Short Answer Friday/Chat – August 3 – Pledge Drive Concludes

Hello, it’s on!

Patrons can submit questions here (advantage: 1st dibs, more words). Anyone/Everyone can submit on Twitter (@CAwkward, #awkwardfriday), questions close at noon Chicago time, I answer as many as I can and update as I go between noon and 1pm. Whatever I don’t have time for gets held over for next week. Comments open once everything is posted.

This is also the last day (for a while, at least) that I remind folks about supporting the site. You can become a patron or send a donation anytime, of course, but these biannual reminder drives really help me be able to plan out nice things! One of these nice things: I’m officially hiring a graphic designer and a proofreader/formatter to put the finishing touches on an e-book of previously-published columns called #ThisF-ing Guy (And How To Avoid Him), so I can make it available before the end of the year. Thank you so much for all the support so far. This site is a labor of love, but it is labor, and it feels so great to be able to say “I run a fan-supported advice website.”

Cue the jazz flute which, I confess I started out including as a humorous homage to the NPR and WGBH-Boston pledge drives of my youth and my middle-school bad flute playing, but then I ended up listening to a crapload of jazz flute on YouTube this week, and now I’m like “JAZZ FLUTE IS AWESOME, MOAR JAZZ FLUTE PLEASE.” Proving that irony will lose out to sincerity every damn time.

Let’s begin: Talking to the neighbors about misbehaving kids, KITTENS, ADHD and learning to take compliments, bickering family/feeling bad about interacting with family, crushes (it’s okay to just ignore them!), when do you know if couples’ counseling is working, how to therapy, when to say ‘I love you’, drop-in houseguests, parents who want you to be their therapist, compliments that aren’t compliments.

Q1: Hey, Captain. I have a low stakes problem that I´m nevertheless stumped over. I live in a house with 3 apartments. Ours is in the middle. All apartments have kids, pets, instruments and noise, so this is great for the most part BUT – there is a neighbour-child (13-14 yo boy) that engages in destructive behaviour in our communal garden. He has a homemade bow and arrows and a target that he practices unsafely, he has a baseball he throws at the house, he has knives he uses to carve wood – including our personal, noncommunal garden furniture. I used to think his parents knew about this and were allowing this behaviour, but I recently caught the boy lighting fires with lighter fluids and gas in the garden and he ran away terrified when I approached – so I don´t think his parents know about that, at least. My question is: We, the wimps that we are, have never said anything. We had truly horrible neighbours before we moved here, and we have just been so freaking happy to have nice people in our house we have been unwilling to rock the boat. But now I feel like we have to. Do you have scripts? And a way to do it (messages, ringing doorbell – we are not really coffee friends with the parents, just friendly)?

A1: As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child” and some of my village growing up was definitely neighbors noticing and stopping me from doing dangerous and annoying stuff.

The boy ran away “terrified” when you approached, ergo, he knows he’s not supposed to be playing with fire in the back yard. Thirteen is young enough that it’s worth approaching the parents – “Hi, we love that your son can play in the garden but we’ve noticed x, y, and z destructive behaviors, do you want to talk to him about it and should we say something to him the next time we see it?” – but it’s also old enough that you can talk directly to the child, like, “Hi, my name is ____, what’s your name? And your parents are _____ and _____, right? Great! We’re so glad you are our neighbors. Listen, I know the garden is communal, but that furniture actually is our personal stuff, so you can sit on it, but please don’t carve chunks out of it, thanks.” Kids are just people, they don’t detonate like bombs if you address them directly. Unless it’s an emergency, maybe try to just catch the neighbors when they are out and about and handle it in person? Esp. since you don’t have their phone number or email or an established form of communication?

And then also say hello and engage about positive things, trade contact information, ask what’s the best way to get in touch, etc. Your and your neighbors might also want to come up with some jointly-agreed on community rules (the building I live in has some posted right when you walk in the door and they also go in everyone’s lease), like, “Now that it’s summer and everyone’s using the garden more, let’s review what’s ok and not ok,” just, know that’s not a substitute for talking directly to the child or his parents. Just like when the mass email about reminding “everyone” to refill the coffee pot goes out in your office, it never occurs to the culprit that “Oops, I am the problem.” 

P.S. and PSA: Don’t call the cops on kids doing kid stuff.

Q2: I just came here to say: KITTENS KITTENS KITTENS!!!


It’s all still in process, but yes, Mr. Awkward and I are starting to meet kittens we’d like to adopt, and in the interest of disclosure, a non-zero amount of recent pledge drive donations will be converted directly into supplies for said kittens which I will then convert back into kitten photos for the Internet (as is good and just).

Q3: Dear Captain, How do I learn how to take(/cope with) compliments or positive feedback? I’ve always been the “bright person but lazy” (now officially diagnosed with and being treated for ADHD/dyslexia) so I only really know how to deal with negative feedback. I’ve been trying to start with gratitude but it still always feels awkward and I still can’t convince myself that the affirmation is genuine. Is there anything I can do to work on accepting positive feedback more gracefully and letting myself internalize it? (I’ve talked about some of this with a therapist but my current one thinks this problem isn’t as important as other issues she wants me to tackle.) Thanks! (She/her)

Q4: Hail, my ADHD-diagnosed-as-an-adult sister with a loud inner critic!

Getting diagnosed with ADHD as an adult has helped so much with counteracting the constant and conflicting negative messages I got (and then internalized) my whole life, stuff like:
  1. “You are so good at x hard and complex thing, why can’t you just do y easy thing?”
  2. “You should be able to do this with no problem, so if you can’t it’s probably just laziness.”
  3. “The things you are naturally good at and enjoy don’t really count, only the things you struggle with are important and worth doing, and you should struggle with them less, what’s wrong with you?”
  4. “The things you’re naturally good at are just good luck, it would be wrong/bragging/conceited to take pride in them, only the things you do with maximum effort should be rewarded.”
  5. “You have so much potential.” (said with maximum disappointment)
  6. “Accomplishments don’t matter as much as all the stuff you haven’t done yet (that you should have done by now).”

Should and just. My least favorite words. And even though I’ve done a lot of work on it, sometimes compliments just tap right into the bad brain loops, especially #3 and #4.

Many therapists have recommended that I try “mindfulness.” Like, being in the moment, just checking in with myself, concentrating on my breathing, taking pressure off myself to feel any kind of way or react. All probably good stuff, has great results for many people, but it turns out I suck at mindfulness. “Focusing on my breath” made it feel difficult to breathe. “When you brush your teeth, try not thinking about anything in particular, just focus on the sensation” = great, now an easy routine task that I don’t overthink becomes a minefield of worry about my teeth. “Just let your mind go blank” = So I can ruminate on my failures! “Take a sip of cool water, concentrate on the sensation of it entering your body” = Great, now I can’t swallow.

Here are two practices that have actually helped me start to undo this pattern:

  1. Being more proactive in praising other people. It feels good to give genuine compliments.
  2. Completing the social circuit – If someone says “Good job” or “You look great today!” all I have to say is “Thank you!” I don’t have to feel any kind of way about it, and my complex emotions are not the compliment-giver’s problem. If I can’t remove or avoid weird, I can at least Not Create More Weird, ergo saying “Thanks!” without immediately apologizing or elaborating is what will make the other people feel ok and Not Weird, so I will do that.

It gets easier. Not perfect (I had to be reminded in the comments section here last week), but easier.

Q5: “Hi Captain! Happy Friday! Family visit weekend is approaching. My parents and also my sister and brother-in-law have a nasty habit of commenting on each other either in a passive-aggressive way or are downright mean to each other. It’s a nearly constant bitchy couple fight in both instances. They especially use the rare time when I am there I guess, because they would probably never start a real fight in front of me. I don’t want to listen to my mom’s comments on my dad’s weight or my brother in law bitching about the “fact” that my sister “can’t keep a clean house”. I see all of them rarely but when I’m there I feel like I am in the middle of constant couple drama. Any scripts or thoughts? Thank you!” 

A5: I’ve witnessed several versions of this kind of behavior. Let’s take a minute to (arbitrarily) categorize:

  1. Performers: Having an audience makes one or both partners feel safe dredging up conflicts that they don’t feel comfortable raising in private, or (worse) gives one or both an extra vector or extra energy to abuse the other person. This is your Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf or Taming Of The Shrew dynamic. You’ll know you’re dealing with performers if they keep dragging you into the argument in some way, even if you don’t actually ever say anything, like, “Look, even Sister thinks that was rude!” (when you’ve been totally silent).
  2. Bickerers: They’ve been insulting each other so long it’s just second nature, they don’t even know they’re doing it anymore. These are the folks who will argue that “manners” or “kindness” are things you dress up in when company comes over, but when people are truly close, why should they have to work at being nice? They’re just telling it like it is. One hallmark of bickerers: You’ll say “Why so mean? Do you even hear yourselves right now?” and they will turn on you for being Too Sensitive.

Actually, both/all kinds of couples who like to argue in front of family/friends/in public will often band together and turn on you if you say anything, which makes it all so extra fun! (not fun) to deal with.

In your shoes with a weekend visit looming, I’d be doing my best to plan some quiet things to do – “Let’s all see a movie!” – and I’d be going to bed early and rising late (even if I’m definitely secretly quietly reading in my room during that time)  and doing other stuff to literally disengage. Hang out in small, structured doses, bail when it gets unfun. You’re not going to fix their relationship or communication dynamic, and you can’t wish people into the cornfield couples’ counseling like that kid in the Twilight Zone, so, what are you willing to do to shut it down around you? Scripts that you might say to little kids,  like: “Are we gonna have to put you in Time Out?” or “I can leave if you’d rather insult each other alone” or “Can we play a game where we only say nice things?” can sometimes call attention to the absurdity.

P.S. When dealing with difficult people you see regularly, you’ll never go wrong thinking up 3-5 safe conversational topics that you can steer those subject changes to.

Q6: Hi Captain! I’ve been having a difficult situation within my friend group. This past year I ended a friendship after the friend (A) decided to bond with her coworkers by making mean-spirited “jokes” about members of my profession in front of me. I tried a few times to explain that this was hurtful; she ignored me. I tried to slow-fade; she latched on like a burr. So I ended the friendship explicitly. She lashed out and accused me of threatening her (with the loss of my friendship if she didn’t change her behavior, I think). Her partner piled on then too. So, that was painful, but at least it was a clear end. The problem is a mutual friend who is trying to be supportive, but also keeps telling me that it’s a misunderstanding, that I’m oversensitive due to past related trauma, that they are aren’t really bad people, etc. This mutual friend is dear to me, but this is rubbing salt in wounds I’m trying to let heal. How do I make sense of this/ set boundaries/ not let this cascade into more broken friendship?

A6: If you haven’t already done this (I think you have already done this, but if you haven’t), stop using the mutual friend as a sounding board for anything about this situation. In that case (which might be now), mutual friend will be the one who is bringing this up 100% of the time, which gives you an opening to say:

  • “Oh, let’s don’t talk about A. That whole thing is a mess, but I’m here to see you and talk about you.” (Subject Change 1)
  • “I know you’d really like to make peace here, but it’s not your job to fix this. Let’s talk about something else.” (Subject Change 2)
  • “Okay, look, I’ve tried to gently change the subject twice. What will it take to get you to drop it?” (Subject Change 3)
  • “I thought my only problem was with A, but if you keep pushing for a fix here, my problem will be with you. Stop patronizing me, stop explaining it to me, stop defending A. to me – it’s not your job and frankly it sucks to keep hearing this from you.” (Definitely time to cut the visit short and try again another day)

Blessed are the peacemakers, blessed also are the people who mind their own business when it’s clear their input is not welcome.

Q7: Dear Captain. How do I stop the cloud of despair from coming around whenever I have the slightest contact with my family. Even a nice text message sends me into misery. I have been in therapy working on it but it just seems like I need a kick or a shove to get out of this mood. I don’t see them otherwise. I try to own my feelings and feel them but it’s just so hard to feel this every time.

A7: More therapy, more time. Maybe taking a long break from contact with them and seeing if they feelings lift.

Readjusting expectations. There is “happy!” there is “conflicts talked through & resolved!” – those outcomes might not be realistic for you and your family, so what could a new normal look like that doesn’t grind you down? “Not actively toxic!” “Eh, small doses.” “Welp, that could have gone worse.” “They seem to be trying.”

Basically, you can’t stop feeling stuff.  You can get more control about what you do about those feelings (if anything) and how much of your attention and time they take up (sometimes).

Q8: I (they/them) am in a committed, monogamous relationship with my fiancé, and I have zero plans of changing that, but recently I have developed a crush on a mutual friend. Again, I have NO desire nor intention to act on it, so mostly I’m wondering if there is a constructive way to Deal With these feelings? Preferably without shooting the Golden Retriever of [My Heart]? Complicating factors: I have depression, and this crush, because it is new, is a bright spot that gives me energy–and I don’t really want to give that up. But it hurts to think that my fiancé is seeing me “perk up” when we’re in the company of Friend. Talking to Fiancé about it would only be hurtful, I think, and any benefit would be vastly outweighed by that hurt.

A8: Carolyn Hax always says that if you have a crush and you want it to go away, picture them pooping or doing something else either really gross or really mundane.

Not all feelings require action or expression. What if I told you you could feel this crush, enjoy the parts you’re enjoying, say nothing and do nothing overt about it, and be basically fine? What if the answer is “ok, you’ve got a crush, that’s fine and normal and you’re not doing anything bad or taking anything away from your fiancé?”

Sometimes we have crushes on people we’d like to be with, sometimes we have crushes on people we’d like to be like. If you tend to perk up around this friend, what aspect of yourself is being seen and nurtured, and are there additional ways you could feed that side of yourself? What if you leaned in not to the idea of this other person, but into the idea of yourself as the source of how good you feel right now?

Q9: Dear Captain,

What is an unreasonable amount of time to spend in couples counseling for a relationship?
Is there an amount of time, past which it is healthy/wise/whatever to start to consider the Sunk Cost Fallacy?
Thank you very much for all you do!
– Verbose

A9: Hi Verbose!

What if I told you that couple’s counseling wasn’t necessarily about saving or prolonging relationships, but could also be about identifying when something can’t be saved, and exploring the most gentle and ethical way to part ways?

What if I also told you that relationships exist to serve the people in them and not the other way around?

When all else fails, Hail Sheelzebub: If things stayed exactly as they are now between you and you knew they would not change, how much longer would you stay? One more year? 5? 10?

Q10: Hi Captain! I’ve heard you recommend therapy a lot to your readers/LWs. After years of dithering I’m finally going to therapy, hopefully to deal with my depression (and some lingering trauma). I’ve never done this before! I was wondering, do you have tips on how to make the most of therapy? I’m not in crisis, so I’m not expecting a lot of critical short-term work, I just want to shore up my overall mental health & resilience because hey, there’s a lot going on there. It’s been about a month so far. My friends say that as long as I spend most of my time talking I’m “doing it right”, but I’d love any other tips/advice/stories that you have. Thanks!

A10: Good steps! Good question! And good news! We have a really comprehensive post about that here, by one Sweet Machine, who I am even now trying to entice back to posting here on occasion. The topic is about choosing a therapist, but the discussion totally covers what the intake and initial process looks like.

Q11: How do you know it’s love? And how do you know when to say I love you?

A11: I don’t knowwwwwwwwwww!

What I do know: I have said “I love you” at totally ridiculous times, in totally inappropriate ways, to a rogue’s gallery of the wrong people, and the world did not end and the mistakes did not take anything away from the times that it was true and safe and welcome. Love is not a pie, there will be some left if you eat some pieces now.

Do you need a poem?

What Cowboys Know About Love, by Louis McKee

Last night on the sports channel
I watched the rodeo.
Those cowboys have it right;
the best and the beauty of it.
You cannot win, so you ride
for as long as you can and enjoy it.
When you dismount,
whether it be on your own or not,
it won’t look pretty. You’ll limp off.
But you’ll feel good; your heart
will be pounding like it never has,
and walking away, one crazy step
after another, your ears will ring
with the loud approval
of those who never felt so good.

Q12: Hi, Captain. I’d love any advice on how to deal with people (family members who live far away, mostly) who are terrible at making plans and then expect my family to be 100% available when they decide with 2 days of notice that THIS is the weekend they’re staying with us. Argh. 

A12: Boundaries have at least two steps. 1) Communication 2) Enforcement.

You can explain that you’d like more notice next time, but if this is a recurring thing, until you make consequences *this time* it will keep happening.

What that means in practice is:

  • “Oh, we’d love to see you, but we’re really booked this weekend, sorry, that won’t work for us! But these future dates would work great, can you reschedule?” 
  • “We’d love to take you out for dinner if you’re going to be in town, but we can’t manange houseguests this weekend. Let me know where you’re staying if you do decide to come!” 
  • “Oh man, we’ll hate to miss you, but we have other plans. We love it when you come to stay, but we need a lot more notice!” 

