“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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“I’m worried my relationship with the sweet shop owner may be illegal.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I am 15. I am in love with an older man. He works at a sweet shop and I’m not sure how old he is. We met last year when I was hungry and went to buy sweets, but then realised I only had 2p, so he gave them to me for free. He was really kind and generous, and the next time I went in we got chatting and got on really well. I came back again the next day and have never looked back. But now things are looking more serious and I’m worried that our relationship may not be entirely legal. I’m worried that if I confront him I’ll lose everything. I think I love him, but though he enjoys our relationship, I’m not sure he feels the same. I haven’t told my parents or friends because I’m worried that they’ll judge me. Should I tell him or would that spoil things? Have I gone too far? I’m worried about how people will view me, but I don’t want to end things because I love him so much. I don’t think I could ever love anyone as much as this again.

This first appeared in the Observer

My thoughts:

On first reading this letter sounds as though it is written by an adult pretending to be a child. Would an underage girl or boy write to a national broadsheet asking for this kind of help? Would such a person write things like ‘entirely legal’? There is something odd about being hungry and going to buy sweets – why state that you are hungry? It’s as though the act needs justifying. How odd then to go to the shop with no money, or, rather, how odd to state the exact and pitiful amount you had with you – 2p. How odd to call it a ‘sweet shop’ – sounds very old-fashioned.

However, if you really are 15, then what does come across loud and clear is your acute vulnerability and the fact that you are young for your age, unworldly and, by the sounds of it, not getting a lot of care at home. You seem to feel you lack the resources needed to be out in the world, you are hungry for sweetness but, far from being ‘for free’, the price is high – illegal sex. There is something about the hunger and the fear of losing everything, of feeling the need to point out to an adult that what he is doing may be illegal that points to domestic neglect. Also, the idealisation of a person who gave you free sweets suggests that you live off the merest scraps of affection and offer your love in return.

It hardly needs saying that this is in no way an equal relationship and you are aware of this – though you are in love, he may only be enjoying himself, you say. He is older than you, so much so that you apparently haven’t dared ask his age for fear of finding out. He is offering sweets in return for your affection and, if what is happening is illegal, we must assume, for sex. You don’t mention the sex explicitly and from the way you describe the situation it is not what’s important to you – it is the fact that the wants you, that he is generous towards you and enjoys your company. There is a distinct feeling that this is unusual in your life.

You are ashamed of the sexual element of the relationship and haven’t told your friends. You suggest you might confront your lover. With what? He presumably knows he’s having sex with you. He presumably knows your age. It sounds to me as though you are very uncomfortable with the sex (after all, you have written) but worry that if you withdraw it then you will lose the friendship and love you value so much. You relieve your abuser (yes) entirely of responsibility, wondering if you have gone too far. You? He has, by the sounds of it, committed statutory rape.

You don’t state your gender. If you are also male then perhaps your reluctance to tell friends, your fear about whether or not the relationship is allowed, your wish to confront your lover/abuser about the relationship, might have something to do with shame and fear around coming out. You may fear being judged for your sexuality and have conflated that with fear of being judged about the age gap and, perhaps, his status. ‘He works in a sweet shop’ is stated immediately and must be important in some way. It’s unclear whether this puts him in high or low esteem in your view but, I suspect, low.

However, male or female, the reality is that you are paying for affection with sex and you feel there is something wrong with that (illegal – but you’re using the word to express something about your feelings as well as the social facts). You fear that you have not much besides your body to offer and, like the hunger, lack of resources and gratitude at the beginning of the letter, this points to neglect, at the very least, at home.

I would like to know about your relationship with your father and whether you see any parallels there – do you feel unloved by him, that you have to produce something in order to secure his affection, that you can’t talk to him about what is honestly going on with you? You don’t say and I have no idea, but you need to ask yourself what it is about the relationship that might be harshly judged by your friends and parents, why you are afraid to talk to your lover and whether or not you are willing to continue to provide sex in return for what you really want – someone who is ‘kind and generous’ to you. (The fact that you have written suggests strongly that you want this to stop but don’t want to lose your friend).

