Don’t miss the next live chat: Dr. Andrea Bonior, a licensed clinical psychologist who has been helping readers with Baggage Check since 2005, now hosts a weekly live chat at washingtonpost.com on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. She’ll discuss her recent columns and answer any questions you may have about relationships, work, family, mental health and more. Join or read Dr. Andrea’s latest live chat here.
Q. No one ever addresses this issue: anxiety about a health problem that is real, rather than health anxiety about a potential problem. What do you do with anxiety about an actual problem? —Wondering
With all our cultural focus on hypochondriac-ish behavior (“A Google search says I have Bitcoin Disease!”), what often gets lost is that for people living with very real illnesses, their anxiety can be all-consuming too. In fact, it’s something that therapists see a lot. So, yes, therapy: Just because anxiety is justifiable doesn’t mean it can’t be helped with treatment.
Like the depressive symptoms of grief, stress from a health condition is natural and human, but can still very much be worked on. In these cases, cognitive behavioral therapy would involve being realistic about the challenges of the situation, and finding ways to cope much better and exert more autonomy. That leads to increased hope, more resilience and better day-to-day emotional tools in managing the illness.
Why do we have to play together?
Q. I’m in my 30s and grew up in a family that spent a lot of time together. My parents wanted us three sisters to be besties and always said it would be a measure of their parenting if we stayed close as adults. My sister Sarah and I are much more compatible in personality than our other sister, Jen, and are genuinely close friends. Jen just doesn’t click with us. Of course I love her, but I wouldn’t actively choose to spend time with her outside of family gatherings. I think she is OK with it too; she has her own life. But every time Sarah and I plan trips together, or talk about things we do together, my parents seem hurt. My mother tells us we should “include” Jen as if we are 5 years old. My father reminds us that “family is everything.” How do I stop feeling guilty for this? —Feeling Like a Child
The guilt eases when you come to accept that your parents’ hopes and expectations belong to them alone, and as a grown woman you are as free not to meet them as they are to have had them in the first place. Living life on your own terms and forgiving yourself for “falling short” in a parent’s eyes is a common challenge.
Does Jen know they fixate on this, and what is her reaction? It sounds like it could be condescending and infantilizing for her; might she need a say? If you give your parents more of what they dream of when you are together — making that time sacred, putting away your phone, engaging in traditions they like, showing interest in Jen since you don’t see each other as often — it may lessen their “Our three daughters aren’t all BFFs, so we’ve failed!” mindset. You can keep the “love” part of your relationship with Jen strong by doing sisterly stuff (extra-nice birthday cards, etc.) that don’t necessitate spending time together. Beyond that, it’s a matter of giving yourself permission to live your life on your terms.
Send your questions for Baggage Check to Dr. Andrea Bonior at firstname.lastname@example.org. She may answer them in an upcoming column in Express or in a live chat on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. at washingtonpost.com.
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