Dear Amy: I grew up in a large family that was often abusive and violent (physically and verbally). Most (but not all) of us have tried in adulthood to overcome the behaviors we learned as children. In my therapy, I have determined that the best way for me to keep from getting triggered by upsetting and disruptive people is to stay away from them.
I had not had an incident for many years, but at the last family gathering, one of my sisters deliberately targeted me.
I was caught off guard by the attack and resorted to my old reactive behavior (yelling and verbally fighting with her). The result was not pretty. It took me days to calm down.
I have worked very hard to control my reactions and behavior. I don’t want to stay away from family events, but I also do not want to put myself back in a situation where this could happen again.
The other family members tend to dismiss her behavior as, “That is how she is and she is not going to change.”
Should I not attend family functions, or is there another way around this? I could use some perspective.
Dear Hurting: It sounds as if you have worked very hard to overcome your family legacy. Good for you.
Yes, it is logical and rational to choose to keep your distance from people you don’t want to be with, especially when there is a likelihood that they will mistreat you.
I agree that the smartest perspective concerning your sister is this statement: “That is how she is and she is not going to change.” This is explaining – not excusing – her behavior. You cannot expect her to change.
But you have changed. You can try to demonstrate the new you by determining not only to feel differently, but to react differently to your sister. Also, build an escape hatch into every encounter.
When you are in her presence and she starts in on you, you can say, “Well, that’s my cue. I’m going to get myself another cup of coffee. Excuse me.”
Dear Amy: I’ve recently concluded that my wife has become a negative person. I think her negativity is a reason she has not made many friends.
I recently talked to one of her longtime friends, who made the same observation, and I just learned from one of our two mid-30s children that they now find it difficult to be around their mother because of how she can turn a conversation negative.
Our sons are both positive types, and they make light of their mother’s attitude (with each other).
My wife is a recently retired professional, active in the community, goal-driven, physically fit, and a creature of habit.
I’m sure this has been a long-developing situation that I’ve ignored, but I think it has gotten worse. I want to help my wife to understand how she is perceived, and do it in a constructive way. I’m sure anything I say will be met with a defensive reaction. Any suggestions?
Dear Positive: You could start by asking your wife how she feels about her life. Listen to her answer. Tell her she seems to have fallen into a negative habit, where her reactions and responses are often negative.
Yes, I think you should tell her that your children have mentioned this, and the reason to tell her is that she might not be aware of it.
You can expect her to react defensively and negatively, but you should hope that hearing this causes some longer-term reflection. (Don’t report talking to her friend about this – she will see your conversation as a serious breach of privacy.)
Understand that when someone hears, “You’re unhappy,” it can seem like an accusation. Don’t tell her, “You don’t seem happy,” but do say, “Your happiness is important to me. Can I help?”
Dear Amy: I work for a large grocery chain. One of the most common items in our “lost and found” box is canes.
Some of these canes are not cheap and end up in the trash.
Recently I retrieved one that had its owner’s name and number on it.
I made a quick call and a home health care worker arrived to retrieve it.
I wanted to put the word out that people should label their canes.
Dear Worker: This is a very helpful suggestion. In addition to returning canes to their owners, I hope you can find a place to donate those canes that cannot be returned.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.