“I’m impotent with my cruel wife but potent with her accepting sister. What should I do?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

My life is such a mess. I’ve been married many years. My wife had two girls by another man before we met and I look on them and their children as my daughters and grand-daughters.

But for many years my marriage has been unhappy. I have erectile dysfunction and nothing the doctor has prescribed has helped. My wife is scathing about my poor performance and continually humiliates me about this.

For several years, she has been thinking of leaving me and told her sister as much.

Four years ago, when this sister became single again, we began an affair. With her, everything is marvelous (we have found ways to cope with my problem).

Predictably my wife found out and threw me out. She said I was not to contact her sister until she had cooled down and then we would talk.

Then she said that if I was to go to her sister, she would ensure I would never see the grandchildren again — and her daughters told me the same.

So reluctantly I agreed to give our marriage another go — but four years on, nothing has changed.

My wife told her sister: ‘You are dead to me’ — and has no contact with her.

Her sister finds it hard to understand how she is cast aside, but I am not. We rekindled our affair shortly after I was supposed to be giving my marriage another go and I had discovered that nothing had changed at all.

So here we are — me in an unhappy marriage and my girlfriend deserving more than I can give her.

She says she would rather stay with me than have a better relationship with somebody else.

Because of me she has lost her entire family (her sister and the kids are her only relatives and she is distraught at their loss).

So what do I do? I dearly love my girlfriend who never makes any demands, puts up with it when I can’t get away, never complains that I am ‘not a proper man’ and would welcome me into her home like a shot.

But do I risk losing my wonderful stepchildren in order to be with her? I know my wife isn’t making idle threats because when she is in a temper she is capable of anything. I needed to get this off my chest to you, although I know there are no easy answers.

This problem first appeared in the Daily Mail

My Answer:

You begin with saying that your life is a mess, as though things beyond your control have conspired to confuse you. I think what you are really saying is that your head is such a mess, for the confusion comes from you.

You then say your wife had a family prior to meeting you and that you have accepted them as your own without question. There is already something slightly martyrish about your tone (only slightly), but I wonder whether your attraction to your wife was a masochistic one – that this was a person who would walk all over you and you were going to let her?

Here you pin the unhappiness on your erectile dysfunction but further on you say that you have a very satisfying sex life with your wife’s sister, so the problem is that your wife humiliates you, that you are not allowed to feel like a man. You feel impotent in every sense. I wonder why you have stayed with such a castrating woman. (You also say the doctor could not help, so in some ways you seem to feel that you are beyond help, or, at least, that you know the erectile dysfunction is a symptom not the cause).

You say she told her sister she wanted to leave you and you then took very potent revenge on your castrating wife by sleeping with her sister, presumably knowing that this would feel catastrophic to her. Since you say her finding out was ‘predictable’ you clearly knew what you were doing and how much you would hurt her. I’m not suggesting she didn’t deserve it after the humiliation she put you through (but that you allowed her to put you through) but it is important that you see that you made this choice for a powerful reason – in order to wield some power at last.

You then detail the threats your wife made and that her children confirmed. Yet you returned for more punishment, presumably feeling that on some level you deserve it. You seem to be trapped in a terrible situation of guilt and punishment all manufactured by yourself. One can only guess at your early life but, since you have surrounded yourself as an adult with monstrous and manipulative women, I can’t help wondering if this is some mirror of your early experience. I would be very surprised if your father was a strong, capable and respected figure in your family. It seems to me that you are shackled to a cruel and contemptuous mother who derides men in general and you in particular. You then take revenge on her by proving your potency with a different kind of mother (an idealised version of her since, as you chose her sister, she is close enough to represent clearly another version of the same) and then you gladly accept the punishment you know is coming. You collude, in fact, with the cruel woman’s view of you and I think on some level you believe she is right, that you are pathetic and worthless. You won’t escape the situation unless you work on how you view yourself and why.

Interestingly, it is the idealised mother who really gets punished, not the cruel one (though perhaps in your mind it is the good mother/good breast who is easier to punish as that version is less terrifying). You have gained the power you wanted over a mother figure. Not only do you seem to have complete control over this second woman’s life in exactly the way your wife has over yours, but you abuse the power by forcing her to ‘put up with it’. You say the sister ‘never makes any demands’, so she is a perfect masochist to your sadist as you are the perfect masochist to your wife’s sadist.

On a theory note, you have perfectly separated your mother into good breast/bad breast and one has told the other that ‘you are dead to me’. You live in a very binary world where one person (breast) is evil, gives no nourishment and humiliates you, and the other person (breast) is idealised, giving everything and demanding nothing. This presumably echoes your mind, a child’s mind that had to separate the two sides of mum in order to preserve the good side and attempt to ignore the cruelty.

