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Question:

Hi Dr. Schwartz,

I have had relationship problems all of my life and I have finally realized that there is something wrong with me emotionally. I had a troubling childhood. My mother was an alcoholic when I was very young (before the age of 8 or 9) and became a heavy opiate drug user after that. She has been in and out of jail & rehab and attempted suicide quite a few times.

My mother did remarry after my father and her split up shortly after I was born. She had a daughter and to this day (I am 26) my mom treats me as if I am the “red-headed step child” and my sister is perfect. My mother would hit me but not my sister, when I was little.

My father on the other hand has been in and out of my life. He, too, remarried and started a new family. I always felt that I was treated as an outsider. He now will do any drug he can get his hands on.

I have been emotionally shut down for all of my life. When I received the news that my mother attempted suicide, was arrested or started using again, I would never cry or act out. I would just “get on with my life” and try forgetting about it. Everyone in my family would be crying and I never would. I wasn’t fighting back tears. I just couldn’t cry about it. I would just get quiet.

As I have gotten older, I have realized how much this has affected me. I went to a slew of different types of therapists, counselors and psychiatrists. NOTHING HELPS! I thought that I would get over it on my own and be the person I know I should be. I have never been able to hold onto a relationship for more than 2 years. I either end up finding some sort of flaw with the person I am dating and breaking up with the them, or ruin the relationship so that they would leave me. I find it difficult to express my feelings. Instead of crying, I will have explosive fits of anger. I had gone for years without a fit of anger then, out of no where, it comes out. If someone hurts me, instead of crying or telling the person what they said or did to hurt me, I flip out, say hurtful things and cut the person out of my life.

I do NOT want to live this way forever. I want to have a great relationship and be happy. I just dont know what to do anymore. Any help or advice you could provide would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

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Answer:

At the young age of 26 you have been through more trauma than you deserved. It is no wonder that you are angry, experience explosive outburst when you feel betrayed and do not trust people. Who could blame you. In other words, you are a survivor of enormous abuse at the hands of your mother and father.

In many ways you are experiencing a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From a tender age onwards, your mother was alcoholic and addicted to drugs. She attempted suicide and, in a thousand ways, could not be there for you. To add salt to your wounds, she also hit you and gave preferential treatment to her second daughter. Your father did not help either, doing almost the same types of things to you that your mother did.

You have a number of important emotional tasks ahead of you. The correct psychotherapist could help you with those tasks. For one, you must not blame yourself for what happened to you. You may think that you do not blame yourself. However, people who have been through these types of traumas often believe that they are at fault for what happened, even hating themselves. However, you are not to blame. It will also be important for you to get in touch with your feelings of hurt, loss and grief.

Second, you must get in touch with your feelings of hurt and anger. That involves learning to express those emotions in ways that are positive and helpful to you. Becoming enraged does not help you at all. In fact, it makes you feel worse. Part of your task is to take a deep breath when you begin to feel angry, count to ten, tell yourself not to lose control and put your feeling into quiet words instead of angry rage.

Trust is another task for you. Your relationships have not been successful because all of your childhood experiences taught you that people will hurt and abandon you. So, you undermine relationships in order to keep yourself safe and at a distance. Trouble is that this does not feel good and does not allow you to have a healthy and emotionally and sexually intimate relationship.

Finally, you need to be very careful not to repeat your past by choosing men who will be abusive and drug addicted. It is the human condition that we repeat in adulthood what happened during childhood.

I know that you have been through many therapist and, there in, may lie the problem. In my opinion, it would be helpful to you if you settled on one therapist and remained with that person through thick and thin. That means that, when your anger and distrust come up, that you talk about it and hide nothing. I am suggesting long term psychodynamic psychotherapy with a well trained psychologist or clinical social worker.

There are also self help groups for survivors of childhood abuse. Do an internet search for such groups near where you live. They can be very helpful.

My last suggestion is that you join our Internet Self Help community. You will find it on the left side of the main page of Mentalhelp.net. It is anonymous and it is free of charge. There are many people who will be of real help to you there because they have been through the same thing.

Best of Luck

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Comments
  • CB

    I have attended Dialectic Behavior Therapy (DBT) for over a year. This therapy is helpful for many things but particularily those who deal with borderline personality symtoms. I am confident this will help you. It's an investment in time and money, depending on your health coverage, BUT IT IS WORTH IT.

    I've heard many people say that no other therapy has helped them except DBT.

    I also suggest you read a very good book, "Healing the Shame that Binds You" by John Bradshaw. You will see it describes your family of origin very accurately, right down to the supposed good child (your sister) and bad child (you).

    It's going to be difficult, but you are used that.

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