Transcript

"Baggage Check"

Andrea Bonior, Ph. D.
Advice Columnist
Tuesday, March 7, 2006; 1:00 PM

Psychotherapist and Express columnist Dr. Andrea Bonior ("Baggage Check") will be online Tuesday, March 7, at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions about mental health and emotional wellness.

Submit your questions and comments before or during today's discussion.

Bonior is moving to Express' new Tuesday Fit section, which covers health, exercise, nutrition and more. She'll continue to answer questions about personal, family and mental health issues. She appears online occasionally to offer real-time advice to the masses.

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Andrea Bonior: Hey, hey! Welcome to the Baggage Check chat. I'm here to take your questions on all things psychological-- moods, family, relationships, therapy, work, and perhaps the cognitive underpinnings of Charlize Theron's Oscar decision to wear a satin marmot on her shoulder.

Have at it!

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Anonymous: How natural is it to abandon friendship when you get frustrated by their behavior? Is this a process of aging, or of life?

Andrea Bonior: Well, it may be pretty natural, but not all things that are natural are automatically good. (Arsenic, anyone?) A friendship here and there that you choose to let fizzle because the person isn't holding up their end of the relationship bargain sounds pretty normal and healthy. But it's also important to see if there's a more pervasive pattern-- like you tend to jump ship when the going gets rough throughout many of your relationships, or things always come crashing down when someone disagrees with your opinion of couscous.

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Northern Virginia: Help. There is this chick in my outer circle of friends that I can't stand. I put up with her because some of my very dear friends are friends with her, but I'm starting to dread events when I know she will be there. I'm 30 years old and shouldn't be acting like a 10- year-old, but I can't help it. Any advice?

Andrea Bonior: I'm assuming if she's just in your "outer" circle, then there should be enough of a buffer at these events-- even if that buffer is just a dining room table-- that you won't have to deal with her directly. It also might help to examine why you can't stand her in the first place, since people you presumably respect seem to respect her. But once you figure out what it is that truly bugs you, and what the negative feelings really are about, you can better guard against them, or at least better map out your avoidance strategy in advance.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: I've been married seven years. My parents are so generous to me and my husband and my in-laws are not. My parents would offer to buy us an appliance for our new house. His would ask if we weren't taking a table with us in the move if they could have it. All four parents were public school teachers, so there is no income disparity. I'm having a lot of trouble reconciling the "giving" nature of my parents versus the "taking" nature of my husband's. Is there a way I can get past this?

Andrea Bonior: Hmm... maybe you can simply eliminate yourselves as the middle men and connect the ever-donating with the ever-mooching. Perhaps your parents would like to bankroll your in-law's next sectional!

Kidding, of course. But truthfully, this really shouldn't be about comparisons. Your parents and your in-laws are two distinct sets of people, and they come complete with waaaay different experiences, backgrounds, attitudes, and just plain niceness levels. Try to see the good in your in-laws-- even in their quirks-- without pitting them against the appliance-subsidizers you grew up with. It's an age-old problem (and bad sitcom premise) for a couple to come into a marriage with sets of parents that are like oil and water (or maybe matches and gasoline). If the bulk of the differences in your case have to do with home furnishings, I'm guessing you've got a better hand dealt to you than many people out there.

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Silver Spring, Md.: My mother-in-law invited me to an overnight weekend church retreat. I have been to her church and don't feel particularly comfortable with their teachings. Should I feel guilty if I decline the invitation?

Andrea Bonior: It would take a lot more than declining a church invitation to get me to tell you to feel guilty! Give yourself a break. As long as you're pleasant and considerate when declining, there's certainly no need to feel bad.

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Chicago, Ill.: My BF of 6 years will not commit

Andrea Bonior: Uh-oh, we seem to have had a premature sending here. Chicago, care to finish your thought? Or do we have a "committing to finishing the sentence" problem? I'm all ears.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you deal with someone who is verbally abusive and threatening? I have read Patricia Evans's book, but there are no "handy hints." It is all well and good to say "leave him" but there are reasons why that is not feasible right now. I am in the process of setting that up in a way that will protect me and my children. But sometimes I will slip and say something that sets him off and the horrible things he says are almost unbearable. Other than shutting up (and sometimes that is the "wrong" answer), what can you do to show them how bad their behavior is? He's depressed, narcissistic and(I think) has borderline personality disorder. Oh, yeah, on top of that, unemployed. Of course, he has refused to get help for years and marriage counseling failed (for him anyway).

