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Goals, not wishes-- I'm a doctor, not a genie.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Disorder Form, Part 2

Posted by fxckfeelings on August 13, 2015

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Finding equilibrium in your life is hard; as we discussed earlier this week, creating balance in a family of unbalanced people is nearly impossible. In other families, however, you can coach someone into a new, more positive direction. In doing so, you can help them create more security in their own lives, improving their balance and strengthening your bonds instead of risking them.
Dr. Lastname

I worry about my son because he’s had a hard time getting his life started since he graduated from college a few years ago. He’s very bright and was always a hard worker, but, right after he graduated, it took him a long time to get going and find a job, probably due to a combination of depression, anxiety, and no focus. In any case, he’s now working, but he needs a graduate degree if he wants to make a decent salary in his field and have any sort of financial security, and he never gets around to applying or even looking into possible local programs. He’s not touchy about being pushed, but I hate the idea of nagging him. My goal is to get him to see that he needs to do more if he really wants to be independent.

Helping kids get organized does not require nagging, just administration. Remember, a good boss doesn’t nag, just sets a clear direction for a good reason, assumes that’s what you want to do, and helps you get there. Take that approach as a parent, particularly when, as in your case, your son doesn’t get angry about being advised, encouraged, or incentivized. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Monster Barrage

Posted by fxckfeelings on July 16, 2015

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Deciding whether or not to accept the challenge to fight an Asshole™ shouldn’t be difficult—whether you’re facing an Asshole™ or an actual asshole, every instinct should tell you to get the hell out of there. Of course, sometimes the Asshole™ seems like the only thing standing between you and justice, so before you go “mano a anus,” consider the validity of your anger, the likelihood of ancillary damage and cost, and the value of whatever it is you hope to win. Then, whether you’re the one who must do the fighting or just counseling someone else, you’ll come up with a strategy for either fighting or fleeing that will have the least-shitty results.
Dr. Lastname

My father died recently and my unmarried younger sister still lives in the family house with our elderly mother who is now struggling with memory loss. Over the years we have been a dysfunctional family with a lot of sibling rivalry, and my brother and I find our sister argumentative and difficult. Being around her for any length of time involves walking on eggshells and she and our mother have a turbulent relationship although she is her favorite child. My parents’ will states we will all benefit equally upon our mother’s death but now our sister is trying to emotionally blackmail us into pledging the house to her. She feels that she deserves it as she is the main caregiver. However, she has been supported by her for years and has always been hesitant to find work. We find it distasteful to be arguing about money with our mother still living and our father deceased just weeks ago. My brother and I are both happy to inherit our fair share when the time comes but worry that our sister will syphon off the funds my mother has and expect to keep the house as well. We feel like vultures in wait and do not wish for bitterness or conflict but our sister is often unreasonable and bombastic and we have problems of our own. My goal is to find a way to withstand manipulation and protect our interests without causing our mother’s remaining time to be made unhappy and stressful.

The feeling of unfairness is like the emotional salt in the psychic wound left by loss. After all, it never feels fair when you lose someone you love, but having that pain exacerbated by an Asshole™ sibling adds extra sting to the agony.

It’s hard to avoid becoming paralyzed by that pain, as well as guilt over the anguish you could cause your mother by arguing with your sister. Before you go to war with your sister, however, give thought to whether winning a victory would be meaningful, or even possible, given her Asshole™ tendencies.

Your sister is being totally unfair and unreasonable, but as with mortality itself, there’s a point when you have to lay down arms and give in to the inevitable. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Wrong Guard

Posted by fxckfeelings on July 13, 2015

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Protectiveness isn’t just a noble family virtue, but a likely evolution-driven behavior, instilled in us to insure the survival of the family genome (or at least another generation of helicopter Neanderthals). Unfortunately, the urge to protect is also usually emotion-driven, thus making it liable to backfire. It’s not unusual then, especially when it comes to your fellow genome holders, for you to have to protect yourself from someone’s misguided protectiveness, protect someone you care about from their own protection-driven behaviors, or both. So use careful reasoning to determine when protection is possible, when it’s not, and when it’s likely to do more harm than good. You’ll actually become a good protector if you react less to feelings and more to what’s truly best for your family’s future.
Dr. Lastname

