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Let Me Be Frank


Devouring a column by advice giver par excellence, Carolyn Hax, I had a good chuckle at her response (which I paraphrase) to a letter writer: When life is irritating and people are jerks, just “deal with it” and don’t make a big to-do. I confess there’ve been times when I’ve felt like saying exactly that to clients but never had the nerve because it’s sounds so un-therapist like, so unprofessional. Aren’t we supposed to be infinitely understanding, patient, compassionate, and kind no matter what? 

After reading Hax’s Washington Post column (that comes out in my local paper), I began thinking about whether there’s a place for her manner of brashness in the therapy session, which is meant to be a space for honesty and straight talk. I decided there is and that my job, above all else, is to help clients become emotionally healthy and that sometimes frankness and bluntness is better than beating around the bush.

For example, I have clients I’m hugely fond of come in complaining about their long wait on hold on the phone, someone stealing a parking space they were waiting for, getting a speeding ticket (when they were speeding!), customer service help that’s no help, family members being impossible (aka just themselves), friends forgetting to call them back, bad drivers, and co-workers being too loud/nosey/snippy/bossy/catty/quiet. 

We all get irritated by some things some of the time. But we don’t need to get irritated by everything all the time. Sometimes people have bad days and don’t mean to try our patience. They make mistakes and so do we. What works for them, doesn’t work for us and vice versa. We have different communication styles and they aren’t out to offend us nor us them. Getting out of bed, they’re not contemplating how to ruin our day.

There’s two kind of distressing situations I see that are very different: ones that are pretty much our fault and ones that aren’t. Channeling Ms. Hax, here’s my advice: If you hang with people who make you miserable, that’s as much on you as on them, so cut out the blame-game. Cut as many of these people as you can out of your life pronto. If you can’t avoid them and you’ve tried once or twice to change their ways, give it up and be civil and nothing more. If you’re keeping them in your life for a reason, then that’s the choice you’ve made, so quit playing the victim. 

As to the other gazillion annoying things that can happen, don’t take them all personally. The world doesn’t revolve around you (or me, sad to say). Don’t make petty irritations into high drama and keep the latter to short one-act plays. Move on even if someone else can’t. Focus on what’s right with life, not what’s wrong. (Note to self: re-read daily).