Mommie Fearest

Dear Dr. Darcy: 

My 16-year old daughter is not doing well in school and currently has a solid B average. She is constantly studying hours every day but she is doing so badly! We have tried everything from tutoring to grounding her. She knows our expectations are to do engineering, pre-med, or business but her math marks are not good and I am afraid she will have no future. What can I do to help her?

ANSWER: 

The toughest part of this question is my choice of tone in the answer. I can lean in, give it to you straight and hard, which will entertain my followers but which will likely result in you shutting down and failing to learn anything…or I can spoon feed you an answer that will be more likely to resonate with you but which will surely result in viewers falling asleep before they hit the end. This is my dilemma. And I’m not sure which way to go.

As a parent, it behooves you to view your daughter through a lens of curiosity – which is the exact opposite of having expectations that you impose upon her. Ideally you’d be curious about what she likes, what she exceeds at, where her strengths lie. Instead, you’ve chosen to ignore the very obvious data - which I find odd given your affinity for math (or is it just your daughter who needs to excel at math?) - and you’re pushing her into a narrow choice of fields which require a skillset that doesn't appear to come easily to her. Do you know how it feels to spend your life trying to master an aptitude that doesn’t come naturally? It would be like me expecting you to work in my field, to utilize emotional intelligence on a daily basis.

If you choose to stay on this course, your child will continue to attempt to meet your highly unreasonable expectations, which will destroy her self-esteem and undermine her sense of self, the combination of which is the strongest indicator of life happiness or misery. THIS, not her choice of career, will result in a lifetime handicap, impacting every aspect of her world.  So you see, you have a decision to make: Let her live her life or force her to fail at yours.

Your daughter is doing very well, despite your parenting. The people who run this world and who make 7-figures tend to be the B and C students. Those are the people who become entrepreneurs, who create products, cures, and mathematical equations that change the world. Stop trying to bang a square peg into a round hole, and be grateful that you haven’t provoked an adolescent rebellion to rival our definition thereof.

In the final analysis, I’m not sure which tone I chose. Hopefully one that resonates with you – for your daughter’s sake.

  

Battling Depression

Dear Dr. Darcy: 

How do you be happy when part of you fights against it? For the last year I’ve been coming out of what I term “walking depression.”  I met my obligations outside, but inside was pretty bleak. My life is actually pretty good, although my job is soul sucking (child welfare worker).  I’ve experienced depression before (cycle every 5 years or so) with some suicidal ideation when things got really tough.  I usually just wait it out; however, this was pretty bad and lasted for about a year.  I got to the point that wishing/fantasizing wasn’t enough. Fortunately my brain wasn’t working that well and my suicide plan sucked.  Even though I’m no longer actively suicidal, I find myself wishing that it had worked because coming out of this sucks. I’m working with a therapist because I figured I needed some new/better coping skills but it has not been as simple as that. Shocking, I know.  I hate therapy and it’s been harder and taken longer to get out of this dark place than any previous time.  One of the hard days I mapped out an “exit strategy” because I’m not going to go through this recovery process again.  I figure I have 5 years before/if it gets really bad again.  In the meantime I can’t rely on my old coping mechanisms because they obviously weren’t that effective, but I kind of suck at all the new ones I’m supposed to be developing. I’m trying to take care of my body through good nutrition, exercise, sleep, etc, but I’ve discovered that part of me is just fine staying here in this place where it’s not so bad but it’s not so great either. I hate being half assed but that’s where I find myself.

ANSWER 

When people have been depressed or anxious or [insert struggle here] for many years, the ailment becomes familiar. And humans crave familiarity because it helps us feel certainty, which is a basic human need. In trying to rid yourself of the depression, you’re essentially threatening your nervous system with uncertainty, which your body is going to fight against. The depression is like an old friend. You know what to expect. Change sort of blows. Especially in the beginning when all you feel is the discomfort of the unknown and little benefits that will eventually come from sustained change.

All of this means that you cannot rely on how you feel to guide you on which actions to take. What will feel better is the old pattern of thinking and behaving, which, as evidenced by your suicide attempt, has not worked. Essentially, the less comfortable it feels, the greater the confirmation that you’re on the right track.  

You’re going to suck at your new coping mechanisms because they’re new. Stick to them anyway. Stop considering how you feel before taking action and just do it. Just eat. Just drink water. Just exercise. Just call or visit a friend. Just take the shower. Just do your journaling. Just do your meditation.  Just go to therapy. Just do what your shrink told you to do. At the end of the day, your best thinking got you where you are today, so it’s OK to rely on someone else’s thoughts for guidance. At least for a while.

PS: You should be on meds.

Gender & Orientation: Female, Straight.

Why Attachment Matters

Dear Dr. Darcy: 

My therapist doesn't want to end therapy, but I do. I've been seeing him 3 years. I can feel my self getting attached that's why I want to leave. I'm not for sure what I should do???

ANSWER 

Healthy relationships require us to attach. When people have intimacy issues, the idea of attaching can be terrifying, even in platonic relationships. The relationship with your therapist is triggering your attachment issues. Good therapy triggers our shit. It’s supposed to. That you’re feeling a desire to run for the hills is reasonable. That you’re contemplating doing it is not.

I rarely say this, but your shrink is right. If you bounce now, you’ll miss the opportunity to learn how to attach. Choose this path and your attachment issues will continue to hamper every relationship you have. It’s the easier path in the short run, but you’re going to pay for it.

You know the answer. It’s in your question. If you want a more specific answer, here it is: Tell him why you want to end therapy, ask him for guidance on how to stay engaged in the process and ask for coping mechanisms to use when staying in the process becomes very uncomfortable.

In the final analysis, all that matters in life is that we’re happy – and happiness is largely contingent on the quality of our relationships. If you can’t attach, your relationships will consist of other people who can’t attach, and that, my friend, is not a recipe for a happy life.

Gender & Orientation: Female, Straight.