Carolyn Hax: Sharing in therapy; using profanity; marrying a smoker; origin stories

Carolyn Hax
Columnist March 30, 2012

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

On telling difficult truths in therapy:

A big benefit of both therapy and groups such as Al-Anon, I’ve found, is that when you hear what you’ve been thinking and feeling coming out of your mouth, in front of another human being, it changes your perspective right there. Saying it out loud is enormously powerful.

For some reason, [kvetching] to your best friend or sister does not have this power.


L.

Most “totally whacked”* people never seek help; they think it’s everyone else’s problem. Therapy clients are normal people needing to figure something out or having symptoms that all of us experience at one time or another.

Therapist in Maryland

*Quoting the Feb. 21 column.

On profanity and what it says about people who use it:

When my children were young, I told them that what would pass at home or among their friends would get them in trouble with teachers or could offend other families, so they needed to be fluent in two “languages,” just as if it were English and Spanish. They got the message, became “bilingual” and were never in trouble.

Melo in Ohio

On marrying a smoker:

My own dear, great-guy husband had a heart attack at 41, but he smokes. He won’t smoke in front of the kids, which is great, but instead his solution is to find a million and one reasons to leave the house so he can smoke: the car needs gas, going to go see if there are any good movies at the Redbox, going to take the pool water to be tested, needing a bag of mulch, etc. Of course, these trips are never consolidated into one, they’re always spaced out. Every time he does this, he is choosing the smoking over his family by (1) leaving us to go smoke and (2) hastening his demise. (See: “heart attack at 41.”)

I’m at the end of my patience with it all and wish I could talk to my 20-something self. I’m pretty sure when the kids are gone, I won’t be far behind.

Florida

On taking offense when people ask where you’re from:

I am a disabled American: I’ve never had the opportunity to travel outside the States. I’m also fascinated by all cultures and the history behind them, and I love people.

I often ask others, “Where are you from?” and I’ve always gotten lovely answers, such as “I’m from Ethiopia” or “I was born in the States, but my parents come from Scandinavia.”

From there I can ask questions about their culture, and I’ve made many solid and lovely friendships with people who started off as strangers.

Many times, a person from, say, North Africa will give me a Web address to look up that person’s history/culture, which I love getting, as it broadens my mind and heart.

I suggest that people who bristle at being asked “Where are you from?” should start asking others, “Where are you from?” They might get some wonderful answers, and they’ll find out that most people are happy to answer that question in a kind and generous way.

A.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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