Category Archives for "Adults"

How to free yourself from a toxic relationship with a narcissist

Hezlyn asks:

I know that am in a toxic relationship, recently found out my partner is a narcissist, they also admitted that they are, I truly know that they aren’t good for me. And the truth is I don’t want them either because I know I deserve better. But my question is, why is it that I can’t let this toxic person go? My feelings about them are always uncertain and confused; I don’t like the idea of them leaving me but still I don’t want to be with them.  Why can’t I let go?

Hi Hezlyn –

Of course I don’t know the specifics of your relationship, but I will tell you something I’ve found about human nature.  As much as everyone complains about narcissists, they also tend to be the most charismatic of people.  In fact, I sometimes wonder if Charisma is all about narcissism.

A person who walks into a room carrying self-doubt, nervousness, shyness… they’re not going to be all that exciting.  But a person who walks in believing the whole world revolves around them, that they and their feelings matter more than anything else… they’re going to have some exciting energy coming out of them!  And that excitement doesn’t necessarily mean anything else – good or bad – about them.  Which makes things pretty tough.

Gandhi was very charismatic.  So was Hitler.  So is Beyonce and so is Donald Trump.  All I’m sure quite narcissistic, but a great variety in levels of goodness.

But you say this person is toxic.  So you want to get out.

Well the best way I know of, to get out of a toxic relationship with a narcissist, is to think of your feelings as similar to an addiction.  Did you ever have to quit cigarettes or cut down on caffeine?  These substances cause an exciting feeling in humans that you want to keep replicating, and the only way to quit them is to refuse to let them give you that good feeling anymore.  Because they’re causing you problems.

Well it’s the same deal with this person, or others like them.  You need to, crazy as it sounds, identify the great exciting feeling they engender, and then avoid it!  Tell yourself “I don’t want that feeling, at least not from this person, anymore.”  And mean it.  Change your viewpoint on that feeling from good to bad.

You can do it.  But you might need some help.  Ask a friend or two to be there for you when you start to weaken, to talk you out of it.  Just as an alcoholic might ask someone to keep them from ordering a drink.

The fact is, Hezlyn, you’re in a great place.  Realizing the toxicity of narcissists can free you to live a life in which you give YOURSELF more attention, and don’t just give all your best to them.  And with this, you can live a life based on what you want, what you believe, and what you care about.

So realizing it is the first step.  Now take this on.  The future is freedom!

All my best,

Shirelle

What to do with a friend who demands more of you than you can offer

Wretched asks: Hello Shirelle! It’s been a long time since I last reached out to you. Hope you’re doing well. Anyway, I am really conflicted right now if I should cut off my long time friend or stay as is. She’s been my friend for 6 years now but I feel more and more uncomfortable around her. I admit that I am also in the wrong here but this issue just keeps on recurring. I am not really fond of messaging people tho we’re the bestest of friends, 24/7. I prefer interacting with them personally but in social media, I am really cold. My energy is drained and I find interacting with them exhausting. So I only reply only when I’m at my best because I don’t want to give them a half-hearted reply. So this friend was hurt by this kind of behaviour of mine. Mind you that this was not the first time that it happened. She kind of noticed this behavior right from the start of our friendship. It’s just that I find it truly exhausting to explain this thing over and over again to her for the past six years. I am busy (which she was aware of due because of college) and was dealing with a lot of things personally (anxiety, depression and overthinking) but I still has to deal with her emotional baggage. I understand that I am not the perfect friend but I do hope that she somehow understands me. We’ve been friends for a long time already but why can’t she understand that I need a lot of space, me-time and my energy drains really fast with just interacting with other people. She always complains that I don’t reply fast (that’s because I’m not 24/7 on social media, I am always reading books) and that I always reply the next day (which is because she always message me at night and I had already told her that I’m already sleeping at 9 pm or 10 pm at most and I don’t really message them back if it’s way past that time. I think that’s called boundary.) So I knew her when we were teens and now we’re on our 20’s, but I feel like she hasn’t grown mentally and emotionally. I understand her trauma from the past but we’re already at the age that we are accountable for our actions. I just think that our values and goals doesn’t align anymore. I also get annoyed that she doesn’t seem to move on and let go of the me on the past. I’ve long changed from the person I was before and was unlearning bad behavior and such, but she still believes I am still the same person who she first knew. I just laughed it off awkwardly and let her be. But the thing is we were really close. I can’t cut her off nor put a distance between us because it would seem awkward to our friends. We are in group of four and my college friends are also kinda close to her so it would really be awkward if something happened between us that would sour our relationship. Is what I’m feeling right? I do have the strong urge to cut off our friendship but things will get messy.