Then…whatever the people say…Don’t. Host. Them. This. Time. 

It may take two or three tries, argument(s) around “what do you mean you can’t?” or a “why didn’t you tell us before” or “but family is always supposed to be welcome!” or “Fine, see if we ever visit you if this is what we get!” etc. but they will either figure it out or they’ll stop visiting altogether.

It totally falls apart if you cave.

Q13: I (she/her) have come to realize over the past couple of years that my mother is an unhappy and emotionally manipulative person. I won’t bore you with the details; the stuff she does and says is pretty standard, as far as I can tell. My personal courses of action have so far included agreeing with her when she goes into martyr mode (though I won’t do this any more), disagreeing with or attempting to logic her (I’ve also abandoned this approach), staying silent, making it boring, changing the subject, limiting how much we talk in the first place, going to therapy, suggesting SHE go to therapy, meditation, journaling, and I’m finally at the top of my library’s hold list to get a copy of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? in my hot little hands. My mother has stated outright that she is uninterested and unwilling to do anything about her own unhappiness besides dumping her feels on me every 2-3 weeks. I have managed to find some solace and insight from similar posts on Captain Awkward dot com, but is there anything more or less or different that I can do to help myself not get sucked down my mother’s vortex of negativity? Is there a way I can let her wallow in her unhappiness without making myself miserable also?

A13: Ok, answering these is taking way longer than 1 hour but also: This is a good synthesis of many themes in the other questions today.

Your mom is just going to be like this and you can’t ever fix it. There is no “good” or “fixed” or “she finally gets it” or “she stops” or “I communicated my needs and she listened and now I feel good!” Unless she takes steps to make herself happier and soothe herself around her emotions, she will always be this level of unhappy, and she will always try to use you as her emotional dumpster. What you have now is “normal”…for her.

So the strategies you’ve used in the past – let’s take “being boring,” “limiting how much we talk in the first place” and “redirecting her to get a therapist” – are not fixing the problem strategies for her (Mom’s gonna Mom), they are ongoing maintenance strategies for you. They are for giving yourself permission to limit how much you subject yourself to it. They didn’t work (as in, they did not solve the underlying problem), but they are still useful (as ongoing tools).

If you choose to keep in touch with your mom every few weeks, call her at the chosen interval, catch her up on your life, catch up on the gist of hers, and when she starts the negativity dump,



Say, in the most cheerful tone you can muster: “Oh mom, you know I don’t want to listen to this stuff!

There’s about a 95% chance she’ll keep talking about herself like you didn’t even say anything. The other 5% is the chance she’ll change topics to how you have wronged her.

Interrupt her again. Say “Ok Mom, good catching up, that’s all the time I have today, sorry! Love you!” and then hang up the phone.

Hang. Up. The. Phone.

Turn it off if you have to, put it in a drawer.

Go do something nice with the rest of your day.

Your mom will be the exact amount of unhappy she always is, + some bonus unhappiness at her rude and ungrateful child, which is actually great – let her chew on that and feel justified for a change! If she actually picks a direct fight with you about this, here’s your script:

“Mom, you don’t have to get a therapist, but I also don’t have to BE your therapist. I don’t want to spend all our time together listening to your problems. So, when it gets to be too much for me, I’m going to stop the conversation.”

After that, you keep going. Call her when you want to. When you get sick of the spiel, interrupt and sign off. Try again another day. That’s probably as good as it gets unless she makes some decisions to adjust her behavior. She has choices about how she interacts with you, she’s choosing to make this unpleasant, so, choose right back and stop indulging it. If she tries the silent treatment, let her do it! She will break before you do, I promise you.

Alternately, stop calling her or talking on the phone at all for say, the next three months. Buy some nice greeting cards with pretty flowers on the front, write her a nice note catching her up on your life, tell her you love her and are thinking of her, and send them in the mail every few weeks. Connection maintained, two-way connection suspended for now. You deserve a break from unpaid nonconsensual therapy!

Q14: Captain, I’d be happy to hear scripts towards indelicate comments about my Potential Greatness. For example, “You would be so X if you did/had Y.” Most remarks are about my appearance and interestingly (unsurprisingly?), most are made by men. Some specific examples, “You’d be so attractive if you had long hair/wore heels/dressed up/wore makeup.” The one that upset me the most was made by my dad, “She would be so pretty if she didn’t have [chronic illness].”(!!!!) Some people say it with disappointment, some say it with enthusiasm. Both are annoying. I just want to rebuttal with something like… I’m happy with how I am now, why aren’t you? / Being pretty is NOT the Most Important Thing In The World / What makes you think your opinion about my appearance is important??? But I usually just give an awkward smile.

A14: Those. Aren’t. Compliments.

Men who say You would be so pretty if you had long hair/wore heels/dressed up/wore makeup” ONE HUNDRED PERCENT deserve to hear back “And you would be so much more likable if you stayed quiet.” 

Like, thanks for the note from your boner, do not want, return to sender.

Something I’ve found that disturbs and annoys the givers of “negs” and other backhanded compliments in a way that infuriates them is to turn their bad compliment into an actual compliment and give it to yourself. But DON’T say “thanks.”

Random Man: “You would be so pretty with long hair!”

You: “I know! I look great today!”

Random Man: “You would be so pretty if you wore makeup!”

You: “I know! My face is great!”

Random Man: “You would look so awesome if you dressed up more.” You: “I know! Clothes look great on me!”

Unlike in Question 4 upthread don’t complete the social circuit, disrupt the social circuit, and watch the flailing and the backtracking begin. They didn’t actually want to give you a compliment, they wanted to tell you what to do with your own face, and they wanted you to acknowledge them as some kind of authority on that question. By saying “I know, I’m great!” you aren’t saying anything observably rude or really giving them anything to argue with – if they argue, they are admitting that they didn’t mean the compliment and just wanted to get your attention. Give them no quarter and get ready to enjoy a lot of slow backing away. Buy yourself flowers if any of them call you “conceited.”

With your dad (ouch) can you just say “Dad, ouch! First, I’m pretty now, and second, did you realize you said that out loud?” 

Q15: Hi Captain! I know versions of this have been asked before, but how do I deal with family members saying horrible things on Facebook, and then calling me “emotional” when I call them out (despite being the only one to provide any evidence of my points)? of course I’m younger and a woman. They live afar so I only have to see them 1-2 times a year.

I know I have to pick my battles better, and I know I can’t really convince them – mostly I just want someone to speak up against them and maybe plant a seed for any bystanders. It feels important to do, but also makes me stressed out and angry. Do I keep it up but dial it back? Sometimes I want to message them privately, tell them how crappy I think they are, block them and deal with the fallout from my family. I want to be a good ally, but I don’t know if I’m making any difference either way. What’s the best course of action?

A15: It would be cool if we could each personally convince our most racist and politically horrible relatives to stop thinking that stuff, or, even if they still think that way, to go back to shutting up about it in public.

But it’s not your job to convince them, and exhaust yourself in the process. And their hearts and minds aren’t the place where your energy is most needed right now. For now, don’t worry about convincing them, worry about out-VOTING them. Out-organize them. Out-live them. Your relatives will not change their minds no matter how much energy you spend debating them on Facebook, but someone somewhere in your community just needs a little push or a ride to the polls or some childcare or $25 to actually change stuff in the world.

Time is very short. If you live in the USA, the midterm elections are less than 100 days away. So, hide your shitty family’s shitty social media feeds and put that energy into locating like-minded people who are organizing and taking action. Vote. Help other people vote. Help people who don’t suck get elected. If the candidates near you all suck, pick the one who sucks the least. Knock on doors. Make calls. Stuff envelopes. Donate money. Do stuff beyond your comfort zone (listen to my friend Saskia, who canvassed and did not die!) Transform your disappointment and your helplessness and your fear into action, comrades. Your favorite advice blogger would like to still be allowed to purchase health insurance next year!

Thanks for the great questions.
























256 thoughts on “Short Answer Friday/Chat – August 3 – Pledge Drive Concludes

  1. Any remotely reasonable kid is going to respond to an adult calling them out. Like, I worked in daycare and got very good at the Beady Mom Eye look. I was walking by a park some months ago and saw two older kids bullying a younger kid by trapping them behind a gate. Didn’t even have to stop or speak, just slowed down and gave them the pointed Beady Mom Eye. They immediately let the smaller kid go, dropped the gate like it was iron hot, and sheepishly told me they were “just playing”. The younger kid scampered off and I kept walking.

    Unless the kid is literally a young Tom Riddle, he’s going to listen to you when you tell him to stop carving up your furniture. Again, unless he’s a young Tom Riddle, he’s probably just fucking around like kids do and needs to know that adults notice his fucking around and he’s not getting away with it. Just talk to him/his parents as Captain suggests, and unless the whole family is a family of Voldemorts, it’ll go fine and the behaviour will probably stop.

    1. Love the Tom Riddle reference there. Also imaging how terrible it would be to have a family of Voldemorts living next door. D:

    2. Yes to the Beadie Mom Eye! I call it the Teacher Gaze of Disapproval, and after years of honing my craft, I can stop most misbehaviour with my face alone. It’s all about holding the stare just a little too uncomfortably long.

      1. Yes! I also call it my “teacher face”. It works well against gross drunk guys at a bar too!

    3. I think Beady Mom Eye look also works well for Q14. Just shoot the terrible dude the death glare + total silence for a beat, then change the subject. All the better if there is another person there and you can re-direct the conversation to them. Extra bonus points if it’s another non-cis dude AND you can change the subject to something the terrible dude knows nothing about.

      Terrible Dude: You’d be so pretty with long hair!
      You: death glare + silence . . .
      You: “Rosemary, I heard you published a paper on neurobiology and the effects psychological trauma has on arthritis sufferers. What got you into interested in that specific topic?”

      In my experience, terrible dudes seriously don’t know how to handle the horrible feelings cocktail of invisible and irrelevant.

    4. Idk, sure it will stop whatever’s happening in that moment, but a kid who knows what they’re doing is wrong and does it anyway probably isn’t going to be dissuaded long term by a random stranger adult. I think it would probably be more effective coming from the parents.

      1. I find a lot of kids are MORE intimidated by a scolding from a total stranger. That’s why you have to be careful not to overshoot and yell or anything. They know what their parents will do if they blow them off, but they have NO IDEA what you will do. Tell their mom? Call the cops? They don’t know and that uncertainty often makes them listen up.

        1. Haha +1000×1000. Kids are actually quite terrified of other adults (as long as they aren’t Tom Riddle). And most kids do “bad things” every now and then – it is literally a part of growing up. Getting caught is one of those things of growing up as well. The kid is likely very bored. And when my brother lit a broom on fire and marched around the yard with it, he stopped doing that when the neighbor caught him. No one had to talk to his parents. 99% of what kids do during the childhood and teen years are actually pretty benign and experimental things. If they start burning cats, though? Start to worry.

    5. In French, the expression for that Beady Mom Eye is ‘les gros yeux’, or, the big eyes. Apparently it’s a universal.

  2. Apparently I have feelings about so many of the questions today!

    Q1: Definitely speak up in the moment to interrupt the bad behavior, using a calm, conversational tone if you can (the first time, at least), and definitely notify the parents.

    Q2: KITTEHS! Looking forward to pictures!

    Q3: I too struggle with this. Definitely follow Cap’s advice in terms of immediate “thank you” – it’s a quick acknowledgment that doesn’t require the complimenter to attend the unscheduled brain weasel revue. Consider documenting these little moments of positive feedback to challenge those brain weasels at later times.

    Q5: OMG! My mom totally was a Performer. I dreaded visiting her and her husband because no matter how innocuous and pleasant the circumstances in the moment, she would use me as a bludgeon at some point during the visit (or repeatedly). Definitely have escape plans and alone time built into the weekend. Recruit at least one friend that can throw you a lifeline in case of emergency. Secure your own transportation.

    Q6: Yikes, it’s hard to cope with the apologism/triangulation of mutual friend who you like and want to stay friends with. But you do need to shut that dysfunction down because it’s just a way to perpetuate the original problems.

    Q14: Story time! A friend of mine was a belly dancer and regularly performed at one of the Middle Eastern restaurants (along with several other dancers). There was a particularly annoying regular patron of the restaurant who liked to give “helpful advice” to the dancers (He was an older white man. Of course. With Very Important Opinions). Anyway, one night, after she finished her performance, he “complimented” her hair and suggested that it should be longer for a better effect during her dancing. She “thanked” him and pointed out that all her hair had fallen out during cancer treatment, and this was the longest it had grown in the year (2 years) since then. He was rightly abashed. I doubt the effect lasted, though.

    1. Q6 here– yup, and thanks! I was kinda trying to, but not consistently, and having mixed feelings “if I could just Cope Better we’d be able to talk about it”. It’s helpful to hear that my instincts were good. Also it was weird for both of us to not be able to talk about a big thing in my life; remembering that that’s ok.

      1. Many years ago a woman in a hobby group I was very active in decided she was my nemesis or something. I’m still not sure exactly why she hated me so much. It was weird.

        I was pretty chill about it for a while because I figured eventually she’d either grow up or go away, but she obdurately refused to do either, and so when it reached the point that I was done, I was COMPREHENSIVELY DONE. I was done on a nuclear scale. No one survived the blast radius of how done I was. After that, I griped about her to my particular friends for a bit, got it out of my system, and stopped. Some months later, someone who had been a mutual friend buttonholed me at a hobby gathering and said aggressively right into my face “I’M NOT GOING TO PICK SIDES” and then started telling me how unfair I was to make my feelings everyone else’s problem. (GSF #1 ahoy!)

        I waited for her to take a breath and I said “Nobody fucking asked you to, but PLEASE, pick HER” and walked off.

    2. Hi there…. regarding Q2…There is a hysterically funny photographer named Andrew Marttila whose specialty is photos of cats absolutely gonzo on catnip!!!! If one is having a rough day… definitely recommend a few minutes with the furry goofballs to perk things up!!! Enjoy

  3. Q4: I myself ended up adopting the automatic (and SIMPLE) “Thanks” to a complement years ago, and honestly it’s (eventually) worked wonders. When I was younger I would tend to deflect compliments but as the good Captain says, this can make the social interaction more awkward. It turns out just saying “Thanks!” with a smile is exactly what the compliment giver is looking for, and frankly they always seem happy to have given me the compliment.

    If you’re like me, it will be awkward the first MANY times you try it, and you’ll have a pause, or start deflecting and have to back off. You’ll still wonder if the compliment is genuine. At least for me, after keeping this habit for a long time (and continuing therapy) I find now I actually do accept some compliments.

    The other secret: sometimes you won’t believe a compliment. Sometimes the brainweasels will come. That’s ok! I recommend saying “Thanks” anyway for social reasons and trying not to over-ruminate about it. (Probably a good time for me to plug “The Happiness Trap”, which for me was the most useful book I’ve ever read for mental health).

    1. I got really lucky. I had a coworker in my 20s who was a Real Live Genuine Gracious Southern Lady (in the best ways). When she resigned, I gave her a plush-toy as a going-away present. When she said “Thank you!” she said it in such a way and with such wonder and enthusiasm that I felt thoroughtly thanked all over.

      Whenever I receive a gift or a complement, I just channel her. Not only does it seem to please the giver, but it does a complete end-run around the brain weasels.

    2. When I was in my late teens, one of the boys I played Dungeons and Dragons with would compliment me, and when I thanked him, he’d say “No, really,” as if I’d said “Oh, you don’t mean it.” Pretty much for that reason, I didn’t like that boy.

    3. It took me years to get up to “Thanks!” and stop. For a long time, I was at an intermediate phase where I’d say thanks and then something factual and emotionally neutral like “Thanks! I got it at Target!” or “Thanks! I’ve always loved macrame!” It made me feel less awkward, and it completed the social circuit with a volley back to the other person so they could engage in small talk with a subject deflection. Plain “Thanks!” is better in a lot of situations, but again, this was a really helpful intermediate state for me.

  4. I am feeling Q7 so hard. Any contact from my MIL just makes my day so much worse, and I have a hard time even looking at it. Yesterday she sent me an eCard for my wedding anniversary (which makes her basically the only person to remember I had one) and it’s not like I can tell her to stop, because you aren’t allowed to say “being reminded of your existence makes the world a worse place for me.”

    I really wish cutting off all contact were an option. I really wish I could prevent her from ever putting her poisonous talons on my children ever again. Until I had to deal with her, I did not understand that it was actually possible to hate a real actual person that you interact with (as opposed to, say, an enemy politician that you’ve never met) and I don’t like the feeling and I don’t like knowing that I’m capable of it.

