Posted by fxckfeelings on November 10, 2016
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If, like our reader from earlier, you feel uncertain about remaining estranged from Asshole™ parents, it’s important to keep guilt from pushing you to attempt an otherwise unwise reconciliation. So, before trying to reach out, take these five steps to figure out whether it’s worth the attempt to make peace with your wretched parents.
1) Determine The Danger to Your Kids
Don’t assume that you can always protect kids from your parents’ potentially hurtful words or actions, or stem their cruelty with your own kind, reasonable behavior. If they are sufficiently bitter or crazy they may attack on sight, leaving your kids shaken by their destructive and out of control behavior. Be realistic in evaluating your parents’ detonation times and never let your wish for reconciliation cause you to underestimate danger, especially when your kids are at risk.
2) Determine the Danger Overall
Imagine other potential kinds of of hurt and harm that reaching out to your parents may trigger; with some malicious, explosive people, any kind of contact is dangerous. Even if your efforts are kind and well meant, nothing will reduce their sense of grievance or eagerness to even the score. Rely on your prior experience, not wishful thinking, to predict whether a well-intentioned call or visit will expose you to spiteful behavior including shaming, verbal assaults, and legal struggles over gifts and inheritances.
3) Process the Potential Benefits
Ask yourself whether your willingness to engage in polite conversation and reconnect will have any potential longterm benefits for you and yours, beyond possibly feeling less guilty and isolated. Be realistic about whether your efforts will facilitate real gains, like larger family get-togethers and friendships between cousins. Include whatever pleasure such contact may give others and the satisfaction you may feel for being kind when you have good reason to feel hurt or mistreated.
4) Test Your Ability to Keep Yourself and Your Family Safe
Drawing on your experience from prior family conflicts, guilt trips, or shame shake-downs, prepare for the worst with exit strategies that will end unacceptable conversations and protect you and yours from hurtful fallout before you can get sucked in. Rehearse polite statements that express regret for quick exits while not attacking, defending, or prolonging the discomfort, and make sure to choose locations that are easy to leave. Don’t reach out until you are confident you can protect yourself from unacceptable behavior.
5) Tally Up Total Outreach Pros and Cons
If, after examining all the potential risks and gains, it becomes clear that reaching out to your parents isn’t likely to benefit anyone or build a stronger family, don’t do it, and certainly don’t hold yourself responsible. Your only obligation is to your family, and all you can do is try to give peace a chance if peace is even a possibility. As long as your decision is based on realistic risk assessment and good values, it will never be wrong, no matter how bad the guilt gets.
Posted by fxckfeelings on October 27, 2016
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We may all hope to be the kind of lucky people bound to our parents by a shared sense of humor, values, and love, but for some of us the only parent/child bond we share is in our genes. For those extra-unlucky group whose parents carry the genes for rage, alcoholism, and selfishness—the building blocks of Asshole™ DNA—reconciliation is all but impossible, and all attempts will leave you needlessly miserable. That’s why you should never satisfy your yearning for a better relationship with your parent until you administer an unofficial Asshole™ DNA test; learn how to size them up realistically and decide whether you can attempt to strengthen your bond or should leave it at the genetic level.
After decades of trying to have a positive relationship with my parents, I finally stopped all contact two years ago after they transferred their toxicity to my children. Therapy has helped me realize that they are narcissists and that it is simply impossible to have a loving relationship with them. That knowledge deepens as my relationship with my own children grows as they grow, and I cherish them. Although we are all much happier without contact, and even though I know that actually things will never change, a part of me still wishes that things could be different. My father’s own brother refuses to see him for similar reasons and he and other relatives are very supportive of me. Recently, my partner lost both of her parents and she was able to be with each of them in their final hours. Now she is worried that I may regret not trying one last time to improve relations. I appreciate her concern but fear that there really is no point and that, if I did make contact, I’d just be laying myself open to another attack. But, what if I do regret not trying..and so it goes round and round in my head. My goal is to determine whether I’ll feel worse about not talking to my parents or, by trying to talk to them again, possibly allowing their toxic presence back into my life.