My father is well-meaning but a little loopy, especially now that he’s older, and somehow he got it into his head that my wife is cheating on me with a handsome, younger co-worker. In reality, my wife and I are very happy, and we like and occasionally socialize with this co-worker and his husband, but clearly, it ends there. Still, every time dad visits he gives my wife dirty looks and tries to take me aside to tell me I can’t trust her. She and I used to laugh about it, but now that my dad’s been harping on this bullshit for over a year, it’s starting to get on our nerves and our kids, while young, are starting to suspect that grandpa’s upset about something and want to know what it is. I’ve tried to reassure my father that it’s just in his imagination and to keep it there, but he can’t stop. My goal is to figure out a way my father can spend time with my family without causing my wife pain and upsetting the kids.

Keeping the peace within a family isn’t always easy; it’s hard under your own roof, but even harder when you’re running interference between the family you’ve created and the family that created you. Sometimes, however, the efforts required to keep everyone happy aren’t just doomed to failure, but to make you (and others) miserable.

Your natural instinct is to work harder and try to meet everyone’s needs—your wife and kids, your job, your misguided old man—but there are times when the demands become impossible, and instead of dedicating boundless energy towards making things work, you have to create boundaries and instruct others to work around them. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Breaking Sad

Posted by fxckfeelings on July 9, 2015

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People often have simple, easy expectations about complicated, difficult feelings; grief should resolve itself with time, and overwhelming guilt should be resolved by redeeming actions. Of course, grief doesn’t always disappear on schedule, if ever, and guilt shouldn’t become overwhelming unless you’ve actually done something wrong. So don’t grieve for persistent grieving and do feel guilty for over-reacting to guilt. Adjust your expectations, hold on to your values, and get used to the simple fact that painful feelings have a logic of their own.
Dr. Lastname

I lost my son ten years ago when he was hit by a drunk driver, but I still think about him every day, and sadness comes back periodically. I’ve always liked to stick with the things I liked—I’ve had the same job for many years, the same friends and hobbies, and I’m often reasonably happy—but he was my only kid, I never remarried after his father left us, and I just sometimes wonder whether I should still be thinking about him and feeling sad so frequently, even after all these years. My goal is to learn to accept his death in a healthy way so I don’t grieve forever.

Like rage and exhaustion, grieving is one of those feelings that you’re only “allowed” to experience for a limited amount of time; otherwise, everyone around you wants to kill you, and that’s only if your emotional-overdose doesn’t kill you first.

While rage and exhaustion really can burn you out, grieving over a death, even for ten years, isn’t necessarily unhealthy or unusual, and it certainly isn’t guaranteed to hasten your own demise.

In reality, people differ in the depth of their attachments and life doesn’t always offer second chances. So your experience with prolonged grief after losing your only son may be unavoidable, if uncomfortable, and, of course, sad.

After all, you’re the type of person who experiences strong, lasting attachments, so your relationship with your son would probably have been central to your life if he were still alive. Based on your long history with the same job and friends, it seems that you’re also the sort of person who values continuity and relationships over adventure, change, and new experience.

The pain of prolonged grieving could have become destructive if it caused you to lose interest in relationships or the values that shaped your life, but that isn’t the case. You’re living the life you want to lead; you just miss your son.

It’s hard to live with grief, so don’t make it worse by wondering why you can’t make it stop. Certain kinds of grief never end, but that’s what comes of loving, having children, and being fully committed to them. You wouldn’t want to be a different person; you’d just want life to less cruel to people like you.

So don’t question lasting sorrow. It’s a reflection of the loving relationship you had with your son, it hasn’t stopped you from leading a meaningful life, and it’s a key part of that meaning and of who you are. You have moved on in so many ways, even if your heart hasn’t.

Don’t feel bad about feeling bad; feel good about having a good relationship with your kid, even if he isn’t here anymore.

STATEMENT:
“When I find myself still grieving for my son after many years, I wonder if I’ve really moved on. I know, however, that I’ve made the most of what life has offered me even when it’s been unbearably painful, and grief hasn’t changed what I care about or have tried to achieve.”

I can’t stop feeling like I screwed up because an executive I hired a year ago feels I hired him under false pretenses. It’s true, his prospects changed recently when I relocated our company, but, when I hired him, I didn’t know that was going to happen. He doesn’t accept my explanation, however, and feels I’ve derailed his career, or at least uprooted his life. The situation reminds me of my mother, who always lamented how becoming a parent sidetracked her career, and I hate the idea of making anyone feel that way. My goal is to stop feeling guilty all the time.

