Therapy Q&A: Understanding Those Around You (June 2015)

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Written by Catherine Bridwell

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.

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.

QUESTION: My boss recently has required me to stay late to help with project deadlines.   I have two young children who are cared for while I’m at work by my mother.   I feel bad asking her to stay longer than the six hours each day that we agreed to.   I need the $ from this job.   What should I do?

Since everyone’s most important relationships are those with family and friends, you may have already begun sharing with your mother what is happening and what your thoughts are – she may have words of wisdom. The next step is of course communicating with your boss about the need for clarification. Approach him/her with a request to speak at his/her convenience. The subject is: clarification of overtime expectations. If you anticipate being nervous write on a notecard the points to be made and refer to it if you need to. Your boss’s job is to have the highest performing employees possible but the area between performing well at the job you were hired for and performing beyond that job can be grey. Your goal is simply to clarify for your own comfort level and, in fact, for the boss’s.

Some factors to discuss include:

The original work agreement (including your understanding of overtime)
Your flexibility (including frequency)
Heads up time (perhaps 24 hours)
Compensation for overtime
Positive vibes.

QUESTION:  My mother is downsizing and has offered family heirlooms to my older sister and me.   Sis wants all the most valuable pieces and Mom says I should go along with that.   All through childhood my sister was treated better than me because my parents felt sorry for her (few friends, poor grades…..) and I was expected to accept that.     This is definitely not fair.   Should I speak up?

he distribution of family heirlooms may provide an opportunity to address long standing roles that are potential roadblocks to a good relationship between sisters in the future. You could begin by requesting a discussion about the various ways these pass-along decisions are made by other families:


Each daughter makes a list of her favorite 5 (or whatever number) and mom compares and decides

Create a master list and choose by turns

Determine monetary value and choose by turn keeping the tab close to even as you go

Have an independent, unbiased person choose and then trade with each other if desired

Hopefully Mom did not realize she was perpetuating the childhood roles by leaving the decisions/choices to you and your sister.   But she was.   Perhaps she will appreciate having her daughters relationship changing to a more 50-50 partnership.   Although the approach to this change may be difficult, in the long run it will serve all those involved well.

QUESTION:  My father-in-law is extremely rude to my mother-in-law in my presence.   It raises my anxiety from 0 to 60 in an instant.   My husband doesn’t want to say anything about it.   Should I?

If your father-in-law is rude to you or your husband or your children, of course you address that – your husband should be prepared to do the same.   Your father-in-law   has most likely treated his wife   in a bullying way for a long time and the two are familiar (even comfortable) with the pattern.   You should, when it happens in your own home tell him that everyone is treated respectfully in your home:   what he does and she tolerates elsewhere is their business.   When it happens in your domain it becomes your business too.

You don’t want their example to be perpetuated as a role model in your own marriage or as an example for your children as one way some marriages work.

Bullies continue to bully only in settings that tolerate it.   Any circumstances that make you uncomfortable deserve consideration and decisions about how to preclude that discomfort.

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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