Yes, the relationship is illegal, as you know. However, there are plenty of 15 year olds having sex with someone a few years older than they are and not feeling the need to write to a newspaper columnist about it. You are really scared and isolated and, despite your saying you love this man, you clearly do not feel cared for and protected by him or anyone else. Perhaps you might find someone you really trust (friend, teacher, doctor?) and seek some help that might keep you safe and build your, entirely absent here, confidence?

The very short answer would be – stop letting this person abuse you because it is making you feel insecure, unhappy and scared. Then have a look at what help you might be able to get in terms of improving your confidence.

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

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“I’m 18 and having an affair with my married ex-teacher. It’s ruining my life.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

“I feel I’ve reached breaking point and cannot go on. I’m 18 and, over the summer, became embroiled in an affair with a much older man, who was once my teacher.

We developed a close friendship at school, but it was strictly platonic. Afterwards, we met as friends but, after a few meetings, became lovers.

I’d had a mad crush on him at school, and so at first could not quite believe that he was finally ‘mine’. Now pain has overtaken pleasure, leaving me feeling confused and lonely.

He has a wife and child. I’m not a horrible home-wrecker after cheap thrills, but I couldn’t control how I felt about him.

I’m racked by guilt because of his child – but not his wife, wrong as that may be. I despise her because she has him and there is nothing I can do about it. I love this wonderful man, too – when I’m with him I feel so complete.

However, the affair is ruining my life. I’d planned to go to university, but decided not to bother because I felt too depressed and unstable to contemplate study.

I hope to go next year, but I worry that I’ve consigned myself to yet another year with him and will feel worse and worse. I find it hard to concentrate on anything but him.

I’ve watched my friends move away to uni, and they have made new friends and are having the time of their lives.

Meanwhile, I am hurting badly. My parents are angry because I am often out for hours – meeting up with him (saying I’m with friends), when I should be looking for a job.

My heart aches; I can’t see any future for myself that does not involve him.

He says we have to give things time until his son is a little older and then – if we are still in love – see what happens.

He says we should just appreciate what an amazing relationship we have.

However, I feel as though my life’s on hold – while he’s had his youth and fun, and is now settled. I’m desperate for commitment, but I can’t walk away because I love him too much.

The thought of life without him is unbearable. I don’t blame him because it was me who instigated the affair, and it’s obviously had adverse effects on his life as well. But I feel my youth has been taken away from me.

He gets upset and jealous if I mention other boys, although he says he knows he can’t stop me from seeing someone else.

But I’m not interested and find myself longing to have his child, though I know this would only make things 1,000 times worse.

I have no one to talk to. No one would understand. They’d accuse me of having a sleazy fling, whereas our relationship is built on love.

I’m not eating or sleeping and I’m considering making an appointment to see my doctor for depression if things do not get better. Please help.”

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mirror.

My thoughts:

It’s easy to plough in here with a diagnosis of unresolved Oedipus Complex – you have succeeded in seducing father away from mother but have inevitably ended up feeling at once guilty and abused. Part of you, I think, knows this. You have said you are at ‘breaking point’ and ‘cannot go on’. You end by wondering about seeking help for depression and clearly you do feel completely helpless, as if you have started something you do not understand.

You say ‘embroiled’ as though it was some sort of an accident. ‘Strictly platonic’ makes it obvious this was never platonic – you may not have had a physical relationship at school but you say you had a ‘mad crush’ on him, so your intentions, if not his, were clear. What does seem to have shocked you though is that it actually happened.

While Oedipal desires are a normal part of development, the disturbance around the desires being acted out is overwhelming, as with incest. You are 18, so nothing illegal is going on, but abuse is happening nonetheless. The father figure you desired decided to have sex with you and the reality of this has made you very depressed and frightened. It has made you feel completely worthless – you’ve lost education, friends and career and made this man the centre of your world, though he is married and has a child with someone else (a mother figure).

It’s possible to speculate about your parents’ relationship with each other and with you – perhaps you are closer to your dad and feel punished by your mum. This might explain why you feel no guilt towards the wife. You do, however, identify with the child who may lose a father. Perhaps your dad left for someone else and you would prefer to act out being the someone else than face the painful reality of being one of the ones left behind?

You don’t say these things, so I’m guessing, but it is clear that you hoped for fulfillment in this affair and have found emptiness, like a child who desires closeness with a parent but is petrified and ruined when met with abuse, perhaps disguised as love.