Given how hard it is for most people to part with their favorite/disgusting jeans from college or prized collection of VHS tapes, it’s not surprising that cutting yourself off entirely from your parents, no matter how necessary, is bound to leave you with lingering senses of sadness and doubt.
You’re right, of course, to give top priority to the protection of your kids, particularly if your parents are likely to become violent or openly express rage or make accusations in their presence. Even so, there’s no way to feel entirely at peace about cutting off all communication, knowing that time and death will someday make the silence permanent. And admitting to yourself how that silence may also provide some relief will just flood you with the kind of guilt that most Catholics, Jews, and people with neck tattoos feel exclusively entitled to.
Before giving into this first wave of guilt and assuming that resuming contact would be a worthwhile step towards improving your relationship and elevating your soul, take stock of past attempts and their results. Don’t expect to be able to mend fences with insight so powerful that it dissolves their mistrust and hostility; your only standard for a good intervention should be to be pleasant, polite, and reasonably conciliatory, regardless of results. If you achieved this standard through a few good attempts with no real return on your efforts—or worse, your efforts were greeted with a blast of hostility and drama—it’s unlikely that trying again will produce a better result.
Once you’ve decided that seeking improvement is probably unrealistic and possibly harmful, ask yourself whether it’s worthwhile or even possible to have a limited non-relationship rather than nothing at all. A limited non-relationship means restricting contact to short, superficial, polite conversations, free of emotional satisfaction, intimacy, and, as such, opportunity for conflict. You may never get that desired (and fictional) catharsis, but you will be able to participate in large family gatherings without threat of conflict and express benign good wishes, however shallow, regardless of past wrongs or recent provocation.
If you’re hoping to reconnect in order to achieve some level of emotional satisfaction, then you’re bound for disappointment; the best result, aside from the confidence that comes from doing your best to do what’s right, is the possibility that it may nurture other good family relationships for you and the kids while showing the kids how to avoid conflict when it’s pointless and destructive.
Don’t hold yourself responsible for or feel guilty about letting go of anything that’s unfixable, be it your beloved first car or your relationship with toxic parents. Don’t assume, however, that total excommunication is your only other option; you can always salvage broken things for parts.
So, if you wish, you can usually maintain civility with uncivil relatives if you first decide that the strategic rewards are worth the unpleasant effort of management they invariably require. But if you decide that it’s unlikely that your efforts will be rewarded with anything but regret, don’t let guilt blind you to all the benefits of letting go.
“Now that I’m a parent, I wish I could improve my relationship with my parents and give them and my children an opportunity to bond and get to know one another. Given that my parents are unimproveable Assholes™, however, I do what’s necessary to protect the kids while keeping things civil and peaceful.”
Posted by fxckfeelings on September 13, 2016
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If, like our reader from earlier this week, you have your eyes on a very specific prize, second place can feel like a first class ticket to Loserville, even if it’s just a coach ticket to whatever goal you had in the first place. If your drive is making it so hard to appreciate your efforts that it’s really just driving you crazy, here are five ways to deal with that perceived failure.
1) Get Your Goals In Line
Putting aside the performance goals that you don’t really control, like a particular salary, promotion, or degree, ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. Usually, with goals that are work- or education-related, you’re ultimately trying to find a way to make a living and develop your skills and abilities. The kind of grades you get or job you finally land—the feel-good outcomes—are never completely under your control, so don’t hold yourself accountable for them.
2) Set Effort-Based Standards
Instead of reaching for those feel-good outcomes, measure your success by how much time, effort, and overall feel-bad hard work you put into your goal, like the number of hours you studied and whether you asked for help when you needed it. If you found yourself avoiding the work, ask yourself whether you faced that problem and tried to do something about it. Be objective in grading your efforts, using the same standards as you would for anyone else, and if you find yourself falling short, avoid self-incrimination and aim for self-improvement instead.