Hi Wretched –

I have to admit, I’m a little perplexed by this one.  You two have been friends for six years, and are great when you meet in person, but she’s suddenly saying your friendship doesn’t count unless you spend more time on social media, and respond to her right away there?  I hate to think how she treats her grandparents!!

You say she hasn’t grown, and may well be right, but she does sound like she’s changed over this time.  And it definitely sounds like she wants to take charge in the relationship – not be equals anymore but define what you need to do and when.  We dogs have a similar issue, especially with friends of the same sex, where our whole pack mindset requires one member to be the Alpha.  And once that status is set, we get along great, but until then we’re likely to fight to determine who that is.  So it sounds like your friend wants to be the Alpha in your relationship, and you’re not willing for that to happen – and that’s fine.

I fully understand why you’d want to resolve all this, to come up with some solution that makes it all okay and easy.  But I don’t think she’s going to allow that.  As you say, if you pull away or cut her off, that’ll make things messy.  And I’m not sure you want to do that anyway, as it sounds like she has other qualities that are great.

So here’s my advice for you, Wretched:  Keep things exactly as they are now.  But state your boundaries even more clearly.

What does that mean?  It means to write her a note and say something like “I know you want me to respond immediately to you on social media, but I need you to know that I’m only on there occasionally.  I’ll always get back to you when I can, but I go to bed before you do.  There’s no point in your getting your expectations up – I simply can’t stay up later.  I love you and will always be your friend, but I’m too busy to spend that many hours on these sites.”

Then if she complains again, you can just remind her that you told her this was exactly what you’d do!  And if she tells you you’re not cool because you’re not hanging out on the social media platforms she is… agree!  Tell her she’s right, that you’re too busy to be doing cool stuff like she is, and maybe even say you envy her about it.

I get this myself.  I only respond to emailed letters.  People ask if I can meet them on Discord and such, and I just apologize and explain that I can’t. 

I find that people accept it once I tell them this.  And I hope she is able to do the same with you.  But again, I insist, the only way it’ll work is if you write her something very clearly.  Not in a reply to her complaint, but all on your own. 

Hoping this works!

Shirelle

What to do when your Anxiety makes all the things that cause your Anxiety worse

Natalie1615_17 asks:

I’m a student, 17 this year.  Since last year my symptoms for anxiety have been obvious, I kept complaining about how my tummy aches, and mom just brushed it off, until, at the end of last year, things worsened and I was sent to the hospital immediately. The doctor diagnosed me with ibs-d which is over sensitive bowel movement that led to runny, loose watery stool. I was prescribed with 15 types of different pills, because ibs comes with nausea, bloating, gas, headache, vomiting. I wanted to end my life. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything. This year, school reopened, and I am stressed about it because I do not know how to deal with it. For 5 months, I have been missing school a lot, but still catching up with my homework and all, but my grades dropped drastically. Because of this, I’m getting yelled at constantly by my mom because she thought I was playing truancy, laziness and stuff. I just do not know how to tell my mom I have anxiety and stress, I just hoped she would understand. I have been alienated by my friends; my sickness also caused a big misunderstanding among them because they too were like my mom assuming I hate school. At this point, my mentality has been drained out and I’m just tired. I don’t know what to do anymore. At nights I spend my time alone crying, yelling, because of anxiety killing me.

