Tips for a Healthier 2023: Moving with the flow of change

Do a Google search on ‘tips for a healthier 2023’ and you will quickly find every suggestion you need in order to get into the best shape of your life: Exercise regularly! Eat right! Protect yourself from COVID-19 and the flu! 

If everybody actually followed all those tips, that would be great – but we don’t. It’s usually just a matter of time before we are right back into the old habits, fighting the same fights. Sure, we start out pumped and enthusiastic as hell, but as time goes on, our gung-ho drive seems to dribble away. If you want to succeed in 2023, you need to understand what you are up against.

Every system’s natural instinct is to maintain stasis and resist change. When you try to make a change, no matter how positive this change could be, there is going to be more than one part of your own system that will try to undermine you.

This is not just some flaw in you, it happens to everyone. There are no straight lines in nature and no one has ever set their sights on a goal and walked straight to it. Philosopher P. D. Ouspensky characterized this phenomena as an example of The Law of Seven. An extremely simple illustration of this complex axiom is the octave. Within the notes of the standard octave, there are two definite intervals: one between mi and fa, and one between si and the new do, where the ascending vibrations naturally slow down. 

This slowing down of movement and intent also occurs naturally when we try to go from where we are to where we want to be. When that happens we lose energy and focus – and if we succumb to natural impulse this is where we veer off of our intended path.

That’s why your best chance for success is to have a support group, proven system, or an experienced counselor to help you keep heading towards your goal. This is true for weight loss but especially true for quitting smoking and kicking drugs or alcohol. Do not kid yourself that you can do it on your own. You can’t. Your system will constantly try to revert to stasis, and that means going back to your substance of choice.

Another problem that comes with change is that your best friends can turn into your worst enemies.

In every group of friends and in every family, there is a sort of balance. Everyone has their place and their accustomed role, and one of the major factors in keeping groups together is this tacit agreement that exists between members. When one member changes, the others often try to pull the changeling back into place.

One of the reasons that couples therapy is always suggested when there are problems in a relationship is that if only one partner starts therapy and the other one doesn’t, the differences between them tend to just become greater.

If your friends and your family aren’t supportive of a positive change you are trying to make, don’t let it stop you. This is not a sign that you are doing the wrong thing. It could even be a sign that what you are doing is working. But also don’t hold it against them. You’d probably have the same instinct if they began to change and you didn’t.        

Just remember that whatever change you are trying to make, whatever diet you are trying to follow, or whatever 12 step program you are hanging your future on, it’s not going to be a one shot deal. You’ve got to make it a permanent part of your life.

If the idea of forever seems overwhelming, you’ve got one aspect of human nature working in your favor – once formed, a good habit is as hard to break as a bad habit. And here’s the best news: if you can keep a change for two months, chances are you’ve got enough of a habit formed that continuing won’t be as hard as when you first started.  Hold on for 6 months, and you’ve practically got yourself a new normal.

The urge will come to sneak back to your old ways. You may think that “just once” won’t hurt anything but once you open a door, it’s nearly impossible to close it again. Your struggle will just resume where it left off. This is where a support group and a system really helps. You may weaken – your support group will not. This is the time to trust them instead of your own instincts.

Change is not impossible, but it’s like going through childbirth. If you don’t understand what’s happening, you end up screaming your head off and everything just takes longer. We could all use the equivalent of Lamaze classes for the soul. 

Interesting idea for a Google search. I’ll let you know what I find.

Advice From the Trenches: Not So Great Expectations

Dear C and Dr. B:

When I was a kid I was 100% full of expectation and enthusiasm. Not a bad thing – it really motivated me to get out there and try to do something. But as an adult I find that those same expectations seem to be working against me. Whether it’s my relationship with my wife, dealing with the kids, or my job, things just don’t go the way I expect and I seldom get the results I want.

I know that the Buddhists say the road to happiness is to form no expectations but I can’t distinguish that from depression? I am confused can you help me out here?

Dr. B says:

I read Benjamin Hoff’s book, The Tao of Pooh, ten years ago and it offers some interesting ideas in simple form. I am paraphrasing, but I recollect that it says something like, “be that of like a child.” It does not say “be a child.” The difference is that as a child, everything is about you. As an adult it is not. If you replace expectation with awe, as it suggests in the book, then forming no expectations works toward joy.