In your life (acting out), you seem to have found the perfect solution to your mind’s problem – be abused at home but take revenge on your wife outside the home at the same time as having found a woman you can, at last control. You are abused (as you perhaps were in early life) and abuser (a measure of freedom and control at last, however much you fear and accept the punishment for it).

You ask what you should do. In some ways the answer is extremely easy. You should leave all these people and get yourself together, have a very good look at what you are doing in this desperately destructive power game. I would argue that being with the sister long term might be as destructive as being with your wife since, as you say, you stand to lose contact with your step-children and grand-children. You are also keeping the incestuous ideas in your mind in full play by staying within the same family. I imagine that the idealised mother figure would soon turn into the cruel torturer in your mind since this is what you expect and at least partly engineer.


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“My controlling mum hated the girlfriend I loved, so I left her. I am 40.”

I am a 40-year-old man. I work full time and live at home with my mother. I moved out for a while, but a couple of years ago I changed jobs and took a big pay cut, so moved back in. My mum and dad divorced when I was a teenager and she’s been on her own since. She is very controlling, but I know she needs me and I can’t afford to rent a place. When it’s just the two of us it’s okay. She takes care of me. My problem is this: I was seeing a lady for almost a year, and I was in love. She said she was in love with me and things were going well. I brought her home to introduce her to my mother, who hated her. In the end I stopped seeing my girlfriend. My mum is happy, but I’m not. I miss my girlfriend. Would it be wrong to see her behind mum’s back and hope she changes her mind?

 This problem first appeared in the Observer

The columnist who replied to this letter in the Observer expressed complete disbelief that you might consider putting your mother’s demands above your own needs for separateness and love outside of your relationship with her. The fact that it might sound objectively ridiculous for you to do this at your age is testament to the grave difficulty you have in separating from you mother and in becoming a man of 40.

You state your age first as people so often seem to do in these letters. When looking at someone from anything like a psychoanalytic point of view age is completely immaterial and only serves a super ego function – that is, to get everyone judging you, deciding where we all think you should be by this age, criticising you for not meeting whatever we individually might imagine the age-appropriate goals might be. In this case, you say your age in order to suggest that you somehow ‘should’ be different by 40, that you feel hopeless at not being like other 40 year olds. However, there are no rules, no prizes and no score sheet – you are where you are, but you have taken the decision, by writing, to at least try to move on.

You give reasons for moving back in with your mum but it sounds as though you know on some level that they are not reason enough in themselves. You say that she has been on her own since her divorce from your father but that isn’t true. She’s had you. She ‘needs’ you and she ‘looks after you’. Even if you were five years old this would not sound like a very healthy dynamic – if she needs you and you know it then something is wrong. It sounds as though you are stuck at the Oedipal phase, victorious over your father, having your mother to yourself but then immediately feeling inadequate since you cannot, in fact, take your father’s place as her lover. Clearly, she allowed you to feel triumph over your father and is treating you emotionally as her husband. Obviously, she is unlikely to want a girlfriend around as that would mean you are being unfaithful to her. You are trapped in a sado-masochistic situation that is damaging both to you and to your mother. She must see on some level that her relationship with you is emotionally incestuous and her guilt makes her care for you even more. You see that she needs you as a husband and your guilt at your own inadequacy in that area makes you try harder to be the man she needs. You can’t be because, emotionally, you are stuck at around 4 or 5 years old in this dynamic.


You understand your situation very well. ‘She is very controlling,’ ‘My mum is happy but I am not.’ It sounds as though you are asking for permission to betray her, to have your real needs met, the needs of a 40 year old man and not an infant. By ‘care for’ you presumably mean cooking and cleaning – tantamount to changing your nappy and feeding you. You probably always needed more care and understanding than that and you certainly do now. You know what you want to do but you also understand the great courage it will take to break away from this controlling woman (you are living in Stokholm Syndrome, totally brainwashed by your captor – I mean this) and live the life you know you want to live. You are right that this will have negative effects on your mother, but she is an adult, as you are, and will have to cope with this. She has bullied you all your life with her apparent (or real) fragility.


In short: Run and don’t look back.


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“My husband is addicted to gay porn and meets men in saunas. Is he gay?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

I am a 38-year-old woman, married for three years, with three children under the age of four. Six weeks ago I discovered that my husband has been chatting to men online via Gaydar and other similar sites, and emailing one man in particular. When I confronted him he confessed he visited a gay sauna on four occasions while I was pregnant and started emailing a man he met there. He said he has been addicted to pornography for over a decade (long before we met) and this had been making him have urges he had difficultly controlling. I had an inkling he watched porn, but had no clue as to the frequency (daily he was even bunking off work and watching it in public loos). He swears he isn’t bisexual or gay, and says he’s watched so much porn his appetite has increased for more taboo and risqué stuff and that he just compartmentalised everything and didn’t think about the effect on me and the children. He is seeking counselling, has gone cold turkey on porn and will do anything to win me back. But I have alarm bells ringing and am at a loss as to what to do, with no one to turn to.


