“Everything’s crap. I want to kill myself but what if people think I’m selfish?” Thoughtful Advice – no glib life tips

I am 54 and feel life has ended and it’s time to go — killing my memories with me. 
Yes, I am married to a man who loves me very much, but I feel numb about that. He has never fulfilled all my dreams. He was my first boyfriend and we married after I got pregnant at 19. 

We went on to have four children and now have three grandchildren, but life’s events have left me in a black hole I cannot get out of. I want to lie down and go to sleep for ever, leaving them all to live their lives without me. 

There is no future for me to look forward to.

This depression has arisen from events, some caused by my family, which have affected me deeply. I grew up alone as a child with domineering parents who lacked the intelligence to know that what they feared most for me was happening under their very noses. I’ve suffered sexual and physical abuse when growing up, and bullying, poverty, mental illness . . .

Looking back, I wonder where I got the strength to deal with it all. But the thought that life would get better gave me hope. Instead, I faced more trauma.

The relentless anxiety of having to deal with it all left me exhausted and bitter. I have lost all faith because I never felt any spiritual assistance during 34 years of hell. 

Now my children have their own lives and I’m barely involved. I’ve tried to recapture some of the hope I felt when younger, but it is futile. Those dreams have gone for ever and this makes me sad.

I have no sisters and my husband cut off all contact with his family years ago, so I have no one to talk to. Working full time, I was unable to help my daughters-in-law after the grandchildren’s births — and anyway they’re both very attached to their own mothers and don’t want to spend any time with me. 

I care for my disabled daughter and mother, too, which meant friends gave up on me because I was always at one hospital or another. At work, I am well liked, but people see me as an aunt or mother, not friend. I’ve had counselling but it does not work for me.

I want to end my suffering, but feel guilty about what people may say about me when I have gone.  Nobody knows my story. I am the Pretender, who goes into work and talks up a wonderful, fulfilled life. How can I kill myself without people thinking I’ve copped out? 

They’ll all say: ‘But she was always smiling, always bubbly, loved her grandchildren, husband and children.’ 

The life I once dreamed of when I was a young girl was simple, but came to nothing. I am only too aware that I’m looking forward to old age, illness and misery. Can I end it all without people thinking I was selfish or a horrible person?

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail. 

My thoughts: 

The first thing that’s striking about this letter is that you have written it. You’ve written an angry letter to a benign Daily Mail newspaper columnist asking whether or not you should kill yourself. You put your argument forward in a way that demands a counter argument. You already know what her answer will be. So, what you are actually seeking is encouragement, someone to be stern-motherly and tell you to pick yourself up and soldier on, to point out the things you say about your loving husband, your colleagues, your children and grandchildren and repitch them at you in a positive way. That is what your letter demands and yet you point out that such a response would be useless. So you’re saying; ‘I want help but you can’t help me. Please can I kill myself? Oh, I know you won’t even let me do that. Puh.’  On the one hand you say you’re suicidal, on the other hand you don’t seem to have taken your state of mind seriously and gone to see a psychiatrist or proper therapist. So, it’s a major problem or it’s just a ‘cop out’. You honestly don’t seem to know. 

Though you are obviously depressed and should absolutely seek help, I don’t think you are as suicidal as you say you are. Clearly a GP would be obliged to take you at your word and that’s a good thing, but just reading this passionately angry letter, concerned about the opinion of a journalist, the opinion of friends, acquaintances and family and saying how blind and stupid they all are – this is not someone about to kill herself. This is someone who wants to kill a lot of other people but, that being illegal, you want to take revenge on the fools by killing yourself. Trouble is – will they get it? That’s what you’re really asking.

 

It’s going to be extremely difficult for you to get help for your real depression because you are not someone who is allowed to need help.  You didn’t get your needs met when you were little (you say so) and, in order not to feel the pain of that, you have always met other people’s needs, never needed anything yourself. However, the projection of need into others didn’t work, didn’t stop you needing the care you have never managed to get (because you haven’t been able to ask). Even here, you’re not asking for care. You think you’re asking for permission to commit suicide, or you are really asking to be told not to. But that’s not real care either. 

That combative first paragraph expects the reader to knock your arguments down rather than listening to what you have to say. You don’t expect anyone to listen to you, so you don’t give them anything real to listen to. You feel the need to win an argument with someone very unforgiving. The sentence beginning ‘Yes,’ is where you start fighting this imaginary, unsympathetic person who is saying; ‘Oh come on! Your husband loves you! Stop moaning!’ You say you feel numb about your husband but that is not true at all. You are angry with him for not fulfilling your dreams, for getting you pregnant and marrying you, for preventing you from marrying someone else (as though you were entirely passive in all this, and everything else – things just happen to you).

