Don’t miss the next live chat: Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has been helping readers with Baggage Check since 2005, hosts a weekly live chat at washingtonpost.com on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. She discusses her recent columns and answers any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more. Join or read Dr. Andrea’s latest live chat here.
Special guest: For the June 11 chat, Dr. Andrea will host psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, author of “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.” Lori also writes “Dear Therapist” for The Atlantic. Submit your questions here.
Q. How much self-care can one person need? My wife and I have always had different personalities — she is more dramatic and emotional, gets exhausted more easily and is more sensitive to things. I accept this as part of her. But I find that her self-care routine takes a lot of time and money, and now that we are considering having a child, it makes me wonder if she would need even more. I can see myself being forced into a bigger share of child care responsibilities because she “needs” her massages and gym time and therapy, etc. And I can imagine myself growing resentful of this, but then I feel judgmental about it.
My first question is this: Does the self-care actually help? Or is it just an avoidance technique, a method of escape that ignores the real stuff to be worked through?
True self-care isn’t just layering an avocado facial mask on top of a stressed body and mind. It should actually help you rejuvenate, calm yourself and develop insight into your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Everything you mentioned has the potential to do just that — I can’t argue with the benefits of any of them as a routine part of taking care of oneself — so it’s reasonable to assume that those things would continue to provide help even as her overall stress increased. But, of course, the time and money spent affects you too, so communication is key here. I see this issue less as a potential need to clamp down on what she needs for her mental health, and more of an opportunity for you to ask for what you need, and to be honest about how you need to work together to support each other.
Criticism hurts like never before
Q. I have always been sensitive to criticism, but it seems to be getting worse over time. I cringe every time my boss gives me even the most minor of negative feedback. At times I even get teary. I know I am a good worker overall, but I hold myself to such impossible standards in terms of being perfect and liked by everyone, 100 percent of the time. I always thought I would grow out of this, but I am 31 and seem to be even more fragile than I was in the past.
Things like this tend to get better over time only if you’ve set that trajectory in motion, by making subtle changes and working on them. Otherwise, the thought processes just get more and more ingrained. And perhaps increased stress in your life, or just the uncertainty of growing older and trying to carve out a path for yourself, has raised your overall anxiety, adding fuel to the upset. I’m guessing that the seeds of self-doubt and hypersensitivity to criticism have grown over time because they’ve never truly been dealt with, and now they’re full-blown shrubbery that necessitates a backhoe to dig out. But there’s most definitely help. A solid cognitive behavioral therapist will not only help you to challenge and neutralize these negative thoughts, but to get to the bottom of what is causing them — and make alterations to keep them at bay.