    I know that at this point my reactions have generalized and are incommensurate with her actual actions, but knowing that doesn’t actually make anything better.

    I’m sorry OP7, I don’t think this probably helps you at all, but you are not alone.

    1. I had text contact with my person who sends my brain weasels into a frenzy yesterday and promptly upon concluding the interaction engaged in [behavior I am seeing a therapist about] that isn’t super healthy for me and didn’t realize the connection until today. I wish there were fewer of us who could relate.

      The Captain’s advice is awesome, Q7, and you are not alone.

  5. Re: 8: I’m a cis bisexual woman in a monogamous marriage with a cis straight man. I have a pretty big, year’s-long crush on our mutual friend, I., who is a mostly-gay-but-a-tiny-bit-bi cisman who also is a very dear friend of mine and whom I’ve helped support through assault-related PTSD (which we both have in common). The crush hasn’t gone away, and it’s okay! My husband knows all about it, it’s cool, and I’ve mostly just come to accept that I have a long-term crush on I., and as long as I don’t act on it, whelp! There it is. All is transparent in my relationship, I’ve not acted on it at all, and all of the honesty just made it okay for me to say “I have an ongoing crush on I. and that’s normal and fine, next order of business”. It’s okay to feel your feels! It doesn’t have to be shady or weird, and you definitely don’t have to act on them.

    1. I completely agree. When husband (cis straight man) and I (cis straight woman) were dating, there was a mutual acquaintance on whom I had a crush. I was open and honest about it with my SO and not only was he cool with it, he admitted if he had any bisexual leanings he would probably also have a crush on said acquaintance. In some ways it might be better to talk to your own SO about this so the feelings are building up like a Big Thing, especially if you emphasize that you will respect your own relationship boundaries.

        1. You know yourself and your partner best, LW8! I’ve definitely dated people who would be charmed to know I had a crush on someone else, and would share that as a fun/goofy intimacy that they would tease me about in cute ways. I’ve also dated people whose brain weasels would go running with that knowledge, or who would just feel flat-out bummed out. (And the guy I married has been both types of people, depending on where his mental health and happiness were at!) Having a relationship where “all is transparent” is great! But it’s okay also to just be clear about your feelings and your intentions to yourself.

          I don’t think anybody here is trying to convince you otherwise, but I do want to reiterate that having a crush isn’t cheating, and it’s not something you need to “confess,” especially if you think such a confession would only be hurtful. Good luck and enjoy the brightness this crush can bring you!

  6. May I recommend that anyone diagnosed with ADHD as an adult who would love some media representation check out A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole? It was published just this past week, and it’s a contemporary romance about a woman trying to “find herself” via a swordsmithing apprenticeship in Scotland while learning that maybe she ISN’T a hot mess, but maybe instead has ADHD and isn’t broken? And she’s apprenticing with a hot swordsmith who finds out he’s the bastard son of the former Duke of Edinburgh (his mom is a former Chilean refugee to Scotland)? It’s a wonderful book (and the first in the series, A Princess in Theory, is equally great), and I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter who were diagnosed with ADHD as adults talk about how much the positive rep meant for them.

    1. This is news I can use – I’ve just read two of her Civil War romances and they are great. Thank you!

      1. You’re welcome! It seemed to fit exactly, and I love Alyssa Cole. Her post-apoc romance series Off the Grid is also pretty great, though I’d advise people check content warnings on them as they have a few moments that might be hard for some.

    2. I haven’t read A Duke By Default, by just a heads up about A Princess in Theory for anyone interested—the hero deceives the heroine quite extensively (lies to her, rents the apartment next to hers under a false name, etc) in order to get close to her and eventually sleep with her. It reeeally freaked me out. Plenty of other people love the book though! 😦

      Cap—super enjoyed the short answers today, as always! Especially the answer to the last question. Soooo good.

      1. Thanks for the warning, the book sounds great in the blurb and reviews but this scenario is for me an automatic pitch-the-book moment. I’ve hated this scenario ever since I read Judith Krantz’s Scruples II, and the sequel where the guy who was lied to for months is supposed to be groveling makes me stabby.

      2. This is a good point! That scenario is an auto-nope for some people. I don’t like it in general but found A Princess in Theory tolerable. No such deception between the hero and heroine is present in A Duke by Default.

        For the record, one can read A Duke by Default without reading A Princess in Theory, even though Princess is technically the first in the series. I read Duke first and loved it for itself.

    3. I ALSO loved this book. The heroine’s history was uncomfortably like my own, and I’m not used to seeing that kind of bopping from one thing to another represented as a thing that normal people do.

    4. Read this this weekend!! And… now I think I might have ADD lol. But it was a really good read, thanks for the recommendation!

  7. For Q12, the no-notice visitors, I’ve found that these people tend to treat my family as second- or third-tier socialization options– I’m inferring this from the fact that whenever they “would love to see us” and leave us waiting for hours, it later turns out that they saw X and Y and Z and “had a great time with them!” My guess is that they like us enough to make plans, but don’t like us enough to take on whatever minor inconveniences keeping those plans would entail. This is in obvious contrast to their first-tier socialization options, who they clearly like enough to accommodate their plans, wishes, and feelings.

    Eventually I stopped putting out the effort to smooth over their lack of consideration for me and my plans, they were offended, and I was okay with that.

  8. Q3: As another ADHD-diagnosis-as-adult-and-I-thought-I-was-lazy-and-worthless-my-whole-life person, I still struggle with complements. I always feel terrible, in fact, because it feels like I managed to…trick them into thinking I was not terrible?

    One thing that helped me learn to take compliments was to think about the person complimenting me. Did I think they had good judgement? Did I think they were generally good at understanding things? When they made a decision, were they often right? Then maybe, they were also right about me.

  9. Thanks for answering my question, Cap’n. (I’m #9 up yonder.)

    I’m on more than 4 cumulative years of Couples Counseling and, well.

    I guess I am starting to wonder if we have passed the point where no amount of continuing counseling can save this relationship.

    Counselor has started making noises about maybe referring us to somebody else, because he’s about out of ideas. Is that his way of saying we should throw in the towel? Short of the trained professional telling us that this relationship cannot be saved, how do people know that it is time to throw in the towel?

    I already know that, by the Sheelzebub Principle, I have to start the long slog up Mount Divorce. I don’t think those are Giant Eagles up there, I think that’s Orville the Albatross from Albatross Airlines. Or maybe his brother, Wilbur.

    Spouse sounds like he is very sure that he wants our relationship to work for both of us.
    I am very sure that I want our relationship to work for both of us.
    But it’s been a very long time since our relationship DID work for us.

    1. Good luck to you! I have no experience with couples counseling but it sounds like you’re in a tough spot.

    2. Veteran of much couples’ counseling here. Happily married at the end of it.

      One counselor being out of ideas by no means indicates that there’s nothing left to do. Every therapist has their own “bag of tricks”, their sub-specialties they work best in, and of course different people they click with better than others. We ended up leaving one therapist because it turned out that the root of a lot of our problems was bedroom stuff, and she didn’t have a lot of interest, aptitude, or comfort for bedroom stuff.

      Assuming you are not dealing with personality disorders or active addiction, I think a lot comes down to whether people can and will work on stuff. And it is tricky to work on stuff! It is not straightforward work, like putting away dishes or cutting the grass. It is stuff like, setting boundaries around toxic relatives, or controlling your temper better, or learning to fight fair. It can be super-slippery to deal with. And also you probably cannot stop everything else and just work on your relationship, so depending how the rest of your life is going, it can be really hard to get the time and energy and focus to, say, hone your active listening skills.

      I think it’s a really personal thing to say when it is time to leave. For me, my line was 1) I cannot see how to be happy living as we are and 2) I have tried everything I know to try. That is me, though. My temperament, my situation. We have young children, which makes divorce 100x more complicated. Also my husband was never actively making my life worse–if he was a wild overspender, or getting us in legal trouble, or something, I would have been less patient to wait and see.

      Good luck.

      1. Just a note: people with addiction and personality disorders can also successfully have relationships and benefit from therapy. They can be, and are often, willing to work on stuff. Neither precludes you from or makes you unworthy of having fulfilling relationships of any kind.

      2. Thank you. That helps — I was concerned that I must be Doing Couples Counseling Wrong because it’s taking so long to get anywhere.

        1. If you haven’t already, maybe a way to evaluate this/other-potential therapist(s) would be to sit down together, list out in as much detail as you can articulate, where the “where” is you want to get to. Maybe that might tighten the focus of your effort enough to identify therapists better equipped to help you?

    3. The thing is that you’ll never know with perfect certainty what the right choice is, or when it’s time to end something. We can’t know the future, and after we make decisions, we can’t go back and test other ones out to confirm we made the right choice. Even if you found a trained professional who said you needed to break up right now, you could find another one in five minutes who would say the opposite.

      Let go of the idea that someone else can make the decision for you and work with the information you have now: your relationship isn’t working now, you’ve been trying for four years, and you’re losing (have lost?) faith in the counseling process. It’s not a fun decision to make, but it’s almost certainly going to be better than this limbo.

      Good luck!

      1. Aaargh. (I don’t WANNA go climb a stupid mountain! I’m already slogging away down here!)

        Okay, thanks. That’s a very reasonable way to frame the problem.

    4. Hi, Verbose. What if you reframe the concept of divorce as making the “the relationship work for both of you”? How does that idea sit with you? Best wishes for both of you 🙂

      1. Throughout my counseling and then divorce process, I just kept reminding myself that divorce doesn’t end happy/good relationships. After 20+ years together, we had reached an end. I also told myself that, if ex-spouse had died, the marriage wouldn’t have been a “failure,” so why should it be seen that way when we’re choosing to separate? We did counseling together for 6 months or so. I wish we had done more, but ex-spouse was done.

    5. Have you asked this question of your counselor? Next time you see him, can you say, “When you make noises about referring us to someone else, is it your way of saying it’s time to throw in the towel? How can we tell if it’s time to throw in the towel?” and see what he says? I have never been to couples counseling, but I’ve been to therapy, and I’ve always had good luck asking questions about my therapy directly (what are our goals? what does being better look like for me?).

      Best of luck. Hopefully you’ll find a way to happiness, whether together or apart.

      1. Alas: this particular counselor is (confirmed by solo therapist at same practice) of the Never Tell Clients to End Relationship school. When asked, he carefully redirects to describing the root issue he sees in us, and what he wants us to work on.

        1. Aack! Captain, please change my name back to Verbose? I can’t figure out how to adjust it on previous post.

    6. I can suggest the works by the Gottman Institute. It’s based on scientific research on what behaviors can predict divorce. I found his work helpful in strengthening my own long term relationship, so maybe you will find it useful also? They have published several books, as well as a blog.

      Here’s a blog post that addresses precisely your question:

    7. Hi Verbose,

      It sounds like you need a new counsellor to me, if you and your spouse aren’t certain how to proceed after so much therapy.

      Four cumulative years of treatment with the same counsellor is a LOT, and I don’t know where you started, but it seems like you could have been wasting time with an ineffective therapist.

      I’m sorry. It’s very clear your counsellor is out of ideas and out of his depth. It sounds like he has no clue how to move forward with your situation.

      Whether or not he’s implying that you should throw in the towel – who knows?

      If you were working with an effective counsellor I think you may have more clarity around your situation by now.
      When I went to couples counselling it was obvious within 4 sessions that divorce was the healthiest and best option for me, as a point of reference.

      Only you can say whether you are in the grips of the sunk cost fallacy or not. But if you are a person who isn’t ready to separate now, please seek a highly respected professional for a new approach to your marriage counselling.

      Best of luck!

      1. Thank you. I think that, in another couple of sessions, I’m going to ask the current counselor whether he thinks we should try a different therapist and if so, what should we look for. (And then see how Spouse reacts.)

    8. I wouldn’t bet your therapist is *hinting* at you throwing in the towel. That seems like the time for straight talk. I’ve had 2 tell me explicitly to throw in the towel. They weren’t coy or slow about it.

    9. ” I have to start the long slog up Mount Divorce”

      Yeah but think about how fun and refreshing the slide back down will be. 🙂

    10. I am a LMFT in the SE USA. I have had colleagues and I have also referred couples to other counseling professionals. 9 x out of 10 it’s because the referral is able to help with a specialized need the clients wish to address which is out of my scope of practice. Otherwise I have referred out because of personality, ethical or safety concern. There’s no one ” right” way to do therapy. Promise!!!! All of the major accreditation agencies for professional counseling have some form of a therapist database to look for a new therapist. (AAMFT, APA, NASW, AAPC etc.) I would suggest looking for someone who can work in a Cognitive Behavioral and/or Solution Focused frame of reference. Those are very goal directed in so far as you and your partner would work with the therapist to achieve specific goals both individually and as a couple. Best wishes and feel free to respond if I can answer any questions you may have.

    11. There was about a year of therapy every week before we got married, and then we do check-ins or a few weeks in a row to work on one particular problem as it comes up on an ongoing basis. But you could say I have been in couples therapy for seven years now, and expect to be doing so for the rest of my life. In between therapy sessions, the relationship is pretty damn awesome. When we do run into an issue, I can see through it to the other side where things will be awesome again. So I am not sure there’s a time frame after which it’s all downhill. I am sure you have done this already, but if you look forward in time, does this seem like it will be fun eventually?

  10. Q15: Great advice! I for one am sick of seeing the poor attitude, closed-minded, bigoted attitude of people on social media. Honestly, every post I see from some people is an attack on one gender or a specific religion and even just completely untrue statements about wages. Some even outright call for the murder of a practically defenceless group that they don’t even deem fit to be human!

    But I’m glad I can just hide all my liberal friends. 🙂

    1. What an unhelpful thing to say!

      We’re here to help letter-writers, not troll or shame them.

        1. Unhelpful for whom?

          No, don’t answer that.

          Mable, it’s too bad you hid the feeds of all the liberals in your life who actually like you! Maybe they could explain this to you?

          And if you are conservative and not a bigot, maybe you could spend time wrangling your fellow conservatives? Your white supremacist president with his white supremacist attorney general and white supremacist staff and white supremacist policies and white supremacist rhetoric is making you look really, really bad!

          Unfortunately, this is all the time I have for you, today, or ever. I hope we’ve satisfied your curiosity about how curation works and that you enjoy my curation hammer!

        2. In question, the LW was shaming bigots by branding them as bigots. There was no assumption. There was people doing and saying bigoted things.

        3. Bigots are as bigots do. Don’t want to be called a bigot? Don’t act like one.

          ^ I’m hoping that very small script will be useful for anyone with bigots on their facebook/twitter/email/etc. I also strongly recommend blocking jerks after dropping that on them. Don’t worry, you won’t be missing out on any good arguments for being horrible to people.

    2. Mable, can I ask you an honest question?

      What are you hoping to gain here? Do you just want an audience to make liberal jokes? Do you think you’re magically going to convince a “room” full of people asking how to deal with their bigoted relatives that YOUR bigoted way is the one true way? Do you think you’re going to change minds here?

      What is the point of spending your time doing this?

      1. Good questions! Mable won’t be posting here anymore, so we’ll never know if this was sincerity or sea-lioning. Maybe the liberal friends whose feeds s/he hid will explain it someday. Now I gotta volunteer three extra hours on some campaign stuff I’m doing as penance for the hour I spent engaging with Mable.

  11. Q15: BLOCK THESE PEOPLE, FOR REAL. No, seriously, just do it. I blocked my horrible relatives on Facebook and you know what! They were mad! They ranted about it! And I didn’t see any of it because they were blocked! I don’t miss them.

    Making your choices and letting people feel what they feel about it without you giving a single solitary shit is one of the most important skills you can learn. I encourage you to take this opportunity to practice!

    1. I deleted one of my aunts after she allowed one of her friends to berate my daughter about her “legal status.” My daughter has her father’s very obviously Mexican last name. For added irony, my daughter is a Daughter of the American Revolution through her great-grandmother … Racist Aunt’s own mom.

  12. For Q15, I definitely get you on the “Arguing with this person who is clearly being an ass is exhausting, but I don’t want to just let this turd sit here out in the open and unchallenged, in case someone impressionable happens along and steps in it.” It’s probably worth thinking about who is likely to come across your counter-arguments. Young cousins? Someone in your family who is being targeted by the original post, and could use the show of support? If the answer is “nobody”, and the original posts are just being yelled into a void with little/no audience, I’d just leave them alone.

    If you to choose to keep at it with whatever frequency is good for you, one way to turn the argument around is to own the fact that you are emotional: “Yes, I am very emotional about racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. Those are awful things, and they only decent response to them is to be upset by their existence. The fact that you treat this like some sort of abstract game, rather than real people really being hurt, says more about you than it does about me.”

    1. This is great! I curate the comments & debates on my wall quite heavily b/c I know that a lot of audiences are watching. As for other people’s feeds, I have enough internet comments to read, thank you.

