of the Emmasphere.

That's for the planning part of the problem.

The "creepy vibe" problem warrants further conversation with the parents, not just Emma's but also the other friends'. To Emma's: "I am not comfortable with allowing my daughter always to be the guest. Are you willing to share with me your reasons for not letting Emma come over? Perhaps it would sit better if I understood it." It's framed as a matter of your own feelings, as your daughter's parent, and it's respectfully stated--plus they have room to respond that it's none of your business. (It's also not their business if you decide your daughter can't go over to Emma's anymore. That's the tradeoff.)

And to the other friends': "I am not comfortable with this arrangement, where my daughter always goes there to play. How are you guys dealing with it?"

You can have it both ways here, where you take the creepiness very seriously and you also respect the boundaries between what is your family business and theirs.




I don't seem to be able to scroll *at all* in either Chrome or Microsoft Edge. Any suggestions? Anyone else flagging this as an issue? I don't have the same problem on non-Live Post articles.

Producer Jess here. I don't think you'll be able to see this, thanks to the scrolling issue, but if you can .... yes, we are chasing this down and trying to figure out what's causing it. It's only a small set of users and I'm not sure why. Email me at if you are willing to help us solve this by sharing some info.

Update. Thanks to those who emailed. We've figured out what's causing the problem, which is good, because now we can work on fixing it. Appreciate everyone's willingness to help.

Reading the comments on your FB page and elsewhere saying that the LW from today's column is somehow blowing things out of proportion really has my back up. Why is it when a woman cares about something--like her home being a decent level of clean--she is considered to be overreacting or overemphasizing the wrong thing? Okay, I'll get down from my soap box now. (I'll also break it down, and put in the recycling.)

It is not out of proportion! Imbalance in the effort at home is a path to divorce. 

And don't tell me or any other woman that the only way to have a life partnership is to acquiesce to doing more work than my partner because that's what we were all socialized for. That's a cop out. People make their deals in marriage, yes, of all kinds--and we're all free to agree to the arrangements that suit us, even if they involve resignation to one stereotype or another. 

But pointing out an injustice of long standing--and one often of default vs. examination--is not hysteria or an -ism run amok. It's how we progress as a society toward fairness.

We could also look at it this way: If you would applaud a man who speaks out against our culture's motherhood defaults, then applaud women who speak out against housework defaults. 

In the end we all suffer from the rigid assignment of gender roles, if only because people who are allowed to be themselves are better at choosing partners and happier in those relationships for it.

My grandmother used to do this to me; she was a lovely woman except for the fact that she could never understand that I had (and have) zero interest in learning to cook, so she would sniff and sigh disapprovingly whenever I would respond, "Oh, [husband] is cooking something" or "we're getting takeout tonight." Eventually I stopped responding as though it was a real question: "I'm really feeling cornflakes tonight!" "[Husband]'s grilling the neighbor's cat!" "Oreos and wine! I bought them all by myself!" said in the same tones a 4-year-old uses to inform people that she has tied her own shoelaces I mean, if she's going to disapprove of my answers, I might as well give her something to really disapprove of, right?

Outrageous. Milanos with wine, okay, or Lorna Doones. 

Dear Carolyn, Unfortunately I made the mistake of reading my husband texts and read multiple texts between his family where his sisters made fun and made disparaging remarks about me and my mother. My husband did not defend me, or tell them to stop. In fact he seemingly encouraged this by participating in the discussion and adding a few insults of his own. The context is that we have an unhappy marriage and are the parents of two small children, one with significant health issues requiring 7 hours of therapy a week; we both work full time and I am primarily responsible for the kids and house with little help from him. I shouldn't have read the texts but I did, and now, I feel anger at his family and my husband. I feel sad to be married to someone who doesn't stand up for me or at least tell them to knock it off. How can I bring up the texts to him, or is this something I should ignore and get over because they were not meant for me to read? Unhappy Eavesdropper

It may seem--particularly, feel--that your snooping or his sniping put you in a bad spot, but it's actually just the same spot you already knew you were in: You're in an unhappy marriage. That is the beginning and end of it.

So don't let the text nastiness distract you; instead treat it as a wakeup. You and your husband have gone (or just have started to go) your separate ways within the formality of your marriage. What do you want to do about that? Are you ready to take steps to ... try to fix it? to separate? to be open with him about the alienation, and start treating it as a child-rearing and health-care-providing cooperative as opposed to a romantic pairing?

You don't have great choices, especially given your child's special needs, but they are choices. It sounds as if it's time you stopped going through the motions of your original union and started talking openly with your husband about what you and he ought to do next. Since children with health issues are a known--in fact sky-high--risk factor for marital strain, I also urge you to look for a couples counselor who specializes in those challenges.

