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Q: I was molested by my brother for lots of years - since I can remember until about 13). I lost my virginity by masturbation. I feel guilty all the time. How does abuse like this effect a woman? Please help.

A: First of all, please go to the topics listed at my site under the heading of "Child Abuse." They are written for everyone who has experienced such horrors, women primarily but men also.

Secondly, don't expect to handle this all on your own. See a good therapist about it. It is very, very important that you get help from a good therapist.

Once you find a good therapist, there's a book I'd suggest that you read and discuss with your therapist. It's title is "The Courage To Heal" and you can purchase it online.


Q: As a probable perfectionist I have a problem with your self help: Your examples for relief and satisfaction do not give me either - why is that? E.G. urinating: satisfies a physical need but once done is just out of the way - no sense of achievement I suppose. So I did not find an answer to my constant search to achieve more. You seemed to ignore complex layers of Perfectionism.

A: First of all, "guilty as charged." Perfectionism is more complex than anything I could write in a few words. So are depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and everything else at my site.

Secondly, however, I do think you missed the point. Relief is a Physical Sensation.

You want relief from your perfectionism, I assume, or you wouldn't be reading about it. But I bet you are defining relief as "freedom from my thoughts about constantly needing to achieve more"... and I'm wanting you to realize that you actually have relief already (physically, as with urination) - and that if you believe you will some day get relief by constantly achieving more, more, more - you will have to face that this goal is unachievable.

Think of all the people who have achieved less than you have. How do you feel about the fact that most of them don't have all the anxiety you probably have on a daily basis? Are you jealous of them? If so, notice Physical relief... and be glad for it.

There is no relief from perfectionism if you keep believing that you can't stop picking on yourself unless you get "more" - because there will always be "more" to achieve. It's the belief that you need to achieve more that is the problem.


Q: I'm very confused and hurt. I'm dating this guy who has a major anger management problem. I want him to get help but he believes that he doesn't need it. We would fight and he would then start to swear and then throw things either at me or the wall - something always end up getting damaged. And then he blames it on me and says things like "you make me this way, you would drive anyone crazy." The worst part is he has started to tell me that he'll kill me! That's when I get really scared that he will do it.

So, do you think he needs to get help ASAP? If so, can you help me find a really good therapist?

PS I just broke up with him yesterday. Is it a good idea that I left?

A: I don't know where you live, so I can't help with a referral for the man. He definitely needs help.

The ONLY thing that matters is your safety, so of course I am very glad that you left him!

Let him go completely, and be quick to call 911 if you need to.


Q: My husbands actions come under category Avoidant/antisocial Personality Disorder. Is this self-cured? He gets irritated by talking to some people and avoids them altogether as personal rivalry without reasoning and no forgiveness. He insults guests who come home by ignoring them and not talking to them. Avoids social gatherings.

A: No, most people don't change this on their own - and since most people with these traits refuse therapy, they may be this way all their lives. I suggest you tell him he must get into therapy if his behavior is intolerable for you.


Q: Why do I think I was abused in all ways when I was a child? Why can't I remember any of my childhood except flashes? Why do I have to even think of these things or wonder?

Please read everything at my site about childhood abuse. You can find a list of these topics at - Read the topics that are listed in the largest print first, then the ones listed in slightly smaller print, etc.

Most people who say what you are saying in this letter have been abused and are suffering from flashbacks. (Forty percent of women were physically or sexually abused in childhood, and twenty percent of men were also. So flashbacks of childhood abuse are not at all rare.)

Please let a good therapist who is well-trained in childhood abuse help you to evaluate what's going on.


Q:I constantly compare myself to others. When friends do well at something I automatically feel inferior rather than glad for them. I feel guilty because I want to be a good friend but I get hurt by others successes and cannot control it, though I don't show it. How can I change?

A: The big problem here comes from thinking that you aren't good enough no matter what you do.

You may have been raised by a parent who was always comparing you to others. It doesn't matter much if they were saying that you were better than everyone else or if they were saying that you weren't as good as others. What matters is that they taught you that your value came from how you compared to others, rather than from your innate worth as a human being - as someone they loved regardless of all your strengths and weaknesses.

