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

Monday, September 25, 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 »

Nuclear Over-Reactor

Posted by fxckfeelings on June 29, 2015

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Your brain’s ability to identify problems is a lot like that of a drug-sniffing dog, which is to say, despite its training and experience, it still occasionally confuses flour with cocaine or gives the OK to a cargo ship packed with heroin. In order to avoid overreacting to a non-problem or writing off something dangerous, think carefully about the consequences of problems and your intuitive response before deciding whether you need to act or sit on your hands. That way, you’ll be a more effective problem-assessor (and possibly problem solver) and more than earn a treat.
Dr. Lastname

Since my husband and I divorced, I feel like my daughter is slipping away. The divorce wasn’t bitter, but my daughter has the same sensitive temperament as my ex-husband and just generally takes after him more, so she seems more comfortable with him than with me. She and I love one another, but we don’t have the same natural rapport that she and her father have, so, all things being equal, it makes me feel a little on edge when we’re together. When I try harder to show I care (buy her clothes, take her to concerts, etc.), it seems to make her more uncomfortable. I feel like I’m losing the most important relationship left in my family, and I should encourage her to tell me why I make her nervous. My goal is to find a way to make our relationship work.

It’s natural to think you can get closer to your kid by being more like the person she’s close to. Unfortunately, trying to be like someone you’re not is like a dog trying to walk only on his hind legs; it’s hard work, curious and awkward for everybody nearby, and eventually, you’ll be unable to resist returning to a natural/quadruped state.

That’s why a major requirement for partnership is finding someone who can accept your temperament the way it is, which might also explain why your partnership with your husband wasn’t sustainable. Either way, you can still have a successful partnership with your kid, even if you aren’t 100% compatible. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Task Asker

Posted by fxckfeelings on June 25, 2015

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Taking on responsibility is like drinking fine wine; the right amount will make you feel pleasant and, as of the latest study, improve your health, but the wrong amount will either leave you flat or flat on your face. Unfortunately, how much responsibility we decline or assume is too often a matter of thoughtless emotion and habit rather than reasoned consideration. So develop your own procedures for examining the responsibility that you should really claim. Your result will always reflect your best efforts if you drink/choose responsibilities, well, responsibly.
Dr. Lastname

My girlfriend is very nice to her father, who doesn’t like to let her out of his sight during her visits (which are every weekend, rain or shine). He’s always had weird mood swings though, going unpredictably from doting to totally paranoid, so she does her best never to rock his boat. I thought she’d be happy when I offered to come along—given that the visits take up most of her weekends, going with her would make it easier for us to see each other—and initially, she was excited for me to join her. As his mood started to change during that first visit, however, she became very controlling and nasty with me. She said she wanted to protect me and also make sure I didn’t upset him, but she was just plain rude, and I felt she needed to know how abusive she’d become, which then triggered a big fight. My goal is to see her father get some help, because if he can work out his issues, maybe she will have no reason to become so unpleasant.

It’s not unusual for people who bend over backwards with kindness to snap into rage; bend anything too far and it’s bound to snap eventually. Unfortunately, the person who gets snapped at isn’t always the person who was doing the pushing in the first place.

These types knock themselves out to be unselfish and meet the needs of others, but instead of getting thanks and cooperation, they get obstruction, demands and criticism, which, understandably, can make them a bit testy. Then they feel guilty for their nasty words, and have to try even harder to do the backwards-bending Pilates. If they didn’t snap, they end up twisted into a human Cinnabon. 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 »

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 »

Knowledge is Sour

Posted by fxckfeelings on April 2, 2015

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When faced with a seemingly insurmountable issue—an illness, personality flaw, really ugly feet—most people think that getting to the bottom of that issue and finding an answer of some kind is their ultimate goal, when in reality, it’s just the beginning. Too often, they’re actually looking for someone to blame or focusing on one small problem and ignoring the big picture. So don’t let helplessness guide your assumptions, your searches, or your choices in footwear. Ask yourself what answers you’re really looking for and whether you actually know more or less than you think you do and, given that knowledge, whether anything other than life is really to blame.
Dr. Lastname

I can’t stand seeing how depressed my husband is, and no medication seems to help. Several things he tried were very promising at first but then pooped out or quickly caused side effects that made him even more miserable. I can’t get a straight answer from his doctors as to why they’re not working or whether his symptoms are from his illness or being over-medicated. No one seems to know what they’re doing, or what to try, or why the medication isn’t working, or when to stop when they’re not working…I feel really lost. My goal is to find some way to get his treatment on track.