This problem first appeared in the Observer.


You begin with your age and the fact that you have very young children, immediately flagging up that you are probably exhausted and perhaps overburdened. You don’t say whether you are also working but, in any case, the first line is stressful in itself and I get the feeling that you are about to say you are somehow at the end of your tether.


You say you ‘discovered’ that your husband had been chatting to men online. The fact that you know which sites he used, that there is more than one and that he is talking to one man in particular suggests that you were going through his computer without his permission. This means you already had suspicions as to what you might find. You say you ‘confronted him’ and that he ‘confessed’. This sounds as though you were angry and challenging and that his position was of the weaker party. Confession suggests a desire for forgiveness and he sounds rather spineless in your description.


There is something interesting going on here in terms of power balance. Though you must have been terribly hurt and upset you do not say so. There is a very castrating feeling to this confrontation with you accusing and him confessing. You have the weapon of discovery and he flounders. You don’t say what you accuse him of. You already had the evidence of the websites so I wonder what you proceeded to ask him? What question provoked his sauna confession?


What is unsaid here is as interesting as what you say. Underlying your words is the question about your husband’s sexuality – we know he uses gay websites, consumes gay porn and goes to gay saunas. We know he talks to a particular gay man by email. The fact that you were going through his computer suggests that you already don’t trust him and already suspect he is gay and yet you force a confession out of him.


‘I had an inkling he watched porn.’ What gave you this inkling? He was an addict before he met you but you weren’t sure he watched porn? This doesn’t sound true. This is a time-consuming addiction (and, in fact, more time-consuming than you thought) and it seems that you did already know about it. His excuses sound rather frantic and it’s not clear whether this is because you were demanding answers very forcefully or whether he was scrabbling around for what to say when he got caught – presumably a combination of the two.


The fact that he didn’t think about the effect his behaviour might have on you and the children is hugely significant – he is an addict and did not care about you or the children while he was fuelling his addiction. It seems you knew he watched pornography and it is apparent from your letter that what you mind about is that it is gay porn. I would suggest that it is largely the addiction to this kind of pornographic sex – a grotesque parody of love – rather than the gender of the participants that is the problem for your family.

You say your alarm bells are ringing and you have nobody to turn to. From your first line it sounded as though you were alone with small children in a difficult situation. Whatever the reason, your husband has chosen his addiction over his family and his job. The idea that he is neither gay nor bisexual seems absurd in the circumstances, but you don’t say whether you would necessarily mind if he were bisexual? There is a feeling that you wouldn’t mind as much if he were addicted to straight porn but this isn’t completely clear.


You have not been married very long and you had three children in very quick succession with someone who was already a serious addict. I suspect that you, at least unconsciously, knew this and I therefore wonder what damage in yourself you are projecting into him. Perhaps if he is the damaged addict then you can feel like the powerful one in control (as you sound in the confrontation) and disown the damaged part of yourself as being in him instead? Or perhaps you wanted to care for and change the damage in him, recognising something of your damaged self in him?


It also seems (wild conjecture now) conceivable that your father was addicted or damaged in some way and you are trying to keep him with you (did he leave?) by creating a large family very quickly, a home where this time things will turn out okay.


It is possible that your father was gay and you felt rejected by him during the Oedipal period and want to prove that it wasn’t/isn’t true by in some way recreating your home scenario and making it right.


On a more practical level, if he is going to meet men in saunas it is an issue that isn’t going to go away with counselling (though the porn addiction might well be helped). It feels very much as though you will have to accept his fluid sexuality if you want to stay together. I wonder, is your own sexuality fluid in a way you prefer to see in others than accept in yourself? Clearly he needs help with his addiction. For yourself I would hope that you could find a way to look at what you are getting out of the relationship and what you would like to get out of it? Is there some way in which being with someone bisexual and addicted suits you, allows you to wield power and be the parent in control, however lonely and difficult that might be? It might be that having a denigrated partner with catastrophic sexual issues leaves you feeling alone and powerful where a genuinely intimate relationship with someone available, free from addiction, who really found you attractive would terrify you, leaving you with too much to loose.


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“My husband bullies our adopted son. I am suicidal. Should I leave?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

As I approach my 50th birthday, I’ve come to a crossroads — and I am pretty sure I am suffering from depression.

I have not mentioned it to my GP— although I am having tests for unexplained stomach discomfort — because I’m afraid that if I say anything I will cry and not stop!

I have been married for 29 years and have a 16-year-old daughter, from IVF, and an adopted son, who is 12.

My daughter is sweet-natured, easygoing and very bright, but lacks confidence.

My son is caring, challenging and hard-working, but also lacks confidence.

He has consistently struggled at school and I have battled to get extra support for him.

He also has art therapy for anxiety as he experienced neglect and witnessed extreme domestic violence in his early years.

