The Case of the Bossy Boardmember; Create a New Sense of Purpose
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I recently moved to Rehoboth to join my partner who’s been here full-time for a few years while I was still commuting. She is a member of our HOA board, and I’m beginning to discover that she has alienated some of our friends in our condo because of her aggressive and overbearing attitude. We used to have fun with these people, but they now avoid her because of her bossy and often insulting demeanor. Every time I bring it up, she gets “high and mighty” about her position on the board. It’s just an HOA, for goodness’ sake. Is it worth losing friends over?
Dr. Hurd replies:
Twenty-five years of professional counseling has taught me that people generally know what they’re doing. They might not want to know, but they still have the power to know. I believe that may be the case with your partner. In her mind, for now, her position on your HOA is more important than friendships.
If you asked her what you asked me, “Is this worth losing friends over?”, I expect she’d say no. But she probably doesn’t see that as a cost, because she prefers to not see what she’s doing. We cannot control other people. It’s always possible to reason with or potentially persuade them, provided we “have their ear.” I won’t discourage you from trying, but apparently you’ve already tried, and it didn’t turn out very well.
You’re essentially asking, “Is there something other than rational persuasion I can use to change her mind?” The answer is, “No.” Magical thinking can fool some into believing there’s something more, but there isn’t. Gentle persuasion might help a little: “I know the HOA is important to you, and I admire how principled and determined you’re being about it. But I notice our friends are backing away. Have you noticed that?” I only mention the “nice” approach because many people write it off before even trying it.
Then there’s the more blunt approach, where you tell her precisely what you told me. Show her this page, if you like. Rest assured it won’t go over well, at least at first. Though it might or might not have the impact you want, I suspect it will not.
If you are close enough to these people in your condo, you might want to contact them in private and tell them you understand how your partner is being, and that you want them to know that you know. Avoid any negative commentary about your partner, of course, but at least you’ll have said something. As an interim measure, this can sometimes make all the difference in saving the friendships, at least until she sees what she’s doing—or her term of office runs out.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner and I retired to this area about a year ago. In a nutshell, I’m just not very happy. It doesn’t have to do with anything specific; I love my partner, we adore our home, we’re making new friends, but I just can’t get rid of this general malaise of anxiety and sadness. We both looked forward to retiring from our busy and successful careers, but now that it’s a reality I can’t make myself feel happy, though I know I’m supposed to.
Dr. Hurd replies,
From what you wrote, you don’t know what’s causing your anxiety and sadness. You will probably need a professional to help coax this out of your subconscious mind. However, I’ll attempt to get you started.
The first step is to identify your exact emotions. Emotions are nothing more than thoughts that “pop up” automatically in response to your values and beliefs. So ask yourself, “What would my emotions say, if they could talk?” I’m only guessing here, but it might be that you’re feeling a lack of purpose. You described your career back home as “busy and successful”—could it be that you’re simply lacking a clear-cut, specific set of reasons for getting up in the morning?
Many mistakenly assume that mentally healthy people must have a sense of purpose. But just surviving comfortably is not enough. Whether it’s a job, a career, a cause or a hobby about which you’re passionate, you obviously need more than just the nice house and nice friends. Those are important, but in a sense they’re just the side dishes, not the main course. What’s the main course? It sounds to me like you haven’t decided that yet. So your anxious and sad emotions are telling you, “Hey, get on with it.”
Again, this is only a guess, but it’s an educated guess. I can’t overstate how often I see this happening to retired people. Sometimes they don’t sufficiently think out their plans. For years they’ve assumed, “Once I retire and move to the beach, life will be bliss.” This deeply held belief ultimately clashes with the facts once retirement becomes a reality. The next step is anxiety, sadness, or even depression. I see it every day.
The good news? It’s entirely fixable. Find a skilled cognitive therapist who can help align your old beliefs with your new reality.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office may be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr Hurd.