Hi Natalie1615_17 –

As I see it, your letter can be summarized simply as: “I have high anxiety, and every symptom of it gets me more misunderstood and in trouble, which of course just causes me more anxiety.”  This situation would be intolerable for anyone; it sounds like one of those experiments where they would give dogs treats for doing certain actions, and then change the treats to punishments, and the dogs went mad.

I wish I could help more, but I do have two basic thoughts on this.  First, I think you should try a different strategy with your mother.  Stop denying that you hate school, or that you’re truant or lazy or anything else.  Just look your mom in the eye and say “Mom, I’m 17 years old.  Most kids my age hate school and are lazy.  Why do you think I’m different?” And let her answer.  My guess is that if you present her with the fact that everything she says about you is true for you and most kids, she’ll be more willing to consider that there’s something else going on with you.

And second, I urge you to find a therapist.  I’m not calling you “crazy” or anything like it, but you have two great reasons to see one.  First, your anxiety is impairing your life in some major ways, including your grades and emotional well-being.  But secondly, because your IBS is very likely anxiety-related.  If you can reduce your anxiety overall, you might well reduce the intensity of irritation and pain there.  It doesn’t have to be a doctor, or anyone hugely expensive, and you might not even need to visit them many times.  You just want someone who’ll listen and help you handle and reduce this anxiety, so that you can start enjoying your experience of what many consider the best years of a person’s life.

Natalie1615_17, there is no reason in today’s world that you shouldn’t be seen for who you are, and helped out with what’s going on with you.  Anything I can do, just let me know.  But just know I’m 100% on your side.

All my best,

Shirelle

What to do if you’re an introvert in a job for extroverts

oceanne asks:

I have started a job for a company as a promoter – my first job. I wanted to try because I am a university student and the hours were good for me. But I feel like it is not made for me. I am big introvert and I underestimated its impact on my mental health. I used to suffer from social anxiety. It is less now. Today, when I came back from work, I cried and I don’t know why. When I told this to my parents they told me that it was no big deal. But I feel that this is draining me. I’m asking myself if I need to keep the job or quit?

Hi oceanne –

You are not alone, oceanne!  So many jobs require people to put out bright excited social energy, while so many people are shy or nervous or, like you, just introverted.  There’s nothing wrong with being introverted; as I’m sure you know, that’s just considered a personality type, like extroversion – neither better nor worse.  But just as a pup like me would hate a job restricted to a cubicle where I couldn’t run around sniffing and licking people, you’re finding it hard and draining for you to work in promotion while you’d rather curl up with a book!

I do have a story for you though, about my human friend Handsome.  He’s always been a friendly guy, but mostly kept to himself (or home with me!).  And while he enjoyed socializing, he always had great anxiety about going to parties.  You see, he had this great fear of starting conversations with people he didn’t know, as they might not want to talk with him, might prefer to be left alone, might be cold and rejecting to him.  

This would present problems in his different jobs, and even more so in his social life, as you can imagine.  It reached a peak one night when he was having a birthday party at a restaurant.  Some friends picked him up so he could have a few drinks without worrying about his driving, and on the way, while talking with them, he almost fell asleep!  Not because he was tired, or because they were boring – he could tell, it was because of his anxiety about being at the party.  But all the guests there were friends of his who he liked and had invited, so what was he anxious about?!  What in the world was he to do about this?!

Well, right at that time, he was entering a new career, where he would need to market himself to others in the field regularly.  And specifically, he knew it would be good for him to go to big meetings every few weeks where he’d have to introduce himself and make himself known.  This terrified him!  But he also realized, this was his chance to finally beat this problem.

He forced himself to attend every one of these meetings he could.  And at each, he’d sit at tables of people he didn’t know, and make sure he talked with each one.  He’d stutter, his voice would crack, but he’d do it.