You say you are not a ‘horrible home-wrecker after cheap thrills’ as though you imagine other women might be – did your father have a girlfriend you perceived in this way? That might have been an easy way of blaming someone other than your father for whatever it is he may have done. (Speculation, obviously).

In the case of this teacher, you do explicitly say ‘I don’t blame him’ because you claim started the affair. Alone? With no invitation? Yet you say your youth has been taken away from you. By whom? The way you blame yourself entirely and yet feel buffeted by fate at the same time is interesting here. Anything, apparently, rather than blame your cowardly abuser.

This unwillingness to blame him is classic behaviour for someone in an abusive relationship – it’s easier to imagine things are your fault or that the fates are conspiring against you than it is to see that the person who is supposed to love you is manipulative, domineering and abusive. If this man was as wonderful as you try to persuade us he is, he would have insisted you go to university and end the relationship with him. Or, if it is what you and he both want as an adult couple, he would leave his wife and start a new family with you.

However, I don’t think that is what you want. You sound horrified, in fact, that the relationship has taken the shape that it has, that the secrecy and lies, consfusion, shame and guilt (again, typical in survivors of childhood sexual abuse) has made you wholly reliant on him, isolated and old before your time.

This is a confusing letter because it is tempting to treat you as an adult, persuade you of your own autonomy, that denying it is an infantile defence and that you need to take responsibility for your actions and see through the fantasy of helplessness. However, if you were three years younger it would be a police case and all your symptoms – depression, not eating (on the self-harm spectrum), insomnia, confusion, guilt, worthlessness, shame, desperate reliance on your aggressor – would be seen as symptoms of childhood sexual abuse.

Despite the adult nature of your letter, your symptoms and your efforts to excuse the appalling behaviour of this man who should probably not be a teacher, suggest to me that you are more in need of the kind of help an abused child might need.

Certainly, it’s obvious that you need to end this relationship, tell your parents and friends about it, get a place at university and move on with your life away from this man who would like to dominate you entirely. I’m sure the newspaper columnist you wrote to said the same. However, as always, this is far easier said than done. If you felt powerful enough to act you would have done so. It has taken all the courage you have to write for help and that is as much as you can manage at the moment.

The desire to have the teacher’s baby (have your father’s baby once you have seduced him away from your mother – a toddler’s fantasy) is a fantasy based in early childhood desire. A fantasy it would be disastrous to act out. Indeed the whole relationship is a disastrous acting out of early Oedipal desires, one in which this older man should not have colluded.

It would not be a bad idea to go to the doctor, but for some therapy and counseling rather than anti-depressants which might further pathologise you when the problem is the abuse you are suffering. This is a subtly abusive relationship from which you need to free yourself and you will have to look closely at what you really wanted from this relationship in the first place in order to get free. Probably your father’s love.
Proper Advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“My stepfather abused me 45 years ago. Now I need resolution.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I am 57 and was molested by my stepfather when I was 13.

When my mum and nan went out on a Friday night, he would pull me to him from behind and put his hand inside my bra. I asked him not to, but it went on for a while before I told my nan.

I then started sleeping at her house over the road, but he tried to control me by making me come back from nights out with my friends very early.

From the age of 17, all I wanted to do was get married so I could get rid of his family name.

I married at 20, divorced at 23, then got together with my current partner, whom I used to work with.

The relationship has not been easy, as he is verbally abusive when he’s had a bit too much to drink, and I’ve tried a few times to leave him, but we have three wonderful children and four fantastic grandchildren who make my life worth living. I still live in the same house.

My parents emigrated to the U.S. and I have had a letter from my stepdad saying he is sorry for what he did.

He has asked me not to reply, but I feel I need to write back and let him know how his actions have affected my life. My partner cannot come up behind me and wrap his arms around me, and I don’t like people close to my back in lifts.

Once, when I took the kids over to visit them, he put his fingers inside my daughter’s top while putting her seat belt on, when she was just developing.

This could have been a fluke, but because of what happened to me I will never know for sure.

Also, my son went over to visit on his own when he was nine, and my stepdad went in the bathroom to show him how to wash himself and touched my son’s penis.

I have been told he raped his sister when she was 18 (he was 26 and drunk).

He told my younger sister this is a lie, but we cannot ask my auntie, as she died six years ago.

