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

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Written by Catherine Bridwell


Everybody says to follow your gut on decisions, but what is that feeling?   How do you know if it’s your gut telling you?   Are there signs?


“Follow your gut” is an expression that means do what intuitively seems best.   Intuition is the sense (it’s not conscious problem solving) of the right course of action to take.   Unlike an impulse, which is the urge to ACT without rational thought, intuition offers an answer to a problem before action is taken.

Signs that your “gut” is speaking include an ah-ha moment: “yup, that’s what feels right”; lowered anxiety (which happens regardless of how a decision is reached; and unexpected clarity about the problem at hand.   You need to attend to the fact that your “gut” may be about what you wish you could do but it may not be the wise thing to do–that is the separation of what emotionally you want to do and what intellectually you know is best.

People learn to either trust their “gut” or not.   Experience is the teacher.


I found my father after 20 years.   I found out that I come from a huge family with a very diverse background.   How do I know that I am ready to meet him and the family?  


Before plunging into a potentially highly emotional situation, get prepared as best you can.   Continue the mode of communication through which you found your father; learn everything you can about his current life and about the circumstances that separated you for 20 years.   Then move to a more personal mode of connecting: for example, from Facebook to personal emails or letters; then texts; phone calls; and finally face to face.   Ask many questions about the members of your extended family, ask for pictures.   You will know you are ready to meet him, and then, later, others when you have achieved a comfort level that includes trust.   If there are other people currently in your life who were involved in the reasons for separation, you may want to inform and/or involve them in your planning.


I live with my parents and they are financially suffering to pay their mortgage. I have helped tremendously, but they are still struggling. I do know that they are not being smart with their income.   Do I have any say or do I rather not say anything? Do I mind my business and focus on my own finances?

The answer to whether you speak to your parents about their spending practices depends on a couple of factors: first, your relationship with them and the openness of communication; and, second, your agreement with them about the financial help you have provided thus far.

If a direct conversation can be had, tell them your concern about their spending; perhaps offer to help them find a service to create a wise financial plan.   If their spending practices are an unapproachable subject (perhaps because they are aware of their avoidance of responsible planning), then you could simply say you are concerned.

Second, if your financial help has not been in the form of an agreement then what they do with the money would not be your business.   If your help has been specified (example:   pay off credit cards) and they are not using the gift for that purpose, it is your business to no longer enable their irresponsibility and you can respectfully say so.

You do, though, want to accomplish your mission without offending and without jeopardizing your relationship with them.   Perhaps beginning with “I am concerned about something and wonder if we can discuss it . . . .”

Good luck.


I’ve been noticing that I’ve been crying more recently.   It’s about every two weeks that I break down in the car or in bed at night.   I’m not sure how to pinpoint as to what is really causing it.   Any suggestions?

You are right that something is weighing heavy and when you feel safe from observation (the car or in bed), it surfaces in the form of tears.   Ask yourself what for you brings tears (sadness, anger, exhaustion . . .).   Rather than a specific circumstance or experience, the crying may be about generalized experiences: dread about an upcoming change; or a situation you have acclimated to but haven’t fully emotionally processed (example, a divorce, a move, a job loss . . .).

One way to pinpoint the reason for tears is to write the answer to several open ended statements related to the crying:

Examples — When I’m in a safe environment, I feel . . . .
Over the past couple of months I felt . . . .
Then, take the information you have written and look for the explanations for those feelings.




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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