You're going to have to change this, or expect to feel bad much of your life! I say this because, of course, you will always be able to find examples of other people doing better than you in one way or another.

Even the most talented and successful people on the planet are only talented and successful in a relatively tiny part of life. (Nuclear physicists might be lousy at relationships, for example.) So no matter how well you do, you will always feel "less than" others unless you overcome this habit of comparing.

Ask yourself how much this bothers you. And if it's not a really minor degree of psychological pain, see a therapist about it.


Q: I had this dream that my boyfriend was trying to kill me. Now I feel unsure about him. I felt that the dream was very strong because when I woke up I was very shaky and couldn't stop thinking about it.

A: The dream doesn't matter by itself. What matters is whether, when you are awake, you have reason to be afraid of him.

Our dreams tend to teach us that we are right about something we thought the day before, even though the events of the day before contradicted our usual beliefs. So, you must have been wondering for a while how safe or unsafe your boyfriend is for you. That's extremely important.

Of course you could also be frightened of him for reasons that have nothing to do with him directly - such as bad experiences with other men in the past, etc.

Please read "Analyze Your Dreams" and "Who Do You Trust?" at my site for further ideas.

And don't worry about your dreams - but take your waking safety, and your own psychological health, seriously.


Q: I am conducting a study on why certain people crave attention. I am currently enrolled in a Journalism course and I would appreciate your opinion for an article I am writing. I am wondering why someone would do something like faking a robbery bust in order to maybe receive attention from people all over the area. If you could email me back that would be helpful.

A: There is a topic at my site on "Getting Enough Attention." I think it may help you in your research, at least as background information.

People who get way too much attention in early childhood (before the age of 2-1/2 or so) AND people who are almost entirely ignored during these same years, often grow up feeling desperate about getting attention. They see themselves as infants and toddlers see themselves, as the center of the universe - and they believe subconsciously that everyone else revolves around them, as if we are all there only to serve their needs (as their mother should have been). When frustrated by not getting enough attention, they can become enraged at the "unfairness" of it all and may take extreme action.

Of course I don't know this person you are referring to and I can't say that he has these particular problems, but this is one set of circumstances that can bring about such behavior. (And this person's parents certainly wouldn't appreciate this speculation, because no matter what they did or didn't do, their son made his own behavior choices as an adult.)


Q: I've been married for 17 years. Is it necessary to share everything for a marriage to be fundamentally honest? I have a few little secrets (the occasional cigar even though she's anti-smoking, etc.) that my wife doesn't know about. Should I feel guilty? Just how much information should a married person share with their spouse?

A: Good question, and a complicated one to answer:

1) You are entitled to your privacy - and full and honest communication is a good thing in a relationship. But nobody is completely honest even with themselves, so, of course, nobody can be 100% honest with a partner either. How much you tell your wife and how much you don't tell her is a matter of whether you are satisfied with the degree to which you are honest with her, and the consequences you notice (e.g. - feeling distant from her when you hide information).

2) We are all completely in charge of our own life, and we need to acknowledge that this is true. So, even if you give in to your wife's wishes sometimes (like by not smoking that cigar), you need to admit to yourself that you are choosing to give in to her - and you need to know in your heart that you aren't going to blame her for losing that smoke! She's not your mother, and you don't owe her obedience.

3) It is possible that your wife is too controlling, and that you hide things from her so there won't be a battle of the wills. If that's going on, I think a battle of the wills would be better. She needs to know that you make your own decisions, even including those she doesn't like.

4) It is also possible that you aren't telling me about much more serious things you hide from her. If so, remember that my response here is related to your example of the occasional cigar. If you have bigger secrets, you might find that you don't feel "known" or "seen" in your relationship with her, because there is so much about you she doesn't know. This would bother you a great deal, especially over time.

5) You might have a guilt or a shame problem. Because of this, you might not just be avoiding telling her these things, but you might be avoiding the experience of owning up to your own actions. If you know you have a lot of guilt or shame (and depression), this is an important personal issue regardless of how it plays out in your relationship. Bottom line: You are more important than your relationship - and if you don't love yourself as you are then you won't be able to feel her love for you either - regardless of what you choose to tell her about your actions.)