Andrea Bonior: First of all, as much as this isn't the answer for the here and now, it's great that you are taking steps to eventually leave. Working toward this goal will make you feel less trapped and more in control, not to mention that it sounds like that eventual outcome will finally help you be free of this. Unfortunately, someone who is depressed and possibly sporting two personality disorders may not ever be able to see how bad his behavior is without the benefit of treatment, so in the meantime I'm hoping you'll be more concerned with insulating yourself against his abuse than trying to teach him. Try hard to maintain your social support network, and to make time-- though extra hard with kids-- to engage in whatever individual activities help build your confidence and spirit.... anything from taking a class to indulging in the occasional bubble bath. Have you considered individual counseling? I would highly encourage it-- you deserve a space that's totally yours and safe for the expression of your emotions. And speaking of safety, please be vigilant of yours and that of your children. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (www.ndvh.org, 1-800-799-SAFE) is a good resource to keep in mind.

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Exes: My boyfriend hangs out with an ex that he dated for a few months, and although I don't feel threatened by her, it annoys me a lot. Do I just need to get over it?

Andrea Bonior: That depends on why. To get over it because you truly feel valued by your ex and you think there's no reason to feel threatened, and you see this as a step to becoming a happier, more secure person in your relationship-- well, that sounds good. To get over it because your boyfriend tells you you have to, or because you think you just "should"-- that's going to be about as successful as Dole for President '96.

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D.C.: Doctor --After going through a couple of stressful and anxious years (death in family, layoffs, friend dying), I gave into seeing a doctor who put me on Xanax. The minor treatment (1 month) made me a new person and I am off the drug.

This reset has made me a new person. Though it is sometimes weird to see the world through non-cynical eyes. How do you start over with a new attitude? In trying to get back into the dating pool, I am just not sure where my new self fits in and at times. Any suggestions?

Andrea Bonior: Wow-- you've really already done so much of the hard part. Since your new attitudes are positive, you can really let them run the show.... let them lead you to new experiences that you might not have sought out in your darker times, and learn to trust your instincts as you rediscover who you are. Over time, simply by no longer engaging in some of the anxious thought processes you used to have, you'll begin to unlearn them-- especially if you are active in replacing them with healthy thoughts. (For example: "I'll have fun tonight and at least meet someone new, whatever happens," rather than "She'll hate my tie and leave early because I'm boring.")

I'm also a huge believer in getting talk therapy to go along with medication. Therapy can be useful for good times as well as bad-- yours is the classic case of how helpful it could be, now that your perspective has so signficantly changed, to be able to bounce your feelings off of someone on a regular basis to help make sense of the "new you" and understand yourself even better as you watch yourself reenter the social scene. By the way, I'm betting that your fresh, revitalized outlook is going to be very attractive out there (no matter what tie you wear!)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi,

I just broke things off with this guy with whom I know would probably not be with in the long-term. My problem now is that I'm missing him but think it's because I'm afraid that it'll take me a long time to find someone else. Also, a lot of my friends seem to have a constant stream of guys lined up at their doors, while I'll go for months without even a date. How do I get over this feeling of despair?

Andrea Bonior: Well, I'm assuming by "just" broke up you actually mean pretty recently, rather than when MTV still showed videos. My guess is that you're going through a pretty natural process right now of grieving, and moving through some pretty tough feelings that make you doubt yourself and compare yourself negatively to others. (By the way, those comparisons don't mean much-- if any of those guys lining up were really that awesome a match for your friends, then there wouldn't need to be a constant replacement, would there?) Give yourself some more time to heal, and try to nurture the part of yourself that's independent of romantic life-- do some volunteer work, learn something new, reconnect with some old friends. If you find that the feelings are really sticking-- like, it's been several months and it's interfering with your daily life-- you might consider to talking to someone. Hang in there!

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Dallas, Tex.: Love your column doctor! Here's my baggage: Why do I keep seeing mental pictures from a particularly unpleasant year of my childhood? It was the normal 13-year-old girl sort of stuff -- bullied by other girls, pressure for sex from boys, dealing with body-image changes, moving to a new town, but nothing all that traumatic or out of the ordinary for a teenager. So why do I keep having random flashes of run-of-the-mill places and people from that particular year of my life? I'll just be sitting around drinking a glass of iced tea and all of a sudden, I'll think of gym class? Please tell me this is normal and I can make these mental pictures go away.