The paragraph about your depression is a desperate one. You clearly do feel awful and exhausted, burdened and responsible (I don’t want to diminish this), but also angry. Your parents ‘lacked the intelligence’ to protect you – pretty damning. Your list of the horrors you experienced is just that, a list. Your parents let you down and exposed you to bad stuff. Whilst these things must have been truly awful, the way you describe it all dismisses it as though it can’t be helped, blocking questions, help and sympathy. How could anyone be sympathetic with so little to work with? You expect no sympathy and so dismiss your difficulties as intractable. 

Then some martyrdom – ‘I wonder where I got the strength.’ This, however, is followed by some truth at last. You feel ‘exhausted and bitter’ and that is what very much comes across here. But then you accuse the world again immediately, complaining that it didn’t assist you. Your children apparently reject you and here are these dreams again. The dreams your husband prevented you from fulfilling. Daughters-in-law reject you, colleagues like you but not in the way you want to be liked. You resent your mother and daughter for dragging you around to ‘one hospital or another’ instead of allowing you to make friends. Oh, and the counselor was crap too. 

Finally, we get a glimpse of what is really going on. You are ‘the Pretender’ with a capital P. What a pretence it must be, as there is no sign of anyone smiling or bubbly or loving in this letter. Only rage and strange talk about the ‘dreams of a young girl’ (basically that girl stamping her foot, angrily). Obviously, I could start talking about 54 being young, old age not being miserable for everyone and spouting the banalities you expect and request. 

But it does sound as though your anger and resentment at the cruelties of the world somehow keep you going, somehow just about keep your very real depression at bay. You always pretend to be happy and well. You take on a great deal of work and responsibility while simmering with anger privately. You feel selfish and horrible for having suicidal thoughts but…do you? What you have described is a crowd of selfish and horrible people who surround you. You complain that nobody knows you but you say yourself that you don’t let anyone get to know you because you’re constantly faking. Or is this some real insight – the reasons you want to kill yourself ARE spiteful (selfish and horrible) and part of you knows that?

You could feel better. You could enjoy some areas of life. You could feel fulfilled. But it won’t be easy. You won’t have all your girlhood fantasies fulfilled. You won’t change anyone else. But you could learn to be honest with yourself and others and, instead of worrying about what they think of you, be more honest about what you think of them. If you can understand your very powerful defences against the world, your anger and what you feel to be enforced passivity, take some of the armour off some of the time, let them know you, you might get real support and friendship from them. But do you want to? Not sure at all.

Proper Advice via Skype or Email: anna@blundy.com 
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“Shall I expose my conman husband and other lying, cheating, abusive gay men?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I’m 47, married at 30 and thought I’d made a great choice in my husband. I didn’t go for looks or superficial things like some of my friends. I didn’t need love at first sight. I chose someone who seemed to be a good person: a friend whom I grew to love.

Over the years, however, he started to get very moody and nasty and I had to tread on eggshells, as did our two teenage children. We had no sex for the last two years; it was infrequent before then. But he could be good company and from the outside we seemed the perfect couple.

A month ago, my son went to use his father’s smartphone and found links to a gay website. He then searched and found a second mobile phone. On it were dozens of explicit texts from men my husband had had sex with. It’s been a complete bombshell.

I’ve found out that gay men often marry (an estimated four million in the U.S.), but when their lust for men doesn’t go away, they take their anger out on their wives and children and make our lives unbearable.

My husband is in complete denial, saying he isn’t gay, but it’s a ‘tiny part’ of him — despite it being important enough to risk, and lose, his family. I’ve told him the marriage is over and he’s moved out. I feel I’ve been the victim of a conman, yet we’re still on friendly terms, unable to detach from each other properly because we have our own business.

I’m trying to minimise contact, but we still text and see each other a few times a week.

Although I grieve, I’m also staying positive, keeping busy, exercising, reading about how to deal with break-ups etc. There must be so many women (and men married to lesbians) who are suffering like this. Though devastated, I am pleased my son saved us from even more years of misery.

But it does seem to be the case that when these lying, cheating, abusive gay men finally come out they are lauded as heroes and no one even thinks about what they’ve done to their wives and children —damaging our ability to trust.

Obviously, I’m only talking about gay husbands who trick their wives, not about gay men who live their lives bravely and honestly.

So far I’ve been telling people he cheated on me and they assume with another woman. How much should I tell other people about what he’s done, considering that he intends to stay completely in the closet and could possibly trick another woman in the future?

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My Thoughts:

This is an amazing letter. Obviously you feel terribly upset and betrayed, but the rage and aggression here is striking. Your ultimate question is not ‘how do I deal with life now?’ or ‘how did I end up in this situation’ but; ‘How much revenge can I get away with?’ There is barely a hint of feeling in any way responsible for events in your own life or, indeed, of sympathy for the man you once loved. Of course, you are angry and writing to a newspaper is your first step in exposing your husband as the fraud you perceive him to be. Revenge.  But where are you in all this? It is as though your long relationship is meaningless simply because of the gender of the people with whom he has slept.

