Therapy Q&A: Understanding Those Around You (Dec. 2014)

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Written by Catherine Bridwell

I am a full-time waitress in a restaurant. I feel my boss constantly takes advantage of me by putting me on the work schedule without conferring. I have regular set days to work but I’m added on other days including my day off and holidays. The problem is I can’t say no, because I feel guilty I never get holidays off. How do I approach my boss?

Therapy Online: 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.

catherine-bridwellQUESTION: I am a full-time waitress in a restaurant.   I feel my boss constantly takes advantage of me by putting me on the work schedule without conferring.   I have regular set days to work but I’m added on other days including my day off and holidays.   The problem is I can’t say no, because I feel guilty. I never get holidays off.   How do I approach my boss?

It is not uncommon to anticipate the feeling of guilt if you feel uncomfortable saying no.  Remember you are able to say it — it’s just a word.   Some people speak in a manner intended to trigger guilt — usually to accomplish something they know is not quite right.  This is a type of manipulation.   Experiencing guilt in those circumstances is a learned reaction to someone or situations in childhood.

Ex.:   A mom says to her 10-year old:   “If you don’t fold that laundry, your poor, tired mother will have to.”   The child folds the clothes to avoid feeling guilty (not because he wants to be helpful, which he may).
As an adult you may experience guilt because you are being manipulated.   Your boss has tuned in to your passivity about avoiding guilt.

The workplace can be tricky.   And dealing with bosses even more so.   This person is in a position of authority over you, and your income may be on the line.   Try telling your boss that you want to be clear on the scheduling procedures;   that you realize you have operated in the past with no objections, but now you need to be part of the process.   You could thank your boss for scheduling the extra shifts, for the extra income, but remember a few one-liners for the day your boss tries to manipulate you again:

“I wish I could work that day, but I’ve planned something else.”

“I’m sorry, that holiday I’ll be…’

A book or a course in assertiveness training could be really helpful, too.  

QUESTION: I feel agitated all the time and lately I’m annoyed just being asked a question.   It’s not that time of the month either.   I’m not sure how to pinpoint why I’m so annoyed by everybody lately.   It’s been going on for about three weeks.

You’re on the right track by asking yourself why you’re always annoyed lately.   You can only address what’s going on when you can say what it is.   Since no answers of explanation are easily forthcoming, it is something outside your conscious thinking.   Try free-associating:   start a sentence with the fact you know — “lately I’m always annoyed,” add the word “because” and finish the sentence.   It may take many tries to bring into conscious thought the answer(s).

Another approach is to ask a very close friend for his/her ideas about what could be keeping you on the edge.  Often, friends are able to be more objective.

Annoyance is a kind of anger.   You may not be looking for an event but for an accumulation of situations that, taken together, are having an effect that if experienced one at a time would not be bothersome. Figuring it out, having a label for it, will relieve the intensity and put you in the position of deciding what, if anything, to do about it.

QUESTION: I broke up with my boyfriend after dating for over 10 years.   We had an on-again-off-again relationship.   Do I need to cut all communications to really move on?   He texts me and I don’t want to get in the same routine of try it again, break up, etc.   I also don’t want to be rude by ignoring him.   Any advice?

A 10-year relationship is significant and deserves to be openly and honestly discussed before decisions about the future are made.   Since there is a well-defined pattern of on-and-off, that pattern could be the first subject to consider.

It sounds like you’re not completely sure what you want:   to be with this man or not.   Ask yourself what you need to be different and then be forthright in telling your boyfriend.   My guess is that you highly value the relationship (it’s been important to you for 10 years) but not if the game playing pattern cannot be changed.

Talk to him.   If you both want to try again, spell out and agree to the behaviors that have to be addressed. This could be the beginning point for some concentrated work.   It might also be the concluding of the relationship.   It’s not rude to not respond when you have clearly stated your intensions (including that there will be no communication); it is simply being true to yourself and to your word.

QUESTION: I have a co-worker who doesn’t shut up.   Talks and talks and talks.   Everybody complains, but nobody says anything.   I am really horrible when it comes to approaching a situation like this. I’m just not good.   Any thoughts on how to handle this?

The Talker must put out some unspoken warning about being unapproachable, otherwise “everybody” would not have a problem setting appropriate boundaries.  If you are going to be the only one addressing this, you could try using work as the reason to not engage. Try something like,  “I’m sorry. Were you speaking to me? I wasn’t listening. I’m really trying to finish this up.”

If you and your co-workers are friends outside the workplace, you might discuss the problem as a group and try to create a probable solution.   If all attempts fall on deaf ears, you may need to involve you HR professional.

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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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