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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

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 »

Evaluation Route

Posted by fxckfeelings on June 1, 2015

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The only thing people are worse at accurately evaluating than “family values” politicians and Marvel movies is their own character. That’s the drawback of judging something using your emotions and expectations, not facts and fairness; it makes us as apt to judge ourselves too harshly as to excuse ourselves too readily. In any case, don’t trust your self-judging instincts until you’ve examined the facts, reviewed your standards, and decided how you would judge a friend under similar circumstances. Then, however you feel, stand by your verdict/review of Ant Man and act accordingly.
Dr. Lastname

I’ve lost a few really close friends over the years, one after the other, and it’s got me wondering whether I’m really a jerk (or “Asshole™”?) but don’t know it. Most recently, my best friend froze me out when he accused me of hating his boyfriend; I swear I kept my thoughts about him to myself, and besides, I didn’t think the guy was so terrible, but either way, I was shocked when my friend dropped me and I had to hear from someone else that he was married. Before that was the friend who was always mad at me but then went nuclear when I suggested spending less time together, then a handful of ex-boyfriends who think I’m the devil, a job or two I was awkwardly let go from without warning…when everything was happening, I thought I was doing the right thing, but with a such a long enemies list, I have trouble trusting my judgment. My goal is to figure out whether I’m just bad at choosing friends or bad at seeing myself for the jerk/Asshole™ I really am.

Since the first rule of Asshole™ club is never wondering if you’re an Asshole™, you probably aren’t one. On the other hand, the first warning sign that someone’s an Asshole™ is learning that they’ve got a list of people who’ve wronged them that’s longer than the list of ingredients on a can of Pringles, so your concern is understandable.

Of course, everyone can act like an asshole sometimes, but that doesn’t an Asshole™ make, especially since you probably regret that behavior while an Asshole™ would expect a trophy for it. What you need then is a reliable, objective way of examining the moral value of your actions (and the value of those friendships, as well). WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Censure Track

Posted by fxckfeelings on May 14, 2015

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The best way to test someone’s ability may be to put them in a high pressure situation—a mock trial, dinner with a spouse’s divorced parents, Kobayashi Maru, etc.—but the best way to test their character is to see how much responsibility they’re willing to take for things if they go horribly wrong. The ability to read and take criticism depends far more on personality traits and reflex than reason and judgment; that’s why Assholes are amazingly good at pinning responsibility on other people (which is why therapy usually has so little to offer) and nice people are good at figuring out how they caused it to rain. In any case, if you judge yourself as you would anyone else, you’re more likely to use logic rather than instinct. Then you can figure out whether you owe an apology or not, and to whom, and others can figure out whether you’re solid enough to grant a second chance.
Dr. Lastname

I’m usually OK with being single and childless—I’ve had some bad relationships that were far worse than being single, so being independent seems like a fine alternative, and kids will come when I’m ready. When I look at Facebook on Mother’s Day, however, and see pictures of my friends looking all happy with their kids and happy little families, I start to get depressed and hate myself. I’m sure that part of the problem is that my own mother died a couple years ago. My goal is to figure out why the happiness of others makes me feel like such a loser.

Mother’s Day, like weddings, birthdays (including that of Jesus Christ), and all other days that celebrate someone with gift giving, are usually doomed to cause as much pain as pleasure, and sometimes more.

The intention is to make someone feel appreciated and loved by giving them time, love, and shit they don’t need, but it often winds up making more people, including the honoree, feel worse by forcing them to consider all the time, love, and shit they don’t have. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Messed Friends

Posted by fxckfeelings on April 30, 2015

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When relationships fail—and unfortunately, most relationships are as likely to succeed as a Ron Paul presidential campaign—most people focus on figuring out what went wrong at the end. The more useful insight to search for is what went wrong at the beginning, because the problems probably started when you chose the wrong person to trust or the wrong reason to get attached in the first place. When you need to figure out what went wrong, don’t trust your intuition or your version of events. Instead, assess relationships, past, present and future, according to your standards of decent behavior and moderate expectations. Then you’ll be able to determine what went wrong and whether you need to be more selective or more reasonable the next time you put yourself in the running.
Dr. Lastname