      1. Curate in what way, if you don’t mind me asking? I’ve seen this handled differently from person to person, so I’d love to hear your take on it. 🙂

        1. If I post an article on my Facebook wall, and one of my contacts starts saying offensive things about the article in the comments, and especially if they go after other commenters, I will invest time & energy into pushing back on what they said, intervening if comments get personal, correcting factual errors, etc. I will delete comments if they cross a line, I will tell people they are no longer welcome to comment on a certain thread, maybe even unfriend or block if it crosses certain lines. Knowing that you lean conservative I’m trying to answer this without specific examples, but, aw, fuck it.

          I live in Chicago where the police sometimes/often like to shoot young unarmed black folks and lie their faces off about it. Our city also pays out HUNDREDS of millions of dollars in police brutality settlements (so, those are just the ones where they got caught and it actually went to court) while closing schools, mental health clinics, youth job programs, affordable housing, and other resources that would help struggling communities.

          “Chicago” is a flashpoint talking point for racist conservatives. It’s “Obama’s city,” it’s a segregated city, it does have a gun violence problem, it does have corruption issues, it gets thrown around a lot as a code for a liberal place that doesn’t work. There are lots of dogwhistles and code words like this that right wingers use as shorthand (“New York Elites” = Jews, “San Francisco” = gays. “Chicago” = black people, and Obama), so if you are white, and if you don’t live here, and if you live in an all-white place, and if all you’ve ever known of what’s happening here is from national news & esp. Fox news, you don’t fucking know. You just don’t know. You know a code word. You know a caricature. You know a talking point.

          The black kids in Chicago who might not come home safe if the wrong cop pulls them over ARE MY STUDENTS (one of my students is a pizza delivery driver, he’s been stopped by the cops more than 100 times before he turned 19). They are my neighbors. They are my friends, they are my friends’ kids.

          So If I’m having a conversation about protests and police brutality in Chicago, and you come in from New England (where my people are) or parts of Texas (where my husband’s people are) and you tell me that black kids get shot because of “black-on-black crime”, “they should follow the rules then” or some other ignorant platitude, I am gonna ask you to reconsider and if you won’t, then I am gonna read your ass for filth and then I am probably going to block you from my feed and maybe from my life.

          Because those kids are my kids, they are reading these discussions, they just had to watch another video where someone who looks just like them died for no fucking reason. Their human rights are not debatable, their fear is not exaggerated, and their comfort is not less important than some jackass I went to high school with who chooses a discussion about a dead teenager to debate whether “blue lives matter.” The white people in my life who love the police so much would NEVER, and I mean NEVER, submit to the amount of policing and surveillance that black communities in Chicago live under.

          That’s what I mean by “curation.”

          They can be racist dickheads in their own feed (that I don’t read).

          1. That sounds like quite an ordeal. As someone not from the area, I’ve heard there’s a lot of gang violence, is that true?

          2. There is gang violence, concentrated in neighborhoods where the city has made a series of deliberate decisions to disinvest in infrastructure and caring for people (closing schools, mental health clinics, community centers, affordable housing, job training, parks, arts & cultural institutions, and other investments that thrive in other parts of the city and make this an awesome place to live) in favor of “more cops on the street.” Redlining & outright theft from black homeowners, public transit and roads that were literally built to help white people bypass black neighborhoods, and a history of segregation don’t help. Our current mayor just keeps compounding it – investing in downtown, white communities & already wealthy communities, selling off city services to the highest bidder, tearing down public housing, literally bulldozing community organizations, and abandoning other neighborhoods except to send cops.

          3. Maybe this is not your area of expertise and it’s okay to just say “that’s a complex problem that I don’t know anything about in a place I don’t live” and move on with your day! And, back to your question about curation, if you were my Facebook friend, this is the kind of stuff I would delete so that the people who DO know and who ARE having an informed discussion can keep doing that.

          4. The “Chicago” thing makes me crazy. As a code, it’s not even subtle. You know what, here are some cities with higher murder rates than Chicago (numbers from 2015): Birmingham AL, New Orleans LA, Baltimore, MA, Jackson MS, Baton Rouge LA, and number one: St Louis MO.
            We all know what you mean when you talk about crime in Chicago, all you talking heads on Fox and you internet concern trolls. Get away from me with your Chicago nonsense.

          5. Bleh. I’m in a midsized Midwestern city (with its own segregation and overpolicing issues) and my inlaws are in a smaller Midwestern city immediately north of Chicago, so as you can imagine the specter of People From Chicago coming on trains and… I don’t know, being black around them? comes up a bit. My spouse and I have conversations about “Chicago, it’s probably not like you hear from your parents even if they were there for bible college thirty fucking years ago” a lot. So hey, I really appreciated this mini explainer on the Chicago dogwhistle, even if Mable probably didn’t read it.

          6. I live in Austin. I can spot right-wingers pretty reliably when I hear people speaking ominously about “the problems in the inner cities”. “Um? Austin is a pretty good-sized city, and does not have any of the problems you seem so worried about?” And then they say, “oh. yeah. Not Austin, of course. I meant Chicago.” I never quite understood all the hand-wringing about a city a thousand miles away from us, which most of these people have never been to, but I knew it was a sign of their leanings. Thank you for the explanation.

          7. As someone from Chicago, let me tell you, it is a trip when someone like Trump uses your beloved (and, yes, violent) hometown as a gotcha. (Now I can imagine how people feel when they’re from Detroit or Appalachia and see the way those places are represented in the media. Like, *do you not get that this is someone’s home.*)

    2. There’s also prefacing exactly what you’re doing by stating exactly what you’re doing. You can begin calling out comments with “I’ve tried to talk sense into FBFriend with only limited success, but in case others are reading this, I did want to state for the record that ABC isn’t true for XYZ reasons.”

    3. I find saying one thing + disengaging from the conversation is the best I’ve got. “What a fucked up/ignorant/racist/homophobic thing to say!” Or find someone else’s rebuttal and post it.

      The when the first notice comes in, don’t read it. Instead, check the little “block notifications for this post” button and move on with your life.

      You’ve spoken up for the young cousins (who sometimes will email you privately and thank you!), without getting horribly sucked in, you’ve said no to bigotry without letting bigots drain your will to live, this is a success, walk away.

      Or, you know, block and pretend they died. Also good.

        1. I don’t know Facebook but on Twitter, there are block lists to which you can subscribe (I’d be surprised if Facebook didn’t have something similar). During the run up to the 8th Amendment referendum @RepealShield were utter legends because all you had to do was subscribe and @ them and all the anti-choicers magically disappeared of our feeds (except when they were quote-tweeted whingeing that they were unable to harass Repealers anymore, wah, wah, my right to free speech is being taken away, etc. watch me not weep at all that anti-choicers can’t harass me). When the Belfast rugby rape trial was going on they got rape apologists off our timelines. Block lists are a godsend in terms of curating one’s feed.

  13. Q7 – I have been there and empathize so hard. I was dealing with PTSD and small contacts from family triggered me because I never knew whether they would be friendly or not. I finally got ahead of the anxiety by going on a retreat where we literally put our phones in a basket and got them back at the end of the retreat. No internet, no phone, no chance of contact from Them. I know a retreat is not for everyone (for financial, personal, work, etc reasons), but I can suggest turning those devices off for a set amount of time (each week, each day, whatever your preference) and revel in the freedom of not having contact. I did this while keeping shabbat (Jewish sabbath) for a few months and it was so nice. I’d go have a meal with friends, hang out with a musical instrument, or whatever. Literally anything that doesn’t require phone or internet.

    It’s not an all-the-time solution, but having a refuge – KNOWING that there were a few hours or a whole day where I was guaranteed no contact with anyone who was not in walking distance, was a huge relief.

    1. When I put my phone in “do not disturb” mode, it gives me the option of allowing certain contacts through while blocking the others, which could also be an option if you can’t turn your phone off all the way (like if you reach your support system through your phone, or if you’re at work and you need your kid’s daycare to be able to reach you or whatever).

      1. I *love* Do Not Disturb mode. I’m a night shift worker so having my phone buzz, ring, beep, and squawk throughout the day is awful. Telemarketers were waking me from deep slumber. It was bad. But I want to hear from my mom if something happens and she needs to get in touch right away. So I have Do Not Disturb set from about 9am to 9pm, with a list of important exceptions – parents, siblings, my local safety network, significant others – who can get through to me no matter what time it is. I have told these people that they are on the List Of People Who Can Make My Phone Make Noise, and if they call me it’d better be important. It’s been a godsend.

        The friend who taught me about this (and named the list) leaves his phone on this setting all the time. He only needs immediate notification from the important people. Everyone else can wait until he decides to check his phone.

        1. And in case I ever turn off Do Not Disturb, my default ringtone is silence. Blessed silence. People who need to talk to me get assigned ringtones that actually make (pleasant) noise.

    2. Yeah.

      Me, I do not answer the phone unless I want to. I turn it off entirely any TIME I want to. If you have a more sophisticated phone than mine, there are ways to put sets of phone numbers on a list that you can selectively block for periods of time, so that if it’s important that you stay available to other people, you can. That means you can turn off calls from just your family for days if you want to. Email? Direct anything from them to a specific folder and check it only when you feel able to.

      It does not matter that they are family. If they hurt you, you do not owe them your availability.

  14. Q15. “That’s right. I do get emotional when I see you saying horrible things on Facebook. That’s why I call you out on them.”

    Thing is, they’re counting on you being so offended by being called a name (emotional, irrational- In my day it was either “hysterical” or “cute”) that you’ll stop bothering them. Their tactic only works if you’ll do anything rather than be called a name. My favorite example is the people who figure you’ll give them money rather than be called cheap. The trick is to agree with them, then keep calling them out. Wait, you might be thinking, how can I agree with them when they’re insulting me? Answer: You don’t have to actually believe it; you only need disarm it. All of us are emotional at times, hysterical at times, (also cute or cheap or ugly at times). So you agree to the name and privately know that it’s not a bad thing.

  15. Q1: A neighbor came to my house recently and asked if Smirk Jr. and I had a moment to talk. My son to come out from his bedroom very sheepishly when he realized who it was. Neighbor spoke directly to my son (who was 10 at the time) but with me present. She said, “Do you know why I’m here?” He squirmed a little then shrugged. She went on to describe seeing him yank our dog’s leash too hard a few times when he was out walking her the day before. She said she knows he cares about our pooch, that pooch is smaller than he is, and that it’s his job to keep her safe when walking her. Smirk Jr. was super uncomfortable but he nodded and said okay.

    I LOVE that she came over and addressed my son like a real human person. She showed that she not only expected him to be his better self, but that she knew he could. She was also letting him know in a gentle way that other adults besides me have their eye on the neighborhood and on him. She had this conversation in front of me which filled me in on something potentially problematic without laying the blame on me and my neglectful parenting. This is a retiree, kids all grown and gone. I know her by name but that’s as close as we are. I have never hung out with her in any substantial way before, and this encounter didn’t change our friendly neighbor dynamic at all. I thought she handled it beautifully. Food for thought.

  16. Q13. Another tool in the toolbox before changing the subject and hanging up the phone: Sympathy. “Oh, isn’t that just TOO awful.” Ideally, you get the tone right between sincere and sarcastic. I like to let the sympathy response come right after a real suggestion of advice response. In order, it goes:

    Mother: Complaint, martyrdom, manipulation.
    You: Good advice, suggestion, something to do that will change things (therapy).
    Mother: That won’t work because reasons, and besides, complaint, martyrdom and manipulation.
    You: Sympathy.
    You: Skipping along to subject change.

  17. Q3 – One thing that really helped me learn to take compliments is doing performance based creative things. There is a moment after a show where people in the audience will come up to you and tell you you were great. Maybe you literally fell flat on your face on stage like I have done, or missed an entrance, or forgot part of your comedy routine. But at the end of the day, you showed up and you put yourself out there for people, you spent time with them an did something they respect and those people want to make supportive noises and have a moment of contact and mutual validation with you.

    You may not be performing, but if you’re getting a compliment it is because you’ve given someone something positive. You’ve done something helpful for someone, been a good friend, wore a cute shirt that made someone smile, kept writing an amazing blog that helps people. People want to show their gratitude for that by telling you that you did good. Let them.

    If it helps when i’m feeling super vulnerable I will picture myself as Angelica Houston in some gorgeous brocaid dressing gown thanking my adoring fans for their support before I go back to my dressing room full of flowers and not too muscly but also half naked men. I couldn’t disappoint them, obviously! 😛

    1. I have the biggest difficulty taking compliments specifically in regard to my creative performance based stuff. I’ve gotten pretty good at just thanking people and stopping, but I am a ferocious critic in my own head, both of myself and others. I keep performing anyway, and trying to push my limits and try new things – but the more I try new things, the more I’m likely to make mistakes, and the more sharply critical of myself I get. I keep hoping to get to the place where I’m okay with “the best I could do right now”, but it hasn’t happened yet.

      At the same time, my ability to carry on and perform, in a variety of circumstances, even when things go badly wrong, has increased dramatically. (Singing on my hands and knees, under a grand piano, while frantically sorting the accompanist’s fallen music comes vividly to mind.) I just still feel terrible afterward, and cringe when people compliment me.

      I have gotten much better at accepting other sorts of compliments, so maybe it will come one day, if I just keep saying “Thank you!”

  18. For Q8: I love everything the captain said, I just wanted to add my own coping strategy which usually turns out to be useful to my relationship (I’m a ciswoman in a monogamous marriage).

    Anytime I’ve had a crush outside of any of my past committed relationships, I would assess first if it was an innocent crush like I want to be like them, or if I had PANTSfeelings for them. I did an exercise on paper if it was the latter.

    Step 1: Make a list of everything you admire/find attractive about that person and title it with their name.
    ~Attractive Dude~
    -great at making people feel comfortable
    -surfer blonde hair
    (probably longer list but just as an example)

    Step 2: [don’t think about this step while doing step 1] Cross out Attractive Dude’s name and put your partner’s name.

    Step 3: Cross out/put an x next to all traits Partner shares with Attractive Dude.
    x-great at making people feel comfortable
    -surfer blonde hair

    Step 4: Assess what remains. 90% of the time I did this, what was left on the list was an unmet need(s).

    In the example above, Partner and Attractive Dude are both funny, smart, and good with people. Partner, however is not respectful and doesn’t have glorious hair.

    This becomes a great way to assess your needs, and decide if you need to communicate with your partner on something. Maybe the hair is just nice and you can admire it from afar as attractive. But let’s say “respectful” was the issue. Maybe your partner just has bad manners and it’s a conversation that goes like, “hey, it would mean a lot to me to me if you said please and thank you more.” Maybe it’s something more serious like your partner calls you names or trashes you to your parents. Either way, you get really good information about your relationship.

    A side effect to this is that whenever I did this exercise, my crush usually faded shortly after because my focus was on my relationship.

    1. I love this idea! It would also make it easier to figure out if it’s just one of those situations where the best way to deal with it is to sit and allow yourself to look at/imagine an attractive person (which I generally can do without guilt), vs if there’s some deeper dissatisfaction with your relationship.

    2. What a constructive way to look at it, this is amazing!

      (though part of me is remembering that episode of Friends with the pros and cons list ROSS IS THE WORST UGH and wants me to urge anyone doing this to then burn/irretrievably delete this once finished).

  19. Q5 – My family are Bickerers. My sister once said to me “If I can’t be mean to my family who can I be mean to!”

    Hi… no one? Things have gotten better but people still fall into patterns sometimes.

    I also think sometimes people forget that real life is not actually a sit com? like, you aren’t going to get canned laughter when you land the sickest burn. Maybe it’s better to just find ways to make living together more positive.

  20. Q3. This is hard! Part of what helped me get to “oh, thank you!” rather than trying to explain (a) why it was no big deal, or (b) not really a thing at all, or… yeah… is that self-deprecating bullshit? Is basically looking at a person who *just said something nice to you* and saying “let me explain to you why your judgement/taste/whatever is wrong”… Which is rude. And while I wholeheartedly reserve my right to be rude, I try not to turn it on people who just said something nice to me. And it is something that gets better with practice — you really can get to the point where you complete the social circuit regardless of the feels you have about that, and I’ve found that it starts to change the way those feels manifest, too.

    1. This is exactly what helped me take complements and receive thanks (my job is literally to help people do complicated stuff, so I get thanked a lot, and a lot of the time my reaction is to brush it off as no big deal). I heard an interview with Stephen Fry where he had come to the same conclusion – when someone compliments you, and you brush it off, that indicates to them that you think their judgement is wrong, which might make them feel bad right after they’ve tried to make you feel good. Now I just say “thank you” or “you’re welcome” as appropriate and over time the weirdness I feel about accepting praise has diminished a lot. I still feel it sometimes, but I’ve gotten a lot better at this.