His birth parents were alcoholics (as was his maternal grandmother) and he has recently been diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, a serious, permanent condition.

When we adopted, we were told he had no health issues.

This diagnosis has totally devastated me. His social worker has painted a very grim picture of the future  -  and I am not coping with this knowledge.

 I love this child desperately, but believe I am the wrong person to be in his life.

I am neither a special, nor a good person and know he deserves better.

When we adopted, we were clear we couldn’t cope with a child with severe learning disabilities, yet here we are faced with one.

To the outside world, my husband is calm, kind and dependable.

But at home, he is very negative, judgmental and quick to anger, which adds to my tension as I am constantly trying to avoid conflict.

He can be particularly nasty and cruel to our son  -  for example, humiliating him in front of others after a party.

It was the final straw  -  I want to leave with the children before more damage is done.

I thought the reason for his bad temper and meanness was his stressful job (as he hasn’t always been like this), but he is exactly the same, if not worse, now that he is semi-retired.

Whenever I suggest going to Relate, he says I am just as bad as him. he has said he will go, but I know he won’t be open to their suggestions.

I am close to tears all the time and have thought about suicide a lot recently  -  the only thing stopping me is the effect on my children.

Do I accept this is the way my life is going to be and put a brave face on it?

Or do I rip the family apart, which will probably undo all my son’s art therapy and cause him great pain?

Please can you offer some advice.

This problem first appeared in the Daily Mail.


On the surface this letter seems to be about your abusive husband and your desire to leave. However, you begin with announcing your age and the fact that you know you are suffering from depression. Since this is what you have chosen to mention first, I would suggest that you know on some level that this, above all else, is the problem. You say that if you begin to open up about how you feel you imagine you might disintegrate entirely. Later in the letter you say you have considered suicide as the only way out. Whilst this may well be a redirected murderous desire against your husband, it nonetheless points to a serious depression that is separate from your acute domestic difficulties (though clearly they are significant in your illness). Suicide would leave both children alone with a man you do not trust around them, so clearly the depression needs to be dealt with first.

You mention that a major symptom is what you call ‘stomach discomfort’ which suggests that there is something absolutely indigestible going on. When you go on to talk about your adopted son’s foetal alcohol syndrome this seems a bit clearer – you are strongly identified with him and he was fed something indigestible and chronically damaging in the womb. You doubt your own ability to feed him better, emotionally.

You give the impression that your daughter is doing better than your son, though you do mention her own lack of confidence. You go on to talk about your son’s early life before you adopted him as very disturbing indeed. He is clearly a deeply traumatized little boy for whom you feel you had to fight. You mention his art therapy and, though you do not say directly whether or not it helps him, you say further down that you would not want him to lose it, so presumably it has been positive. You are disturbed by the Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and suggest that you would not have adopted him had you known. It sounds as though you feel extremely guilty about your son and very strongly identified with him. Perhaps you project your own early damage, your own anxiety and vulnerability, your own feeling of having been poisoned in early life into him and he carries those feelings for you. You then feel guilty about this and helpless to assist him. If he is representing some extremely damaged childhood part of you then of course you, a small child yourself in this scenario, cannot help him. Your daughter then takes on the coping, managing side of yourself and is seen by you to be managing. Your husband then is the capable adult (super ego) but he is, or is perceived to be, cruel.

You say the social worker has painted a grim picture of the future. Is this true? I suspect that you interpreted the picture as grim, again projecting your own depression, anxiety and fears onto what he or she said. You then get to the crux of the matter – you love your son but feel wrong for him. It is your own lack of self worth that you are talking about, your own feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, not his. Your guilt at adoption, at taking on someone you are perhaps too weak to help seems to have overwhelmed you. Not only do you project your feelings into him, you also introject his perceived feelings into yourself – he is helpless and in need and you then feel the same.

You then say you feel not special and not good and wish you were a better person for him. This seems to me to be about you and your early childhood. I wonder what your mother was like. Did she seem weak and helpless, unable to assist you when you needed her? Or was she strong and domineering and made you feel pathetic and inacapable? I suspect it was the former and you are identified with her, since your husband (father?) is the capable but cruel one in your current life. I think you are living out your situation with your parents with your son playing the role of your more vulnerable side and you are playing your rather crushed and depressed mother. Obviously, as ever with letters, I am guessing wildly. [There is something interesting about the IVF and adoption - perhaps there is guilt attached to both, something about not being a natural mother/woman that plagues you].

You then go on to describe your husband who, like all abusers, reserves his abusive behaviour for the home, relying on people a) not to tell and b) not to fight back. You are clear about how he behaves and clear about what you would like to do about it. ‘I want to leave.’ You sound strong and decisive, clear-headed and reasonable. But you immediately backtrack. You start to suggest reasons for your husband’s anger (and doubtless there are lots of them – he will have his own demons) although you then discount them.