Years ago, I was hired by a wealthy guy to plan one of his big parties, and he really liked my taste, so we hit it off as friends. We enjoyed both working together and socializing with our spouses over the years, so I assumed we were good friends, even though I knew he had been very critical and dismissive of other people who worked for him and had a reputation as imperious and nasty. I don’t know what happened but, shortly after planning for our last event got underway, he started to show me the same nasty side he’s turned on others, blaming me for things that weren’t my fault, not accepting explanations, and making demanding phone calls. When he finally fired me, it was a relief but I also felt hurt and tortured by thoughts of what I could have done to prevent this. My goal is to deal with my feelings and figure out a way of getting some relief.

As a provider of luxury services, you’re probably aware of the “princely patron” syndrome: the wealthy client who acts like a generous big shot in return for attention and admiration. Such people are also known as monsters, Trumps, and, most relevant to your situation, Royal Assholes™.

He may give glowing recommendations for you to famous friends and an intimate position in his life, but if you don’t give him full royal deference in return, you may be headed for the gallows. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Industrious Engineering

Posted by fxckfeelings on April 16, 2015

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It’s not great to be a parent who is effective at doing the wrong thing any more than it is to be ineffective at doing the right thing; there’s no job out there with less correlation between effort and results, and with such high stakes besides. Yes, you should get credit for good intentions, even when they get you nowhere, and get away from bad intentions, especially when they get you and/or your kids into trouble. Usually, however, when your goals and methods are realistic and helpful, you have a better chance of accomplishing them and getting the job done.
Dr. Lastname

My daughter is about to graduate from a very impressive college after getting great grades, and I’m very proud of her, but I can’t understand why she’s not trying to look for a good job or a reasonable career. Instead, she wants to defend the downtrodden, so she’s looking for work for an NGO in a troubled part of the world or trying to get an internship with the Innocence Project. She’s had a privileged childhood and a great education she didn’t have to pay for—but that I had to work hard to pay for, thanks very much—so I tell her she should be thinking about using her advantages to get ahead and make a future for herself, rather than worrying about people who’ve had all the bad luck I’ve protected her from. My goal is to get her to take care of herself rather than putting herself at risk for the sake of people she’s got nothing in common with.

Aside from the fact that you believe in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and your daughter is drawn to helping the downtrodden, you’ve got some reason to worry about the risks of her young idealism.

Her heart is in the right place, but her desired work may take her to the kinds of scary places filled with the scary people you feel you’ve worked hard to protect her from.

In addition, you know that life in this country doesn’t provide much of a safety net, so your daughter’s future security will depend a great deal on her ability to find a good job and save money. In other words, if she doesn’t use the advantages you’ve given her to find a lucrative career, she might end up downtrodden herself. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »


Posted by fxckfeelings on April 6, 2015

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Unless you’re a GPS, a chess robot, or a politician, it’s likely that, when it comes to relationships, passion motivates your decision-making more than strategic interests. That’s why we want to reward betrayal with rejection and neediness with nurturing; unfortunately, we forget that caring for and managing our own lives are our primary responsibilities, as well as far more under our control. So put reactive feelings aside until you’ve decided what is most likely to meet your self-responsibilities; that will usually be the more meaningful, most carefully plotted course of action, in the long run, than reacting to what’s been done to you.
Dr. Lastname

I owe my mentor a huge amount—he stuck by me through a long period of unemployment and repeatedly wrote me terrific recommendations—and I thought I’d landed in heaven when he finally arranged for me to work directly for him doing large-company sales, which is what I’ve always wanted, at a time when I needed work more than ever since my youngest daughter got sick. So I was shocked to discover that, once I started working for him, he was often belittling, critical, and frequently humiliating. I’ve asked around (discretely, of course) and found out that other people also think he’s often overbearing and mean; he’s actually been spoken to about it, but he’s so good at what he does that no one is going to fire him. I guess I should feel better that his treatment isn’t personal, but it still feels like a bit of a betrayal to have this man who’s always given me so much support become a source of daily opposition. So my goal is to figure out what to do with him and this job.