  21. FWIW, “I suck at mindfulness” is actually the totally normal and commonly-experienced first step to being sorta good at mindfulness. And it’s absolutely painful to see your brain doing all the terrible stuff it’s always doing, but from there you “get to” practice accepting and gently refocusing etc.

    Not to say it has to be everyone’s jam, but it’s why I gave up quickly years ago, and I wish I’d stuck with it then. When I eventually tried again and stuck with it… well, I’m honestly bemused and a little exasperated by how much meditation and mindfulness practice have helped me. Like, of all the stuff I tried, just SITTING STILL and observing my thoughts for ten minutes every day is the thing that actually helps?? It just seems like some kind of trick. But there’s a lot of science now around meditation and the way it actually rewires your brain.

    From what I’ve read, any opportunity for quiet and reflection can have some of the same benefits (prayer, journaling, walks in nature, art, etc.)

    I too would freak out about my teeth, lol. OTOH I can sit for ages and closely, mindfully observe a sleeping cat. Practicing mindfulness about something nice is a perfectly good place to do that work.

    1. Thanks! I’m glad it helps you! I think I’ve achieved my lifetime limit of trying to do mindfulness.

      Stuff I’ve learned in 10 years of grappling with it:

      -I need to be doing something active for any of it to work, and it’s okay if I fucking hate meditation and will never do it. I swim at the pool, I take walks, I (soon!) will watch sleeping kitties, I color, I cook, I get into states where I’m just thinking or resting or doing stuff, but as soon as I try to call it mindfulness or make it a ritual thing I’m doing my shoulders tense up and I start to panic. So, no.
      -I’m not alone in that. Some of the exercises can actually be harmful/dangerous for people with trauma and anxiety. When I was in a very bad place, it led me further into the badness instead of out. And then it became just another thing I was failing at, like, I can’t even sit and think of nothing.
      -My Very Bad experiences with it were bad enough that when I found a new therapist it was like “do not tell me about mindfulness if you ever want to see me again.”
      -If it ever does actually work I will probably have a rage-stroke, that’s how much I fucken hate it.

      I know it SUPER WORKS for other people and everyone should consider it if they think it will help! It’s one of many valuable tools. Not mine, though.

      1. Absolutely, you gotta find what works for you. I 100% feel you on the “it sometimes makes things worse”. I wish someone had told me that, too (I also had some negative experiences and bad teachers). It’s another tool for the toolbox and nothing is the right tool for everyone. I mainly wanted to offer a bit of compassion: if you try it and it’s hard, that’s not because you are uniquely terrible and can’t even sit and think of nothing, it’s because sitting and thinking of nothing is *actually extremely difficult* and even people who have been doing it for many years struggle with it.

        Whether or not it’s worth pushing through that is a YMMV situation, as with so many things in life, and I’m never going to judge anyone else’s choices. Some people swear by jogging and I loathe jogging. Same for cooking, actually! But hey, if you love it then knock yourself out.

      2. I am so glad to hear I’m not alone in finding mindfulness exercises to be… well, exactly as you described them.

      3. mindfulness can also be really harmful for people with chronic physical pain. not all of us, not always! it’s different for everyone. but it’s a real danger for some of us.

        1. Yeah, I remember the days of needing to be anywhere *but* in my own body. (Well, I still have some, but usually for different reasons now.)

          I’m one of the lucky ones – I think mindfulness played a big part in getting me off all my painkillers – but (so many buts) I doubt it would have worked if I hadn’t found those working painkillers in the first place, and I still had to put most of the residual pain behind an imaginary dam and just process a tiny trickle at a time, and I tended to describe the process as “balancing on a knife edge in a hurricane”, and it was a really backasswards approach that broke a lot of the usual ‘rules’ of meditating, and I needed to stop and work on boundaries instead at times before I could feel safe doing even that…

          It would be nice if someday someone can find ways to give everyone the benefits of mindfulness, but I doubt that’s happening in my lifetime. Brains are hard.

          Oh, and even people who are more compatible with standard meditation can get royally fucked up by the Dark Night. 😛 “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an I!”

          1. interesting! i’m off all my painkillers too and my path has been almost the opposite. “YMMV” applies to SO many things in life and illness sure is one of them.

        2. god, yeah. once i stop focusing on things outside me, i immediately start noticing EVERY PART of me that hurts or feels weird, and then i get caught up in that, and it is the exact opposite experience i wanted to have. relaxing for me generally equals getting OUT of my brain and body and letting them do something mindLESS. i tried a formal meditation class once, thinking i was doing it wrong, and it put me in screaming pain every time i went.

      4. I lead mindfulness practices for others, and there’s a few things I try and always state
        1. You can’t be ‘good or bad’ at mindfulness, but you can definitely not enjoy it and THATS OKAY
        2. If you have any mental health difficulties or chronic pain, or you’re just not in a great place, mindfulness can often do more harm than good because it teaches you to specifically pay attention and often that attention is directed towards the thing that is NOT HELPFUL.
        3. Mindfulness isn’t for everyone and the best time to develop a practice (contrary to popular belief) is when you’re in a. Good Place.

        Tl;dr I love mindfulness but it’s often oversold and is definitely not a cure all

        1. Yup. As an adult ADHD diagnosee/sufferer (even a medicated one) I have a feeling there aren’t many of us for whom mindfulness would ever work at all, so thanks for pointing that out. The ADHD brain is just wired in a completely different way.

          (If you’ve got the same Dx and mindfulness works for you, then great and I’m proven wrong!)

      5. Have you ever read Eckhart Tolle’s books? No wait don’t ban me I’m not recommending them, I just wanted to share how much I hate them. I get the rage even thinking about it. 2 years ago I started with a new therapist to try and deal with drinking too much and some other dissociative behaviours and he recommended Tolle and pooh-poohed my objections to doing mindfulness of the breath with cough variant asthma and I ended up quitting the therapist, Tolle *and alcohol*, the alcohol out of a bloody minded desire to show that I could live healthily without having to spend my days achieving enlightenment through meditating on how painful periods are.

        1. Ha, breath exercises. Why do so many meditation things seem to love the word “nostrils”? I hate it – a few years ago just hearing/reading the word was enough to send me into a.. very visceral icky reaction. Actually paying attention to my own was even worse. I had to stay the hell away from any of that stuff.

          The weirdest thing is, that reaction magically went away after I used some of my own mindfulness-y tricks to reprogram some headache muscles near my nose. I never would have guessed muscle tension had anything to do with it, and I bet nobody else would have either (if they’d been willing to acknowledge such problems in the first place). Brains are weiiiird. 🙂

          So, I can think about nostrils now if I want to. But mostly I don’t want to, and don’t need to. (The upper part of my nose, OTOH, still needs checking on since it’s connected to problem muscles. But since they’re not horribly painful any more I’ve been avoiding that. It’s hard work *and* tends to induce nausea.)

          1. The breathing thing really bothers me too, though differently. Ever since I was a child, whenever I’ve deliberately turned my attention to breathing I find my breathing starts to hurt, not screamingly, just in the same sort of way that doing some slightly strenuous, precise exercise at half the normal speed might hurt—that wobbly, wrong, tight, feeling of having to control muscles that normally know what to do all on their own. And I know there are versions where you’re not supposed to control, just watch, but control is what happens when I start to pay attention and then I can’t stop telling my muscles what to do without them just stopping until I tell them to go again. Which used to feel really scary, as a kid, until I learned to just get very very involved in narrating the problem to myself. That almost always distracted me successfully because it was so close to the thing itself that it didn’t feel like deliberately forcing my attention away (which I couldn’t do) but did get me out of my body enough for it to start working automatically again.

            As an adult, I can and do sometimes attend to *one breath* without that happening, but one is about all I can do and I *have* to be starting from a really good place already with another really good place to put my attention afterwards.

            The fact that my most recent 5-session therapist could not accept my limits around meditation and breath exercises without having to first quiz me on my understanding of the concepts, and explain them again even though she acknowledged that I clearly did understand, and tell me about the autonomic nervous system (I *know*), and go over a bunch of different specific approaches she might take to it, and use the world “just” a lot…is one of the reasons why I came out of that last session, sobbed for about five minutes, and was so so so relieved to know very definitively that it was time to stop trying and I never ever ever had to go back there again. There were a lot of other reasons but that was a big one. And I actually am still interested in exploring mindfulness, just very very gently and entirely under my own control. I want a therapist to be an audience to that exploration, someone to tell about the neat side paths I found for myself out of all the little observations I’ve made and bits I’ve picked up here and there, to answer questions *if I ask them,* and validate my discomfort, my curiosity, my effort, my findings, and my right to be in charge of the process, and very very occasionally to offer suggestions or interpretations once they’re really up to speed with my process. I do not want one who pushes or makes me justify my boundaries. Actually, that applies to most things in therapy for me and this person really didn’t seem able to grasp that no matter how I explained it. I am so glad I don’t have to go back.

      6. Have you ever read Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce? It’s like 7th in a series about mage kids, and one of the mage students hates sitting still and doing meditation so much that the female mage teacher teaches her two gentle-reared female students to fight with staves so that she can learn moving meditation, because they basically have to learn to meditate to control their powers. I always loved that set of scenes, because you almost never get taught in YA fiction that there’s more than one right way to do something, and you have to do it the way that works for you. And a good teacher will recognize that and work with you!

      7. There are large classes of meditation tactics that provoke MASSIVE SELF-EATING ANXIETY in me, and I’m all “No! No way! NOPE!!” about them.

        I’ve found a few techniques that work for me and are actually helpful, but this is one of those things where if you feel NOPE, you are definitely (IMHO) best served by noping on out.

  22. LW13 – Expect crocodile tears the first time you actually enforce a boundary and interrupt/leave/hang up.

    It may help to set up a legit, inarguable, 100% Good appointment for right after the contact, so you can fall back on “I have to get to class/dentist/church” to deflect from your unimaginable rudness (eyeroll) at standing up for yourself.

    When they bring up you HORRIBLE SIN of not wanting to listen to their shit, you can just be like “Oh, I was running late for Basketweaving class” and topic change. Pick something that your subject cannot push back as less important than themselves (even if the think it is). In my family, work and school definitely works. In others, maybe a religious commitment, or not letting a great deal on even tickets go to waste, or fulfilling some social obligation to another family member could work better.

    This sort of scheduling is meant to be a training wheel. If it’s easier for you to think “I’m prioritizing my dental appointment” than to just think about cutting boundary pushers off, then you can practice reinforcing your boundaries that way and eventually upgrade to reinforcing your boundaries without another thing to do right after.

    I hope this makes sense.

  23. Q3/4 Accepting compliments – the thing that worked wonders for me was to follow up the ThankYou with a comment about how much I liked doing the thing or wearing the outfit or whatever. It shifted the focus a little bit to the thing or outfit instead of me directly, which meant I was much more okay talking about it, assuming the other person wanted to do so. And for things I don’t like doing but am still good at, a ‘Thank you, I wanted to get better at x because <whatever led you into knowing how to do the thing' still gives a jump off point for a continuing conversation.
    This works for general compliments too – If someone says 'you're so smart / pretty / helpful', responding with 'Thanks, I love studying physics, have you ever seen minute physics on youtube? it's great fun!' or 'Thanks, I found this great shampoo / hairdressor / outfit at the mall, have you seen their stuff?' or 'Thanks, I like helping people out, it lets you meet new folks' etc.
    (Mind you, that's assuming you want to talk to the person! I'm a socially anxious extrovert, so I always felt like 'Thank you' without a followup dangled a bit too much, because a person wanted to talk to me, so I wanted to talk to them too! But if you're introverted or don't want to deal, a thank you is plenty!)

    1. Yeah, I was going to say this too, that compliments are sometimes meant as a conversation starter. I recently read an article about it:

      I’m a musician, so conversations like “Hey, great job on the Beethoven sonata! – Thanks, it’s such a fun piece!” feel pretty commonplace and natural to me. Even my introverted ass feels a bit awkward just leaving it at “thanks” (same with “yes” and “no” in some contexts).

    2. There’s always part of me that wants to reply, “Thanks! It has pockets!” to any compliment at all.

      And, somehow, that tends to help me accept the compliment.

  24. Q6 here– Captain, that hit the nail on the head. I’ve *mostly* kept that boundary, but 1) was slow to set it up, 2) didn’t frame it clearly as based on my needs rather than friend’s needs, and 3) have wavered on it. And those were the points where things got messy/ painful. But that boundary is currently back up, and it’s validating to hear from an outside source that I’m on the right track. I’m feeling on more solid ground now.

    FWIW I don’t expect that I’ll need multiple go-rounds to enforce this boundary with friend; I think I mostly needed more clarity within myself.

  25. Q1 — haha, yes, kids are totally people and you can talk to them. While door knocking a couple of years ago I corrected a random stranger boy who was riding bikes with his (probable) younger sister and calling her “penis girl” over and over. All it took was confirming that was what I heard and then asking “Is that a polite thing to call someone?” to get a mumbled “no ma’am” and a stop to the behavior. I’m officially old now, of course, but other than that nothing bad occurred 🙂

    1. That’s the thing about kids, especially teenagers; engaging in behaviors that they know on some level are not acceptable in order to test boundaries is a normal part of their development. Whether he’s conscious of it or not, this kid is testing what level of destruction brings the ire of the adults, because then he has a concrete boundary to work with. He’s also testing to what degree the adults in his life are paying attention to what he does.

      I would suggest talking to the kid directly first. Focus on why his behaviors are unacceptable (destruction of property, potential for injury) and offer some alternatives, like finding a safer place to practice with his bow and arrow set, or practicing his whittling on other wood that is not your furniture. He’ll probably appreciate you interacting with him like an adult, he’ll probably appreciate you not bringing his parents into it, and he’ll probably stop doing what he’s doing.

      He may also ignore you, in which case you can then escalate to bringing his parents.

  26. Q15: How about responding to all online political obnoxiousness with a link to a voter registration site? Bonus: Link them to the Spanish-langugae version of ( and maybe the racist ones will get so mad their heads will explode before they can click the link that says English and actually get involved in participatory democracy.

    1. That’s great! I love it! That will also tell them, should they be bright enough to get it, that xenophobia is not a value promoted by patriotic Americans.

  27. Q1 – Yeah, I would definitely talk to the kid first. At 13, he’s probably going to get it and may (I stress MAY, since 13 year olds are not at all predictable) even appreciate being treated like an adult who is responsible for his actions. In fact, I wouldn’t go to the parents unless the behavior continued after you speak to him. It’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll be super relieved you don’t go to his parents, and again – it may be surprising enough to be treated like an adult who is held to a reasonable assumption that he’s capable of modifying his behavior to be respectful, that he stops on his own.

    When it comes to kids and behavior, I don’t bring parents in unless I have to. You just never know what family dynamics you’re getting into – you could be lobbing bricks into a minefield. It’s worth it IF he doesn’t respond to your direct request to knock it the hell off, but otherwise: Just talk to the kid.

  28. Q3/4 I have also have many years of difficulty accepting compliments, largely due to particular issues diagnosed in adulthood! The captain’s advice is, of course, completely fabulous and I just want to add one thing that is more about dealing with the feelings long term than about any immediate awkwardness when someone compliments me. So something that has really helped me is giving myself compliments. It feels really strange and weird at first, but I really do think it’s been beneficial.

    In my case it’s primarily around accomplishing things. ANY things. Big things, little things, things that look enormous effort, things that took hardly any effort, things I did fabulously on, and things I did horrible on but still finished (or things I deliberately chose to not finish because I decided to direct my energy elsewhere). ALL of those instances warrants a “Good job, cheerfullygoth!” This is basically me deliberately creating new pathways in my brain for positive thoughts, and intentionally redirecting thoughts away from those self-hating pathways. It honestly has helped me.

    1. “deliberately creating new pathways in my brain for positive thoughts, and intentionally redirecting my thoughts away from those self-hating pathways”

      I really like this framing. It’s helping me to explain to myself why my new-ish habit of listing off all the things I’ve accomplished each day, or all the challenging things I’ve attempted (whether they were 100% successful or not; note here that “challenging” means “challenging for me” and therefore may mean “I called an electrician about getting an estimate” or “I emailed a stranger about being added to a listserv” or something similarly mundane) seems to be helping me to avoid some of my old negative feedback loops.

      Thank you for putting this into words.

  29. Q4 – (Captain, I had an almost physical reaction of denial when I read about your experience with mindfulness. Like, I didn’t even know this was something I have identity issues over. I’m always just like “mindfulness was life-transforming for me but whatever works for you!”… until I saw you saying it didn’t work for you. Then I was like OH MY GOD SHE’S DOING IT WRONG SHE DOESN’T UNDERRSSTTAAAAAAND. I didn’t even know I was prickly about this subject!)