The first paragraph is a deeply odd one. You sound very pleased with yourself for your ‘good choice’, suggesting that it was pragmatic, that it showed you in a good light. Your husband is a passive figure in this ‘choice’ of yours. You announce that you are not shallow or giddy. Then you immediately go on to say that, in fact, your husband was not very nice privately (something you later attribute to his sexuality though you doubtless know some straight people who are not very nice) and that your sex life was always unsatisfactory. Facts you apparently chose to ignore or to brush under the carpet.

Then your husband is ‘found out’ by your son. Again, he is passive (I keep thinking about his ‘tiny part’). He never tried to tell you (if you are always this aggressive it’s hardly surprising) and in having a second phone, he seems to have wanted to keep his encounters with lovers private – perhaps to protect his family? Immediately you lump him with ‘an estimated four million’ other men, stripping him of any personality of his own and ignoring what he actually says himself. Obliterating the real person entirely, you boot him out and see him as little as possible.

Your own shame at his bisexuality (I am going to take his word for it) is paramount, the collapse of your relationship secondary. I wonder why you have lied about the gender of his lovers to your friends? And I wonder why you feel tricked and lied to simply because of the gender of your husband’s lovers? If they had been female would you feel similarly deceived?

You use the word ‘tricked’ many times, as though your husband decided to mock you by marrying you. There is no hint of a suggestion that you understand that someone might be bisexual or gay and also love you and want to build a family. I’m not saying you should stay with someone who has been serially unfaithful – but it is so striking that it is only his gayness that really seems to bother you.

So, what is going on with you?

Your tone is very defensive, aggressive and derisive throughout. You look down on your friends for going for ‘looks or superficial things’ and for ‘needing’ (!) love at first sight. I wonder if this really was the ‘choice’ you make it out to be. You stress your autonomy a bit too much. Perhaps the good looking rich guys weren’t interested in you, perhaps nobody fell in love with you at first sight? Is your ‘choice’ in fact a defence against a (VERY) well-hidden feeling of inadequacy?

You went for a friend with a low sex drive because this was less scary than a great bit hairy lover, a good-looking, wealthy Alpha male who wanted a lot of sex? Perhaps you are actually very frightened of men for reasons that you do not divulge? I suspect you are much less angry and butch than you want to sound. Someone whose rampant sexuality you didn’t need to fear might have seemed to you a safer match. But then he scared you anyway. You say he was ‘moody and nasty’ and you felt anxious around him.

Being ‘the perfect couple’ on the outside was enough to make you stay, perhaps because you feared being alone, or rejected? Or, I suspect, because you had no idea what a real couple might be like, real intimacy. I get the impression you are quite a lonely figure masquerading as a hugely sociable one.

When the ‘bombshell’ hit you were unable to process your feelings about it but simply investigated ‘similar’ betrayals so as to be able to label your husband and push him into a statistic – to strip him of a real personality. It’s fascinating that you say ‘my husband is in complete denial’ because, in fact, you are in complete denial, unable to look at what in you made you choose to be with this man and what made you stay despite very obvious problems.

You describe yourself as a victim, say that you have been conned and tricked. Then you seem embarrassed by this and feel the need to stress you are ‘staying positive’ by, essentially, being manically active. You come across as a rather castrating personality (‘tiny part’) with high expectations of others and very high expectations of yourself.  You don’t want to be perceived as a victim or as having failed. You are defending yourself against enormous grief but also of shared responsibility for the end of the marriage, with anger and homophobic hatred. If you can make him the ‘other’ then you feel you can hate him with impunity.

But imagine he’d been unfaithful with women. You’d feel betrayed, yes. Your marriage would likely be over, yes. But would you then be able to share some responsibility for getting into the relationship, for its grave deterioration, for his need to resort to secrecy when he couldn’t talk to you or you to him, for its lack of real intimacy?

It is too hard to see past your rage and try to imagine what early situation you might be reenacting but I have to suppose it must involve feeling ‘tricked’.  Wildly going out on a limb, I might imagine that you felt deeply deceived by your father and perhaps even frightened of him (a good looking, highly sexed Alpha male?) and you unconsciously chose a man you felt couldn’t deceive you in this way and yet, at the same time, one who inevitably would.

Your last line is fabulously disingenuous. Are you seriously hoping to expose your husband as gay in order to protect his next female partner? Your need to maintain the moral highground while smearing your husband (fecal matter here?) is again too much of a protest. ie. ‘It isn’t MY fault!’ But until you understand that it is half your fault (and I don’t mean that you weren’t sufficiently pleasing sexually, but that you were half of this empty relationship) then YOUR next relationship will be full of your own trickery.

Proper Advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“Wife of 22 years or new-ish lover? Help me make a choice!” Thoughtful Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective. No Glib Life Tips.