My stepdad has prostate and bone cancer and I don’t know how much longer he has to live, but feel I need some kind of resolution before it is too late.

Maybe I should have sought some help or advice sooner.

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail

My thoughts:

This, of course, is a letter about the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. Whilst you are speaking mainly about the abuse you suffered at the hands of your stepfather, you also mention that you are still being abused by your current partner. You mention it and then downplay it – acknowledging it and denying it at the same time. You had no autonomy in your early life and it sounds as though you still lack the confidence to be independent of abusive men.

You make it clear that you asked your stepfather at the time not to abuse you, but he ignored you. You managed to tell your nan but, by the sounds of it, she did not call the police or confront your mother and stepfather and he continued to abuse children. You say you can’t be sure about some of the abusive actions against other children (your own) and yet you cite them clearly. Again – acknowledgment and denial simultaneously. This kind of fear and uncertainty, worry that you are wrong or might be making it up, is a classic reaction to early sexual abuse.

It’s interesting that you took your stepfather’s name in childhood as it somehow underlines his complete domination of your life, a deletion of your original self. Of course, sexual abuse is very much about power and control as you rightly suggest. You say your current partner is abusive ‘when he’s had a bit too much to drink’. The euphemism for drunk, a way of trying to exculpate him, is strongly suggestive of your feeling of helplessness and uncertainty as to whether your own feelings are valid. You say you tried to leave ‘a few times’ but, instead of explaining why you didn’t, you mention your children and grandchildren. You are counting your blessings in a situation that feels helpless – something you have always had to do.

I wonder why you mention that you still live in the same house. I think you are saying that nothing has really changed – that the mental prison of self-doubt, domineering men and helplessness still surrounds you.

You say your abuser has written to apologise, but again he controls your behaviour – dictating what you should do. You go on to say how ill he is as if this might be a reason to obey him – again. Your own letter seems to be asking permission to disobey both your former and your present abuser, to have your own feelings. You do not feel you have the authority, the worth as a person to do this without the consent of some lofty figure – in this case a newspaper columnist.

Your childhood abuser has also abused both your children and still you doubt yourself. Although you should of course write whatever you would like to write to this abuser, it seems unlikely that resolution will come from the hands or mouth of the person who took your childhood away and made you, not without the collusion of your mother and nan, a frightened adult in an unhappy relationship. Your mother introduced this man as a father figure and continues, apparently, to live with him. This must exacerbate your feelings of confusion and abandonment.

You say you should have sought help earlier but, despite the measured tone of your letter, you have sought help only when you were desperate enough to feel you have to act. Now that this man has written to you and is dying, the situation has become intolerable. I would suggest that this is because he has written to you. Now that he has admitted what he did you can no longer maintain the half-denial you have maintained thus far in order to protect yourself.

Now you are asking in desperation for a magical end to the truth of being an abused child. A truth now openly confirmed by the abuser. Of course, this isn’t possible. I would strongly recommend that you read The Courage To Heal http://www.amazon.com/The-Courage-Heal-Expanded-Survivors/dp/0060950668 a book about the lasting symptoms of childhood sexual abuse, survivors’ stories and a guide through the healing process.

You are seeking permission to think and feel and suspect the things your think, feel and suspect. The thrown-in mention of your partner’s drunken verbal abuse is particularly disturbing. On the one hand you are obviously aware of the legacy of the original abuse and on the other hand you dismiss it. Presumably you had to carry on as normal when you were a child at the same time as being abused, and you are still doing this. The fact that you don’t mention your mother or nan’s role in any detail is interesting. You obviously felt entirely unprotected and assumed it was up to you to protect yourself as best you could. This must have been, must still be a very lonely place to be. It might well be that some proper therapy could help you find some of the resolution you are unlikely to get from your original attacker.

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

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“After 45 years of happy marriage I’ve found out my husband visits prostitutes. Do we have a future?” Proper Advice Below

For almost 45 years I have been happily married to the same man (we are in our 60s) and have a married son and daughter and four grandchildren.  

But three weeks ago I found out that for the past five years my husband has been visiting a massage parlour about three or four times a year.

He tells me he has never had full sex, but that they have performed other sexual acts on him.

My husband is a good husband and father but for the past six years or so has not shown me much affection, especially in the bedroom.