    LW – Mindfulness was amazing for me, to the point where my doctor is weaning me off my anxiety meds. But like, those meds were important, and so was therapy. And maybe the most important thing was finding My People. When you’re a kid with imposter syndrome, you don’t really have the option of finding your people unless you luck into them. As a grown-up, you can find people that change your whole freaking life. And just as importantly: you can LOSE people who make you feel like that desperately unhappy kid. There are a lot of things out there that can help you, and a lot of them are really subjective. Finding your people is… as close to a universal “magic bullet” toward self-affirmation that is possible in a world where all of us are so wonderfully unique. For me, it was a group of women scholars – PhDs, tenure-track professors, one highly educated art/fashion aficionado. We all lived within a few blocks of each other and we’d get together several times a week with our half-empty boxed wine, our knitting, and our leftovers at someone’s house. We’d talk about things I had never been able to talk about, from perspectives I’d never considered. “Lentil mush night” became code for some of the most low-key, yet important evenings of my life.

    I’ve moved on from those women. Turns out my “people” change as I change. And so will yours. But look for them, and FIND them, and enjoy them. Because when THEY enjoy your company and when you can see that you have something to offer them, THAT is like a magical path to liking and respecting yourself enough to believe it when other people like you and respect you.

    1. re: Mindfulness, LOL, now imagine an equal and opposite reaction!

      ❤ your suggestions about "lentil mush night."

  30. Captain, I about cried when I saw Q4 re how mindfulness doesn’t work for you. A friend of mine keeeeeeeps trying to get me to try meditation, and I REALLY. DON’T. WANT. TO. for many of the reasons you describe. I am dealing with a looooooot of PTSD at the moment — this feels like necessary but important work, and from what I’ve seen, I think meditation would be bad for me. I think it’s too much work on top of the work that I’m already doing with my therapist and I’m having such negative gut feelings about the stuff my friend is sending me.

    I wish people would just let up and *stop pushing* when someone has said no to this kind of thing. I’m really glad meditation works for my friend, but just because it works for her DOES NOT mean that it will (or has to) for me. Maybe I have enough things going on that I’m having to work hard at? Maybe I would be better off working out how to be easier on myself rather than pushing myself to do something that I have really, really bad feelings about? Maybe I can make my own decisions? I have writing projects that help me a lot. Please stop telling me to blank out my mind when what I really need is to immerse myself in writing — something I NEED my mind (and my time) for.

    1. I had a friend who wanted me to try Tai Chi along these lines, and I did, and I had what I now can identify as an emotional flashback off of my CPTSD, but I didn’t know what it was then, just felt a lot of shame at hating it intensely and wanting to be anywhere else but there. It was awful.

      Most of us who have issues like this have been abused in one way or another and taught to ignore our id/inner child/ whatever you want to call it, and trying to force it with Tai Chi or yoga or meditation is just one more experience of telling the inner child to shut up and get on with it. It’s not good, and it won’t work. If you have something that makes you feel better, that is the thing to do.

      1. YES, this is it exactly. Your second paragraph is dead on for my experience, thank you! Some of the trauma from my childhood also has to do with very strong messages of “nobody will ever like you, you’re totally unlikeable” and that gets mixed up with this as well — if I want to keep my friend, I’ve got to do what she wants me to do… so it’s another way of shutting down those inner-child instincts.

      2. Most of us who have issues like this have been abused in one way or another and taught to ignore our id/inner child/ whatever you want to call it

        ::mouth drops open::

        ::closes mouth::

        ::blinks very thoughtfully::

        ::wanders off to think about this some more::

    2. So true. Part of the problem is the mindfulness– which as others have said might or might not be a helpful suggestion. But for me, the larger part of the problem is the pushing. It’s pushing ANY helpful (or not so helpful) suggestion. In my story, it was a book.

      My father was very sick, but I could handle that. I mean, mostly. It was hard, and I’d never seen anyone through such a difficult illness before, but I was okay. My mother was being her usual self, and I could handle that too, but it was harder. Always had been. I had more of a need to work out feelings and strategies by talking them out. I didn’t think I was doing too much of it. It certainly wasn’t my only topic of conversation, but with one set of relatives, a familiar pattern emerged.

      Relative would ask how things were with parents.
      I’d begin “Well, it’s hard …” and wouldn’t even finish the sentence before
      In-law relative would break in with the recommendation of this great book that helped her so much when her father was sick.
      In general I’m not big on self-help books, but when she mentioned it in email, I looked up reviews, decided it absolutely wasn’t for me, and briefly thanked her for the recommendation.
      Then the repeats began. Next email conversation, she recommended the book again, possibly because she forgot she did so previously, possibly because her recommendation didn’t bring about the desired response.
      When I visited them, Relative asked about my home situation.
      In-law brought up the book.
      Then the book appeared next to my bed.

      I’d guess that her recommendation was sincere since she always began with how much the book had helped her, but to me it was like she was saying “Will you stop droning on and on about your awful home situation and just read the book already.” And that’s what I believe is going on with the mindfulness suggestions. Or can we call them orders: I order you to be mindful and stop complaining to me. If you’d just be mindful, I wouldn’t have to be sympathetic or listen, and you could just shut up about your boring problems and pay attention to me.

      1. This is exactly how it’s feeling — like “mindfulness is great because it will make you stop needing to talk about this topic,” which, right now, is NOT what I need.

  31. I’ve only pulled it off once, but it may be the crowning achievement of my life so far.

    Strange man: “You’d look better if you took off your glasses.”
    Me: “Funny, you’d also look better if I took off my glasses.”

    1. Hee!

      (Fellow near-sighted glasses wearer here. I endured so many makeover offers as a teen, and so many baffled expressions when I was utterly uninterested.)

    2. Dude, love. Also, you made me burst out laughing here in the library.

      Can I use this exchange in a fictional story I’m writing? (you can say no, you own this line so hard.)

      1. Oh, definitely!

        I either stole it from somewhere or thought of it at the same time as a bunch of other people (see YesVirginia below).

        I’m just happy that I remembered and delivered the line when that dude gave me the chance.

        1. Oh god, those are the best, aren’t they? “I’ve been saving this one up for five years! Thank you for handing me the straight line!”


    3. I have done that as well! I actually took off my glasses, and said “Now you look better too because I can’t see you at all.” (It was also my crowning glory, and it’s my absolute “tell when tipsy” story.)

    4. Hi five! Me too!
      I’m so glad I had my glasses on when I said that so I could see the look on his face.

  32. Q3/Q4: Another person who’s terrible at taking compliments here! The thing I’ve started saying that makes it easier for me to take a compliment is: “Thank you! That’s very kind of you to say.” Because — whether you think the compliment is true or not — it IS kind of someone to notice a good thing about you and tell you about it.

    (Assuming genuine compliments here, and no weird bullshitty passive-aggressive stuff dressed up as compliments.)

    1. I have to deal with a lot of bullshit compliments at my job (so many flavors: “you’re so much better at this than I am so you should do this task of mine” “X told me that you are awesome so I just know you will solve all my problems” and so on — that last type is hard because I am always letting people down then) has made it really, really difficult for me to take compliments. I automatically start wondering what the complimenter is trying to get out of me. I’m trying to be better about recognizing actual compliments and also giving them so that I can feel like I’m upping the amount of genuine compliments in the universe…

      1. After years of wondering why I could easily handle superficial compliments, but not ones about certain sorts of accomplishments, iirc I figured out that I was afraid they’d have strings attached. Like, no, don’t say I’m good at this, that means you’ll expect me to do it a lot and get mad if I ever struggle with it! :/ Sometimes compliments can feel like gaslighting. Especially when you’re trying to ask for help and they’re insisting you’re too smart to need help. 😦

        Understanding where that reaction came from has helped me start to dismantle it. Now I can let my therapist compliment me a little bit 🙂 but that discomfort… It was a defense mechanism, one I thankfully don’t need any more.

        1. ” Like, no, don’t say I’m good at this, that means you’ll expect me to do it a lot and get mad if I ever struggle with it! :/ Sometimes compliments can feel like gaslighting. Especially when you’re trying to ask for help and they’re insisting you’re too smart to need help. 😦”

          This is pretty much how I feel when people (men but also often women) say things about women being kinder, sweeter, more patient, better with children, or better at conflict. And it fills me with rage.


          1. So much this! I get complimented a lot on my patience, and internally I’m all “I have Herculean patience because I bloody exercise it now and again!”

        2. I hate getting complimented on doing shitty stuff that no one else wants to do, in hopes that I’ll feel awesome about doing an extra share of drudge work, like those elevator operators in Brave New World. You’re such a good listener, you’re so polite, you take such good notes, you’re so good at mopping the floor at closing time, you’re so patient with So & So, etc etc. In the right context, in the right hands, it all boils down to, “You’re such a great doormat, keep it up!” I guess this explains why it made me feel so incredibly awful when someone on the yearbook committee voted me “nicest” as my senior superlative.

          1. I actually value niceness quite a lot, and don’t say it casually. I want to work with nice people, because we’ll get more done due to less time wasted in friction, and we’ll enjoy the process more. I’m in tech, where “smart” is a dime a dozen, we’re all smart. But we’re not all nice. If you need to work with someone, nice is a big deal.

      2. I’ve always heard that phenomenon referred to as “buttering someone up.” It’s manipulative and gross, I agree.

      3. “I can show you how to do it” workes best for me if someone insists I was better than them at something and so I need to do it. Somehow nobody has ever picked me up on this offer but it shuts them the fuck up.
        Well, everyone except my mother. With her it regularly escalates to “well, if I’m better at it, you obviously need more practice. So you should do it.”

        1. “well, if I’m better at it, you obviously need more practice. So you should do it.”

          +++++ 🙂 🙂 🙂

          1. Can attest to the utter perfect satisfaction of doing this to a co-worker, and then batting down other fake objections. “I haven’t been trained-” “yo, I’m the one who trained you. You literally sat in my chair.” “I forgot how-” “well isn’t it lucky for you that I have a how-to guide all typed up and ready to go, complete with screenshots!!!”

            Super duper satisfying.

  33. Q5 – One way you could break up the bickering might be to suggest some gender-segregated activities. Mom and Sister can’t pick at Dad and BiL if they’re getting pedicures while the guys watch the game.
    This suggestion does hinge on a) your family respecting your gender identity, and b) your tolerance for gender-normative activities, but it could get you a few hours peaceful hours. If you’re really lucky, you might be able to find a shared interest that splits up the couples in a less stereotypical way.
    (Or they could spend the whole time complaining to you and each other about their spouses? But worth a shot once at least.)

    1. That was what I was thinking, too– separate the spouses. If LW doesn’t want to actually DO the gender-normative activity, LW could gift an activity they won’t be participating in. Like “hey dad and BiL, I got y’all tickets to this thing that I and your spouses hate but that you both love, enjoy!” Then hang out with everyone else doing whatever you want.

  34. Wow, I almost could have submitted Q13 myself! Except I also happen to live next door to my maternal martyr and, unfortunately, am not in a position to change that any time soon. A few years ago I managed to establish a boundary re: her popping over whenever she felt like it, which inevitably meant I needed to drop whatever I was doing and listen to her talk for hours.

    However, the day after the 2016 election, I finally leapt over all the hurdles preventing me from establishing a very solid, very high boundary between us. Her behavior after the election – she literally came to my house to rub my nose in the result despite me telling her my very personal reasons why I voted the way that I did – made it clear that she is not the person I thought she was. It also broke my heart. But I cut off 90% of contact and am in a much, much better place emotionally and mentally as a result. I’m civil when we’re together, inquire about her job and listen to her plans with the grandchildren, but I’m not available for her marathon “talks” about how she’s been wronged or whatever conspiracy theory she’s convinced about now. I also stopped offering her an update on my life and, I kid you not, in the 21 months since Election Day, she has asked me ONE question about myself. ONE. That was an eye-opening realization.

    Recently, like in the past month, she’s started trying to revert to our previous relationship status, including stopping by to “tell you something”. I’ve learned to firmly assert that I have to do X thing or go to Y place and limit how much time I can spend with her. I have literally left my house with her still in it to drive around aimlessly for 20 minutes until I’m sure she’s gone home.

    It sucks. It sucks real bad. But it sucks a lot less than continually being dragged into her negativity and manipulation and martyrdom. And if I can break free, so can you, Q13 LW.

  35. I love these! I have a general question about submitting questions for the Short Answer Fridays, if I may?

    I support you on Patreon, and I am also on Twitter, but with my real name and I’d rather not submit qs associated with it. Is there another way to do it without being inconvenient for you, or should I just submit a question in the normal way? Thank you!

  36. Mindfulness of breath is like torture for me, as I have cough variant asthma. I do my hands. “Look. Hands. Squeeze them. They are still hands. This is a death spiral of self criticism I’m doing right here, and the hands are still there. Shake them a bit.” Doesn’t always work, but it does sometimes.

    1. The only time breath meditation was ever useful (and actually helpful even!) was the night after the 2016 election. After some hours of massive freakout, I found myself sort of instinctually settling down to a very coarse, four-counts-inhale, four-counts-exhale, for like a half an hour, and it no bullshit actually seemed to wash a lot of the cortisol and adrenaline out of my system. No clue how I arrived at that. Absolutely no inclination to take that up as a regular practice, however.

      Normally, breath meditation (or really any meditation where I actually have to do a thing to focus on) very quickly has me climbing the walls. The only focus I’ve ever found that actually works for me and doesn’t induce anxiety is the heartbeat. Just find my heartbeat (whether it’s the sound in my ears or a throb in my neck or whatever) and focus on that.

      1. I have been taught very slow breathing (four in, hold four, out four), sometimes called ‘rescue breathing’ in first aid classes as a tool to combat excess adrenaline or panic. It wasn’t supposed to matter so much what you were thinking about, though – it was the slow deep breathing itself that physically helped your body calm itself.

        1. Huh! I did not know that! Thank you! That’s very interesting. Part of what fascinates me about that experience is that it was something I just kind of stumbled onto doing, and kept doing because it just kind of…helped.

          (I’m betting there’s blood-chemistry involved there: sort of the opposite of hyperventilating, like.)

        2. This is the kind of thing that I can *can* do! It’s the “changing what you think” part that I find upsetting. (I don’t respond well to CBT theory, either).

          1. I have a special hate for CBT. I mean, I see the reasoning. But it feels a lot like driving the car by getting out and trying to push in the direction you want it to go, instead of, you know, using the steering wheel.

          2. Yeah, for me it just always felt like “you’re wrong! everything you think is wrong! stop being wrong!” and… what?

            I was just thinking about this thread today because I had to go to a mandatory inservice day at work which involved… having to meditate. In a group. WITH COWORKERS. THE DEAN WAS IN MY SESSION. Nooooooooo.

          3. For me it was that it felt like “your thoughts are all wrong! think differently!” which was NOT what I needed.

            Ironically, today I had to go to a mandatory inservice day at work. We had to go to one of 3 “destress” sessions. The only one that didn’t involve meditation/mindfulness activities filled INSTANTLY so guess what kind of session I got stuck in. I should have rebelled and just gone outside for the hour.

          4. The therapist I just saw for a few weeks was a CBT person and yes, it felt like she was arguing with me and trying to convince me I was wrong about *everything* and could not be induced to really acknowledge my experience even as a place to start. Which was pretty much the opposite of everything I’d accomplished with my previous therapist. I’m trying not tar all of CBT with that brush, I know it works really well for some, but I think that it is a) very not for me and b) probably, like anything, prone to exacerbating certain unhelpful tendencies in some people, in this case, both the therapist and me.

            Mandatory meditating with coworkers!? Ick! So much sympathy!

          5. @borealis: yes! I saw a CBT therapist for a couple of years when I was much younger and it wasn’t until I was back with someone more psychodynamic that I realized how frustrating and unhelpful the CBT one was. I’ve learned since that “psychodynamic” is what I’m looking for (there was a scary year when I lived in a city that had literally no psychodynamically oriented therapists, and that’s made me more cautious about where I’m willing to move).

            I noted in my evaluation of the inservice day that staff might have physical/mental health issues, which they shouldn’t have to disclose, that could make group meditation or yoga not appropriate for them. We had a “destress” segment of the day where you could choose between yoga, meditation, or a session on sleep issues. The first two involved actual exercises, the sleep one didn’t. Guess which one filled IMMEDIATELY. The rest of us had to choose between yoga or meditation. If that happens again next year, I might bring a letter from my therapist (which feels inappropriately disclosure-y), which did confirm to me that meditation wouldn’t be right for me.