Don’t let yourself be distracted by your feelings for what must feel like a betrayal; yes, you should stand up for yourself and you have a right to feel hurt and furious, but standing up for yourself doesn’t mean standing up to anyone else.

That’s an oxymoronic idea that makes your feelings for an abusive Asshole more important than your own values and strategic goals, and thus makes you a slave to their Asshole-ishness. Just because he hurts your feelings doesn’t mean you have to let him hurt your career.

Your goal then isn’t to figure out what to do with your nasty mentor—his views and behavior don’t even matter to management—but to figure out what’s best for yourself, your sick kid, your healthy kids, etc. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Fools of Engagement

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 23, 2015

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Unless you’re a professional football player, litigator, or interventionist (or an amateur Asshole), you probably don’t enjoy confrontation. That’s usually a good thing, since there’s a reason that confrontation and incarceration sound so similar. It’s not good, however, if you’re just putting off a showdown while you try to understand your provocateur’s reasoning, or because you’re too forgiving of confrontation-worthy behavior. Like the football player, self-protection is one of your most important jobs, so learning how and when to take a stand requires the same amount of attention and follow-through as it takes for society to make laws and police to enforce them. If you do your job properly, you’ll know how to get through to someone without having to go pro and/or get into their face.
Dr. Lastname

It took a while for my pizza shop to become successful because I’m an outsider in this very small community, but I’m a friendly person and my pizza is good, so I’m finally starting to get lots of regular customers. My problem is that one of those customers likes to come in for dinner two to three nights a week with his two very hyperactive little kids— they run around the restaurant, yell at one another, and bother all the other customers while dad ignores them, eats his pizza very slowly, and reads the newspaper. He makes me furious because I don’t understand how he can allow his kids to be so rude and obnoxious, and I’m worried about his driving other diners away. I’ve given him dirty looks and cleared his table forcefully, which he ignores. If I say anything, it just sounds angry, random, and, according to my brother who works with me, possibly offensive. My goal is to get this person to either stay away or leave the kids at home.

Whether you’re dealing with customers, relatives, or people who take up an entire overhead bin/park across three spaces/don’t wipe down the gym equipment when they’re done with it, it’s hard not to become over-reactive when people seem to disregard your expectations about personal space.

Unfortunately, the more reasonable you feel your expectations are, the more unreasonable you get when they’re ignored. If you were entirely rational, you’d assume their actions were their problem—evidence of stupidity or insensitivity rather than a personal insult—and do what was necessary to protect yourself. Unfortunately, you are not a robot, and, as such, you know from rage.

To you, rude people should know better and are disrespecting the rules of civilization. If they don’t respond to dirty looks or loud honks—indications that you are on to their willful disrespect—they are defying those rules and deserve punishment. While you, like so many, are tempted to provide that punishment, the result of such feelings, even when you’re dealing with your own kids, is almost always ugly and leads to trouble.

So stop expecting your customers to be civilized, or just knowingly uncivilized, and don’t feel obliged to improve their behavior. Instead, define the limits of bad behavior that you believe are acceptable in the space that’s your responsibility to control, then plan out a safe, polite and effective intervention. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Faux-Win Situation

Posted by fxckfeelings on January 29, 2015

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Strong emotions often push us to act without weighing consequences, simply because we feel helpless and need to take action; that’s why the world has so many unworn expensive shoes, memorial tattoos, and children born just before or after their parents’ divorce. In reality, we’re often screwed no matter how we choose to react, or we’re just panicking for no reason and no action is required in the first place. In any case, no matter the emotional forces, think first and act later, weighing your alternatives and acting only if you think it’s necessary. You might not feel any immediate relief, but in the long run, you won’t have anything (or anyone) to regret.
Dr. Lastname

My grown son has always been very difficult, but his last outburst was just too much. He caught me at a time when I was having a tough time and felt vulnerable, and I told him I thought he was being a selfish, self-centered little shit, so he told me never to talk to him again and hung up. Unfortunately, even if I shouldn’t have said those mean things out loud, I was right; he’s a jerk, so none of his friendships has lasted and his kids are very careful not to aggravate him. Even though I feel really guilty about it, I just can’t bring myself to pick up the phone or write him and try to patch things up. I know that if I don’t reach out to him, I won’t see those kids, but if I do, I’ll have to have a conversation with him, which is just going to be unpleasant and end badly. My goal is to figure out a way to repair our relationship so I won’t dread talking to him or feel bad about being such a heartless parent.