Up until then we always had good sex then he told me he didn’t have the same urges.

I assured him it was not just about sex, but I needed love. I often told him that I felt he just had brotherly love for me.

I occasionally cuddled up to him but then I just felt he didn’t want me. He was even prescribed Viagra from the doctor, then made the excuse that his blood pressure was high.

I am writing to you because I have no one I can speak to.

I don’t want to confide even to my best friend (I’ve known for 60 years) because of the shame of it all and I don’t want my family to find out.

Why do I want to protect this man who has deceived me? He tells me he loves me and has never stopped loving me and wants us to stay together.

He is totally remorseful and very upset at what he has done to me and wants us to get back to how things were before this all happened.  

I am absolutely shocked, devastated, jealous and heartbroken and cannot believe his deceit.

I think about what has happened every minute of the day and how he prefers these other women to me.

Do you think there is a future for us? At this moment in time I feel I will never forgive him or get over it.
This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My thoughts:

What you don’t say is interesting. It would be tempting to change the first sentence to ‘I thought I was happily married’ because what comes next, with the massage parlour, suggests that an illusion was shattered. I suspect you knew things were going on in secret since you say you ‘found out’ (how, I wonder) and that you had been feeling neglected for some time, in fact for years. Thinking that your husband has only ‘brotherly love’ for you and feeling rejected in terms of cuddles, sex and love is not being happily married. So your first sentence, and perhaps then some (at least) of your marriage is a lie. It’s the propaganda you want others to believe (you’re ashamed to tell the truth to your friends) and that you work very hard to believe yourself.

You continue here with an attempt to brush this under the carpet and to fit it in with the happy marriage ideal. He has done some wheedling and told you that anything less than full sex and ‘three or four times a year’ [please] is less of a big deal. You want to believe him but you don’t believe him. ‘Other sexual acts’ leaves a lot of room for imagination. It sounds as though he has tried to convince you that this isn’t as bad as it could be. You’re writing to an agony aunt partly in the hope that your charade can be maintained – ‘Oh, lots of men do this. He’s sorry, he loves you, it will all be fine.’

Then you go on to blame yourself, albeit obliquely. He in himself is marvelous, you say, a good father and husband, but not in the bedroom, with the unspoken suggestion that this might be your fault somehow. You describe the humiliation of the Viagra that you perhaps forced him to ask for (though you don’t say). In one sentence you say he is a good husband but that he consistently rejected you and made you feel awful. If he was a good husband and you were a good wife what could possibly be really wrong, you seem to ask.

The feeling that there is nobody for you to talk to is desperately sad and you are clear about how terrible you feel about the shock and betrayal. You ask why you want to protect him by keeping the secret, but I think you really want to protect yourself. If you tell people then the happy marriage charade is really shattered. If you can cover it up perhaps you can carry on regardless. Although you think about it all the time, you seem to feel that you are not allowed to behave badly, to tell people, to scream and shout and storm out. It seems you want to find a way of explaining it away so that you can go back to your pretence – you do not want to face this for what it is and you’re asking for assistance in not facing it, I think.

It has obviously been extremely important to you to be a perfect family and to ignore the fault lines that must have been there for a very long time. My suspicion is that you grew up feeling the need to put on a display of perfection for the outside world to cover up for things that were not right at home (very possibly with your father since that is what is being reenacted here).

Your husband’s been found out and has tried to play it down, all remorse and promises, wanting it to go back to how it was before (where you kept the pretence up and he visited prostitutes unmolested). How did you find out about this though? Did you have suspicions and investigate to confirm them? If so, what you say has been a happy marriage has involved your not trusting him and yet being unable to talk to him about it. You must wonder if he is now telling the truth, but you will also have to decide what is true for you – do you want to stay married to a guy who goes to a massage parlour for blow jobs on a regular basis? Or not?

It is not for any agony aunt or therapist to tell you whether or not your marriage has a future. Your fantasy marriage certainly has no future (and may not have a real past either), but whether or not you feel you can create a new and truthful relationship with this man who does this kind of stuff is something you will have to think about. You say you don’t think you’ll ‘get over it’ and that is of course true. You may be able to think about it together, to accept it and to create something more truthful or you may not be able to. What you will not be able to do is what you want to do most – make it go away and keep on with the happy family display.

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

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