You are certain he will not respond to therapy and then you almost immediately descend into suicidal thoughts as the only way out, then blaming yourself for having the thoughts and worrying that leaving the abusive relationship will jeopardize your son’s art therapy. Will your behaviour – suicide or divorce – harm your son, you seem to ask? Obviously, you already know the answer to these questions, which will harm and which will help. You seem only to remain clear in short moments, immediately denigrating and discounting your own thoughts. This, again, seems like a very early kind of confusion in which your own thoughts were discounted and denied in your childhood home. Now you are doing it for yourself. You do know your feelings but you then worry that they are somehow wrong (they are not).

You talk about ripping the family apart and yet you have described a family about which you feel ambivalent to say the least. You say you are inadequate to help your son, your husband is aggressive and both children unconfident and anxious. Mainly, however, you describe a very depressed mother with chronically low self-esteem. You describe, I imagine, yourself and your own mother. You are identified strongly with her and with your son, mainly introjecting from her, mainly projecting into him. Your husband is playing the role of cruel super ego.

The main issue here is your own depression. You have said how you feel and what you want to do. This sounds right. You have also said that your fear, anxiety and lack of self-worth is stopping you taking the only helpful action – leaving with the children. However, in order not to drown in remorse and fear afterwards you need to address your own state of mind first or during – with therapy and/or medicine. Otherwise your acute self-doubt will continue whatever course of action you take.

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

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“I’m an ex-pat in Spain being bullied by my aggressive Brit neighbour. Shall I murder him?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

I live in Spain, and my problem comes from people who have holiday homes here and think they own the place, ignoring and upsetting the permanent residents here (like me).

There is a particularly obnoxious army officer who drops into his holiday home opposite mine for one week in August. We are not on talking terms after initial attempts on my part to try to integrate him more into the community by introducing him to my Spanish friends.

Last September I received a court summons, accused by this soldier of having stolen his temporarily removed shutters which were lying in the road running in front of both our houses. Apparently, the soldier had the local police investigate the alleged incident and even wanted them to issue a search warrant to search our house!

Fortunately, this last did not happen but I have to employ, at some considerable expense, a lawyer to defend myself. Luckily, my alibi is Fort-Knox strong.

I have also found out that the soldier alleges that the theft of the shutters is aggravated burglary because they were stolen from his yard. In fact, he has no yard and no garden to his house and the place where the shutters were stolen is a public road.

How can I stop losing my cool when the army officer comes to stay at his house and parks himself and his garden furniture in the middle of the road and continues to give me and my wife horrible looks? I truly feel like murdering the obnoxious bastard for trying to spoil my peace and quiet in this beautiful place. Strangely, when he lets his house out to others we have made friends with many of them and are glad when they re-visit.

I should also add that he is friends with a handful of Brits who come here and who have absolutely no respect for, or even knowledge of, the culture of Spain. (One of them gets blind drunk and has tried to strangle me when he caught me in an alley after dark – fortunately my kind Spanish neighbour, who is a burly lad, heard my shouts and literally saved my life). These Brits haven’t even bothered to learn enough Spanish to order a coffee and spend most of their time boozing and putting down this lovely country. (My wife is Spanish and I am half-Spanish and so this hurts very much).

Do you think I could put belladonna secretly in these barbarians’ next tipple and end their outrages against me and my wife which have now carried on for almost ten years?

I certainly don’t want to move out of the area. I am fully involved and integrated in many local and further afield activities – music, festivals, teaching and growing my own in the beautiful fields I have near my beautiful little house. What should I do?

This problem was sent to me by email.

From your letter it is obvious that the situation is very difficult and that you want and expect me to understand your side of things. I’m not sure how much of a psychoanalytic perspective you want. Perhaps you’d rather have some life tips about how best to manage the situation, but it sounds as though you can provide those for yourself. I prefer to look without judgment at what might be going on in your mind around this issue of bullying and secrecy.

It’s interesting that you mention that he is a soldier and this is obviously significant in the story. Something about his apparent, or claimed, position of authority has made it particularly disappointing that he has behaved so badly. I wonder what happened when you introduced him to your friends? It sounds as though you felt very disappointed by his behaviour at this point and you say in the first line that people like him ignore the permanent residents. There is immediately a sense that you have been ignored and treated with some contempt.

It is clear that you are proud of having integrated into the community and are annoyed by people who don’t bother. Again, you seem to believe they do this out of arrogance and contempt. It may be that some lack confidence or have no idea how they might integrate, or perhaps feel that their holiday is when they concentrate on their own needs and do indeed rather ignore the needs of others. Who knows. We can only look at how you feel about it.

