Therapy Q&A: Understanding Those Around You

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Written by Catherine Bridwell

Getting through just one day stress-free is a rare occasion for many. However, by understanding those around you, in the home, the workplace, or even a personal relationship, you can overcome part of what causes that stress in the first place. Catherine Bridwell answers your questions about everyday problems that can easily be solved through communication and the help of Identity, of course.

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I’m extremely passive when it comes to my relationship with my mother.   She is always making decisions and planning things for me.   I have trouble saying no, so I end up doing things I don’t want to do.  For example, I take my niece and nephew on my vacation,   go to a party with her, run an errand for her.   I don’t live at home and I am a grown woman.   I need my time and can make my own decisions.   How can I approach this without hurting her feelings and stand my ground?


Since a stumbling block for you is hurting someone’s feelings (your mother’s in this case, but most likely those of any close relationship), preface what you have to say with: “My intent is not to hurt your feelings and I’m worried this may, but I need to tell you…” You are not in charge of other peoples feelings — as long as you are respectful in what you say and present it with sensitivity, you’ve done all you can do.   Remember, hurt feelings are part of the emotional spectrum of life.   How can a person appreciate the good without ever knowing the bad?

Do you suppose your mother is not aware that she oversteps your personal boundaries?

Ask your mother when it will be a good time to talk; say that there are several concerns to discuss.   If you think she may react immaturely,  invite her out for dinner where she will be able to manage her reaction more appropriately.   Whether she has intended to or not, she is being manipulative.   Whether you have been accepting of it or not, you have allowed it.   Time to make your relationship with her healthier.


I have noticed lately that I am being negative.   When I have a conversation with friends and family and it comes to a topic involving opinions I point out the negative right away.   I also had a friend tell me that I am not joining the conversation, I’m pointing out the negative as if I’m “right.”  I’m being oppositional.   How can I change this behavior?


Most often people who frequently use negativity, are sarcastic, caustic, or oppositional (all of which can be passive aggressive behavior) are harboring anger.   If this is a new behavior for you, explore what could be causing your anger and negativity.   That is the way to change your behavior.   If there is a cause you can point to, address the circumstances.

If there are not current situations to explain negativism, you may have reached a point in life that unresolved childhood experiences about which you are not consciously aware are surfacing.   In this case, explore it with a trusted friend or do some counseling on the subject.


What are some steps I could take to ease the pain and be able to move forward after the loss of a loved one?


Oh, I wish there were a simple answer.   Grieving a death can be a challenging journey.   There are stages and phases, not all necessarily experienced and not necessarily in a particular order.   You will serve yourself best to take it slow — be very wary of trying to avoid the process.   Grieving is a part of being human — we learn and grow through it.

Here are some helpful basics:

  •  Be kind to yourself — don’t push too hard to act as though “everything’s fine.”
  •  Allow plenty of time to experience the anguish (that is, don’t bottle it up).   This can mean, put on an act in public, but as soon as circumstances permit return to the thoughts and feelings.
  • Talk — to others who are grieving, to friends.   Join a bereavement group.
  • Add up-beat activities to your daily schedule.
  • Write or journal about your loved one; even write to the person.   Some people find it helpful to write the loved one’s response back.

Remember that time is healing and you will “return to yourself.”


I found out that my mother is having an affair.   Do I get involved?   If so, what do I even do?   I’m an adult and not living at home, but still feel like I should probably say something.


Acknowledging to your mother that you are aware of her affair depends on the purpose to be served, the kind of relationship you currently have with her and the kind of relationship you want with her in the future.

Ask yourself these questions:     Would your mother be angry that her secret isn’t solid?   Would she be relieved she doesn’t have to “put on an act” with you?   Are you trying to influence her or simply be there for her?

Affairs are first and foremost about the participants’ marriages.   In the healthiest of circumstances an individual tempted by an affair first considers what needs are not being met by her/his spouse.   That is the beginning place to work if your mother were so inclined — in counseling it’s called relationship counseling — it’s not marriage counseling, not divorce counseling.

The fact that you care is a positive statement in itself — perhaps just saying that to your mom would help determine if anything else needs to be spoken.

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About the author

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Catherine Bridwell

Catherine D. Bridwell is in private practice in Morristown, NJ. She is a psychotherapist and counselor to families, couples, and individuals. She is a Certified Divorce Mediator and a Parenting Coordinator for divorced couples. In addition she lectures and has authored workshop presentations on family related and emotion management topics.


Feel free to e-mail Catherine at

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