As a manager, your job is to allocate responsibility fairly after considering a person’s job description and workload, and to avoid making anyone responsible simply because you need someone to blame. That might be emotionally satisfying, but it’s bad management. Especially if the person you’re mindlessly assigning blame to is yourself.

Don’t let yourself become responsible for an employee’s unhappiness, or even your mother’s unhappiness, without first stopping to examine the facts.

You suggest that you did nothing wrong, but you continue to blame yourself because he does. Forget about him then and consider your job description and what you could or couldn’t do about his career. Then ask yourself whether you treated him properly. If you met your own standards, then give yourself the right to disagree and to decline responsibility for ruining his life.

It’s hard to watch someone feel his life is ruined. Even though life sometimes takes a turn for the worse, however, it’s seldom helpful for anyone to see himself as a helpless victim who can do nothing to improve his situation but blame his problem on someone else. Taking on responsibility for other people’s problems doesn’t just hurt you; it also hurts them by giving them an excuse not to look for a solution.

So don’t take responsibility you don’t deserve and don’t listen to whining; you have a responsibility to protect yourself. Maybe you acquired the habit of feeling responsible for the sad lives of others as a child, but you’re an adult now, and a boss, and the blame stops with you.

STATEMENT:
“I feel terrible to hear someone say I’ve ruined their lives. I know, however, that I haven’t done anything wrong and that, if someone’s luck is bad, it’s their job to make the best of things without complaining. I will no longer accept undeserved blame or listen to unhealthy complaints.”

Control-Option-Complete

Posted by fxckfeelings on June 15, 2015

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It’s strange that, as children, we’re pushed to declare what we want to be when we grow up, and then get disappointed with ourselves when we can’t achieve that goal, even though most kids want to grow up to be king or a dinosaur. If you get to adulthood without an idea of what you want to be, plausible or no, you may feel doomed if uncertainty and indecisiveness make such decisions difficult or illness makes your chosen path impossible. In reality, what matters most is not choosing a career or doing well at it, but being a decent and independent person as you find your way in life. Then, whether a career appears or, like the dinosaurs themselves, comes to a premature end, you will grow to be a strong person who can be proud of your choices.
Dr. Lastname

I’m in my mid-20s and struggling from some choice-paralysis in regards to my career. I went to college on the other side of the country a few years ago and obtained an arts degree (I know, I know – bad move), and am doing administrative work. I find it deeply unsatisfying but it pays quite well, considering. I also know that if I wanted, I could build a solid career here in something practical, I would just have to decide which career. On top of that, my family is here, and I’ve taken up meaningful volunteer work. I have some friends with their masters that are starting up serious careers, and then some that are doing things like buying houses and getting pregnant, which makes me feel like maybe I should just find a boyfriend and start settling too. On the other hand, I deeply want change, a bigger city and different industry options. I got into a program at a college in a bigger city on the other side of the country, and it’s probably as useless as my current degree, but I would love to go back to school and be more qualified in something. Also, this city I would be moving to has more varied industries. But leaving my job and going back to school on the other side of the country means I would have to take out more student loans which just seems stupid. I know there is no right answer and that everyone goes through this in a way—if I go, I can always come back—but the part of me that wants to be pragmatic knows that with my current debt, moving would actually set me back a lot. My goal is to reconcile my desire for a cool arts job in a bustling city with my growing desire to be practical and either make a decision to find something that works for me here, or move, explore other options, and not look back.

Like marriage, a career is about the long game and shouldn’t be judged by its immediate rewards, be they to your mood, wallet, self-esteem, etc. Besides, while marriage is hard work, a career is just hard work; the only way to get the same kind of bliss from a new job as you would as a newly wed is to start working in porn.