The difference is in learning how to look at what is really there and appreciate what it is. Expectations are just about you. Awe is about everyone and everything else. You will find that you also need skills such as listening, appreciation, humility, and mindfulness in order to achieve this. If you do the work, transformation from happy child to happy adult is possible.

As this is not usually a part of our education, few adults understand this and as a result many get depressed or buy sports cars.  If you just let go of your expectations without acquiring the collection of skills listed above, it can certainly cause you to fall into depression or turn to immediate gratification as a diversion in order to cope.

C says:

The various Buddhist sects say many wise things, but you skewed this particular phrase a bit. Expectation itself is not the culprit. Rather, it is the attachment to expectation that causes suffering. If I were you, I would break myself of the habit of making a mountain out of a molehill over your own interpretations of other’s words. Please keep in mind that every blogger on the web and every book on the shelf has ideas, and few of them coincide or make sense together. What does any of it have to do with managing your own life and the problems you encounter with your job and family? Where did you get the idea that you must distinguish some abstract idea from your own depression before you can act? 

No wonder you are confused. I’ll make it easy for you.

First simple law of figuring things out: You don’t know if something works until you try. Apply your approach with intelligence and common sense. If it doesn’t work, try something else. 

It doesn’t sound to me like you have tried very hard.

There is no need to turn this into a big philosophical dilemma. You are having real world problems, they are not in theory. Stop trying to make things more complicated than they are! Save the mental gymnastics for getting drunk and gabbing with your friends. That is where it belongs.

I will repeat this, in case it wasn’t clear the first time: look at what is front of you and see what works. If what you are trying doesn’t work, try something else. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Dad is Getting Weird

Dear C and Dr. B:

I saw your column on my dad’s computer, and I am hoping maybe you can answer my question.

I am 15. Last summer, my parents separated and now my mom lives someplace else even though both my parents still work at the restaurant they own. My mom has started a new life and doesn’t seem too unhappy. Her new apartment is small but much newer and nicer than our old one, but my little sister’s school is right across the street here so we stay with dad most of the time, especially during the week.

Our problem is that dad is acting weird and we don’t understand it. He won’t sleep in his bed anymore but he won’t let anyone else sleep in it either, even when a guest visits and I have to stay in my sister’s room so the guest can stay in mine. When dad does go to bed, he sleeps on the couch. When we ask why no one can sleep in his bed, he won’t tell us, he just changes the subject.

Why is he doing that? I don’t think my mom knows. Should we tell her?             

– George 

Dr. B. says:

I have no idea what’s going on with your dad, but yes – you should tell your mom. It’s part of your mom’s job to access the living conditions you are exposed to at your dad’s. 

Because your loved one’s mental health affects your own well-being, you need to speak up. Unconditional positive regard can only be truly present between a person and their dog. You are not betraying dad by asking for help.

It is good to get used to asking for help.  Everyone needs it. 

C says:

This is not a normal time for any of you, so it is not unusual for your dad to be acting a little weird. Divorce is very difficult and he probably has a lot of painful feelings inside. I’ve gone through 2 divorces and seen many friends go through them too, and I have never seen anyone deal with it by acting like life is business as usual. Your dad shared his bed for many years with your mom and it probably reminds him of unhappy things. No wonder he doesn’t want to sleep in it.

It would be a big mistake to report this to your mom and I’ll explain why. In real life, when parents go through a divorce they sometimes get into legal struggles with each other over stuff like custody of the children, and they look for “ammunition” to use against each other in court. When this happens, each parent will have their own lawyer whose job is to gather evidence to fight against the other parent. A lawyer will try to use any excuse they can find to make a parent look “unfit” to the judge, and a really crafty lawyer can twist something like your dad and the bed into looking like a form of mental illness. Why would anyone do that? Well, I don’t want to bring up stuff that you are too young to process, but sometimes parents have secretly done things to betray each other and they can get really mean and vindictive when they split up. There might be a truth here that you don’t know about.