Slowly sinking into hopeless depression, I hate my despicable situation. I’m 46, in a 22-year relationship with the most attractive woman. We have three children: 15, 17 and 20. When the kids came I loved every minute but it was tough on our relationship. She felt isolated and lonely and the arguments started — with her constantly threatening to take the kids away.

I put all my time and energy into working and made our house fantastic to make her happy. But I always gave in to pacify her, so she wouldn’t want to leave. Over the years, this was to be the catalyst for my gradually disliking her and wanting to leave myself — even though I still love her dearly.

My main problem was our sex life. I was and still am highly sexed. She never was — always a problem but early on I was blinded by love. We’ve had many rows, discussions and even silence, so I’ve left her alone — but can’t hide my disappointment. I was faithful, despite chances of sex with other women.

At my age I began to think about the time passing. I recently worked for someone I had an instant connection to. Over a few weeks, we grew close and discussed my relationship. I expressed my unhappiness and my plan to leave when my youngest was 18.

I really liked this woman. Despite her terrible time with her ex, she was so gentle and understanding.

The job ended, she hinted at no-strings fun and so it began. It seemed perfect — until she told me she had a date. We’d agreed she would remain free to find a suitable man, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I realised I’d fallen for her — and everything changed from fun to heartache. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing this woman to someone else. It wasn’t just sex. She was my soulmate. She felt the same and didn’t go.

I left my partner and am now living with my mother — my head completely messed up. Having wanted freedom, I never stopped to think of its effect on everyone I loved. I hate myself for lying.

No one knows about my lady-friend. My turmoil begins with this choice: either go back and give my partner time to change her ways — or choose life with this new woman. I find my partner more sexually attractive than the new lady, but she touches my soul.

My children understand I need time to sort things with Mum — but I’m desperate. Knowing I must say goodbye to one of the ladies makes me cry. I tried Relate but they could see I wasn’t fit to be there, so I’m about to see the doctor to get some counselling.

In a perfect world I’d return to my family, but I’m afraid things will just go back to the way they were and I’ll have lost my soulmate.

Please help me make the right choice

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail. 

My Thoughts:

The first line of your letter is the clearest and most honest (though you are not ‘slowly sinking’, you have sunk). You are depressed and hopeless, you say. Then you launch into great confusion. Your wife is ‘most attractive’, a bizarre description of a person. You ‘loved every minute’ of the children’s presence, though you say your wife was isolated and lonely and you were arguing to such a degree that she threatened to leave. You ‘gave in’ in order to make her stay and then began ‘disliking’ her, though you ‘love her dearly’. Sex was ‘always a problem’ and you told your new lover that you were unhappy and planned to leave your wife.

It sounds as though your relationship with your wife was fraught with problems all along and that it was never a rewarding relationship for you. You give the impression of having been crushed by your long marriage and you say fairly straightforwardly that you felt rejected physically. It was apparently a pretty sadomasochistic relationship, one in which you were always trying to please and appease an angry, depressed and castrating figure. You have stayed in the hope that things would somehow improve (i.e. that she would completely change) and you are now considering going back in the hope that she will have magically changed during your absence.

It is fascinating, of course, that you are now living with your mother. It seems likely that she is the template for this woman who cannot be pleased but in whose thrall you must remain at all costs. However, you don’t say this so I’m guessing. But your relationship with the second woman, your ‘lady-friend’ (back to the odd language regarding women – ‘most attractive’ wife), became serious when she too threatened to leave you. Your fear of losing these women seems to be the very thing that keeps you in the relationship, not the quality of the relationship but the anxiety surrounding loss. You now say you hate yourself and your ‘despicable situation’ as though you are guilty of some terrible crime that came out of nowhere. Why do you hate yourself for working hard for many years at a rewardless marriage? Why do you take 100% of the responsibility for what went wrong?

The guilt you feel seems to be part of your masochism. It seems possible that your mother demanded a lot of you and always left you feeling that you had failed, that you might lose her love and care by your failure to please her. Then, having failed, you punish yourself for not being good enough, feel guilty about your own shortcomings, never standing back to see that pleasing her was a fantasy, she would never be pleased. You perhaps grew up believing that if you could do enough then she would finally transform and accept and love you. That is, that you could change her by your behaviour. She perhaps encouraged you to believe this (of course, she may have believed it herself) thereby trapping you in an endless effort to try harder, be better.

Now you say you are in a position of making a choice and you are unsurprisingly paralysed. This is an omnipotent fantasy in which you assume all the responsibility and face all the guilt. Neither partner can really satisfy you but you must choose one or the other in this strange God-like way. And this power terrifies you, makes you desperate. Whichever way you turn the wrath and misery of one of these mother figures (both keeping you in by threatening to leave you) will be wreaked upon you. In an effort not to acknowledge your own chronic vulnerability at the hands of these three (I think) controlling women, you imagine yourself in complete control.

