Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior
Special to The Washington Post

Q: What is the best way to bow out of an event due to social anxiety? Because I want to please people, it puts me in a situation where I don’t want to disappoint them and am afraid to say no, but I also know I will be miserable if I go. I have gotten to a point where I know what limits I need to set for myself in order to function, and I prioritize the things I want to, but I need a better way of just saying no to the things I don’t.

A: Respectfully declining an invitation in order to see to your own needs is not a crime. But remind yourself that the sooner and more definitively you do it, the less you can be accused of being a ghosting flake (or a flaking ghost) — which does venture into crime territory, at least from a civility standpoint. So be early and clear, and don’t talk yourself into circles that give people openings to pressure you. Give yourself permission to say a firm no with little explanation. “I am so sorry I won’t be able to make it. I hope you have a wonderful time!” Often with social anxiety, the goal is to push through angst by actually attending events you ultimately would like to attend. But in this case, it is just as important to push through your angst in saying no.

Q: My son is dating a girl who calls him by a nickname we have never used. He has always used his given name. He says he doesn’t mind this, but I know he does because all throughout his childhood, he would correct people who used that nickname for him. I am not particularly fond of this girl, and I think this is just one of the things she does that is not good, but it is also the simplest to correct. I have made a point of calling him his given name as much as possible in her presence, but she doesn’t seem to get the hint, and I know he won’t say anything to her about it. My husband says to leave it alone but as his mother, this irks me.

A: I am not trying to be unkind, but I am getting a strong vibe of “sitcom character” from you. I would urge you to read your letter again, and pick up on the irony: You are worried a girl is steamrolling your son, so your reaction is to try to steamroll her (and your son) in the process. Seriously. If he can’t decide for himself what is acceptable and what is not in terms of his nickname (and I am assuming he is far past the preschool years), then what can he decide? How would he even be autonomous enough to be in a relationship? If he hates the name, it will be a growth experience for him to speak up himself. If he likes it, then you have no right (or reason!) to intervene. And if you are worried that he has somehow learned to be overly dominated by strong-willed women (how curious!), then make a commitment to not be doing the dominating.

Q: My 25-year-old daughter is very sensitive, I would say oversensitive, to any sort of criticism. It makes it hard for us to have a conversation, because I fear that even the mildest of things can set her off to be hurt. I don’t think she is happy, and I think this is a symptom of it, and yet even the idea of having a conversation about how she seems to be unhappy makes me certain she will take it as a criticism. I find this to be a major obstacle keeping us from having a close mother-daughter relationship.

A: You don’t say how she responds. Lashing out in anger? Getting sullen? Dramatic? You can address that dynamic first in a concrete, straightforward way without some larger pronouncement about her character. “You’ve gotten quiet, and you seem upset about XYZ. I am sorry if I hurt you. I know it feels more comfortable to ignore me, but I feel confused and rather hurt myself when this happens, and I would love to find a way that we could talk through these times better. Our relationship means so much to me.” If you can get her on board with acting on her feelings in a more functional way in the moment, then you can eventually get her on board for the meta-conversation about feelings management in general. But I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to take a super hard look at the “criticisms” you are lobbing at her. (You wouldn’t be the first mom to not realize the sting of her words.)

Andrea Bonior, a Washington, D.C.-area clinical psychologist, writes a weekly relationships advice column in The Washington Post’s Express daily tabloid and is author of “The Friendship Fix.”

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