3) Fight Negative Thoughts
Unless you’re a massive jerk/Republican presidential nominee, you wouldn’t tell someone who’d tried hard and put in the work that he was a failure, so don’t be that mean to yourself. If you’re a natural-born perfectionist who tends to get down on himself, learn how to talk back to your self-criticism and give yourself positive encouragement, getting help from a positive coach/therapist if necessary. Otherwise, your negative thinking will make your performance worse, cause you undeserved pain, and put you at the mercy of the world’s meanest critic, who happens to live in your head.
4) Get Motivation From Your Good Values
Ditch outcomes-based motivation, looking inward instead to find drive in your own positive ideals, like the importance of being independent, helping others, and doing your share. Yes, you’re also motivated by good results, competition with others, and the ecstasy of the victory lap. When your career goals reflect positive values, however, regardless of whether you’re getting the glory, it’s much harder to feel negative about the outcome of your efforts, even when those outcomes are negative themselves.
5) Reject Failure And Rethink Success
If at first you don’t succeed, don’t listen to old clichés and keep trying the same thing over again and again. Step back, seek advice, and ask yourself whether there’s an obstacle you can’t control, like a skill you can’t acquire or a relationship you can’t make work. If that’s the case, accept your helplessness, don’t take it personally, and try to find another way forward. You may need to compromise or eat some crow, but as long as you’re acting in accordance with your basic values, you’re on the right path to some kind of success you can be proud of.
Posted by fxckfeelings on August 30, 2016
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When we’re desperate to push ourselves to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks, drive and doubt can combine to create an inner drill-sergeant: a loud, insulting voice in your head that screams all the insults of a military commander but much less flying spittle. Unfortunately, that balance of drive and doubt can be precarious, so if you push yourself too far you may go from driven to too depressed and full of self-hate to do much of anything. As with a new recruit, you may have no choice over your commander/the kinds of emotions that get you going, but you can learn how to manage those emotions so they don’t cause you to give up and go AWOL.
I’m a 23-year-old man who spent my formative years as this retarded socially awkward mute and at some point after visiting hospitals for work experience I decided I wanted to be a physician really fucking badly. The only problem was I was a moron who spent his formative years playing video games instead of taking the right science classes or getting good grades. I then spend an extra year working my ass off and taking the right classes at night and volunteering in health care during the day. Since the start of the whole ordeal, my academic advisor has been telling me it’s never going to happen and I should go for nursing, and I’m thinking, “fuck you, I’m going to be a doctor!” Then I don’t actually get the grades to get into med school—they’re all a grade below what I need—and in order to fix them I would have to repeat another 1-2 years, which isn’t a possibility. I then think about going to the nearest bar to drink myself to death, but I don’t, so off I go to study psychology with some health studies thrown in. I’m now in the 2nd year of course and need to get interested in becoming a clinical therapist, otherwise I won’t have the motivation to get a good grade. My goal is to figure out how to become interested in becoming a therapist other than gritting my teeth, giving up on my dream/accepting that I’m stupid, and getting on with my shit.
WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by fxckfeelings on July 7, 2016
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If, like our reader from earlier this week, you’re often plagued with uncertainly that’s beyond problematic and into the realm of downright paralyzing, here are five tools you can use to fight crippling self-doubt.
1) Compose Your Personal Code of Conduct
Pretending you’re judging the work or moral conduct of a friend, define standards for deciding whether his or her performance and character are good enough, avoiding the impossible standards of perfection you usually impose upon yourself. Spell out the standards you’re using to making your decision, and make sure to account for you/your friend’s circumstances, shortcomings, etc. when deciding how high those standards should be set.