And you can probably guess what happened:  first, he found that everyone else there felt just the same, and were glad that he’d “break the ice” by talking with them.  But then, over time, he developed a reputation – as the friendly social guy!  The one who was at ease talking with everyone, the one lacking in social anxiety!

And one other thing happened.  You’ve likely heard of the Myers-Briggs test, a series of questions which determine, among other things, whether one is an introvert or extrovert.  Well he’d taken it in the past, and it correctly showed him to be introverted.  But after a few years of this work, he was in a situation where he took it again, and this time it put him right in the middle – half-introvert half extrovert.  His work to overcome his anxiety had actually changed his personality and the sorts of social occasions he enjoyed!

So, back to you.  What I’ve told this long story for, oceanne, is to tell you that it’s your choice!  You can live a happy life as an introvert, in which case you probably will want to change jobs pretty soon. Or you can work hard to change how you’re seen, and get more comfortable as a promoter, and maybe even start to enjoy it after a while.  

The big question, my friend, is what you’d like to be.  Would you like to be able to do more things socially, or would you prefer to stay by yourself more as time goes on?  

If you want to change, my advice is to do what Handsome did – grit your teeth and engage in every social event you can.  And see what changes come.  But if not, if you’re happier with the way you are, just know there’s nothing wrong with that, and you can find all sorts of jobs, and friends, and romantic partners, who fit that perfectly.

You’re fine, oceanne.  Choose that future and embrace it!

All my best,

Shirelle

How to move past a loved one’s suicide

Vaughn asks:

I need help dealing with my emotions. I’m not used to this. I lost my dad in November last year to suicide and I’m having trouble dealing with what I feel. He was the only person I could speak to about anything.  Now I find myself bottling things in to the extent where it’s affecting my relationship with my girlfriend. And I’m having trouble finding myself again. Please help.

Hi Vaughn –

I am so horribly sorry. Losing a parent to suicide is one of the most painful experiences I can imagine.  Losing a parent is always awful, but knowing that he chose this path will hurt forever.

I want, though, to push one very important fact onto you about this.  All beings, whether dogs, humans, or ants, instinctively want to keep alive.  It’s one of our most basic urges.  So for anyone to choose the other direction means something was horribly wrong.

Sometimes it can be a rational choice – such as when a person is in severe chronic pain with no hope of recovery, and chooses to put themselves and their loved ones out of the misery of their slow painful decline.  But most often suicide comes from a state of major depression, where the person’s mind convinces them that there’s no way to achieve any happiness or meaning, and the best solution is to end their lives. 

Depression is a horrible liar.  It will tell a person that they have no hope, when there are many possible solutions to whatever’s going on.  And worst of all, it will shut off their awareness of their worth to others, and others’ worth to them. 

If this was the case with your father, he didn’t kill himself despite his love for you and yours for him; Depression made him completely unaware of those giant beautiful facts.  It’s just that evil.

I knew a man who killed himself because he was incredibly stressed, as his business had fallen on bad times and he had been accused of stealing money from it.  After his death, he was found innocent – he hadn’t stolen anything, and the evidence was clear that he hadn’t.  And in his case, he left behind a loving wife and adorable little daughter, who will never get over this. 

Another way of looking at this is that he didn’t kill himself.  Depression murdered him.

I’m bringing all this up, Vaughn, because you are related to him, and Major Depressive Disorder is often a biologically inherited trait.  And you’re telling me that you’re bottling up all your feelings, that your dad was the only one you could talk with, that you’re having trouble dealing with your feelings, and that your relationship is struggling.  These are all worrying signs to me!

My friend, I will be glad to help you in any way I can.  But I URGE you to find and hire a good therapist.  Someone with the education to work with your current grief and the possibility that someday you might develop Depression.  It might be a professional psychologist or a counselor at work, or someone at your place of worship… all that matters to me is that they are kind and have training in this. 

My friend, I can’t stress this enough:  what you have gone through, and are going through, is too much for anyone to handle on their own.  Asking for help at a time like this is not weakness; it’s intelligence. 