That this man then acted behind your back, taking serious action over what sounds a very minor and petty matter in which you were in any case not involved, seems to have been shocking and painful. In some ways it feels as if he not only snuck around behind your back instead of speaking to you, but he also frightened you on a psychological level with his machinations. This feeling of not being sure what’s going on, what he’ll do next, is very frightening and I wonder what it might remind you of. Was there anxiety of this kind in your early life?

It is clearly galling and rather surreal that you have had to call on alibis and a lawyer to defend yourself over something that should be insignificant. One can only speculate as to your neighbour’s chronic insecurities and the need to wield power over people in a secretive and manipulative way. He sounds like a classic insecure bully who supports his own sense of fragility by playing on the fragility of others.

Then there is the issue of what does and doesn’t really belong to this man. He has claimed some public land as his own and then accuses you of trespassing on it. Again this is clearly a huge affront to your own sense of justice.

You obviously feel extremely aggressed by his presence when he is there and even his looks are perceived as an assault. Again it seems as though he has invaded not only your space but your mind, perhaps bringing very unwanted feelings about life in England with him and into your home.

This strangulation incident was very frightening and it feels as though the presence of Brits is perceived as an aggressive one. You talk about your rich and interesting life in Spain and your clearly rewarding activities. You mention this beautiful place and the kind actions of neighbours, also that your wife is Spanish.

I would say that your story is painted very black and white and with very little ambivalence. Heroes and villains. This points to childhood and something being replayed from early life. Clearly the facts are the facts – someone aggressive and secretive comes in August and is bullying you with his attitude, demeanour and false accusations. However, what you are finding difficult to cope with is your own emotional attitude to the situation. You find it hard to stand his presence at all as it has invaded your psyche to such an extent that you boil with murderous rage. This is the issue (as there is little to be done about the external reality aside from what you are already doing).

What I am hearing is that you are being bullied and that this bullying has taken up residence in your mind. You perhaps partly blame yourself for attempting to let this man into your life, allowing yourself to be victimised, perhaps by exposing your vulnerabilities. I wonder also if you were unconsciously trying to evoke a little envy in him when you introduced him to your life and friends, to show him what he lacks? Perhaps it worked and he did envy you and wanted revenge. Perhaps you unconsciously know you were trying to display some superiority and that guilt makes you fear his accusations all the more – perhaps you unconsciously feel you are guilty of something and must defend yourself.

Indeed, you are being forced to defend yourself and feel that a kind of absolute purity and innocence, that of the village, the locals, your relationship with your wife, is being destroyed by his corrupting influence. There is a clear depiction of the Spanish as good and the English as bad.

It seems that you felt rejected by this man when you tried to help him integrate and insulted that he did not seem to want to integrate. He then accused you of committing a crime when you, in fact, feel him to be the wanton criminal.

Of course you don’t give me any family background here, but I wonder whether this is a sibling rivalry situation. Clearly you feel that an intruder has come unwelcome into your life and ridden rough-shod over it. Is the soldier a bit younger than you and do you have a younger brother who came along and ruined your innocent and idealized relationship with your mother? Or could he be an intrusive and aggressive father figure, constantly accusing you as a little boy of petty domestic incidents and forcing you to defend yourself? He seems to represent someone from England who desecrated something important in your life with contempt and frightening authoritarian action. He seems barely to perceive you as human. I wonder if this is a projection of your own feelings towards the drunken Brits and you fear it boomerangs back to you? Your hatred of him is projected into him and comes back at you?

I do understand that there is a reality to this situation and you have to deal with that. You seem to worry that I am going to suggest you move house. I wonder if you did leave home as a young man feeling that it had been ruined and you would have to get away? Of course, I don’t know. The only think I can do in thinking with you about this, is try to understand the strength of your feelings and reactions and your input into the situation. The whole thing is obviously stirring up a lot of emotion and that emotion will once have been attached to earlier situations (usually in childhood). I am not saying that everyone wouldn’t react strongly to this situation, but different people react differently and only by seeing why you feel as you do might you be able to bear his presence in August.

It feels as though there can be no compromise in this situation, no way of discussing the issues as adults, no way of being understood. Again I wonder what this means to you, what your associations to such an intractable impasse might be.

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

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“I am terrified of climate change, civil war, global crisis. The fear is overwhelming my life.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

I am struggling to cope under the weight of worry. I’m convinced the global economic crisis is going to cause such unrest that our lives will be changed beyond my imagination. I’m terrified that something like civil war will break out, and I’m in floods of tears worrying about it. I have strong mental images of people smashing into our home and the terror of knowing I would be incapable of protecting my husband. It feels as if it is going to happen any second now. Then my mind switches to fears about climate change and global war as resources dry up. There’s no respite from the feelings of panic and total doom. I can’t see a future any more, and it is crushing. If I start to relax I feel I will feel punished for flippancy, because it always seems to go that way. Doctors think I’m a time waster and view me with suspicion. I was given a number of a counsellor, but that means taking time off and I’m afraid I’ll lose my job or people will view me as a failure. I could never leave my husband alone in a world about to go completely wrong. I don’t know what to do.