2) Generate An Internal Judge Judy
Become the judge in your own internal court of perfection, using your new code to consider and rule on whatever nasty accusation your brain throws your way. Don’t hesitate to confer with a friend or therapist, but remember, once you’ve rendered a decision, it carries the weight of the Authority of your Code. As in Judge Judy’s court, all decisions are final.
3) Push Back Against Persistent Doubt
If your inner-Judy disagrees with persistent accusations made by the Prosecuting Center in your brain, use that gavel to talk back. Don’t expect the prosecutor to shut up or go away, but do take the time and effort to state your own opinion and do so with sincerity, confidence, and conviction. Your job is to stand up for yourself and the firm values that you’ve established (and not tolerate any nonsense).
4) Shut Out the Ceaseless Retorts
Having done what you should to discredit your brain’s unfair accusations and criticisms, and knowing that your mental prosecutor never sleeps (which is why your nastiest doubts appear in your nightmares, and why people still show up to Judy’s court in ripped dungarees), don’t give your doubts more attention than necessary. Whenever you recognize an old criticism you have previously reviewed, judged, and declared invalid, ignore it using whatever technique works for you, e.g., meditation, exercise, a distracting binge watch, etc.
5) Self-Respect is Your Standard
Keep in mind that your primary goal is not to quell your self-doubts but to meet life goals despite them, which can include educating yourself, working your dream job, building friendships, finding the right partner, and possibly raising kids. If you’re able to do those things while dealing with the pain of self-doubts and the extra work required to manage and deal with them, then you deserve respect and should consider yourself a success, no doubt about it. On to the next case on the docket.
Posted by fxckfeelings on June 27, 2016
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Like pooping our pants, biting our enemies, and enjoying Disney Channel shows, self-doubt is a regrettable aspect of childhood we’re supposed to grow out of. If, however, years of learning, practicing, and getting older don’t keep persistent self-doubt from pestering you on into adulthood, it’s usually taken as a sign of low self-esteem and possible failure in normal maturation. In actuality, it can also be a trait that, for reasons we don’t understand, afflicts mature people who have worked hard, gained skills, and deserve much more confidence than they ever experience. We don’t think these traits can be changed by treatment, prayer, or, as always, anything short of lobotomy, but we have many ideas on how you can manage self-doubt almost as well as you do your bowels.
I am constantly plagued by negative self-talk. Most days I lack confidence in nearly everything I do. No matter what it never seems to be enough for me. How can I let go of the constant self-judgment and self-criticism? These mental habits sabotage my day–stirring anxiety, panic, and impulsiveness. My goal is to change this internal negativity into something positive, nourishing, and/or helpful. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by fxckfeelings on May 19, 2016
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All of us have insecurities about our looks, but some people, like our reader from earlier this week, have insecurities that can be crippling, overwhelming, and totally undeserved. If you can’t help but obsess over perceived flaws in your appearance, here are five ways to suppress those horribly negative thoughts about your body.
1) Busy Your Brain
The more absorbing the activity, the less opportunity you’ll have to examine your body, think about its shortcomings, and come up with ideas about what you did wrong. If it’s work, you’ll also get paid, and if it’s exercise, you’ll get healthy and improve your body in other ways. In any case, it’s do-it-yourself therapy that’s far cheaper than the conventional kind with other incidental rewards.
2) Stay Social
Socializing with close friends keeps you busy and distracted while also giving you comfort and social feedback that contradicts your sense of repulsiveness. Through those friends you may actually find other people who like to be with you and even look at you. It won’t stop the thoughts, but it is a good distraction from them that also gives you ammunition to contradict them.
3) Train Your Thoughts
Therapists can give you fact-based ideas to use to contradict your negative thoughts with positive truths. When the negative thoughts creep in, repeat these truths to yourself in order to repel or even prevent those negative thoughts from invading your beliefs and devaluing what you should be proud of.