If your dad was coming home drunk, staying out all night and leaving you alone, or if he was abusive in any way, I would advise you to tell someone immediately, for your own protection. But aside from not wanting to sleep in his bed, he is not endangering anyone and he’s not hurting anyone. So unless it means that you and your sister are forced to sleep on the floor, I’d leave it alone.

Right now your mom is taking care of her own life. It is not her job anymore to take care of your dad, and I am sure she already knows he is unhappy. This news about the bed will probably not be a surprise and besides – there really isn’t anything she can do about it.

In the meantime, you should take care of the stuff that you can and just accept that some things aren’t going to be normal for a while. When parents break up, it’s not just hard for them, it’s hard on everyone. If you feel sad, or scared, your sister does too. You are the big brother, so an important thing you can do is make sure you are there for each other. Grandparents and other family members can be very helpful and understanding too. 

Divorce is never something that families process in an orderly, neat manner. But eventually, new routines will form and after a while, it will all be your new normal. 

It is important to understand something – divorce and other big changes are seldom things that families process in a neat, orderly fashion, but there is a big difference between people who get a little weird when they have problems and people who fall apart and hurt themselves or others when they have problems. Your dad is not falling apart or hurting anyone. He’s just acting a little weird. I’m pretty sure he’ll get over it in time…and so will you.

Advice from the Trenches: Community Chest

Dear C and Dr. B:

I was at work when my phone beeped with a message that a purchase had been made from my Amazon account with my credit card. I had a panic attack because I didn’t make this buy! I started to call Amazon and was going to call the police too when it occurred to me to check with my wife first. “Honey, did you buy something this morning on my Amazon account?” So she had. The password and credit card were saved in her computer from the last time we bought something for our daughter online. Her explanation: “It was all pre-set and easier to hit click than to get out my credit card. I hope you don’t mind, dear.”  

I didn’t tell her, but I did mind. It felt kind of icky. She didn’t even ask! What if I’d called the police and suspended my account?  

Am I overreacting? I read your blog about men not letting their wives drive their cars and I admit I am guilty of that; but I feel this is something else. She has her own cards, but she just assumed she could use mine without asking. Should I talk to her? Or is it silly because she owns half of everything anyway?

Dr. B says:

Money is the number one thing couples fight about. This is why I always recommend separate bank accounts, so no partner has to micromanage the other. 

Some advice – in marriages where only one person works, their income should be deposited into a bill paying account where bills come first then the rest is divided into separate his and her accounts. If both people work, and if one person earns far more than the other, they can pay the household bills from their account and let the other person keep their own for whatever they see fit. Arrangements like these should be established from the beginning of the marriage; winging it with finances will never work.  

As far as this one incident, I’d let it go. However, change your passwords so that next time there will be no question about using your credit card. The “one click” option is too easy, and not worth a fight. I hope that you both already have finances split – if not, that is a conversation you should have sometime soon.  

All you need is love – and a good accountant.

C says: 

It has been a very long time since I shared finances with someone; my last experience was not good. And while I don’t believe that everyone should suspect that their partner is some sort of sociopath who is leading a secret life behind their back, let me just say this: you never know.

In matters of money, one should always make certain that there are safe guards in place. I’m not sure if the following advice would work for a family with children – I’m sure that Dr. B’s advice for finances between trusted partners is on point. But I have a few suggestions in case the yet-to-be-discovered sociopath in question happens to be your spouse.

• Do not have a joint account. Can you trust that the other person is not secretly a crackhead, gambler, cheater…or worse? How long have you been together? Truth: it can take over a decade to discover some people’s secrets.

• Make sure that your signature is not on record anywhere that your spouse can find it. I have a friend who, upon getting divorced, discovered that her husband had forged her signature onto a number of “joint” credit card accounts. A year after the divorce, he declared bankruptcy after spending most of what he had on drugs. He made no attempt to warn her or get her name off the cards before doing so. She got stuck with $45K with of credit debt.

• Do not own things together. Do not buy a house together, or a car. And never allow one partner take care of all the bills while the other blithely assumes that all is well. Sometimes you don’t realize there’s a problem until the car is repossessed or your credit rating suddenly drops through the floor because your partner didn’t pay the bill on an asset you own together.