Once you take that into account, it’s becomes easier to simplify your career choices, particularly when it comes to work, going to school, or change in general. Right now, in your mid-twenties, you have a great opportunity to explore career options, new cities, even sexualities if you’re so inclined, all without having to worry too much about pay or security. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Able-Ready

Posted by fxckfeelings on June 11, 2015

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While the old saying may be that the best way to make God laugh is to make a plan, there is something to be said for preparedness in the face of uncertainty. Of course, if you’re very nervous, you’ll never feel prepared enough, and if you’re unaware of the real dangers, you’ll risk becoming overconfident. So learn how to be open to doubt when you have a problem to manage. You may not feel as passionately certain about your position, but you’re more likely to be persuasive while side-stepping conflict and making a Higher Power giggle.
Dr. Lastname

After several years of separation, I am now negotiating a divorce settlement to secure my future. My ex has a history of dishonesty and is with a woman who resents his long history with me and uses ultimatums and pressure to influence his rather weak behavior. We are on reasonable terms, however, and I have learned to disengage and put aside strong emotions in my dealings with him. He is all for settling by mediation but I feel vulnerable as trust is lacking and I need to get a good deal here. I am having an experienced divorce lawyer advise me through the mediation process with a back up plan of asking him to take over if I am unhappy with the progress. I am meeting with my lawyer soon and then must negotiate with my ex regarding dividing our assets and dismantling the legal side of our long marriage, and I’m not absolutely confident that my ex and I will be able to get through the process without a lot of unnecessary and destructive hostility. My goal here is to find a way to focus on a secure future, to protect myself from being ripped off and to avoid falling into the trap of high conflict/low resolution angry exchange that was my default setting in the marriage.

When entering a hostile negotiation, it’s always tempting to, in the words of Bull Durham, “assert your presence with authority.” And it might feel smart to set the tone that you’re tough and won’t be fucked with, but more often it makes the other person think that you’re so tough, you’re about to fuck with him, and it’s all downhill from there.

It’s natural to be nervous, but it’s more important to remind yourself of all the smart things you’ve done to keep this process from getting ugly. Or to at least keep an ugly process from becoming a disaster. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Many Crappy Returns

Posted by fxckfeelings on June 8, 2015

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We spend endless amounts of time wishing happiness on our friends and pain on our enemies, if only because their respective happiness and misery gives us pleasure, as well; there’s at least one German word and a few nighttime soap operas that sum up the concept well. Trouble is, of course, that happiness is a deceptive drug and punishment has unintended consequences, so our cathartic needs are a poor guide for what we should actually do. Even if you can’t help but cheer on friends and flip off villains, don’t take any real action until you can carefully consider the limits of what you actually control and how you wish things to turn out. Then you’re much more likely to get a glücklich ending.
Dr. Lastname

I’m worried about my sister’s recent engagement because she hasn’t known the guy that long and she’s been very vulnerable since her divorce from her unfaithful ex-husband. On the other hand, she seems so happy after such a long period of misery, and I think that’s all that really counts. The guy is probably fine, but we just don’t know much about him, and things have moved very quickly. I know that if I ask her to slow things down, she’ll tell me how happy she is, implying that I’m trying to rain on her parade. My goal is to help her be happy.

As we’ve said many times, a good marriage should provide many things—a trustworthy partner to share responsibilities with, the ability to use the carpool lane, someone to always take the blame—but immediate happiness is not one of them.

Marriage is a forever commitment, and happiness is a fleeting emotion; marrying someone because they make you happy makes as much sense as getting hungry and investing everything in a restaurant. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Choice Recognition

Posted by fxckfeelings on June 4, 2015

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Credit, be it personal or plastic, is often given too freely to people or things we’re desperate to hold onto in order to make ourselves feel better. Paradoxically, we also tend to deprive ourselves of that credit too easily, so we end up feeling miserable, anyway. Before letting fear or perfectionism or a the lure of Amazon one-click control your credit decisions, think hard about what you have a right to expect and what’s good enough by your standards. Then you’ll make better decisions about friendship, and have a better appreciation for yourself, others, and for appreciation itself.
Dr. Lastname

I’m a single mother in my late 30’s, two years out of an abusive marriage for which I did get some therapy, but probably not enough. I met a man six months out (way too soon, I know) and we agreed that we would “date” casually as friends. Of course I developed feelings for him and I’ve come to realize that I am not a “friends with benefits” kind of person. The problem is that we have been seeing each other for almost two years. Every couple of month or so he pulls back, but we always end up seeing each other again, and each time the relationship advances a little further. He also has his issues, mostly childhood drama due to losing his parents young. We’re currently on a break of his request, but he has texted me every day, says he wants me as part of his life but he needs space, etc. I want to be in his life, but as a committed partner. Sometimes I feel like he is stringing me along, and other times I think he is afraid to let himself love me. My goal is to figure out if I should I just walk away and try to forget him—which I don’t think I even know how do I do that—or wait for him to take another step forward.