  37. Wow. That is a whole lot of Mable. Strawperson extraordinaire!

    I can respond to the mindfulness thing. I have taken up meditating because it helps me sleep since someone is talking me through it. But not when I’m just going about my business. I can distract myself, or watch TV, etc, but at least for my personal intrusive thought issues, I try (don’t always succeed) to ask myself what my second thought is, since, often, my first thought is some REACTION. Not saying it will work for all, but just pausing in that way can help me.

  38. I did a little bit of mindfulness with a therapist, and she didn’t tell me to focus on my breath. The suggestion was to pick something outside myself and focus on it for a few minutes–a tree visible from my living room window, or a rhododendron in bloom where I happened to be walking. (This was in Seattle, so rhododendrons in bloom were a common sight.)

    What I actually found useful from that therapy was some CBT stuff for dealing with anxiety, and having someone to talk to about certain problems, who was prepared to listen intelligently but wasn’t personally invested in them the way my partners and sister were. It was a nice tree, and I like looking at flowers, but either I wasn’t good at that or it doesn’t work well for me.

    The proponents of mindfulness will point to studies about it working, or being better than a lot of other psychological techniques–but “more likely to help you than any other single mental technique,” even if true, doesn’t mean “guaranteed to help everyone” and it especially doesn’t mean that if this technique doesn’t work, nothing else will either. One thing about mindfulness that I suspect is part of why it’s popular is that it can be taught quickly, involves no drugs, and has no dollars-and-cents cost to keep using. That appeals to people who want “natural” treatments or are worried about side effects, and to insurance company execs who want to pay for no more than a dozen sessions of therapy even though many patients will benefit from a lot more than that.

    1. I fear you’re correct about the commercial appeal of mindfulness. Unfortunately it can’t be taught quickly. Not really. It can be described quickly, but like any other discipline, it takes practice with guidance to get it. Like the dance moves that I can tell a student how to do in just a few sentences. Then comes the coaching, which can take weeks or months. The hard part to teach is how to deal with the “I’m no good at this” and “I’m doing this wrong” thoughts.
      It’s also not a cure-all, since it was developed to deal with chronic pain. I use it for pain and anxiety, to calm down enough that I can use CBT techniques.

  39. While working fashion retail I was often told I needed to smile more (apparently my neutral face wasn’t smiley enough?) and so I channeled two things, depending on context. If it came from management I’d smile like John Barrowman, who described smiling as biting into a shiny apple, so I’d kind of resemble the 😀 emoji. If it was some oul lad trying to exert his masculine power over the salesgirl I’d channel that bit in that one episode of Ugly Betty where Lindsay Lohan thought Vanessa Williams was smiling at her, then she was told that Wilhelmina was baring her teeth, the camera cuts back to Wilhelmina and she looks TERRIFYING with a lovely smile >:D this emoji doesn’t do it justice.


    1. The line between “smile” and “snarl” is really so fine…

      My crowning achievement was omw home after a Halloween shindig, and I happened to still have a blood capsule on my person. So when Bro told me to smile… I did =)

  40. Q3- Jedi fistbumps of solidarity, fellow adult ADHD person! One thing that has helped me short-circuit my compliment guilt is to say thank you, then redirect in a way that compliments another person.

    “I love your hair!”
    “Thanks! I was just noticing your awesome earrings— they look great on you.”

    “That Work Project you did turned out great.”
    “Thanks! I had a really supportive team to help me out.”

    “That music you performed last night was fantastic!”
    “Thanks! I’m super-grateful to Friend, who offered to set things up with the venue.”

    ymmv, but this definitely helps keep me from feeling as much white-hot embarrassment of praise.

  41. LW from Q 14:

    Amazing documentary to help you know that you are absolutely RIGHT to reject this rubbish:

    It’s called ‘The Illusionists’ and it’s about how global mass media has shaped people’s perceptions of beauty, in a really harmful way. I re-watched it last night. I’m about to gift it to a 21-year-old family member for her birthday. I’d love it if you watched it. (I’d love it if every woman did, actually.)

    The end still makes my eyes well up, but MAN I feel powerful and badass and strong when I’ve watched this film.

    Kudos to amazing director Elena Rossini.

    1. I stopped watching TV one summer – 3 months! – for (reasons), and also stopped looking at magazines with ads.

      6 weeks in, I started noticing how many beautiful people there were on the avenue, doing random shopping, or on the subway, which is not usually known for showcasing beautiful people.

      So, there’s one data point for how long it takes to detoxify from Hollywood & Madison Ave standards.

  42. Q14: Quite by accident I found the perfect response to negging. A stranger told me I’d be attractive if I lost weight, and I said “Thanks! Same to you!” It just popped out. He sputtered a little, then walked away.

  43. I feel you on Q3. Sometimes, I think there are people who are secretly poems, and people who are secretly stories, and for poem people, mindfulness really works. But for story people, mindfulness is really aggravating, and can even make a problem worse. Story people need to get to the end of the story.

    Also! Personally, I’ve found that voicing my positive opinions about people (aka giving genuine compliments) goes such a long way to helping my own self-esteem and accepting other people’s compliments. It’s so helpful, and it’s like, one-step advice, which is so rare and so great.

    (also-also– sometimes I get signed in as “Indoor Cat”, and sometimes I get signed in as “lgmerriman,” and I’m not sure why it changes. So, just a heads to those who frequently read the comments, I am both of those people).

    1. I like the story people idea. No matter what I’m doing, whether it’s “she went for a run to blow off some steam” or “she laid on the couch, cuddled up with her blanket and cat, and enjoyed her favorite shows in a blob of warmth for a couple of hours”, there has to be an active component.

      Much like in a good novel, for me the exposition (of which there’s still plenty) must be mixed in with an action that is occurring.

    2. Poem people vs. story people – what an intriguing idea! My immediate reaction to your view of mindfulness was, nonsense! I’m a story person and I swear by mindfulness.
      Then I started thinking, and I realize I would be more a poem than a story. I’m more about the how and structure and journey than I am about reaching “The End.”

    3. “Indoor Cat” [vs] “lgmerriman,”

      I get that, too, and it seems to be a browser history thing, like which handle gets associated with email address & IP down in the bowels of WordPress. I can usually override when it offers up the wrong handle.

  44. Q3: Something I’ve been doing lately a lot is to answer with “You are so kind”, which in my head means “this person is complimenting me because they are a good/polite/kind person and not because I am specially talented” and to them it means something like “thank you, I appreciate that”. It is not yet simply saying “thank you” and accepting the compliment but it’s a step I feel comfortable with in the direction of accepting compliments. It has helped me to stop responding with self-deprecating stuff, and sometimes I do have streaks in which I just say “thank you”. It’s not yet the real deal of stopping to believe I am not that good but at least it’s very manageable concerning the aspect of how to react to real people not concerned with my brain weasels.

    1. It’s also responding to their complement with one of your own, which seems like a natural and friendly and not super awkward thing to do.

  45. Q3, I just want to say that you are allowed to tell your therapist that this is important enough to you to be actively working on. You aren’t at the mercy of their priorities for your mental health.

    If you haven’t tried it yet, I would also highly recommend ADHD coaching. For me, the progress I have made and am making in the skills I never learned to cope with my ADHD as an undiagnosed kid is, as a bonus, contributing to the self esteem and self efficacy to be more comfortable accepting and internalizing compliments.

      1. It’s kind of like therapy, kind of like life coaching, focused on the problems ADHD causes in the individual’s life, finding effective coping strategies, and the coach helps keep the person accountable to the goals they set together.

  46. For Q3, I actually found that a good gateway to learning to take compliments was to do the opposite of self-deprecating jokes. I.e., when I first transferred to a new dept at my job, I joked for a little while that I was The Best in the dept, which was obviously false since I’d just started. I brought chocolates to share and said that that was part of my plan to be The Best. (Obviously this had a limited shelf life, but you get the idea.) Even when making jokes, by making them ones where I said positive things about myself, I actually became more comfortable with getting compliments.

    In a similar vein, if just saying “thank you,” feels weird, I’ve found that adding, “I try!” can help accepting the compliment feel more humble while still accepting the compliment. (It’s also perfect for customer service interactions.)

  47. Q1: While I absolutely agree with all of the advice on how to handle a disruly neighbor child, I would like to add a sense of urgency given that you’ve seen him playing with fire – literally. I have first hand experience with the absolute tragedy that can happen when “goofing off” with fire becomes “raging inferno beyond our control”, and the results are horrific. My (older than teen) nephew and a friend dropped a cigarette on a couch. When it caught flame, they figured they could easily control it and laughed about it and even took a snap chat shot or two. They were a bit drunk at the time and made some very bad decisions that resulted in their entire apartment house (a few units in an old house) burning down, my nephew being charged with arson, his pleaing guilty in order to avoid actual jail time, and his life basically destroyed for at least the forseeable future. All because of what was basically an accident that got out of control very, very fast.

    If you speak to the child directly, I think this is all good. But I would honestly feel compelled to say something to the parents as well, because pyromania is not just a harmless prank or minor damage to someone’s garden property – it can literally cost someone their life.

    1. Seconded. This is a situation when you approach the child immediately. It’s sort of like how you should never touch children without their consent unless it is to (for example) pull them out of oncoming traffic. “Playing with fire” is shorthand for “urgent danger” for a reason.

      And regardless of how the child reacts (running away, crying, yelling, what-have-you), you go talk to the parents or guardians ASAP, too.

  48. Q3 (coping with positive feedback): I agree with CA, you don’t need to worry about your feelings, or even if the compliment is true or not. Something to take your mind off of it is to focus on the compliment giver– you probably know how it feels to give a compliment. Look, they said something nice, got a thank you and now they’re all proud. Oh hey, I didn’t know So & So was interested in [thing they complimented me on]. Wow, So & So is in a generous mood today. How nice, So & So made an effort to make me feel good. Wow, they were brave to give such a vulnerable compliment. Oh, my boss values [thing they complimented me on], good to know. Why does So & So have [thing they complimented me on] on their mind, what’s going on with them in their life? Oh wow, So & So is good at giving compliments– I might have to steal that and use it myself!

    By the way sometimes compliments are way off the mark and what is complimented isn’t what deserves complimenting, and that’s totally normal. When I performed music people used to compliment me on the easiest, most gimick-y part of the performances and totally ignore the hard parts; I’m certainly not complaining about people offering kind words, but it does feel weird to say “thank you!” knowing it’s way off base. But it’s a totally normal thing that happens to everyone, not just you LW, and not just because of the issues you explained, it happens every day and people just say “thank you,” and feel a little weird for a minute and it’s fine.

    1. Something I say to my kids a lot is, “You’re not allowed to tell someone else how they feel.” Turns out this works really well for compliments – the compliment giver is telling you how they feel, and they’re just asking you to accept those feelings. Accepting a compliment is a chance for you to validate them.

  49. Q6 Struck a chord with me. It’s hard to enforce a boundary when you’re feeling a bit muddled about what it is or whether you should. I hope that framing it around your needs will get your friend to see where you’re coming from – and to back off. Hopefully they just wanted to make peace in a bit of a misguided way and will realise you’re doing what you need to do. Side note – I do hate when people use ‘oversensitive’ to try and stop people being assertive about their needs and boundaries. It takes strength to keep on being sensitive and fending off the world that sees it as a weakness.

  50. Q7: I had a similar experience with my family. Their contact with me always fills me with anxiety, even if the contact is (surface) friendly.
    Three months back I choose to cut off contact completely, at least for a while. I warned them it was going to happen, they did not like it.
    They do not like it. They got mean and angry, but I stood my ground.
    So far I have not regretted it one bit, it has given me a lot of peace and reduced my anxiety.
    I hope that one day we might have some low-level civil contact, but things need to change first and that wasn’t going to happen as long as I did not set some boundaries.
    It is a hard choices, especially as there is a lot of societal expectation around family, and I have been told multiple times I ‘owe’ my parents things. (Care, attention, my presence, gratitude etc). Remember that you don’t owe anyone anything on the basis that they are related. They chose to have and raise me, they fed and housed me for that time but did not treat me kindly. I don’t owe them gratitude for providing that, nor did that give them the privileged to be involved and comment upon my life.
    Good luck, I hope you will find your way to reducing that anxiety!

  51. Q9: Re. Couples Counseling

    There actually isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question – it’s subjective. To start with, a lot of couples counselors (should) set kind of a timeline near the beginning of the sessions. Obviously things can vary and take longer/shorter than expected, but it’s helpful to have a more explicit agenda at the beginning – “We’re going to address X, Y, and Z issues, it will PROBABLY take about N long.” The average duration of CC is about 6 months, but there are certainly exceptions to that. Some couples just need a session or two to resolve a particularly thorny issue, others are in for years but find it helpful and productive the whole time and see real improvements in their relationships. Some couples might do more intensive sessions during a rough patch, but continue to go back a few times a year for “tune-ups”, therefore are “in” CC for years, though probably wouldn’t see themselves as having a troubled or unhappy relationship.

    BUT!! Both members should be active in this process. Does it *feel* helpful? Does it *feel* like progress is being made and that problems are being resolved in mutually satisfactory ways? Does it feel like you’re just spinning your wheels, or that the counselor is just sitting there listening to you two argue, or that one of you is making compromises and concessions and the other isn’t, or that your Big Honking Problem with SO is being continually back-burnered while you guys keep going through your SO’s complaints? If it just isn’t feeling good, explore why that might be, and bring it up at the next session! A good counselor should be able to handle that feedback, talk to you about your concerns, and potentially make changes to how they’re approaching things with you. Frankly, it’s more about how you feel about it, and if you’re seeing any progress, than an arbitrary length of time.

    I commented previously about a marriage forum I used to follow – quite a few people on that forum were seeing counselors, and it seemed like quite a few of them were either seeing crappy counselors or didn’t really understand the process (hard to judge as an outsider on the internet hearing one side of things). There were a couple people there who had seen several counselors and/or or had been in CC for literal years (4 years I remember in one case), and The Big Issue *still* wasn’t resolved. And an outsiders’ perspective on that is “Jesus, four counselors in four years and this still isn’t fixed? Dude, throw in the towel.” But that person wasn’t quite ready to yet.

    Finally, assuming you’re asking wrt your own situation – generally if you’re asking these questions, it often means, deep down, that you’re just done but don’t quite feel justified BEING done. That’s a hard reality to face… but does it feel accurate? Too many people find themselves going to CC to “check a box”, to say they “tried everything”, when what they really want to do is just leave the relationship. That’s actually a big part of why CC has a fairly high failure rate – often, by the time couples end up there, one partner has done all their swinging and has already checked out of the relationship, but they feel like they “have to try” counseling before they go, and it’s *very* difficult to bring a relationship back from that point – therapists aren’t magicians and can’t work with what doesn’t exist. So, LW, if these questions are nagging at you, it really pays to examine where they’re coming from? Do you still want to stay but the therapy feels like it isn’t working as it should? Or do you *really* want to walk away, but feel guilty/obligated to keep trying to fix it? What you DON’T want to do is quash these questions and feelings, because these thoughts and feelings are trying to tell you something.

  52. Q3 – oh wow, Captain! I thought I was the only one that just couldn’t do mindfullness! Specifically, like you mentioned, breathing. I start to freak out and get anxious about it – “Wait, I don’t feel like I’m breathing right. It should be more like this, right? AHHHH that feels weird. Is this what breathing is actually supposed to feel like? AM I BREATHING WRONG ALL THE TIME. How do I fix it?” And so forth. I just needed to make a comment about how validated you made me feel with that, because I feel it to and it is also why while I’m enchanted by the idea of meditation I just suck at it.

  53. Hi LW10, first yay you for doing the thing and getting into therapy. This internet stranger is proud of you for taking care of yourself in this way.

    I remember the post about starting therapy being really good, and I’ll share some of my experience of learning how to be in therapy in case it’s useful to you or someone else reading.

    This might be covered in Sweet Machine’s post, but one of the things I learned from my 3rd therapist (I moved cities / countries every 2-4 years over the past 20 years so had to restart the process a few times) is how to be more proactive. Until then, I would walk into every appointment, not really know what to say, the therapist would ask me how are things, I’d start talking and we’d go from there with what was top of mind for me that day/week. This led to lots of useful conversations and work, but there was a definite sense from me that I was being led by the therapist: they were the expert, they should tell me what to do. Eventually she helped me understand that I could and should be leading the process. So I started keeping a note in my phone where I would add topics I wanted to explore as I thought of them throughout the week, and then check that just before my appointment and pick one or two topics to raise that day.

    The other thing I’d say is along the lines of recruiting a therapist (if you are able to choose a provider) , it’s asking about what methods and approaches they use and why in the first appointment, then look those up if you haven’t heard of them, and consider if you think those frameworks would work for you. And (again, if that’s an option for you), don’t hesitate to change therapists if you don’t think they would help.

    Good luck!