Andrea Bonior: Yikes-- any visual involving the words "gym class" and "age 13" has GOT to be bad. Something about that period of your life is really resonating with you now. It could be that some of the old adolescent residue is creeping into present insecurities-- perhaps with not feeling valued in your relationships, or feeling isolated or unloved? If these images started occurring around a particular point in your life, (a big transition? The start or ending of a relationship?) you might examine that as to a possible answer. If they've been going on since that time itself, then those experiences might have packed such a punch that your self-esteem never quite got back on steady ground. Once you know more, you might try a thought-stopping technique-- literally forcing yourself to shift to a more pleasant thought and image when they happen. Or "rewriting the story"-- watching yourself triumph in the visualization, to create a new, positive framing of what happened.

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Anonymous: A friend just told me he had a friend commit suicide this weekend. I honestly don't know what to say or do! Please help -- at a loss.

Andrea Bonior: Your honest compassion is truly the best response-- there's no script for a horrible situation like this. "I'm so sorry-- that's so awful that I feel like I don't even know what to say" is actually a very appropriate response. Your friend won't expect you to have the answers, nor does he need that-- what he does need is for you to show that you care, and for you to offer to be there for him as HE figures out what it is that he needs. A canned, stilted remark about how you know how he feels or what he should do to feel better is NOT the way to go.

My condolences to your friend... it's good he has someone like you looking to be there for him.

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Therapy: When do you know when to end it? I've been going for about a year. It's been useful at times, but it's expensive and open-ended. My life is still difficult, but I think I'm handling it as well as may be.

Andrea Bonior: Ah...sometimes you just "know," and sometimes it feels less clear but comes with discussion. As weird as it might seem to do this, you'll probably reach the most obvious answer when you actually talk to your therapist about it. In the same way that it's helped you clarify your thoughts about your life's difficulties, it can also help you clarify the progress you've made and how it might be time to move on. In the end, though, if you really feel that you're handling things well and are ready to stop, that decision is of course yours and yours alone. But if it's only about the money, hopefully you can try to find something more affordable!

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Washington, D.C.: Dr. Bonior -- I've been an insomniac for years, but was recently prescribed a prescription sleeping aid and it's worked wonders. I'm worried though that this isn't a long-term solution. I have "racing" thoughts as I try to sleep, and have been wondering if this is something that could be helped by therapy?

Andrea Bonior: Darn right! At the risk of sounding like therapy is the answer for everything (for the record, it can't usually teach you how to make a souffle), I really think it could help you. Sleep problems are usually a symptom of something, rather than an independent problem. And in your case especially, it sounds like it's an anxiety issue. Don't worry too much about having to describe your mother-- if you seek out a cognitive-behavioral therapist, most likely they can set you on a short-term, action-oriented path to improving your sleep permanently, without medication.

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Massesville, USA: "She appears online occasionally to offer real-time advice to the masses." - uh ...I'm sure this just slipped past the copy editor. The negative connotation of the word "masses" is obviously unintended ... right?

Andrea Bonior: Hmm.... I'm... not sure. But hey, if I'm allowed to be "unwashed," then why can't my audience?

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RE: exes: OK ... more info ... I don't feel threatened because we have a great relationship and I trust him when he says they are just friends. It annoys me because I know she still wants him back and he refuses to take this into consideration ... even though I do truly believe they are just friends ... in his eyes.

Andrea Bonior: Hmm. Okay, so is it that you're annoyed at her, and you don't think she deserves to spend time with your boyfriend since she's trying to (presumably) swoop him back up? Or are you equally annoyed at your boyfriend for not seeming to get that she's on the prowl? If you really trust him and don't feel threatened, I am indeed starting to lean more toward the getting over it option-- if only because it sounds like it'd be a hard sell to get your boyfriend to think there was anything wrong with what he's doing (especially if he really doesn't think she's after him.) Is it possible that she's less after him than you think?