4) Prioritize Peace of Mind
If you want something less strenuous than exercise to keep your brain busy, you can learn how to meditate, shut off your mind and, if possible, hypnotize yourself into a relaxed state. Become expert on the various techniques for inducing relaxation and pursue whichever ones seem to best suit your style. Then do them regularly, no matter what your state of mind.
5) Observe Self-Censorship
Prevent yourself from indulging your negative thoughts out loud and talk about your body with nothing but respect, even when you’re letting others know about the negative thoughts you’re having. Never repeat those negative thoughts in a tone of affirmative belief. Make it clear you’re not looking for reassurance and that you won’t let your body-part-abhorrence change the way you behave or how you socialize, just that this is what goes through your mind and you’re doing what you can to keep it under control and away from your day-to-day life.
Posted by fxckfeelings on May 4, 2016
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Maybe it’s an extension of normal perfectionism, but obsessing over perceived physical imperfections is an affliction that sometimes happens to very good people. Unfortunately, doctors have neither been able to find the reason behind nor the cure for these obsessive thoughts, but if you’re one of those unfortunate people, you aren’t totally without hope. Though feelings of ugliness are painful and hard to bear, there are ways to remind yourself that they aren’t the truth, and that your future never need be as ugly as the thoughts in your head.
My concern has to do with feeling ugly. I often feel quite not-OK with how I look, specifically my face, and it causes me unease and unhappiness. I also feel I was very unhealthy and underweight in my late teens (from eating very little and working way too hard at school), and that I could/should look better/like my handsome brother, and often just feel kind of this general malaise and shittiness when it comes to my appearance. I can’t imagine ever even wanting to date somebody given how almost guilty and unhappy my looks make me feel. Every mention of attractiveness and even the sight of a pretty girl quickly triggers a twinge of sadness and a kind of sigh and a drive to ruminate, which I’m finding it hard to deal with now and I’m and worried about coping with it in the future when life gets much harder. Right now I live with my parents and am quite comfortable, but I don’t know how I’m going to function when I’m on my own struggling in the real world. I can’t imagine happily meeting friends for brunch and not getting weighed down by the whole, “I look gross as hell and it’s probably my fault and things might very well suck forever and I might be screwed” train of thought. My goal is to be less affected by my feelings about how I look and have some sense of hope about the future.
WAIT! There is more to read… read on »
Posted by fxckfeelings on April 21, 2016
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If you’ve survived a marriage that’s gone horribly awry, as our reader from earlier this month has, it’s hard to make a new commitment without wanting assurance that everything will go exactly according to plan. Before you pressure yourself to find and create a perfect life with your next partner and his kids, it’s important to take a little time and get a realistic idea of what your perfect life would be. Here are five steps to figuring out what your ideal life together would be so you can best decide whether it’s worth taking a second shot at family and, hopefully, happiness.
1) Calculate Kid Time
Depending on how much you loved childrearing the first time around and how much parenting fuel you have left in the tank, figure out your ideal parenting job description with family 2.0. Let your imagination roam from the minimum (frequent babysitting and microwaved meals but no disciplinary responsibilities or butt-wiping) to the ultra-max (you’re the boss, baby-maker, and mommy supreme). Take into account how much time you’d like to yourself or for work, as well as the kind of chemistry you have with your step-kids, because, if you don’t feel that close to them, you won’t feel up to a big investment.
2) Investigate your own interests
When considering how much time you’d ideally like to put aside for yourself, include the treasured hobbies of your single life (e.g., the Sunday crossword, afternoon jogs, the occasional boozy weekend brunch with friends), as well as the powerful ambitions postponed by your first marriage that you may never get to complete unless you do them soon. Then total up the hours required, whether regular or one-shot, and see whether you can balance that number with your new family obligations.
3) Wonder about work
Unless you really love your current job and don’t want to give it up for any reason (and already budgeted for the time it requires above), you should calculate your ideal job and hours in a two-income household. Review your existing income and expenses, as well as your potential partner’s, and see if a partnership shifts you in a desirable direction by giving you more disposable income and/or time.