    1. That is super helpful. (Not currently in therapy; considering it vaguely; this helps.)

  54. Q11 is the only one I have any experience with and all I can say is that “I like you” and even “I really like you!” didn’t feel big enough any more. Regardless, I still agonised about it and doubted it and felt weird saying it for a little while. Luckily for me, the words have only grown more true over time.

  55. In the neighborhood of Q14, one narrative trope I would love to see absolutely vanish from all literature soonist is “She had clearly once been a beauty before [age/illness/stress/giving birth/living life] had ravaged her features.” Because goodness knows the most important thing about growing older or suffering from illness or having the any of the sort of life experiences that shape you as a person is that they tragically deny those looking at your of their rightful share of eye candy.

  56. LW14, I especially wanted to send you a jedi hug (if you want one). I have not seen you but I am absolutely sure of one thing: you are woderful just as you are. If you some day feel like wearing high heels or make up, you are still just as wonderful, possibly in a different way. You do not lack in beauty, the other people lack in an ability to see and appreciate it – and what is worse, they make the world a worse place to live by polluting it with their impoliteness.

    “Beauty” and “ugliness” are very subjective and we are often conditioned to follow the perception which is most present in our surroundings: advertisements, movies, comics… To me it sounds like you know you are wonderful and that is so fantastic. I have struggled with appreciating my own body from a very young age and I have anorexia which I have mostly fought to submission. These days I usually feel good about myself, but those days I feel down and vulnerable I go looking for body positive imagery.

    I LOVE The Captain’s scripts and I am SO going to use the ones which completely disregard the negative.

    I have previously used some other answers and tactics:

    “You would look so pretty if you were not covered in tattoos” (this is the one I get the most)
    My answer: “I am so sorry to hear that you are unable to appreciate body art.”
    If the people who commented my tattoos negatively have any meaning to me whatsoever I usually tell them in vivid detail what each of my tattoos mean to me (much loss, depression and anxiety are involved there) so after hearing my tale every single one has apologized and looked ashamed of themselves.

    Whatever we wear or do not wear, to some people we are never good enough. It is hard not to care of those people’s opinions; we tend to focus on negative messages rather than positive.

    Take care of yourself!

  57. I don’t know where else to write this or who else to talk to. Ever since high school (or possibly middle school), I’ve been wanting to leave my family and start my life fresh where I could do / figure out the things I wanted to do without being judged. Over time, I’ve been continually disappointed by people who are supposed to be my support network when going through various hardships (e.g. struggling in university and finding employment) but instead shaming and threatening me. I cannot trust them at all because I feel like anything I say can and will be used against me, but then not talking to them causes them to yell at me anyway. They tell me I deserve it either way so I might as well make it easier on them. I don’t want to make a mistake, but they’re so bad at communicating what they want and yet they expect me to just “get it” (and then yell at me when I misinterpret what they say, why I don’t ask for clarification). They tell me I’m too selfish and I only care about my own short-term wants, even though I help around the house. I think the worst part is my sister is a counsellor so she should know better about talking to someone who’s mostly given up on life. Instead she doubles down and pressures me harder the more upset I get. It’s like she wants me to lash out to confirm that she is correct about always assuming the worst about my actions and the intent behind them.

    I’ve also gotten very disillusioned about my church. My family is very plugged into this church, and it’s gotten very clear to me that it’s pretty much the same kind of bigoted conservative church that I used to make fun of in high school with my friends (those were the Bush years). My mom is very ableist and racist, and my sister is an antifeminist and Jordan Peterson fan (redundant, perhaps) who defends complementarianism and thinks raising the minimum wage is stupid.

    I don’t want to ramble too much and I’m too tired and drained now to end this post properly.

    1. Sometimes the family you’re born with isn’t your best family, and the healthiest thing you can do is to get a lot of distance from them.

      It’s okay to move far away, choose your own church (incl. no church), and reestablish connections in a way that works better for you.

      1. Oh, dear Impish Pepper, I would love to give you a jedi hug (if you want one). I am 100% with The Captain in this, your family does not sound like a good place for you. I certain you can find a way to at least take a break from your family, to move away and to find new people. It just might make you so much happier.

        Best of luck to you! ❤

    2. Whatever they claim, these are not people who love you. And it’s clear that whatever issue du jour they’re chewing on you about at any given moment, it’s not about you doing/being “wrong.” It’s about them exerting power over you.

    3. Thank you for sharing this here. It was like looking into a mirror only to discover it’s a window, and made me feel less alone in my experiences with my family. I really hope the best for you, and hope you know you’re not alone, either.

      For what it’s worth: my life (despite all challenges and difficulties and pains I experience just by being a human in the world) has gotten exponentially better since I moved far away from everyone in my family. I learned things about myself I don’t think would have been possible to explore, had I stayed in close proximity to them. I tried things I wouldn’t have tried before out of fear of their reactions and attempts to control me. I made friends they’d have treated badly and driven away. I was old enough to rent a car before I ever ‘rebelled’, but my life opened up in ways I never could have imagined once I did.

      It’s been a lot of work, but I don’t believe I could have even approached the work if I hadn’t (gonna borrow your words) left my family and started my life afresh where I could do and figure out what I wanted to do (and who I wanted to be) without their constant judgement, criticism, interference and outright abuse.

      Sometimes the people who should be our loving support, who we and the world expect to be our loving support, just… aren’t. And you have every right to be lovingly supported. Go out and find the real Team You.

    4. Impish Pepper, the day it came to sit down and decide where I was going to go to college, I took out a map of the US, drew a giant circle that approximated the distance of a full day’s drive from my hometown, and mentally excised every college within that circle from my list. Since the day I left for college, I have never lived (with the exception of 6 weeks during a cross-country move while pregnant) anywhere less than an 8 hour drive from my parents, and I’m much more comfortable with 12-16+ drives. My next oldest brother left the country altogether.

      I am only still on decent terms with my parents because I did this. They have absolutely nothing to do with my day-to-day life, with my decision making, with my friends, any of it. I talk to them a couple times a month, briefly. I visit once a year, and usually they visit me about once a year. If I had stayed closer, I would have either lost my mind, or been forced to cut them from my life altogether in order not to.

      There is absolutely no shame in leaving and building yourself your own life. It’s your life, you get to live it the way you see fit.

    5. It’s really hard to break up with your current life and start a new one, particularly when you have few resources, and you’re in close company of people who keep draining you and keep putting you down and provoking you so they can prove their superiority. But if you think about it in terms of people who are trying to leave a long-term relationship, you will find that you are not alone, and that there are a lot of others who are not only in a similar situation, but who have found ways of breaking out of that, and starting a new life. (Also, it’s never too late.)

      We’re rooting for you. I hope you find a better Team You soon, because these people are not on it.

  58. Q1, I have had surprising success with calmly but authoritatively asking local kids to knock it off with the destructive behaviour. We live in an apartment complex of gossipy older folk whose neighbourhood residents association has all the backstabbing tension of an episode of Game of Thrones. When their children visit, the grandchildren get told to play out in what is essentially a boring bit of communal garden. They are bored. Their parents are reluctant visitors so there is little point talking to the parents, grandparents are unreceptive to any kind of rule enforcing. So I find good naturedly asking kids to play quieter/less destructively has worked. I will also say hi and smile if I am out in the garden anyway – treating kids like small but reasonable people builds rapport.

    On the flip side, we have young mums with small kids who bear the brunt of the older folks prejudice – they are young, poor and often people of colour raising kids alone. I like to chat with them and their kids when they play outside so they know they are welcome to use the space no matter what sideeye they get from the racist neighbours. I do get a few dimestore bubble wands and outdoor toys that I occasionally offer to the mums as a kind of ‘I have these leftover from my nieces visiting, could you use any?’ Tired screaming kids can be soothed pretty effectively by a bubble wand or a skipping rope!

  59. Re mindfulness: I have C-PTSD and I find traditional mindfulness can bring up a lot of really unpleasant physical sensations and panic. I do find grounding techniques very helpful, and after practicing them, I have been able to incorporate some mindfulness. I spent years in and out of dissociation so it makes sense to get comfortable with being safe in the here and now and being in my body. I can recommend the Acceptance and Commitment therapy Anchoring exercises for anyone who wants to try out grounding iin the here and now without having to do mindfulness. Trauma makes our perception of the external world shrink (ever get tunnel vision during panic attacks) so bringing attention outwards using the senses can help vs going inward to the breath/thoughtscape.

    Mindfulness is convenient for fitting into the austerity around mental health provision -because it sounds like a panacea that costs very little and pushes responsibility back on you – as though you could heal yourself if you are mindful enough. Like positive thinking and CBT, it is the latest in a series of mental health provider strategies to avoid actually engaging with people’s mental health effectively. Can it help people? Yes. Should it be foisted on you as a cheap opt out to the right treatment? No.

    1. Survivor., very well put in words. My experiences with mindfulness are somewhat similar to yours. I also have issues with anxiety and panic disorder/PTSD (different psychiatrists have suggested different diagnoses). I also found the traditional mindfulness excercises unpleasant: I tend to get overly anxious if I observe my body and its reactions too closely. On the other hand some ideas have helped me, like thinking of thoughts as simply thoughts that pass through the mind, not something which is always true. Thank you for your thoughts on the effects trauma has on perception, I found that helpful.

      Best of luck to you!

  60. ADHD as an adult.
    Oh, my friend. I feel your pain. Here, have some virtual tea of your favorite flavor.

    Memo to the universe at large: ADHD re-wires the brain so that coffee (caffeine) is sleep-inducing. Or, why everyone thought I had mono when teen-me tried to cure sleepiness with coffee.

    1. This isn’t universally true. ADHD is still an individual thing with different individuals reacting differently to different meds and stimulants. Here’s one page saying that coffee/caffeine can help many with ADHD focus and with no mention of sleepiness.

  61. About Q1: Cap’s advice is all good until the part about the teen/arson/accelerant. That’s call-a-cop time and tell building management time. Follow up in writing. A teen setting fires is a very dangerous thing. It’s not on the same level as the other issues.

  62. Re: getting the most out of therapy — I find myself confused about what I’m supposed to be doing *in* a therapy session, since of course I’ve never seen anybody else go to therapy.

    Normally I just sort of talk through what the challenges/decision points in my last week were, and the therapist listens and sometimes offers advice.

    Some stuff I’ve been uncertain about:

    *Is it appropriate to talk about “self-diagnosis”/your own opinions about your mental stuff? (It feels like it might be too self-centered or snowflakey, but sometimes psych professionals make guesses that seem way off to my common sense.)

    *I’ve sometimes wondered “so, when are we gonna break out your Cool Therapy Techniques for Fixing My Shit?” and there…haven’t been any. It’s just talking with a reasonable person. Which is valuable! But I do kind of wonder if she’s waiting for some future moment to break out the power tools.

    *How much about “inner life” is it normal to disclose? Like, there’s stuff about the way I think that I might want to share or talk about, but I don’t know if it’s socially inappropriate. (Nothing horrible, just stuff like “daydreams”/”make-believe”/”stuff I think about stuff I read”/”perceptual anomalies”, which, again, might be too snowflakey or impractical.)

    1. The “snowflake” thing is usually used as an argument to shut down people who are trying to get genuine needs met or even just talk about experiences that make the name-caller uncomfortable or inconvenienced. Therapy is, or should be, a place for you to explore your needs and experiences with someone safe, who won’t reject them, and who can be responsible for handling any discomfort they experience in a responsible way that doesn’t put the burden of that on you. It’s okay to be a snowflake there. Snowflakes are great. Your therapist might want to help you learn to be…the sort of snowflake that can melt a little and spend some time as a lovely water droplet and reform differently without ever losing your sense of yourself, but they should never reject you for bringing your specificity out where they can see it.

      Different therapists have different approaches and interests, but in general, you should be able to talk about just about anything (except that there will probably be limits on what the therapist wants to share with you about their lives, and they’re likely to want to make sure you’re working rather than just…chatting for most of the session). I don’t know if there’s a *normal* as far as disclosing inner life, but normal isn’t the point—the point (part of the point) is getting to talk about things that would be socially inappropriate elsewhere, or that you worry might be, and being received with kindness and welcome. Really personal specific things about you and your experience of being a person with a mind definitely should have a place there and be welcomed.

      If a therapist says something that seems wrong to you, definitely speak up. They’re the expert on people in general, but you are the expert on you—you need both. They may be right and you wrong, of course, but it’s still a valuable conversation to have, and if they have it in a way that makes you feel invalidated and put-down, then that’s a problem. You might be able to solve that problem with them or you might need to find someone else, but it’s not a problem you should have to just live with. Likewise, talking about how you relate to diagnoses you read about can be a really valuable thing. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of self-diagnosis, you can just talk about the things you read and what you related to and what you didn’t—most diagnosable problems are sort of amplifications of things most people experience, and even if you don’t meet the criteria, it can still be a really good path into talking about the things you struggle with.

      For me, with the good therapist I had up until recently, one of the biggest power tools was talking to a reasonable person about all the things that I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to most other people about. In particular, I could talk to her about my relationship with her and really build that in a very intentional, communicative way. I could tell her when I thought she had made a mistake or had hurt me or made me uncomfortable and know that she wasn’t going to be angry or damaged or dismissive. The therapist I saw for several sessions after the good one moved away really didn’t give me that feeling, and without it I felt intensely insecure and unsafe (and really confused, since it was right at the core of what therapy *was* for me). If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your therapist about your own internal experience and sense of yourself as a person, I would recommend thinking about that. Is that coming from something they’re doing, or is it coming from your experience outside of therapy? (Which is totally normal, of course.) Do you feel like they’d treat you respectfully and kindly if you started to push some of those limits? What would happen if you printed out that comment and had your therapist read it? If you think they’d respond well to that stuff, it’s likely really valuable to do—a good therapist can help you make choices about how to use your therapy. If you think they’d hurt and reject you, well, that fear could be stuff you’re bringing in from outside, but it also could be an accurate reading of them. There are therapists who would do that. If you try it and get burned, well, you did a brave thing and learned something really important about your therapist.

  63. OH MY GOD.
    This is the second* time a thing on CA lit up a lightbulb and advanced my social skills, like, 1000%.
    Complete the social circuit.
    It suddenly makes sense (after, uh, 40 years) why many minor social interactions are awkward for me. I am trying to figure out what the answer to what someones says when the expectation is just to complete the damn circuit.
    Thanks for the power up, Captain.

    (*First was some comment thread somewhere that talked about establishing friendships being like volleying in tennis… wish I could remember where I found it, but hugely influential on actually enabling me to make friends.)

  64. I just wanted to say… I had trouble taking compliments for a long time and worked out the same habits you suggested (but you explained them!) It still feels weird to accept compliments but saying nice things about people you like and/or admire is it’s own reward too.

  65. Q15: You can unfollow those relatives without ungrounding them, and you can also create exclusions on your posts and leave them as defaults (everyone except: BigotedRelative1, BogotedRelative2, etc). Tell them you’re just not using Facebook much if they ask, and never see their stuff in your feed/on your posts again.

  66. Q3 on Accepting Compliments:

    It’s far from a new or shocking idea, but I was truly shocked out of my socks when one of my ex boyfriends got completely tired of my shit with denying compliments, turning them back on him, or otherwise refusing them, and said:

    *When you refuse a compliment, you’re insulting me for giving it to you! Stop it!*

    Obviously if that came from anyone other than a sincere and caring person, it would be a horribly manipulative and potentially abusive thing to say. Shudders at the thought of one of the negging types in Q14 saying it.

    Because he was sincere and caring, it really changed the way I thought about taking compliments. Probably because the only thing worse than being unworthy of a compliment was being *a rude person* (oh the horrors).

    I use this today, kindly and gently, when dealing with a person whose personal force field of unworthiness refuses to allow compliments to penetrate.

    I’ll say something like, “It kind of hurts my feelings when you turn the nice things I think and say about you around. I feel sad and hurt when you do that. I wouldn’t say them if they weren’t true.” That usually gets a record scratch from the determinedly unworthy person. Just enough to interrupt the flow of bullshit in their head.

    If they keep going down the trail of self-flagellation, I’ll try something like, “I understand what you’re saying, but do you see how you’re telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about, and that my thoughts and opinions are wrong?”

    “You don’t have to agree with me. Just let me say something nice to you,” also works too.

    Ultimately this is a lot of emotional labor to do for another person though. If their force field is so strong that they repel even that, at some point I can’t be bothered. Refusing sincere and positive compliments drives people away. It’s not their job to create the right opening to slide the compliment through.

  67. Captain I suddenly need you to know about this exquisitely jazz-flutey song, the weirdest most meandering poetic thing that contains this beautiful prescient 1967 line about medieval mansplaining:

    Young men holding violets are curious to know if you have cried
    And tell you why
    And ask you why
    Any way you answer

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