Mind Matters with psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald: ‘Should I feel guilty?’

Q. I’m sleeping with a married man, should I feel guilty?

A. More important than if you’re doing the right thing is to try to understand why you’re making the choices that you are. I have no doubt many people would moralise endlessly about what you’re doing, but ultimately it doesn’t help.

First, let’s be clear – he’s responsible for his relationship, not you. It’s also true that you have to make decisions that work for you, so if the relationship is causing you pain or guilt then perhaps it’s time to reflect on whether it’s working.

Is it a relationship that can or will develop into more, or do you want it to? For some people who end up being the other woman/man it can be familiar to be in a role where you will ultimately never receive enough love and be left feeling unsatisfied and neglected. You deserve more than that, but can you allow yourself to have it?

Q. I avoided all social activities over the break, and now I don’t feel like going out at all. What do I need to do?

A. Start with a plan. It’s not unusual for anyone who struggles with anxiety to find themselves struggling more with anxiety after the year we’ve had – lockdown was basically enforced avoidance. And it’s the avoidance that is ultimately the problem with the anxiety you’re describing.

So plan to gently and slowly push yourself back into social situations. You have to want to, and you have to be willing. Notice the desire to avoid, and work to breathe and accept the anxiety – it will pass.

Don’t try and do too much at once, and don’t criticise yourself for the way you feel. Anxiety is a natural outcome of avoidance. And you can overcome it with targeted behaviour and a plan.

And you still get to make choices. You don’t have to go to every social event. But let your values and your important relationships guide you.

Q. My friends love working from home, but I find it stressful spending so much time with my partner and kids. Is that wrong?

A. Working from home can be stressful. If we work in an office we’re used to being free of the stresses and demands of home. It’s also true that change is hard – as cynical as it sounds many relationships are used to not spending all their time together, and changing that balance is hard.

As with most things it’s important to find what works best for you – regardless of what others might say.

And there certainly is no need to feel guilty about needing to leave home and go off to work – we need to miss those close to us sometimes to enjoy the time we do have with them.

But perhaps most importantly, make sure you don’t get stuck in the worst of both worlds – working in the office and taking work home. One of the clear advantages of going off to work is being able to leave work, at work – where it belongs.

Q. I’ve been back at work for three days and I’m miserable – is it time to make a change?

A. Maybe! Although the return to work can be hard for most. Back to work blues is a real thing, and can make it hard to see clearly how much to “trust” these feelings when making decisions.

Generally I think the idea that we “have to” enjoy our work can be a confusing and unhelpful standard to hold ourselves to – not everyone is so fortunate.

But we can find ways to make aspects of our work challenging, or engaging – or find ways to enjoy the social aspects, without having to “enjoy work” necessarily.

Having said that, if your work is causing distress then it may be time to move on if you’re in a position to do so.

However, best to give it a few weeks – and perhaps treat your weekends like an extension of your summer vacation; find ways to connect with nature, swim in the sea or generally take time to relax.

Kyle MacDonald is an experienced psychotherapist and co-host of The Nutters Club on Newstalk ZB, Sundays at 11pm. If you have a question for Kyle, email [email protected]

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