As you know, one of the biggest obstacles to finding a good partner is not being able to lose a less-than-good one. In other words, as long as this guy keeps stringing you along, you’re keeping a better relationship away.

The first thing to decide is whether your feelings for Mr. Off-and-On can work to your benefit; ask yourself whether you enjoy the good times more than you suffer from his absences, and if, during the absences, you can put your pain aside and enjoy life or even dates with other prospective mates. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Blame of Your Existence

Posted by fxckfeelings on May 28, 2015

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Just as some people believe that any illness can be cured with Robitussin and everything improved by a healthy dollop of ranch dressing, there are too many people who think that the solution to any conflict is found through promptly and randomly placing blame. Unfortunately, this belief is as smart and healthy as the ones involving ‘tussin and tangy fat, because we tend to find blame in all the wrong places. We like to blame others for our own faults, either out of self-protection or because we’re really blind to our own mistakes. Then other times we unfairly blame ourselves because we can’t stop feeling responsible for shit we can’t possibly change. In any case, don’t blame anyone just because your feelings tell you to. Examine your standards, the nature of the problem, and what people are actually capable of doing before you decide whom to blame and what to do about it. The answer may involve ranch dressing, after all.
Dr. Lastname

I thought I’ve been doing well in my new actuarial job at an insurance company, so I was shocked when my boss dressed me down for missing a deadline that I thought he didn’t really care about and implied wasn’t that important, anyway. He also told me that one of my colleagues was pissed at me, which came out of nowhere and was just as upsetting, especially since I thought that colleague liked to joke around with me. My goal is to figure out what’s wrong with my boss that he would randomly lash out at me in that way.

When someone you thought was happy with you suddenly and plainly makes their unhappiness known, it’s at best confusing, and at worst, it’s evidence that one of you has had a stroke. And, given your history of not smelling burnt toast, it’s easy to see the other guy as the problem.

In the wake of this revelation, you’re forced to figure out what really happened—you have to take the lead on a CSI: Tantrum—so you have good reason to first wonder if the person who lashed out at you was in a bad mood or tends to do this kind of thing regularly. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Control Stop

Posted by fxckfeelings on May 11, 2015

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Humans have long struggled to control strong emotions—to put limits on our heart’s desires or angry thirst for justice—but those emotions can become even more dangerous when they push us to try to control other people. You may want to control someone because you love him, or you may hate someone because she’s trying to control you, but in any battle for control, be it over passions, loved ones, or central Asia, there are very few victories. If you can tolerate those urges without allowing them to drive your priorities and control your mouth, however, you can avoid an epic struggle. You might not be in control, but at least you’ll be free.
Dr. Lastname

My stepfather recently went to the doctor and got diagnosed with pre-diabetes and some other things. This means that he would have to stop drinking and smoking. It’s been a month or two since then though and he hasn’t done a thing. I feel so angry and scared for him whenever I see him making a drink or smoking because it’s like he’s just pretending it will go away. Some of his logic is that some people smoke and drink for years and they live to be 90, but his parents deal with some pretty life-threatening health risks. I think to myself, “doesn’t he realize how serious these issues can get?” I talked to my mother about it and she says that he said he won’t give up drinking entirely, if at all. I feel so incensed because he is making us watch him ruin his body and his health. I know it would be hard for him but I feel like he should just suck it up, because if he doesn’t want to do it for himself, shouldn’t he be doing it for us? We’ve talked to him about it and he just blows us off. I think he is an alcoholic and I don’t know what to do. I can barely look at him but I want to help him. I don’t think he will ever admit to his problem and he won’t ever go get help for it. My goal is to figure out a plan because I can’t stand to see him kill himself like this.

When you share a strong bond with someone, you don’t just have feelings for them, but with them; it’s hard to watch someone you love suffering because, when you really care about him, you’ll experience his suffering, as well. The pain you feel if you lose him, however, will be yours to bear alone.

Trying to steer him away from possible distress, however, often makes your own distress worse, because you can’t control his decisions, addictions, or decisions about addictions, and pushing usually causes push back. You can share each other’s pain, even if it comes from accidentally hurting each other. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

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