If your father could talk right now, I know that he’d agree with me.  He’d want you to do anything you can to feel better and lead a happier life.  Happier than his.

And please, if there’s anything else I can help with, let me know.

All my very very best to you,

Shirelle

What to do when relationship problems get in the way of your work

Jigs24 asks: I am really stressed out, and have been for quite long time. There are so many problems going on between me and my partner and because of this I am unable to concentrate on my studies. All this is going on since more than a year. What should I do?

Hi Jigs24 –

I can’t help with any of the particular problems, as I don’t know what they are.  But I’m going to assume you’re saying you want to stay with them, but just improve things so you can be a better student.

The biggest question I’d have for you then is: Does your partner also want to improve things?!  And by that I mean, are they willing to work at it? 

It’s funny, I’ve been watching couples my whole life, and one simple rule I’ve found is that the couples that succeed, that last and make each other happy, are the ones where both partners want to make it work more than they want anything else

So in other words, when they have an argument, what’s more important?  To win the argument or to stay together?  When one meets someone really attractive whom they’d love to pursue, what’s more important?  That desire or staying together?

(And on the dark side of this, when someone’s being abused by their partner, what’s more important?  Their personal safety or staying together?)

If you and your partner both truly want this thing to work, then my suggestion is to go into couples counseling.  Even if you’re not married, it doesn’t matter – find someone you can talk with who’ll help you two work out the issues that are hurting you.

But if you find that your partner doesn’t feel that way, doesn’t think it’s worth the work to make you both happy and fulfilled…   Maybe it’s time for you to reconsider the relationship.  No matter how many wonderful qualities that person has, they’ve been making you upset and messing with your schoolwork for a year. That doesn’t sound like a relationship destined to make either of you happy in the long run.

Whatever you do, I wish you the best of luck!

Shirelle

How to win over someone shut down by divorce

K-Xengah asks:

Despite the drama going on in my life, I think I’ve had time to actually genuinely like someone else who isn’t my ex (the first person I have genuinely been interested in in 5 years). He’s older than me and divorced with two kids, but the day he came to see me and we hugged and talked for a bit, I felt this “zing” and I would like to see what happens. He’s super reserved though, so when we do talk our conversations are okay… just okay. But I want more. He works in another city and he invited me to visit him and I want to see if we can be more or if I should just end it. I really need advice on how to go about this situation. And I also keep wondering if he would consider me like that or is he just completely closed up.

Hi K-Xengah –

WOW!  I love hearing news like this!  Of course I’m hoping it works out, but even if it doesn’t, to know that your heart is waking up like this is great.

So I need to start with one question.  You sound like he hasn’t shown any particular interest in you beyond friendliness, but he invited you to his city.  That sounds like he actually is interested in where this relationship might lead.  Or is there something I don’t know?

But regardless, what I truly believe from your letter is that this man is shut down.  Maybe he was a lot more effusive and social before his divorce, but now he’s very hesitant.  If you’ve read any of my letters or articles about my friend Aria, he’s like her.  He’s been hurt, he’s learned not to trust… but he’s also hopeful and willing to take a chance.

And that means that, just like her human friend Ugmo, you have a special job on your hands.  You need both to encourage more to happen (while protecting yourself of course) and to build his trust that you’re not like the person or people who’ve broken him before.

What will that mean?  Well I don’t know him of course.  But the more you can find out about what went wrong in his marriage or other relationships, the better.  Let’s guess though – if you can work to make sure you always tell him the truth (which doesn’t mean “the whole truth” about everything, just don’t lie), you communicate from a place of kindness, you disagree and argue with fairness, treat him with appreciation as much as possible and shame as little as possible, and forgive forgive forgive!

Oh and one other thing I’ve learned from Handsome.  If you want to be with this guy, that means you’re accepting that he is a father who, if he’s a really good man, will almost always put his children first.  If you can’t accept that, then it’s never going to work out for the two of you.  Now understand, that wouldn’t make you a bad person – just someone who needs to be put first in a relationship right now. 