This problem appeared first in The Observer


The first thing that is important here is that you are certainly not wasting the doctor’s time. The fact that you mention leaving your husband alone means that you are having suicidal thoughts and you must say this directly to the doctor. You are aware that your suffering is an illness since you have approached the doctor and all this is a good sign, but it is important that you let her or him know the seriousness of the problem.


The difficulty for you in conveying how awful you feel is that you are caught up in the fantasy content of your anxious thoughts rather than in the reality of the emotional content. If you told the doctor about the ‘weight of worry’, that you are ‘terrified’, ‘in floods of tears’, that you are feeling ‘panic and total doom’ that you ‘can’t see a future’ and could never leave your husband alone, you would be taken very seriously indeed.


The fact is that you have transferred your very real fears and panic onto the outside world, chosen genuine issues of concern to us all and attached your inner demons to them. I imagine that the doctor, instead of hearing the words I have picked out, hears ‘climate change’ and ‘global economic crisis’ and feels that your problems are more political than medical. However, I would disagree in the strongest terms. You have taken worrying about the state of the world to an extreme which is, in fact, about the internal workings of your mind and the residues of trauma.


You seem particularly concerned with protecting your husband. This is interesting in various ways. Firstly, you are quite castrating of him, showing him in a passive role, in need of your protection and totally without resources himself. It seems that you feel in no way protected by him or helped by him. This must leave you very isolated. But I wonder whether you might be projecting your child-like self into him, whether you perhaps feel desperate to protect some innocent part of yourself from the terrifying evils of the world. I strongly suspect that you were exposed to some utterly petrifying and incomprehensible, unpredictable aspect of the adult world when you were a child. You were not developed enough to be able to cope with this at the time and perhaps packed it away, but the trauma (and you do sound traumatised) has stayed with you. Obviously, this is pure conjecture, but it seems possible.


Your husband has now taken on this role of the helpless creature you are powerless to protect. You were powerless to protect yourself as a child and it sounds as though those who should perhaps have protected you failed to do so. To a small child, problems within the family – violence, abuse, neglect – seem just as traumatic as the kind of global apocalypse you fear. It is significant that what you fear is just about to happen, could happen at any moment and is entirely unpredictable. That throws up the image of a very frightened little girl living with volatile people.


The kind of complete catastrophe you fear, essentially the end of the world as we know it, is really a reference to what is going on in your mind, to what has happened to you. You talk about civil war and I would suggest that this is a real war that goes on in your mind, perhaps between your internal objects (the internalised view you have of your mother and father, taken in as a small child and perhaps left unmodified) and that is utterly catastrophic. It leaves you depleted and without any coping resources left. You have translated all this into adult language such that the fantasy war leaves the whole world (and as a child you and your mind are the whole world) with nothing, no food or water, unable to survive. This is where you end up feeling suicidal.


You say that if you relax you fear punishment. This suggests that you force yourself to be hypervigilant because if you let your guard down for a moment you will not be ready for what is sure to come. In reality the worst has already happened. Whatever trauma you suffered is now over, but its after-effects are destroying your world/mind, just as the after effects of this war/crisis will destroy what’s left of the planet. Anticipatory anxiety is always fear of something that has already happened otherwise how would you know to fear it?


You say you have images of people smashing into your home and leaving you powerless to protect your husband. I wonder then whether you have experienced severe psychological bullying – someone smashing into your mind and destroying what was in there. This could also be a reference to something sexual or fears of something sexual, but it is not clear enough to speculate. In any case, you are suffering some of the symptoms of post traumatic stress and you are suicidal – these are the symptoms you must present to the doctor. The medication works and you will feel greatly relieved. You could and should have some psychotherapeutic intervention either instead of or alongside medication.


[There is an extent to which this kind of worry is universal in a much milder form. Everyone believes as they age that the younger generation is doomed, that the world is about to end. People have thought this at the very least since writing began. Really, of course, this is a defence against admitting that it is the older generation that is doomed and will soon be superceded. It’s a defence against mortality. Worrying about there being enough resources to go round is often about sibling rivalry and mother’s love, but in your case I believe something more serious is going on.]

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



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“I found my father’s child porn 30 years ago. Now I’m overwhelmed with fear that he is a paedophile.”

I’ve wanted to write for a long time but recently my problem has become overwhelming.

When I was nine, I discovered explicit child pornography magazines in my father’s bedroom. I was doing my pre-Christmas search for presents and can still remember the confusion and disgust.

I was a very innocent child by the standards of the time (mid-Seventies) and didn’t have a clue about sex. I can still clearly remember the pictures and especially the face of a little girl being forced into intercourse with a man in his 50s.

My father walked in as I sat staring in disbelief. He wasn’t angry as I had expected; he said a nasty man had left the books there by accident and he was going to put them in the bin.

