Dear Therapist’s Guide to Starting Over

Change can bring on a mixture of feelings; compassion is how you navigate them.

A woman exiting a maze.
Bianca Bagnarelli

The start of this new year is bringing one change that will disappoint many Atlantic readers: Our much beloved “Dear Therapist” column is going on hiatus for a few months, while its author, Lori Gottlieb, works on her next book.

In her stead, as the editor of “Dear Therapist,” I have been tasked with revisiting some of Lori’s best work to keep us thinking about emotional health until she returns. Each month I’ll be pulling together a set of “Dear Therapist” columns on a specific theme. This month, for the new year, the theme is “starting over”: How do we hold on to who we are—and keep those around us close—during times of profound change?

This is a question I’m sure many of us can relate to as we look to the year ahead, and try to put 2020 far, far behind us. In her columns, Lori has given advice to many readers who are going through a major transition, or are trying to make sense of a relationship with a friend or family member who is. Feeling lost in these moments is normal, Lori writes; we can experience grief, mourning a past that once was or a future we had hoped for; jealousy, envying those close to us for their happiness; and loneliness, finding a disconnect between ourselves and those who are supposed to be there for us.

While each situation is different—“Everyone goes through this experience in his or her own way, and … feelings rarely follow a neat narrative,” Lori writes—her advice to each reader always comes back to one central value: compassion, both toward yourself and toward those around you. Change can bring on a mixture of feelings; compassion is how you navigate them. By trying to understand why we feel the way we do, and why our partners or friends act the way they do, we can come to accept and even appreciate behavior that had previously been confounding or hurtful.

In the four columns I’ve selected below, Lori responds to readers who find themselves confronting a new era of their lives. Perhaps as we all face the new year ahead, these lessons can help us find our way.


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BIANCA BAGNARELLI

Dear Therapist: I Divorced My Dying Wife Once She Was No Longer Lucid

After five years of being her caregiver, I couldn’t bear the emotional or financial costs alone any longer.


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BIANCA BAGNARELLI

Dear Therapist: I Love My Trans Daughter, but I’m Still Struggling

I don’t know how to process what I’m going through.


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BIANCA BAGNARELLI

Dear Therapist: I Survived Cancer, but Now I’m Afraid My Husband Resents Me

He regrets retiring early to take care of me when I was diagnosed.


Woman hugging herself in the mirror, with jealous friend in the background.
Bianca bagnarelli

Dear Therapist: My Friend Treats Me Differently Since I Lost Weight

I want to keep up a relationship with her, but she keeps making hurtful comments about my appearance.


Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.