But I’ve seen it over and over.  Women will like Handsome and the way he treats them.  And then they’ll realize how much he loves me, and how high a priority he puts on me, and they’ll pull away.  “She’s only a dog.  Can’t we just leave her out in the yard alone for a few days, maybe put some food out for her, she won’t mind.”  Yeah, that doesn’t work at all!  Or worst of all, one once blurted out at him, “Who’s more important to you, Shirelle or me?!”  He was so shocked at the question it took him hours to come up with his answer:  “The one who’d never ask me the question is the one I’m sticking with.”  You see, if he’d said she was more important, his fear would always be that someday she’d ask him to prove it!  And that terrified him. 

So my biggest advice to you is, if you want to be with someone with children, to NEVER ask him to put you ahead of them.  He’s looking for a partner.  Try to be it. 

If you can do these things, K-Xengah, I can’t guarantee that your relationship with him will work, any more than I could guarantee any other couple.  But I can guarantee that you will have done everything in your power to help him trust you.

And once someone trusts, they become so much more able to love. 

So with my trusting heart, I’m sending YOU all my love, and very very best wishes,

Shirelle

What to do when you’ve kept something loaned to you for way too long

Icyplum asks:

A year ago, I was staying in a residential society (a gated community) in a metropolitan city and I came across a message through a society app, someone from another block wing, stating something I related to, about starting a reading club within the society. I liked the idea and also thought it might be nice for me to start reading books. So, one evening, I decided to go over to that apartment (sender’s house) to get more details about it. 
I met the lady who sent out the message, and she was surprised, super nice to me and I thought I made great first impression on her family. She introduced me to her kids, a boy and a girl same as my age, and they were all welcoming. Though the program of reading club was only for kids, I observed that they all were a family of avid readers and somehow the conversation went onto reading, genres, etc. When i expressed my interest to start reading, they offered to lend me a book to read and I obviously couldn’t deny it. They asked me to return the book once I finished reading it, after a month or two. 
It’s been a full year and I never returned the book back to them, mainly because of procrastination for the initial few months which later turned into big guilt and the fear of facing them after so long without any reasonable explanation for the long delay.  Now it’s been an year and here I am wondering why I delayed it, that I should have returned it… and I am back here again. I feel guilty and at fault, and I don’t know what to say to them. How do I return the book now? 
I ruined that first impression of mine entirely. Now they must think I stole the book, had no intention of returning it, and ran away with it. I also know that they cherished their books, because they have their own library in the house, filled with books of various genres. I have met people whose world revolved around books and who love to read all day long.  Their books mean the world to them and they get really pissed when someone take something so dear to them and never comes back. I had no ill intentions but now I am all the more afraid of their reactions and what they must be thinking about me. 
I wouldn’t need to worry if it was my friend, but we just met once and they did me a favour, and I disappointed them.
How do I make this up to them? Should I make an excuse, the easiest way to not ruin the relationship and my image to get out of this whole dilemma and decide never to do this again?
I have no idea how to apologize for my ignorant behavior. Should I write an apology letter over email? Maybe a little bit formal. If so, I need help from someone who can write an apology letter on my behalf, as I am not good with English and my vocab is limited.

Hi icyplum –

I would love to say that I have no idea what you’re talking about, that every human I’ve ever met has been perfect and never made an awful mistake through procrastination or even purposeful avoidance. 

But I can’t.

In fact, everyone I have ever seen has done something just like what you did!

And here’s the best part, not only am I sure that every person at that apartment has been in just this situation, but I also am sure that, because they’re such great readers, they’ve all read numerous stories about people who find themselves in embarrassing predicaments for which they need to confess.

In your case it’s about a book.  Admittedly a book they thought enough of to recommend, but let’s be honest here – books are replaceable!  Most likely you’re right, that they’ve given up on you… and so bought another copy of it!  But it’s not as bad as… oh, say, in Crime and Punishment, when the man has to confess to a vicious murder.  Or Great Expectations, where he has to confess to having become a snob.  Or Gone with the Wind, where she has to confess to chasing a married man for years.  Or…

Do you get where I’m going?