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Chicago, Ill.: My BF of 6 years denounces marriage. He also thinks I need to accept him for who is he yet he is always telling me what is wrong with me. For instance I get "You know where the door is if you do not like it" -- however, if I said that he would tell me to leave. When I try to leave he basically tells me to leave right then and there with none of my belongings. When I try to talk to him he tells me I have nothing substantive to say. When I tell him I am fed up he all of a sudden wants to talk. He basically has no interest in me or my hobbies yet gives 100 perent and more to his interests and hobbies. Why I am even there except to cook and clean. He is not a BAD guy, but he is not a nice guy either. What is going on here and how do I make sense of it?

Andrea Bonior: Ah, you wrote back! Thanks. In a peanutshell it really sounds like what's going on is that you're agreeing to be treated poorly... "bad guy" semantics are moot when he is treating you so very badly. Maybe there's something in the adrenaline of the risk (Will he love me today? Will he beg me back if I threaten to go?) that keeps you coming back for more, but I worry that he's preying on you and your insecurities... that maybe you don't think you deserve better. Have your friends and family weighed in on this? I'd be really surprised if they liked this relationship.... especially if they knew the whole truth. I really think you could use some help in building up your confidence in yourself, to see how much better you deserve (at the very least in terms of this man's behavior, but possibly in terms of the man himself.) I hope I could convince you to get some counseling.

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Rockville, Md.: My spouse is bipolar II (takes meds) and has borderline personality disorder, and demands to know what my "expectations" are.

I told him that being employed (didn't specify a salary range, I earn good money) and not raging at me and frightening the children.

He tells me that is too much.

Are those too high a hurdle for someone? I balk at the notion that he wants the responsibility levels of a child, but the respect, privileges and sexual perks of an adult.

Suggestions?

Andrea Bonior: Those shouldn't be too high of hurdles, and maybe they can become goals in his treatment. Does he give an explanation of why those are too much? Does he have goals of his own that he thinks are more appropriate?

The raging at you and frightening the children seem to be the most pressing... I'm concerned about you. Might you be able to contact his treatment provider to express your concerns?

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Baltimore, Md.: Re your answer to D.C. -- how do you learn to stop engaging in those anxious thought processes? I know I am my own worst enemy thinking things that bring me down, make me angry, etc. But how to stop it? By the time I catch myself the damage is done. I end up feeling angry a lot of the time for no real reason. Thank you.

Andrea Bonior: A good book to check out to start the process is "Learned Optimism" by Martin Seligman. It can help teach you how to reconfigure the way you look at things, both to create the new positive thought processes but also-- important in your case-- to recognize the negative ones a lot sooner. You're sharp to catch on to the fact that those brief, automatic thoughts might be related to your everyday moods... a lot of people never make that connection.

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Recovering from a suicide: Great advice. As someone who had her closest friend commit suicide, I would definitely say that just being there is the most important part. I had friends avoid me because it was too awkward for them, and that was so painful. I also had friends who expressed their anger at the friend who committed suicide, and while that wasn't something I agreed with, I appreciated that they were trying to be there for me and saying something (anything!) rather than avoiding me.

Andrea Bonior: Thanks for weighing in. I hear a lot that having friends seem to start avoiding them (many times because of their fears of saying the wrong thing) are among the most hurtful things that happens to people who have lost a loved one.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there a correlation between Zoloft and weight gain/slower metabolism? I have been on Zoloft for 5 years now and over the past two or three I've noticed that it is getting harder and harder to lose weight. Sure, I'd prefer to be fat than crazy, but thinking I'm fat makes me crazy.

Andrea Bonior: Off the top of my head, there are no real metabolic effects that I'm used to hearing about, but people can have a variety of reactions to medications, and perhaps another effect of the meds-- for instance, being more enthusiastic about life and therefore food, or being slightly fatigued-- could be related to your weight gain. Hmm... I should probably stop before I risk angering the pharmaceutical companies. Talk to your prescribing doctor, and he or she might be able to help pinpoint the problem. And I think I'll ignore the "crazy" comment!

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Washington, D.C.: My parents have been separated for almost three years, but not yet divorced due to legal complications (though they should be in a few months). This weekend I am going to meet my mother's new boyfriend. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle it?

Andrea Bonior: With a smile and an open mind. Your mother will thank you for it!

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Andrea Bonior: Wow-- that flew. Thank you so much for your great questions-- I really wish I could've gotten to many, many more. But you can always reach my column at baggage@readexpress.com.... it is now in the new "Fit" section Tuesdays at Express.

Thanks again for joining me today.

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