We lived overseas at that time and there was strong distrust (racism actually) of the locals. I assumed he meant one of them.Here’s the odd part.

Over the next 30-plus years, I had a great relationship with my father. Occasionally I remembered that incident, but I pushed it aside and never told a soul.

My father is now in his 80s and in poor health, but I am obsessed with the incident.

I realise the story he told me was a lie and those terrible books were his. I’ve even started to wonder if my mother knew they were there; she was always very passive.

More worryingly, I’ve started to think about occasions when I was young when I was mildly uncomfortable in my father’s company. I recall odd questions and ‘accidental’ touchings, but nothing actually abusive. But I feel I’m going mad and want your perspective.

Is it normal for things to lie dormant for decades then erupt for no reason? I’ve wondered if this is to do with all the publicity surrounding child abuse cases.

I’ve come close to telling my husband, but he loves my father dearly and I don’t want to ruin that. I have horrible thoughts asking if my father was a paedophile.

He babysat my daughters when they were small and sometimes I have panic attacks thinking I may have put them in danger. Next second I hate myself for thinking that and tell myself that he made one mistake and all is fine.

My huge fear is blurting this out, potentially giving my dad a heart attack and destroying my family. How can I live with this awful secret and why is it consuming me now? Please give me wise advice.

 This problem first appeared in the Daily Mail

You begin by saying that this has been with you for a long time. You have waited, as so many people do, until you were completely overwhelmed by your knowledge before you have sought help. You say that when you found your father’s child pornography you were confused and disgusted. You say you were innocent, but, in fact, you immediately recognized your own emotions because you understood the trauma and acute distress of the child in the photograph and you understood that she was being horrifically abused.

You describe your surprise that your father wasn’t angry, but his lie was perhaps practiced. He knew that what was important is that he shouldn’t be accused and, unconcsiously, you understood this too and were effectively silenced. You wanted so much to believe him and, very importantly, he wanted you so much to believe him that that is exactly what you did in what must have been great fear and confusion.

Silence and ensuring silence is very important to child abusers. Viewing child pornography is, as you know, illegal and results in the rape and torture of children worldwide. You say that you pushed it aside and never told a soul – this is commonly what children do in these situations as telling would be catastrophic to the family, possibly dangerous for you and might also result in disbelief which would leave you feeling betrayed by father and mother alike, as many children do in these situations. Many children find that they have pushed these incidents so far away that they do not even remember them and are only able to identify abuse from their adult symptoms (some of which are outlined here: http://www.ppfoundation.org/abuse_symptoms.aspx ).

What you say next is deeply disturbing. You suggest that your mother may have known about your father’s paedophilia and you remember ‘accidental touchings’ but ‘nothing actually abusive’. Again, it is extremely common for survivors of abuse to minimize what happened in their minds, to dismiss it and feel that others may have been sexually abused but they themselves were not. Not really. Not much. I would highly recommend that you read The Courage To Heal http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Courage-To-Heal-Survivors/dp/0091884209 , a book that might help you assess your memories and stop you feeling that you are ‘going mad’.   Again, this uncertainty about memories and lack of trust in your own sense of perception is a very common feature of living with an abuser.

It is tempting to look at what you have written and take it at face value – you found pornography, felt uncomfortable with this man and don’t remember explicit abuse, though God knows what ‘accidental touchings’ might entail. However, you have waited a lifetime to get help, you allude to your mother’s collusion, disturbing memories and a feeling that you are going mad. You wouldn’t have written if you didn’t already know the truth on some level. This letter is a confession of as much as your able to say. It is very normal for things to lie dormant and erupt in later life, perhaps as a result of your father’s ill health or, as you say, the news coverage of paedophilia. It takes great courage even to remember, let alone to tell. It can take a lifetime to work up that courage and to let yourself know. The media sometimes suggests that people make these things up, mothers and fathers tell their children they are making these things up. Whilst this must occasionally happen, it is far, far more common that the child obediently pretends it never happened to themselves and everyone else – forever.

Your fear about telling your husband is a replay of that childhood fear of telling. You are protecting your father still, protecting his secrets and carrying the burden of knowledge by yourself in order to save the feelings of your father and husband even at the risk of allowing him access to your daughters. Instead of trusting your very intense instincts, panic attacks, you have ignored what your body and mind are telling you in order to protect him.

Your confusion as to whether you are a terrible person for harbouring such thoughts or perhaps it is true is a classic symptom of an abused child.

You say your fear is of blurting it out and killing your father, destroying your family. This, I think, is a wish as well as a fear. If you were to blurt it out you feel it would be you destroying a happy family. If, as you basically state, your father is paedophile, then the happy family is a delusion and what has been destroyed is your innocence and your childhood – destroyed by him.

This link is to a survivors of incest help group – http://www.siawso.org/

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

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