Dr. Gayle advice column

2017 April Lotus Guide column

 

Q: My husband is an alcoholic; I’m at a loss about what to do.

A: (This answer is from a reader—thanks for writing!) I felt the strong urge to respond to one of your kind answers in the last issue to the question by the wife of an alcoholic. As someone who was married to an alcoholic, I felt you left out the most important advice. She needs to go to Al-Anon or CoDa. She won’t stop his drinking. First and foremost, she needs to nurture herself. It is very stressful to love an alcoholic. We can only fix ourselves. One the hardest things for me to accept was, even though I never drank, I had a drinking problem–a huge one. Any person in a close relationship with an alcohol abuser has a drinking problem! I felt unheard and alone, and mad, until I went to Al-Anon and got the focus off of him and his so-called problem that I wasn’t a part of. It was the death of the old me and truly the beginning of my empowerment. Twelve-step programs are deeply spiritual in nature, non-judgmental, secular, and beautifully designed.

 

Q: My twins are starting college next year. What advice do you have for them?

A: See Your Mindful Guide to Academic Success: Beat Burnout, my new inexpensive 200-page ebook. It includes study and research strategies, wellness, and stress management. The research chapter is written by librarian Morgan Brynnan and students have a lot of input, including creating illustrations.

 

Q: I’m attached to a boyfriend who I don’t think is faithful to me. Should I leave him?

A: I imagine this is not the first time you’ve encountered this problem. Write about the other men in your life who didn’t commit to you and how you felt so you can have perspective on your pattern and end it. Of course talk with him about his beliefs about monogamy and if he feels your relationship needs spicing up.

 

Q: My daughter-in-law projects her mother issues on me and other women in any kind of authority. This impacts my relationship with my grandkids. How can I cope?

A: Stay centered, have compassion for her unhappiness, and don’t engage with her desire to fight. Follow Michelle Obama’s advice, “When they go low, we go high,” which means you do not say anything critical about her to the kids. Don’t expect reasonableness and fairness when you’re dealing with an unconscious wound. Remember Jesus forgave the soldiers who nailed him to the cross because they were ignorant and Google ho’oponopono.

 

Q: I’m feeling assaulted by difficulties one after the other. How can I avoid getting sunk?

A: Instead of meeting conflict head on like a boxer, think of being a martial artist who uses the energy of the assailant to move him or her out of your space. Whenever we experience a pattern it reflects a lesson we need to learn.

 

Q: I am in the depths of wrestling with how to align my Christian faith with the fairly new awareness of injustice and call to respond under the Trump Administration. Some of my church members are critical of my new activism. Is there a conflict?

A: Re-read what Jesus said about helping the poor, loving your neighbor, turning the other cheek, and forgiveness. Think about his concern that rich people will find it difficult to earn a heavenly afterlife, and his violating Old Testament taboos against discussing theology with women. Jesus said, “Mary chose the better part,” discussing theology with him while Martha was in the kitchen. Jesus was crucified for not accepting tradition and currently Pope Francis causes a lot of opposition by reminding Christians what Jesus preached, so you are not alone. Remember Proverbs 31:8-9, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the right of all who are destitute.”

 

Q: I get picked on at work. How can I stand up for myself?

A: We give people unconscious signals about how we expect to be treated, similar to alpha or omega chimps or wolves. To change your signals, listen to Aretha Franklin’s song “Respect” on the way to work. Think “kiss my rear” when someone is dominating at work. Be aware of what comes up when you say to yourself, “I am strong” and change that programming.

 

Q: Young people today are often accused of being fragile, falling apart at the smallest problem, and spoiled because their helicopter parents micro-managed their lives. Do we need to re-examine parenting styles?

A: Many experts are now advising parents to let their kids solve their own problems and rather than supervised “play dates,” have unsupervised playtime with other children to learn how to cope with challenges like being chased in a playful setting or climbing a tree. Resilience is the goal. It requires both independence and support. One-third of children growing up in high-risk homes in Kauai learned resilience in a study by Werner and Smith. What helped was getting emotional support from a mentor and involvement in a community group.

Educators (such as the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence) are interested in learning how to teach resilience skills, the study of how not to be defeated by challenges and how to use them to grow stronger. Resilient people have the strength of character to risk making mistakes to stretch their abilities and follow up on reasonable goals. They take responsibility and don’t blame others. If a student doesn’t do well on a test, instead of blaming the teacher she or he can ask the teacher for suggestions about how to study more effectively.

Resilient people think of themselves, not as poor me victims, but as survivors. Another characteristic of resilient people is they’re positive and optimistic. They express gratitude rather than focusing on what they don’t like. They look at the glass as half full rather than half empty. When you have a self-defeating “I can’t” thought, acknowledge the negative habit and replace it with “I’ll get help and do my best.” Parents and teachers need to aim for a balance between encouraged but not smothered, modeled in Danish and Finnish schools (discussed in Your Mindful Guide to Academic Success.)

 

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