When treatment doesn’t work, it’s natural to feel helpless and look for an explanation. Both fortunately and unfortunately, for most psychiatric problems, the answer is simple– treatment often doesn’t work.

Remember, the scientific meaning for “effective” is “better than nothing,” not “usually works.” And when “better than nothing” translates to “maybe less terrible than normal,” it’s easy to feel effectively screwed. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Reality Low

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 30, 2015

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The feeling that your life isn’t real—either because it’s not what you expected or wanted it to be, you live more in your head, or because you literally believe in The Matrix—can be disturbing or comforting. For some people, the disconnect comes from liking imaginary worlds more, while others start feeling their reality is false when it unexpectedly disappoints or traumatizes them. Whether life feels real or not, however, should not determine how you live it. Decide what’s important in terms of the value you place on your work or relationships, however real they feel. Then you’ll find meaning in what you do, no matter what color pill you decide to swallow.
Dr. Lastname

Reality, when it’s not rotten, is tedious. Since I was a kid, I’ve escaped into fantasy. This usually involves listening to loud music and playing the same film clip for hours while I pace and daydream about things that could not possibly happen. You might think I live in my parents’ basement, but no–I have a career in the one realistic endeavor I ever pursued successfully plus a nice home in a big city. I thought I would love my career, but I chose the wrong thing. I have never been able to pursue any goals for myself that I did not deem necessary for my continued existence. So, I can run my branch but I never learned martial arts, drawing, dancing, playing chess, or anything I do in my daydreams etc. It’s also difficult to make friends (surprise!) and as my life experience is so unlike theirs, it’s very hard for me to understand what my friends are feeling when they relate their woes. I just pretend to. I have not had a “boyfriend” in 20 years–I don’t tell them that. It’s a strange compulsion. Nothing makes me happier than to daydream in this repetitive way; however, I’m perfectly aware it has blighted my life. I never did drugs, got drunk, etc. I do this. My sister used to do it too but just grew out of it on her own. My goal is to stop this weird daydreaming and pursue the couple realistic goals I have in the second half of my life.

People talk about daydreaming as if it’s a way of discovering and connecting with what you really want to do, but for certain people it’s more of a way to disconnect with what your life really is. As escapes go, it’s less romantic, more witness protection program.

This is because of the way some minds work, namely by turning something creative into a compulsion. It’s possible that, for you, daydreaming about grand achievements while watching the same movie clip over and over is a kind of OCD/rumination that feels good and makes you feel less anxious. It relaxes you, but it also restricts your ability to function in a meaningful way. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

Pity Limits

Posted by fxckfeelings on March 16, 2015

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For most people, or at least those that aren’t evil, cyborgs, and/or hardcore Libertarians, it’s instinctive to want to help someone close to us when they’re down on themselves and their lives. Unfortunately, it’s also instinctive to want to hurt those same people if they won’t hear your advice or are faking helplessness in the first place. Avoid wasting time, effort, and needless anger by not feeling obliged to repeat help that isn’t really helpful. You may be more helpful by reminding them of their choices, assuming they have the strength to cope with them, and reminding yourself that being a not-cyborg doesn’t mean you can help everyone.
Dr. Lastname

My baby brother is having a tough time with his wife, and he’s willing to tell me how her drinking is screwing up their family, but it’s amazing how quickly he can go from talking shit about her to defending her if I even tried to agree with him. Not that I would ever try or tell him to leave, because he always tends to do the opposite of what I suggest, anyway (just in general, but especially when it comes to her). Plus he really loves her and thinks he can change her, so he keeps on telling me what he told her and how it ended in a big fight, and then I think to myself how not surprising her reaction is and how she’s never going to change, but I just have to bite my tongue. I’m getting really sick of hearing about how crazy she makes him, and even more sick of not being able to say anything. My goal is to get him to see that she’s ruining his life before his endless bitching ruins mine.

You may feel you’re being called on to provide emotional support for your brother, given all the emotion he lays upon you. Unfortunately, given his reaction to your attempts at support, you think he doesn’t want your honest thoughts as much as he just wants a captive audience.

Were he to let you help him with his problems, you could tell him you feel his pain, second his assertions, and, given your level of empathy, tell him what you would do. It would be a win-win reaction, because you could help him to both feel better and change the subject.

Unfortunately, your brother doesn’t seem to want your help or to stop bitching, and, like you said, you don’t want to hear it anymore. WAIT! There is more to read… read on »

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