We were very rarely allowed to go anywhere as children. No play dates, no group activities at friends' homes even with parents there, no leaving the yard. "You'll bother them!" Phone calls were supervised. Library books were thoroughly inspected. Clothing was criticized as being too tight, couldn't even babysit next door after two "incidents". My mom's response was "they stay out too late and they paid you too much! You have to give it back and it's too far away". As I got older, it seemed worse. We never got in trouble in school and were very quiet children. Summer vacation was hellish because of the total social isolation. My mom was overprotective and always critical of me and somewhat of my sister. We would be lectured for over an hour on how we would never amount to anything. We were always on honor roll and excelled in our hobbies and extra curricular school events. She MADE me take driver's ed, then wouldn't allow me to get a license. I left home on my 18th birthday at 7:30 am, with my first job lined up, never to live there again. She had planned all the courses I was to take in college and that I was to be a journalist. My life was going to be planned completely (NOT). I've been working ever since. I just don't think my mom should have had children. My sister and I never did. We were terrified we'd turn out like her and didn't want any kid to suffer like we did.

This is chilling. Thank you for speaking up.

Is there any advice you'd give the parents of Emma's friends? Or to the friends themselves? I'm taking away from your comment that the only real answer is for Emma to turn 18, and if that's what you're saying then I don't disagree--I'm just wondering if there's any way that people on the outside can alleviate the pressure for a kid caught in the vise of such overprotection.

Oh Carolyn, everyone knows that it's Lorna Doones with bourbon.

Lorna understands that monogamy is for suckers.

I didn't see anything in the question about what the LW hopes to get out of contacting her biological father. A relationship? Answers to some questions? Acknowledgement? It seems like something that would be pretty important to figure out before contacting him, and might help her make the decision of whether or not to do it at all.

True story: I was just home from the hospital after major surgery. Opening my groggy eyes after a long nap, I saw my husband and daughter at the foot of the bed, staring at me. "What?" I whispered. "What's for lunch?" my husband asked. He wasn't kidding. At the time, I just passed out again. Much, much later -- after laughing about the incident for years -- I realized that I'd pretty much trained him to that behavior. I had ALWAYS had things planned out in advance: menus, shopping lists, schedules for the order in which food should be prepared before a party. He fully expected me to have cooked and frozen meals in advance, or at least a list of menu options somewhere. And I think he was afraid to just wing it, because if I'd had a plan and it wasn't followed, I'd be pissed off. It took me a long time to let go of being the manager, and it is sometimes still hard, but I had to realize it was NOT a healthy pattern.

Many family stories were told about my dad's poor aunt, his mother's sister, who was married to an abusive man. The fact that this uncle by marriage was a wife beater and a "violent man" is well documented both orally and in written recollections by my side of the family. My grandmother was distraught about her sister and even said he caused my great aunt's death. Recently I took a DNA test and the results have connected me to the great grandson of this unhappy couple. This new cousin never knew his great grandparents, but he is interested in learning what I know about our shared family history. They have all been dead for many years, although my 95 year old aunt is still around to corroborate. When we talk, should I mention these terrible stores about his great grandfather?

Absolutely. History is history. I don't see the need to whitewash it.

Plus, owning what is in our own ancestry is an important way to improve on it. That includes the good as well as the bad: You find out your great-grands were unusually generous, for example, and that gives you a chance to see yourself through that lens and maybe cultivate your own way of giving. You find out your great-grand was a violent abuser, and you pay extra mind to your own tendencies--maybe even take on domestic violence prevention as a cause. Sort of an, "It stops here," frame of mind.

Even if you don't see taking anything that far, I don't see much value in an anti-information approach. Why do we have to believe everything is rosy? 


Is it really that bad of an idea to have sex with my ex husband? We disagree about having kids so we got divorced. Neither of us is enjoying dating (it has been a few years since the split) nor looking for a relationship. Of course this can't last forever, at some point one of us will find someone new or circumstances will change in some other way (i.e. children for one of us). But for now, since we still love each other and have stayed friendly since the split, what is the harm?

I'm never going to tell someone, "Don't join a bomb-disposal unit because you might get blown up," because, duh. And besides, some people want to go into that line of work, which is good because we need them to.

What I say instead is, "Join a bomb-disposal unit if that's what you want to do--just go into it knowing you might get blown up." 

So, yeah. 

As a kid in similar situation, I would have given anything to hear an adult say "I get it. I see what's happening, and I'm so sorry you're stuck with this life." As an adult, I'm still kind of angry at the relatives/neighbors/classmates' parents who did nothing. I'm still curious how they couldn't just once tell me, "I'm sorry you're dealing with this. It'll get better when you get older." Just once, could they have reached out to me in my twenties, when I had moved out, and maybe check up on me, invite me over for a holiday, something? I was surrounded by people, like Emma is, but SO ALONE.

This may be the last thing you'd like to do, but have you invited Emma over with her parents / family? They sound controlling either way, but perhaps they would come - and perhaps see that it's OK for her to go elsewhere.

