For this month’s look-back at “Dear Therapist” columns, I’ve decided to turn not to a specific theme, but to a handful of columns that have been reader favorites over the years.
Rereading them, I understand why. Though the topics they cover are disparate—among them the loneliness of singledom, the shame brought on by abuse, the difficulties of extended family—each does something that I think of as typical Lori: providing readers (and the letter writers themselves) with a whole new framework for thinking about a problem.
One letter, to a woman who has a troubled relationship with her sister-in-law, stands out to me as paradigmatic. “Unfortunately, I can’t stand her,” the letter writer says. “Everything about her rubs me the wrong way. She sees the world in black and white, while I see infinite shades of gray.” How should she build a relationship with someone she so detests?
Lori replies by (gently) blowing apart the entire question. “When people have very strong reactions to others, I wonder how much of that vehemence is a direct response to the qualities of the person who triggers it, and how much is about something else.” She continues, “Take where you write that you ‘see the world in infinite shades of gray’ whereas your sister-in-law operates only in ‘absolutes.’ If you step back a bit, you might see something different: that you, too, can get stuck in absolutes.”