• Just because your spouse promises to love and cherish you forever, do not assume they will continue to do so after conflicts have driven the both of you to the point of divorce. Have a trusted attorney; considering how high the divorce rate is, it is never a bad idea to get a prenup. People get ugly over divorces. Trust me. They do. Sometimes the person that you marry can do a 180 flip once the honeymoon is over.

• Finally: ALWAYS HAVE YOUR OWN MONEY. You never know when you will need an exit strategy. Sad…but true.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice From the Trenches: Self-Help Hell

Dear C and Dr. B:

I am 20 years old and I’ve read a lot of self-help books. You would think that I would know now how to act, how to be happy, and how to make better decisions, but instead it all just gets muddled in my head. A lot of these books contradict each other, and the advice just doesn’t work out the way it does for the people who wrote the books. I still feel directionless and I am at a loss on what to do next.

 Dr. B says:

Common sense is a hard thing to teach; it requires a lot of trial and error. Books can help, but I am not sure it can come solely from a book. The problem with many self-help books is that they push a very one-sided agenda. They tout ideas like “live every day like this is the last day of your life.” Unless it actually is the last day of your life, that is really bad advice. The last day of the average person’s life, they wouldn’t go to work or school. They would probably want to surround themselves with friends and family. Unless you are rich, you need a lot of other skills.   

“All you need is love,” is also stupid. If love isn’t balanced with duty, respect, responsibility, and reciprocity, love will become painful fast. As with diets there are millions of means to an end. The particular one you choose doesn’t really matter so long as it’s balanced and you are consistent over the long haul.   

Here’s a few short cuts tips I like:

• Do not agree to things you don’t agree with. Pay attention to what you are agreeing to.

• Wait three seconds before you react and take a deep breath before you speak.

•  If you are mothering someone you can’t sleep with them, that is incest. 

• Humans learn through role modeling. Your children will do what you do, not what you say, so before you do something, ask yourself if you would want your daughter to do the same. If the answer is no then don’t do it, even if you don’t have kids.

 • Imagine yourself 20 years from now, successful and doing what you want to be doing. No one has a greater investment in your decisions and life now than that Future You – if you don’t do what it takes to get there, that Future You will never be. Ask that future self for perspective: How does the Future You feel about the person you are currently dating? If that relationship doesn’t support the Future You, then it may never happen.

There is one self-help book I do recommend: Generation WTF.  It examines 20 years of self-help books and brings together their commonalities. It turns out that creating a life is very similar to creating a nonprofit business – in a relationship, both parties have to reinvest back into the partnership. If either party is taking but not giving back, the relationship, like a business with someone siphoning off the profits, will fail.

C says: 

Good tips, Dr. B – although I don’t think the 20 year into the future exercise is going to be much motivation for seniors. We really don’t want to imagine where we will be in 20 years.

The problem that lies not only with self-help books but with therapy advice in general is that the person who is taking it all in has an automatic screening device that surrounds their brain. They will read, or hear, whatever it is that their current level of understanding allows them to. If you tell someone who is naturally self-indulgent, “do not agree to things you don’t agree with,” they will likely just use it as an excuse to blow off anything that is remotely unpleasant for them and justify it with “my therapist told me to!”

We all see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. That is probably why despite the sheer number of people in this country who are buying self-help books and going to therapists, we still OD on opioids, buy guns and shoot up schools and fight each other over health mandates that could be saving lives. Our culture breeds it.

Honestly? If you need assistance, it might be better to go with the self-help books or sign up for a yoga/meditation class than to make an appointment with your doctor. At least your author/instructor won’t put you on psychiatric drugs. It is my opinion that antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds and Adderall are the most dangerous gateway drugs out there, in large part because people will abuse the hell out of them and then say, “my therapist told me to!” The fact that it is medically sanctioned just gives people more of an excuse to turn their brains off and go on automatic, which generally translates to: STAY COMFORTABLE AT ALL COSTS.

Better yet, ask us! No BS, no insurance necessary.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: Valentine card quandary

Dear C and Dr. B.:

Valentine’s Day is approaching, and I was looking at cards for my girlfriend. They all have some message to the effect of: “You’re my everything. I’m nothing without you.”