Of course, you say you are depressed, hopeless and desperate. You have been to Relate and you tried to counselling. These facts suggest that you are well on your way to understanding that the problem is your own. You feel buffeted by fate, conspired against by circumstance, pushed into a corner. However, you have carefully constructed all these dynamics from the point of marrying someone whose sexual needs did not match your own and who early on began to blame you for her state of mind. I would suggest that understanding your early relationship with your mother and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and in chaos, seeing the reality that you don’t have ultimate power over the lives of your women (terrifyingly) and that you need help yourself (as opposed to choosing which of them to ‘help’) might be a good start.

NB. it’s interesting that you chose to write your original letter to an older woman who would be likely to smack your bottom, tell you how selfish you are and send you back to your wife. More masochism in the face of a castrating woman.

Proper Advice by Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“I’m 67, have no enthusiasm for life and wear hearing aids. Don’t tell me to join an art group.” Thoughtful Advice, No Glib Life Tips

I am 67, retired and have a loving husband but little enthusiasm for anything. I went to art school in the 1960s, which were the best years of my life. I tried to qualify but two attempts at degrees failed due to problems with grants. I ended up working in the NHS for over 20 years. I could join an art group, but so many paint kittens and harbour scenes – not for me! I have good art knowledge. I volunteer at a nationally recognised gallery as a room steward once a week. I also have fibromyalgia and wear hearing aids which make me feel quite isolated.

 

This problem first appeared in The Observer

My thoughts:

This probably isn’t your whole letter, but it is nonetheless fascinating that you have written this to a newspaper advice columnist. At first glance it is very difficult to know what you are asking, or what you are asking for. Are you asking for permission to paint freely? For praise for your hard work and achievements? For pity for your ‘failed’ attempts at a degree? Or admonishment for same?

You list your achievements and failures in a dismissive way, as though you feel there’s nothing to be done. It feels less like a plea for help than an announcement that there is no help to be had. You anticipate what the columnist might suggest and dismiss her as yet unspoken platitudes out of hand. You imagine that any advice will, so to speak, fall on deaf ears.

And it is your last sentence that I think contains the plea for help. You feel isolated. It seems you’ve felt isolated since leaving art school without a degree. Your husband’s love, your 20 year career, your volunteering and your ‘good art knowledge’ have not penetrated your sense of isolation. If I suggested, as you suspect your reader will, that you ‘join an art group’ you would not be able to hear that as encouragement or as support. You would hear it as criticism and denigration. You would hear; ‘Your painting is so rubbish that you should join some crap art group.’ You can’t imagine someone valuing you enough to suggest you do a degree now or, really, enough to hear what you’re trying to say at all. You yourself refuse to hear it, refuse to have any sympathy for your sense of pointlessness and isolation.

There is anger in your letter. Anger at the grants system that failed you, at the fools who paint kittens, at those who fail to recognise your knowledge and qualifications. You seem angry too that you ‘ended up’ working in the NHS, as though someone made you do it against your will, you were powerless to resist. You want to blame someone else, to shirk responsibility for your own life. There is a sense that things are unfair, that you’ve been hard done by. It’s interesting that you work as a room steward – a job that requires you to be vigilant, to make sure others obey the rules. It sounds as though you feel you have obeyed the rules all your life, only to find that nobody is going to reward you (or nationally recognise you) for it. Perhaps you were brought up to believe that obedience would be rewarded and you are finding that to have been a cruel lie.

Your whole letter sounds like a response to someone saying; ‘What have you ever really done? You’re such a failure! You should join some old ladies’ art group.’ You then reply with what is almost a demand for recognition, a defence against perceived attack. You project all your negative feeling about yourself into others, assume it to be there in reality and then defend yourself against all your own slights by saying; ‘It’s not my fault!’

There is a feeling that you are waiting for this national recognition to come to you, but you feel that making an effort to find it might be construed as weak or needy. Perhaps enthusiasm itself, which you say you lack, might be weak and needy, linked to the kitten painters.

All the anger and bluster is a fairly flimsy defence against helplessness. Your short life summary is perhaps a kind of ‘was that it?’ question – an acknowledgement that you are coming to the end of your life and a rage against inevitable annihilation. The idea that someone might say; ‘But that doesn’t have to be it! You can join an art group!’ is, of course, utterly absurd in the face of mortality. This anger and disappointment that you obeyed the rules as your parents required but have not been granted immortality is overwhelming.

I suspect that the feelings of isolation and being cut off from the rest of the world, the art students who qualified, the people visiting the gallery, the art group members, are feelings you have always lived with, perhaps as a result of not being the preferred sibling, of not receiving deserved praise, or of not truly being heard (re. now not hearing). You have therefore isolated yourself with a superior stance whilst on some level longing to be allowed to be ordinary.