The situation you’re in feels awful, but the worst part of it is right now!  If you return the book to them and explain what happened, and they do their worst – yell at you to get out and never come back and such – at least you’ll be done with this whole mess. 

But having said that, I like your idea of writing an email first.  Just to clear the air.  Say that you’re horribly embarrassed – and that your embarrassment has even made this go on longer.  And that you want to bring them the book and beg their forgiveness, and honor the kindness and welcoming they showed you.

But I then have one other thought.  What I imagine they’d like best would be if you actually… read the book!  What they wanted was to get kids reading, and if you bring it back without having done so, that might feel disappointing to them.  How much better if you could come back, with the whole confession and all, but also with a report on what you thought of the book they liked so much!

Would that be possible? 

But even if it’s not, my biggest suggestion is to get moving on this so you can get past it.  For their sake as well as yours.

It’s going to be okay.  In fact, this might become the beginning of a great friendship – with people who can share their stories of embarrassment!

Best of Luck,

Shirelle

Whose fault is it when one person is hurt by another person’s joke?

sweetparker asks:

I had a fight with my brother and we haven’t talked in a week. He was joking around with things I’m sensitive about. I ignored him for several days because he hurt my feelings. Then he got angry and he stopped talking to me too. My mother thought I was at fault for escalating a simple joke and that I should lower my ego and apologize. But I don’t want to. Is this an act of self-entitlement? He never apologized for hurting my feelings. So why should I?

Hi sweetparker –

Your question is so important, and so open, that I can’t give an exact answer to it.  There are so many questions I’d have about it – are you just a little sensitive about those issues or are they huge and devastating to you?  Did he know how much his joking would hurt?  Does he do this all the time?  What made him so angry (as opposed to any other time you’d gotten upset with him)?  Does your mother always take his side?  How would she be if he made jokes like that about her?  And do you often react this way? –  so many questions that I can’t remotely offer an opinion.

What I can talk about though is what happens next.  It sounds to me like you’d like the issue to be resolved, and for you and your brother (and mother) all get along.  But it sounds like you also need to have your feelings acknowledged.  So, in other words, you don’t want this to lead to you and him never speaking again, but you also need to know that he understands what he did that bothered you so much.

My best advice is for you to write him a letter.  Yeah, I mean old-fashioned, where you write in pen on a piece of paper.  And explain three things:

First, explain what he means to you, and how much you want to have a relationship with him, even a better one than you’ve had before.

Secondly, explain what it was about his joking that hurt you.  And that while you are okay with him joking (maybe you even really like it) sometimes, this was a special case where it bothered you too much.  And – and this is the most important part – that you feel you can’t trust him the way you need to until he shows you that he understands the difference.

And third, tell him what you need.  What he can do to make it all okay, so that you two can have the relationship you want.  And that you really hope this is possible.

Now I can imagine you reading this and saying “Why should I spell it all out for him?  Isn’t he mature enough to realize all this on his own?”  Well, maybe he’s not!  And if so, how great for you to teach him how to deal with this issue – because it will come up again for him.  Maybe with a co-worker, maybe with a girlfriend or wife, and maybe even with your mom!  And his life will get so much better if he knows how to handle situations like this!

So that’s my best advice for now.  But if I’m missing something important, and can help with that, please let me know.

And to your question about entitlement, yes, a family member IS entitled to being treated fairly and caringly by her family.  And the others are entitled to be treated right by you too.

After all, when I’ve done something I think is funny and my human friend Handsome doesn’t – like biting his ankle – or he’s done something he thinks is funny and I don’t – like teasing me with food and then eating it – we’ve had to teach each other what’s okay and what isn’t.  And from doing so, we’ve got about as great a relationship as any I’ve ever seen anywhere.