Nobody is anyone else’s EVERYTHING, that’s a lie. It is also a really dysfunctional message to send. I don’t want to say anything like that to my girlfriend – we promised we would never lie to one another. Why can’t I find any other choices, something like: “You mean a lot to me, but you’re not my everything”? Now I am at a loss as to what to do.


Dr. B. Says:

Let me point out a few things. First, it’s a lie that you and your girlfriend will never ever lie to one another. Some things are best left unsaid. You should never just spout every thought that pops into your head. 

Yes – marriage, romance, and Santa Claus are all at core based on what are, in the strict sense of the word, non-truths, but they are ideas that are accepted within our culture. That is the sort of lie that it is OK to play along with, if you have a girlfriend. But cheating on your girlfriend would be the kind of lie that is not acceptable as part of the cultural norm in this country. In some European countries it is acceptable – but even there, cultural rules are carefully observed as to how to cheat in an acceptable manner. In the US, the same behavior would likely end in a messy divorce.

Know your girlfriend. If she wants to believe in romance, be romantic. If romance makes her vomit then do something else.

C says:

I just don’t think you’ve looked very hard, Valentino. There are tons of V-Day cards out there for people who don’t want to send sugar-frosted hooey to each other. Take a look at this collection from Bored Panda: https://www.boredpanda.com/funny-valentines-day-card-ideas/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic. 

These days, even Hallmark has a collection of off-the-wall greetings.

So much angst over a card is kind of nuts – Valentine’s Day isn’t a mass conspiracy to undermine your relationship or a plot to force you to lie to your girlfriend or agree to some ideology you don’t support. It is simply a nice, made-up day for couples to express their affection for each other in whatever way they choose. Or not.

I have another question for you, Valentino – how do you expect to keep a relationship going if you feel this pressured and conflicted over a single card? If you ever have to plan a wedding, or raise children, your head is going to explode. 

But back to Valentine’s Day. Yes, businesses try to make money off of the holiday; that’s what the gift industry is all about. This is a fantastic opportunity to sell us a huge amount of stuff that we probably don’t need at all. But, that’s a rather cynical way of looking at it.

The positive thing that V-Day does is to create a little warmth in this merciless month. Winter has frozen our hearts – doesn’t it feel nice to cuddle with someone warm?

Here’s my suggestion – make your own card. Ignore the commercial pablum and say how you really feel, in your own words. Well, maybe not in your own words. “You’re not my everything” is a little bleak. What if you simply told her that you really like being with her – and right now, in this moment, there’s no place else you’d rather be?

You could also take a look at Dr. B’s Quick Romance Status Guide:

Optimistic: you’re my everything

Realist: you’re a lot but you’re not my everything

Pessimist: you’re going to disappoint me but please not too bad

Masochist: you’re not much but I don’t deserve better

Masochist is my favorite. What woman wouldn’t want to get that in a card?

Good luck!

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice From The Trenches: Lost Boy

Dear C and Dr. B.:

I have no idea how to handle this situation. 

Last summer, my brother-in-law, Steve, was murdered. He had 2 sons, Jeff and Mark, and a recently divorced wife who is absolutely crazy. She’d been a paid escort when Steve married her and from the start no one liked her. She estranged the rest of the family after their marriage by sending us poison letters criticizing us and making vile slurs against our kids. Until their recent divorce, Steve had been estranged from all of us too.

After the murder, she and the older son, Jeff, were arrested as suspects. She was released – they’d found a gun at her house but it was licensed and they couldn’t connect it to the crime. Jeff was initially released too – but later, on a tip, the police found automatic weapons, explosives, and hard street drugs in his apartment. Now he’s back in jail, but the murder remains unsolved because there may be a larger crime syndicate and a hit involved. 

The younger son, Mark, wasn’t implicated in any way, but he ended up basically homeless. He’s just a teen, so he couldn’t remain alone in the apartment where his dad was killed. My wife and I took him in. At first, it was OK; he seemed like a sweet kid. But now he is making our lives miserable. It is pretty clear he is totally messed up, but he’s in denial about what is happening to his family. He just ignores everything we say. I can see that he’s lost and I want to help him, but he’s just not responding.