The good news is that you’re living evidence that Asshole™-ishness isn’t always genetic. The bad news is that you have still spawned an Asshole™.

As we’ve said before, Asshole™s can cause serious harm without any real provocation; they’re usually very needy, and their neediness causes them pain that they think is your fault, particularly if you’re a parent or other person who stirs up those feelings by virtue of your very existence.

Asshole™s truly believe you deserve punishment. What you deserve, besides a better son, is protection. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Final Estimation

Posted by fxckfeelings on January 8, 2015

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Unless you’re a robot, lobotomized, or the anti-cable news pundit, it’s impossible to assess a situation without some level of inherent, personal bias. It’s especially difficult if you’re assessing your own decisions; your judgment will appear consistently poor if you’re self-critical, or consistently justified if you’re critical of everyone else. Whatever your nature, don’t leave self-judgment to your reflexes; regardless of whether you tend to blame yourself, others, or both, take time to measure the moral value of your actions, particularly when life forces you to make compromises. Then act accordingly by protecting yourself when you deserve it, and making improvements when that’s what you should do, so you push your bias towards doing what’s best.
Dr. Lastname

My ex-husband isn’t a bad guy, but he was and is a drinker who much prefers hanging out at the bar with the boys. We get along OK though, so we still live in the same house because we can stand to and it’s best for the kids. Lately, however, I haven’t had my usual energy due to my Crohn’s disease, and it bothers me. I always do OK at my full-time job and I never mess up caring for the kids, but I’ve been letting some of the household cleaning chores slide, and my ex has been giving me a hard time about it. I know I’m fucking up, so his criticism really gets to me. My goal is to find a way to restore my energy or at least get him to be more understanding of my condition.

Even if you and your ex are technically apart, it’s nice to keep things peaceful and together for the kids’ sake. It’s not nice, however, if the arrangement is putting so much pressure on you that you’re coming apart at the seams.

If you focus too much on responding to criticism and forget about whether you do or don’t deserve it, you take responsibility for shit you don’t control. And just because your ex can’t control his drinking doesn’t mean you can’t control your reaction to his complaints. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Faux Self-Opinion

Posted by fxckfeelings on December 4, 2014

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Loserdom, like Asshole™-itis, bigotry, or lupus, is rarely a problem for those who’ve convinced themselves they have it, and often a problem for those who’d never consider themselves susceptible. When you’re lonely, it’s easy to see yourself as a loser, and if you’re living with an Asshole™, it’s easy to get won over by his belief that everybody’s a loser but him. So, if you feel like a loser, check to see if you’re being unfair to yourself or too fair to somebody else. Then rate yourself carefully, give yourself the respect you deserve, and lose your bullshit diagnosis for good.
Dr. Lastname

I escape into work, but really don’t have much of a life. I’ve worked in city government for 10 years and, since I’m really shy and not very attractive to girls, I haven’t had much success cultivating a social life, but I’m enthusiastic about my job. I enjoy mentoring younger co-workers, volunteering at city shelters, and coaching youth sports. My boss says she doesn’t know what she’d do without me, but it worries me that everyone else seems to have a personal life and I don’t. My goal is to live a more normal, balanced life and have a family.

Many of the expectations of a “normal” life are, generally speaking, sensible—going to college, getting married, and having a career are all smart things to pursue—but they’re also not possible or just desirable for everyone. Given that “normal” people also spend tens of thousands of dollars on weddings and line up overnight to buy new telephones, however, being “normal” is often overrated.

Very good people can have very real impediments to normalcy, like lacking some skill, or living in the wrong place with people who are on a different wavelength, so they don’t get the same social opportunities as others who may be much less talented or hardworking. They aren’t weird or inferior, just unlucky or unique. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

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