I’m hoping for the same for you, your brother, and your mom.  Forever!

Shirelle

How to help someone having thoughts of suicide

PERFECTION asks:

My girlfriend sometimes has suicidal thoughts.  Is there anything you can suggest to her, like a book?

Hi PERFECTION –

Scientists will argue that some non-human animals can choose to end their lives out of grief or misery, but for the most part, humans are the species prone to such thoughts.  While we dogs, if we’re lucky, end our lives with a willingness to transit to the next world, you don’t see us choosing to go, or even thinking about it.  No, to us, life is too precious.

But our brains aren’t as big as yours.

You brilliant folks have such greater senses of the past and future, of the importance of certain situations, that we simply can’t grasp.  So if I love someone and want their love, and they reject me, I feel horribly sad and hurt, but the idea of that meaning I should run into traffic just never comes to me.  And since we pups don’t experience shame (that requires more self-consciousness than our brains hold), we would never think of jumping off a cliff because we’d failed at something we were trying to do. 

But your brains think that way all the time!

People who aren’t remotely upset will find these thoughts going through their brains – I could open that door from this airplane and jump out!  I could eat that bottle of pills and never wake up!  I could turn this car around and speed into oncoming traffic! – and never really consider doing any such thing.

Most people have the experience of actually considering suicide, like your girlfriend, because of feeling awful and/or hopeless.  They’re sad, they’re humiliated, they’re fearful, and they don’t see any good way out of it.  In these cases, the trick is to simply remind them of something that matters to them.  I know a guy who would feel that way, but then remember his niece, whom he loved very much.  And he’d make himself picture what it would do to her if he killed himself – how she’d be so devastated and perhaps wounded forever.  And that’s all it would take.  Note that he wasn’t arguing that he was incorrect about anything bothering him; it was just that he’d rather live with whatever’s awful than to take a chance on hurting her.

The bigger danger is when someone is so depressed that they can’t even conceive of something like his love for his niece.  Their world is awful, they see no way out of their problems, and they’re so overtaken by their depression that nothing else matters.  That’s almost always what’s happened when someone actually follows through by trying to kill themselves. 

If this is the case, a friendly talk or a book won’t be enough. They need professional help, and right away.  A qualified therapist, and possibly some antidepressant medication, are your best bets to help them through this.  But be warned – they may not appreciate your advice.  After all, suicide is what seems to them to be the solution to their problems; you’re trying to take that away!

I’m assuming your girlfriend is more in the “considering” than “dangerous” category.  I don’t know any books for her, but I can recommend two of the greatest movies ever.  One you’ve probably heard of, It’s a Wonderful Life.  It tells of a man who feels he’s such a failure that he tries suicide, but a guardian angel comes to show him what his world would be like without him in it, giving him a sense of his own meaning and worth.  The other is a great Japanese film, Ikiru, which means “To Live.”  It tells of a man who’s not only dying of a disease, but whose life has become so drab and meaningless that it’s almost not a life at all – and what changes in him to make him a very different sort.

Neither of these movies (and this is why I like them so much) say that the person is wrong to see things the way they do.  They just argue that if you look at your life in a different way, it can all gain meaning and purpose, and thereby joy.

So I’m really suggesting two tactics for you:  First, remind her how much she means to you and to others in her life, and how devastating it would be for her to do such a thing.  And second, to show her these movies, to help her find her own meaning in her life.

But I have a third, and I’ll bet you can guess what it is:  GET HER A DOG!  No way could she want to end things if each morning greets her with a wagging tail and a cold nose!  And she’d have someone every day saying “You’re the most important thing in the world to me!  And you’re the greatest!”  I always argue we’re the best antidepressant a person can ever have, but we’re also unending proof that our person has meaning and worth.

And we’re never wrong about that!

So at least try my first two suggestions, and if it’s possible, go for the third.  As she improves and learns to love her own life, she’ll also love you like crazy for doing this!

All my very best,

Shirelle

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