He had some court-ordered counseling but he won’t go back. I don’t want to just throw him out but the stress is taking a toll on my health and my wife is always upset. I asked the rest of my wife’s family if we could have a meeting about Mark’s future. My messages went unanswered! Is denial in the family genes???

I feel like I took a survivor from a shipwreck into my lifeboat and now he’s threatening to sink all of us. What am I supposed to do?

 – Survivor Sam

Dr. B says: 

A lot depends on Mark’s age and his current involvement with his mother and brother.  

For younger kids in situations like this, intensive services might make a difference. Families like Mark’s may often have bipolar, learning disorders, personality disorders, and PTSD all in the genetic mix, so medications, structured programming and multiple services are needed, and any involvement from the family of origin tends to make these therapies impossible.  

Anyone who cares for these younger kids needs to be able, willing or capable of providing/coordinating these resources. If they can’t, then turning a child over to DCYF is the best way to go. 

In Mark’s case, you are looking at a different picture. It is very hard if not impossible to combat genetics and environmental influences past a certain age. It puts your own family at risk. Unless everyone is 100% committed it won’t work; and you need to be realistic about the probable poor outcome anyway no matter what the sacrifice you all make. If this kid is a teen or young adult it is far too late for you to make a difference.

I’d turn Mark over to professional care – a group home, or rehab – whatever is most appropriate and relevant.

C says:

I have to say that although Dr. B’s advice is certainly the most sensible thing to do – survival of your own family should be your priority – it paints a very bleak picture. 

Mark’s father is dead, his mother is nuts, and his brother is in jail. He has no coping skills and is screwing up the people around him so now his brother’s own family turns him over to “professionals.” It’s as if he’s been told “you’re too messed-up to be around decent people” and then sent to a holding center to live with other messed-up people. 

What I’d like to know is how anyone could deal with that kind of shit storm, coping skills or not. It’s a no-win situation all around. 

I don’t recommend allowing Mark to stay and destroy your home. He needs professional help. But I think it is super important that you tell him that you still love him and care very deeply what happens to him. He’ll act like he doesn’t care, but he does. Make sure to tell him that you will always be there for him. But most importantly, tell him that HE has to start fighting back.

I feel for Mark too. He’s already lost his home, his family, and whatever innocence he had left. But also, don’t ever forget… he was raised by people who had no moral compass of their own, and his awareness was structured long before you took him in. Who knows what is hiding behind his sad, lost eyes? This isn’t your battle to fight.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Advice from the Trenches: The Prom King

Dear C and Dr. B:

I was at an office party with about twelve people who’d been talking, laughing and making jokes for over an hour. The elevator door opened – it was the bookkeeper, Pam, and her husband Steve. They were dressed in their formal best, and they really did look much nicer than the rest of us – I think they’d come straight from a wedding. In a jovial, friendly state, I expressed my delight with their fancy attire: “Look, it’s the prom king and the prom queen!”

I’d meant it as a compliment, and everyone else laughed and said “Looking good, Steve!” And I thought that was the end of it. But no. 

Steve worked at TicketMaster and the next week, I went to the store and bought tickets for a big concert in Boston. Steve was a friend, so I hoped he’d get me good seats. Well, not only did he get me bad ones, they were in the very top row balcony in a corner behind a support beam. I couldn’t see a damn thing. 

Pam said knew nothing about it, but she could guess why he did it. Apparently, Steve had a humiliating experience at his high school prom and never got over it. When I made the prom king comment and everyone else laughed, he thought we were all making fun of him. 

What the hell!!! How on earth could he have gotten so screwed up over something I meant as a compliment? This really bugs me – I’m not the kind of person who would ever make fun of someone else! I want to set it straight with Steve, but Pam says it’s better to let it be. What do you think?                                                                                            

– Misunderstood Michelle

Dr. B says:

In our culture what people say and how it is understood are out of sync. Deborah Tannen, Professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, devoted her entire career to this subject. Her audiobook, That’s Not What I Meant!, is a must for everyone. 

If there’s a crowded party, and especially if people are drinking, it sets the stage for misunderstandings. Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it. Humans interpret language mostly nonverbally, from tone, stance, posture, etc. Our current cultural climate is very me-centered – combine that with the fact that our personal connections have become largely virtual and our non verbal language skills have been diminished, and the result is that our baseline anxiety has only gotten worse. 