It is allowing yourself to be an ordinary woman of 67, with the achievements and failures you have had, the life you chose of your own free will, that is now your task – one you are loathe to take on. But you’ve written, and you’ve wondered (albeit very defensively) if you might reach out into the unknown, allow yourself to be helped with this transition, break your isolation. You have taken the first step and I bet it took some courage. You’ll need more.

Proper Advice via Skype or Email: anna@blundy.com

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“How can I make the RIGHT decision about my life and get out of this paralysis?” Thoughtful Advice, No Glib Life Tips

“Six months ago I lost my job and haven’t yet found anything substantial to replace it. About the same time my husband experienced stress-related heart problems.

He wasn’t enjoying his job due to internal politics. He decided it was time to leave and found two part-time jobs.

With one young son and a large mortgage, we worked out we could just about survive with only one of us earning regularly — though we knew it would be tight.

I was hoping to embark on some training and also look after our son full-time at home.

But then a few weeks ago my husband lost one of the new jobs because of unexpected cutbacks.

Now we have half a job between us and not nearly enough money to cover the mortgage, let alone living expenses. We already have a lodger.

My husband and I have always wanted to work together. Perhaps this is our chance.

We could sell our house, downsize and set up on our own running a counselling business or retreat. The problem is where. We have to think about our son’s schooling and two sets of parents (we are only children).

We could go near Birmingham where I went to university, Cornwall where my parents live or France (my husband is half-French), but we’d be saying goodbye to friendships and all that we love about living in a capital city. I loathe making such decisions. Knowing where my paralysis comes from doesn’t make it any easier.

When I was seven, I asked to be sent to boarding school. My parents agreed, but I hated it and wanted to go back home.

They told me I had to stay because it had been my idea. I took on board the message that bad decisions are irreversible — once made, you have to live with the consequences.

Now I’m terrified we’ll make a wrong decision again, only this time it won’t just be me, but also my husband and son who have to suffer.

My indecision drives my husband mad. I spend ages weighing up pros and cons, get passionate about one idea and sound definite.

He takes longer to think about things, but starts to warm to the idea. By then I’ve started to pick holes in that solution and moved to the next thought. So we go round in circles.

Time isn’t on our side. Our savings are dwindling. We’re excited about the opportunities our predicament might open up and relish the opportunity to step away from the treadmill and follow our dreams.

But if we have any chance of turning our dreams into reality and making the leap, I need to get over my indecision and seize the day.

I just don’t know how to do that. How can I find a way through the impasse?”

This problem first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My Thoughts: 

There is a fascinating fragmentation to this letter. As you seem to half know, your mind is all over the place, the letter is all over the place. No jobs, two jobs, half a job. France, Cornwall, Birmingham, this business, that business, two sets of parents, our son’s school. This could be our chance. Or it could be a disaster.

On the one hand you seem to have a fantasy that you have all the choice in the world, could go anywhere. On the other hand you seem to have no choice whatsoever, you’re so bound to existing burdens – lodger, son, mortgage etc.

You are keen to let the reader know that you are not a slacker, that you are working hard and doing your best, making ends meet by every means possible. You seem to expect a rather strict and impatient voice (presumably that of the parents who made you stay at boarding school) saying; ‘Well, for goodness sake get a lodger.’ Or; ‘Take the leap, what are you waiting for?’ Or; ‘Are you mad? You have a son to care for.’ All versions of the voice are rather bullying and lack real thought or understanding.

You take full responsibility for your boarding school decision but, in fact, you were bullied at a very young age, probably not for the first time. You interpret this bullying as ‘tough love’, as a lesson you learnt the hard way. You were told that this kind of cruelty was, in fact, care and you have now confused the two.

This is the root of the problem, I think. You fear the cruel, harsh judgment of your own mind whichever decision you take. There is no care or understanding available for you, no space for real thought. This is why the way you think seems to get you nowhere. It is designed to stop you making a decision, for paralysis, with all its disadvantages is at least a place of relative safety – you cannot face the really powerful attack you’d face if you actually made the wrong decision.

Your cruel internal voice (harsh super ego) is saying; ‘Oh, pull yourself together and get on with it,’ but it could and will say worse if you make decisions and things go badly. So, this is as safe as it gets – bits of your mind thrown out all over the place, circular kind of hamster-in-a-wheel thinking, always getting you nowhere, but, at least, fending off attack, abandonment, isolation.

Your mind is a place of punishment and what you might call ‘rationale’, but that rationale is actually just an attempt to strip emotional things of emotions in order to keep safe. There is no gentleness or warmth for yourself in there, no forgiveness.

The whole thing reminds me of Klein’s good breast/bad breast. So, the infant adores the first, the feeding breast that comes and comforts and he or she hates the second, the abandoning, cruel breast that denies him/her sustenance. A major developmental leap is when the baby unites the two as one real and separate person. Many people never make that leap – if you get too much bad breast then you have to continue to imagine the good breast as separate to keep it safe from the cruelty of bad breast. They CAN’T be the same person. It’s what creates the ‘us and them’ mentality so beloved of people who can’t be ambivalent, often because of early neglect and the need to protect the good breast.