Hi Carolyn, I recently had a friend tell me that I have become arrogant since I entered a new career in which there's a culture of snobbery and one-upping. I was defensive, and would really have liked to believe that she was wrong, but replaying some of our recent conversations (and some I've had with other people who haven't pointed anything like this out), I cringe at realizing I have become the sort of person who talks about work to people who haven't asked, and sometimes says things that could come off as bragging to people who aren't doing as well. How does one unlearn these behaviors? I believe this is probably getting in the way of a lot of my social goals, like finding a partner, and that it will probably eventually cause my career to plateau as well. Also, I have both apologized to and thanked this friend--do I need to do the same for the other people in my life?

I don't think so. Just make an effort to see friends you recently bragged at and bring your former humility along with you.

You ask how to "unlearn these behaviors," but it seems to me that awareness is it. You know you have done this, and so have in mind to keep yourself in check. 

Though a name-dropping shock-collar would fit right into a SkyMall catalogue.

do you still have the recipe? zach g

Hey, long time no Z.

I made it up, so the question is whether I remember it.

And whether any version I remember will be edible. But since you'll be eating it, not me, I'm game to try. 

I'll email it to Nick, or you can get my info from him.


Is that the best ever back-to-back pair of answers, or what.

I just wanted to chime in about this - my father was a cruel, physically abusive man who was a a terrible alcoholic. I didn't know until I was in high school that his father was the same way, as was his father. Having that information helped connect the dots for me with genetics and behavior. As Carolyn said, I have made sure that it stopped with me, and it's possible that your new cousin might be able to do the same if any of that behavior has been reproduced. Also, if he never had to experience anything like that, it might help him appreciate his family even more for rising above something that could have consumed them. Information is power, right?

Hi Carolyn! My mom was always strict and overprotective. I wasn't allowed to do a lot of things that other kids my age were doing growing up. Now I'm 37 and know that this stems from anxiety. I'm planning my first solo trip and I'm very excited about it, but I hate the thought of telling my mom. I want to give her enough time to get used to the idea but I'm dreading the months of hearing about everything that could possibly go wrong and trying to talk me out of it. She has serious boundary issues and will expect me to manage her anxiety but I know it's not mine to manage. Plus I have some anxiety of my own and adding hers on top of it can be too much (I'm in therapy).I know I can't change her reaction, so how do I handle the next few months? Any advice is much appreciated!

The "give her enough time to get used to the idea" approach seems to be better suited to someone who doesn't have anxiety issues. For someone with anxiety, advanced notice = just more time to worry, no? If this involved your mom I'd say otherwise, but it's not your mom's trip, so it's a legitimate point of consideration that her knowing serves her no purpose.

Have you discussed with your therapist the idea of not telling your mother until after you're back? And having other people serve as your informed points of contact in case of emergency?

Alas, if more people would evaluate the merits of criticism... Kudos to the poster for accepting the friend's comments and changing.

Seconded--thanks for pointing this out.

Wait, wait, you're gonna tease us with this and not share with us!? Come on, Carolyn!

I don't even know if I remember it!

I need some space.

The "creepy" aspect is really sticking with me. As a former teacher, I would consider having a confidential conversation with either Emma's teacher or the guidance counselor to share your concerns about the "creepy factor". They will be required to treat it confidentially and also won't be able to share any confidential info about Emma with you, but they might be able to reassure you. Or they might take what you say to add to concerns, suspicions that they have had. There is always the possibility that Emma is being abused, and/or that there is some inappropriate behavior that could impact your child at their home. In most states, public school teachers are required to report anything they suspect related to abuse. Stick to the facts, don't embellish, and approach it from wanting to be sure everything is OK. It may not get you anywhere, but it may help Emma.

I like this. It might have to wait till fall, but it's more eyes on the situation--ones that are both somewhat trained and empowered to help. Thanks.

I was raised by a very overprotective family too (though thankfully not insulting or emotionally abusive). So maybe that is why I feel differently about "outside help." I would have been mortified and defensive if my friends' parents had taken it upon themselves to start such a conversation with me or attempt to intercede. I was already juggling enough parents.

Once my husband called me when I was on vacation to ask what his usual taco order was at our favorite taco place.

I ran long today, and I'd like to think it's because I was waiting for this to show up as the last word.

Thanks everybody for stopping in, and type to you here in mid-July. 

I have seen this behavior. It is more common than we may realize. I do not like it or fully understand it, but is real. The people I know that do this take great pride in this and feel that they are better parents for doing this.

Dear Abby just advised it, in fact, though I think unwittingly: LINK

I always look forward to the Friday chats but this one has been especially welcome. I just spent 5 days sharing 1 house with 11 relatives. After smelling bacon grease non-stop and enduring daily battles over the thermostat, it's nice to be alone-ish in the 3rd row of my car knowing my family squabbles aren't unique.

There is no cure like the way way back.

Go on your trip. Send you mom a post card, saying "I'm here. Wish you were wonderful." Share pictures with her upon your return.

That's the last last word. Bye!

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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