You certainly can confront Steve and try to explain your intent but often this doesn’t help and can actually make things worse.  You could also report his behavior to his superiors – being petty and treating customers poorly are grounds for getting fired. But retaliation seldom makes anything better either. Life is often unfair and there is little if any justice in this world so before you choose to say or do anything consider what you hope to accomplish. If it will improve your life and if your behavior is likely to actually accomplish your intent, then go ahead.  Consider this before you try talking to Steve. Will it improve your life? If not, you can do as Pam says and just let it go.

C says:

People hear what they expect to hear. If Steve was traumatized by his prom experience, the very mention of the word prom would distort anything else that you said. So, instead of hearing a compliment, he heard mockery. He didn’t hear “Looking good, Steve!” He only heard the laughter.

Sometimes one can simply say hello in a friendly tone of voice, and receive a snarling,“What did you mean by THAT?” in return. Don’t blame yourself. The statement you made wouldn’t have upset or offended anyone who’d had a good time at their prom. If you meant it as a compliment, I doubt if your tone was sneering or sarcastic. Quite honestly, Steve’s actions are what disturb me. That was a pretty mean thing to do and it was very deliberate.

If you see Steve again, act like nothing ever happened. Better yet, don’t see Steve again. Problem solved.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

Marry my Mother

Dear C and Dr. B:

This Thanksgiving, my husband and my mother got into an argument over the proper way to melt cheese on toast in order to make grilled cheese sandwiches. Listening to them, I had a sudden realization: OMG, I married my mother!  They each had this same tone of underlying bitter sarcasm in their voices, the same flat-out “I am right!” attitude. 

My daughter doesn’t listen either, she’s just as certain she’s always right: I really wonder if it is genetic. I guess it is my lot. I am close with my mother, we speak almost every other day, but she can drive me a bit crazy.  If I am honest I feel the same way about my husband. We are close but he can drive me a bit crazy.

Did I marry my mother?                                          

– Daughter Deb

Dr. B says:

You can only know what you’ve been shown and since humans learn via role modeling, we are  attracted to what feels familiar. Throughout our lives our relationships often mirror the relationships we were exposed to growing up.     

The average American family is dysfunctionally stable at best. My question would be, do you find humor in their neurotic behavior, along with the frustration? Could you mention the incident to your husband in an ironic, funny way, tell him your thoughts, and laugh about it together?  

If you are looking for ways to live in the relationship, there are a few YouTube teaching videos that would be really helpful here: How to Ruin Your Relationship – Ultra Spiritual Life, episode 26; and 

Passive Aggressive Relationship Techniques – Ultra Spiritual Life, episode 57.

The videos are funny – they tell you to do exactly what you shouldn’t do, but they are also right on target as to the communication skills most American couples have. It is a lot of the behavior you are describing as well.  

C says:

Well of course you didn’t marry your mother, Deb. Surely you must have noticed that she stayed at home with your dad when you got married and moved away. You are simply carrying on your family’s relationship tradition. It’s what we all do. It is, in fact, such a normal thing to do that Dr. B already had all sorts of advice and useful videos to recommend – they are already out there because so many people have this same problem. 

But as to whether the behavior is genetic – probably not. If your daughter is a teen, her behavior is pretty much in keeping with typical adolescent angst. Of course, if she is six, then her attitude is just ridiculous. She’s only six! Why are you even arguing with her? Anyway, as right as she is, I hope for her own sake that your daughter is actually right all the time, but I doubt it. Few of us are when we’re young.

You seem to be a forgiving and understanding person, and that’s fine in the case of your mom and husband. They are both adults who are firmly set in their ways; ruined already, if you will. But do you really want your daughter to grow up believing that bitter sarcasm is normal, acceptable behavior? While you may be used to it, people who were raised in more affectionate households might just see your daughter as a bitch. Bad behavior is bad behavior. It isn’t funny if there isn’t a history of love and understanding to soften the bite. 

Kids always test their parents as they grow. OK, your daughter dismisses you with sarcasm. That’s what teens do. But letting her get away with it? That is you flunking the test.

– Cathren Housley 

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com