So, lecture finished, you seem to feel that if a decision isn’t 100% right then it must be wrong. You can’t be ambivalent about your choices, feel that it’s an okay decision, might all go wrong but is worth a bash – it has advantages (good breast) and disadvantages (bad breast). This is intolerable in your mind. Your one story about your parents (and I would not root all your problems in this, it’s more of a screen memory, a good example of how you were brought up) suggests that you experienced quite a lot of bad breast – were perhaps fed to a schedule, not when you yourself were hungry, were perhaps neglected in the name of good parenting. You were an only child so it’s not unlikely that you were left alone to ‘rest’ or sleep or whatever, when you needed company.

Now, therefore, the ‘right’ decision is a Platonic ideal, something so perfect that it cannot be criticised or have any bad breast about it at all. This is impossible in real life, so all decisions must be wrong. You are stuck and paralysed. But you’re safe – you still haven’t lost the Platonic good breast, the ideal of warmth and love that might, if you can get it, protect you from bad breast – loneliness, abandonment and failure.

Only by integrating the two, feeling ambivalent about your parents (I bet you either completely idealise them or absolutely hate them or, perhaps, idealise one and hate the other), understanding that all decisions are both good and bad, will you be able to take the risk of offending your all-powerful ego ideal and making an ordinary decision that will result in neither triumph nor disaster, but a bit of both.

Good advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“Raped when I was 18, I can’t move on with my life.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I was attacked by a man while on holiday when I was 18. The holiday had only just begun, so I told no one and hid my bruises. Strange as it may sound, I refused to think about it. I had just finished school and I wanted to live life. It’s only recently, as all my friends are graduating with degrees and I’m working as a cleaner in a hotel, that I have thought about it. I dislike the choices I have made and I’m not sure if this is as a result of what happened. I wanted to be an actress, a human rights activist, a writer… but I feel he took everything away from me. I never would have expected to feel so worthless, so pointless. I don’t know who I am any more, or who I was. I can’t even use the word to describe what happened to me. I feel ashamed that I was drunk and didn’t do anything to stop it. I just want to find a way to feel happy again, and find myself, but I don’t know how.

 

This letter appeared first in the Observer

 

My thoughts:

If you were a friend and were telling me this I would say the kinds of thing the columnist you wrote to probably said. I’d say you already know what’s wrong and what you’d really like to change, you’ve been brave enough to write and you now need to be brave again and enrol at a university, go to the police about the attack and get a therapist to help you deal with the thoughts and feelings stemming from the attack. This would all be good advice.

However, I think there is more going on here, more that you don’t say, including the word ‘rape’ (the inability to name what happened is very regressed, somehow, from a time when you wouldn’t have known what to call that).  When the attack happened you were drunk and it was the beginning of a holiday. You didn’t report it or tell anyone. The fact of your silence and your shame at being drunk suggests that you were already cowed, were perhaps already depressed. The worthlessness and pointlessness you describe may well have been present before you were raped.

You say you hid your bruises. I wonder if you were already hiding emotional bruising of some kind. The way you say it suggests that it felt like a normal thing to do. You are now a cleaner. I wonder what cleaning means to you. You obviously see it is a lowly occupation, something degrading, somehow befitting your degraded state. The things you say you wanted to be are all high-profile jobs in which one is clearly seen, speaks confidently, is not forgotten. Your hiding the attack and hiding yourself away from the world, cleaning up after other people’s sexual antics (in my fantasy) seems to me indicative of something that predated the rape. It’s also interesting that what has inspired you to regret your choices is envy of your friends’ relative success.

You feel the rapist stole your personality, your sense of yourself before the attack and, obviously, after it. However, you say that you are ashamed that you were drunk and didn’t fight back. It is that shame that you were not, in the moment, the person you would like to have been or hoped you were, that has perhaps been so annihilating – your fear of having been somehow complicit. I am not suggesting for a moment that you were complicit, that drunkenness gives anyone license to attack you or that you could or should have fought back, I’m just trying to point out that it is your guilt and shame at not having lived up to a fantasy of yourself that seems to have stripped you of your ability to succeed. Your own suspicions about yourself. Perhaps you feel you can’t now go on to enact other fantasies of yourself and make them real – that of being an actress etc.

However, I suspect the rapist confirmed your unconscious view of yourself and it is this that is so overwhelming. It’s complicated because, of course, rape is deeply traumatic and can leave people with all kinds of psychological symptoms. Perhaps, as you say, the way you feel now is solely related to the attack and work with a rape counsellor would help you to move on from this very stuck period of your life. However, I would want to look further back at the development of the girl who, having been attacked, felt that cover up and denial would be the easiest course of action.