4) Consider Your Spouse Vs. Being Single
In order to see whether your partner does more to contribute to your “perfect life” than detract from it, add up your new husband’s potential contributions as companion, parent, hunter-gatherer, etc. Then subtract his potential burdens as irritant, expense, and partially disabled albatross/additional adult child. Add a few points for a pleasing personality and good sex, but don’t forget the basics.
5) Wonder About The Worst Case Scenarios
Use all of the above information, along with your social time with him, vacations, and time with his kids to weigh and test out the pros and cons of abandoning the single life you’ve got. Remember, you may no longer have to try to be attractive or win anyone over once you get married, but you will have a new job description, a new round of child-rearing, and a new personality to contend with, so imagine them all at their most exhausting extremes in order to figure out your worst case scenarios. Then you can not only get the best idea of whether you can handle your possible new life, but reduce the possibility of unpleasant surprises and regrets for leaving single life behind.
Once you know what your “perfect” life entails, you’ll be ready to either take a well-thought-out chance or avoid another mistake.
Posted by fxckfeelings on March 24, 2016
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As our reader from earlier this week made clear, it’s sometimes easier to blame yourself for bad luck than accept how little power we have over our luck in the first place. So before needlessly beating yourself up for false mistakes or claiming innocence and blaming fate entirely, take these five steps to evaluate whether you’re causing your bad luck or whether you’re caught being fate’s bitch.
1) Find the Facts
Do the detective work to gather any objective details that connect your actions and responsibilities with what went wrong; facts aren’t based on opinion, so if you hold yourself responsible because you were stupid or lazy, then you aren’t being a smart detective on the case, just a big jerk to yourself. Be specific about what your responsibilities were, what actually happened, when it happened, and how much damage occurred. If the facts show that your actions were, in fact, destructive, then it’s worth looking for larger patterns and help in managing your behavior.
2) Mind Your Motives
It’s easy to tell yourself something bad wouldn’t have happened if you had simply done something differently, e.g., if you’d only left the house ten minutes later or not stayed for that second cup of coffee, you could have prevented all this trouble. Before you go down the black hole of hypotheticals, however, ask yourself whether your choices were intentionally harmful or made you feel good but were thoughtless and potentially dangerous. If the answer is no, then your regrets are pointless, but if you did make knowingly bad choices, you have to work to manage negative impulses.
3) Think In the Third Person
If your friend were in the same situation and asked you whether she had done anything wrong, odds are you wouldn’t judge her as harshly as you judge yourself and blame her for being negligent, stupid or mean; even a stranger would be more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, with only an enemy rushing to condemn you so unforgivingly. Remember, friends don’t decide whether you’re super-smart or perfect, just whether you made reasonable decisions as an imperfect-but-trying-hard human being. So be a friend to yourself and judge accordingly.
4) Spell Out Your Standards
If you can’t get over a guilty feeling simply because things turned out very badly, ask yourself what specific rule you broke. Pretend you’re writing out five rules for people who have to manage the situation that caused you problems, for posting on the wall in the office kitchen of your mind, right near the sign about labeling your food in the fridge and not putting fish in the microwave. If you can’t spell out a rule that you broke, chances are the only rule you broke was, “don’t have bad luck.”
5) Seek Out Smart Opinions
Don’t let shame stop you from telling your story to a friend or professional, like a therapist or even a lawyer, whom you can trust to be impartial. Don’t choose someone who just wants to make you feel good or someone mean, but someone who likes you but is willing to tell it like it is. Present all the facts, asking whether you should have done things differently and, if so, is there a lesson to learn other than that sometimes life sucks. If, after all your opinion seeking, you find that the blame isn’t yours, it’s your responsibility to find a way to move on. If it becomes clear that there are things you could have done differently, your path forward involves finding ways to manage that behavior so it doesn’t mess with your luck in the future.