Proper Advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“When will my boyfriend tell me he loves me?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I have been more than friends with a lovely man for well over a year now, yet he still hasn’t made our relationship public, called me his girlfriend or told me that he loves me. We are a couple in everything but name, but in front of our friends he won’t show me any affection. He is a naturally very shy and private person, and things have developed so much between us over the past year or so that I feel I shouldn’t complain. I know he cares about me a lot, but he was completely heartbroken by his previous girlfriend, who was also his only serious relationship before we got together. I’m scared, though, that he doesn’t love me – and surely after all this time he’d know if he did? It’s not that he does love me and can’t say it: we talked about it a little bit recently and he seems very confused about what love is. He says he feels differently about me to how he did about his previous girlfriend (who he was crazy about), but he says that’s a good thing. I’m not so sure: I know he loved her, and while I don’t want him to be all obsessive about me like that, I don’t want to hang on waiting forever for him to fall in love with me. He often says that it’s either me or no one, which doesn’t make me feel great (being a girl, I naturally take everything the wrong way). How long am I meant to wait for him, and how do I know if it’s time to move on? PS I am 26 and he is 28.

This letter first appeared in the Observer.

My Thoughts:

I’ll go back to the beginning in a minute, but there is one shocking stand-out line in this letter and it is bracketed in order, apparently, to hide it. ‘Being a girl, I naturally take everything the wrong way.’ It sounds as though you have been brought up to believe that your thoughts and feelings are invalid, that your feelings should be automatically discredited on the basis of your gender. From that standpoint it is hardly surprising that you have no idea what to think or feel about your boyfriend’s lack of commitment.

The most glaring thing in this letter is that you say what you want this man to feel about you and how you’d like him to express it. You do not say what you feel about him or how you express that. You are passive but you want him to be active. Perhaps what you related to in him, however, was his passivity since you apparently share it.

You are asking, as many people do, what the rules are. You are so unable to trust yourself, to decide anything on the basis of how you feel that you are asking how one ought to behave. How long should you wait? When is it time to move on and what are the signs? Of course, part of you may be aware that there are no rules and this is perhaps very frightening to you. Your lover (I assume you are having sex with this person) is not obeying the rules you have on your wall chart – declare love within a year of a relationship and go public. You are wondering, therefore, if it is you who are not obeying certain unknown rules that perhaps a newspaper columnist will know.

The essential problem, however, is that you are unable to want or need anything, to think or feel anything as regards this man without feeling guilty and invalidated. You seem to have very little sense of autonomy. So, back to the beginning.

The first line is an accusation. Here are some things this man has not done and that you want him to do. ‘He still hasn’t’ as though you have waited long enough for this unreasonable behaviour of his to stop. But this is very passive, no? Have you told him you love him, called him your boyfriend and made the relationship public? Have you told him you’d like him to do these things? You say ‘I feel I shouldn’t complain’ and yet you are complaining. Just not to him. I would also question the word complain. This has a tinge of misogyny about it just like your bracketed comment. If you ask for something then you are somehow whining and unreasonable (and female?). Was this your experience at home with your family, I wonder?

You sound baffled by his behaviour at the same time as excusing it. So, his reasons for reticence are, apparently, that he’s shy and heartbroken, confused about love. As far as I can make out he is being fairly clear – he’s confused and has been hurt. You seem to suspect that more is going on than he’s prepared to tell you. So, instead of looking at yourself and what you are and are not willing to put up with in a relationship, you are scrutinising him and waiting for him to change.

Textbook error. The only person who might change is you. Or, at least, that’s the only thing you have any control over or insight into. We cannot know what he’s thinking apart from taking what he says at face value. If there are hidden thoughts then no newspaper columnist is going to reveal them to you. But what are your hidden thoughts? It seems you feel that he should be in control of the situation because he is a man. His thoughts and feelings are to be taken seriously, considered and analysed. Yours are merely to be dismissed.

From what you say it sounds as though you are very hurt by your boyfriend’s lack of demonstrative love and very jealous of the way he felt or feels about his ex-girlfriend. You want things from him that he is not prepared to give and you wonder whether the fault lies with you. You seem extremely unconfident and extremely reliant on this man for your self-esteem, as though he might bestow it on you with his love or keep it from you in withholding his love. You entire value seems to rest with him.

I imagine this isn’t the first time you’ve felt worthless and deprived of something you want but can’t ask for, or feel you may be wrong even for wanting. My suspicion is that one or both of your parents neglected you in a faintly benign way – they seemed nice enough but weren’t properly interested in you or engaged with you, such that you felt perhaps it was your fault or that perhaps they were engaged and you were misinterpreting it. I also strongly suspect you have a brother with whom at least one of them (probably dad) was engaged.

Neither I nor anybody else has any clue what your boyfriend will do in the future (and he probably doesn’t know either). What he won’t do is change into someone else. Do you want him like this or not? That’s the question.

Proper advice by Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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