Q:I have so many symptoms of sexual abuse in my past, but I canít remember anything for certain, like who did it. It is driving me crazy and the older I get the more it bothers me, sexually with my husband. I am 26. Will I ever remember who did these things?

Example of my symptoms are: I feel very dirty when touched sexually or have a sexual thought, I have had horrible nightmares of being raped since age four or five, I was sexually focused at early age, and I have many more. Help.

A: First of all, yes, your symptoms are certainly suggestive of sexual abuse. And I'm sorry you ever had to endure something so awful for anyone, and especially for a young child.

There are various ways people remember sexual abuse incidents that occurred in childhood. The most common ways the memories come to us are through visualizations (like your nightmares) and sounds (especially sounds that unreasonably frighten us).

There are also "body memories," like the way you feel when you are touched sexually. These memories need to be understood for what what they are, and for what they are not. For instance, nightmares of being raped might only contain one or two elements of the actual scene from the abuse, and all the other elements of the nightmares might be essentially irrelevant. The same goes for body memories. You might jump a bit when your husband touches you from behind, for instance - just because you didn't see it coming. But if you want the sex to go well, and you want to enjoy the touch, but you still jump when you are touched and you see it coming, that particular type of touch may be related.

You don't mention therapy, but a good therapist who understands about sexual abuse issues will be able to help you sort the meaningful elements of your memories from the less important ones. But it sure does seem to me that you do have memories.

For the moment, however, why do you need to know who did it? If you never find out who did it, but you can heal from your related symptoms, wouldn't that be wonderful?

The person who did it could be a stranger, or it could be someone you just don't want to think of in such a way. Maybe some day you will feel safe enough to remember more about who did it, but today you still need to overcome and heal from the horrible way you were treated by "someone."

Please see a therapist and ask them to help you with your healing, regardless of the amount of detail in your visualizations, in your reactions to sounds, and in your body memories.


Q: I am 24 years old. I had a dream last night that I was dead at the age of 25. I was trying to figure out how I died (in my dream) by interrogating people, but I couldn't figure it out. I am very worried.

A: It must have been a particularly realistic dream!

If you often think that your dreams are prophetic, then I'd suggest that you remember your dreams better. We all have such strange dreams most nights that you can tell that dreams aren't prophetic at all.

As a matter of fact, the dreams we remember the next day are usually the Opposite of what happened the day before - and they are therefore the opposite of what usually happens most days. (This is only about the "moral" of the dream, or the meaning we put to it. The actual events we see in our dreams, how the people in them react to things, etc.... these things are not even close to reality most of the time. They aren't even "opposites," but just sort of random.)

I wonder if you've had teaching in your life - perhaps from new age practitioners currently or even from the beliefs of adults when you were small - that taught you to believe dreams are prophetic. If so, reconsider what they taught you by looking at the hard data and noticing how different your actual dreams are from what happens each day.

If you have health concerns, get them checked out medically.

If you can't stop worrying about this and it stays with you longer than a day or so, see a good therapist.

You might want to read the topic "Analyzing your own dreams" at my site for further insights. You are right to assume that the dream "means" something, but not to assume that it means you will die soon. This topic will help you to understand why I say that. (But beware of self-interpretation of dreams. It's hard to be objective enough on your own. At least talk your troublesome dreams over with someone - a friend, relative, or therapist - who knows you well. Otherwise, you might believe the scariest interpretation you can come up with.)


Q: The common wisdom for how to deal with poisonous people is "Don't." I'm inclined to agree, but this answer is simply far too pat to be terribly applicable to reality. There are a number of times where interacting with someone who is a control freak or a rageaholic is totally unavoidable, such as when they are a parent or boss.

A: That's so true, for children. And if it wasn't for kids being stuck with grownups who mistreat them in childhood them there wouldn't be a need for therapists.

Adults, however, have choices even about parents and bosses.

Q Even worse is when these people have any measure of authority they can press. In my situation it is my girlfriend's mother that is really making our lives pretty difficult. My girlfriend is 20 and still lives at home for financial reasons. Apparently her mother believes this is license to be the house dictator (which is difficult to argue against). This comes packaged with random room searches, constant accusations of being a "whore" or "drunk" (My GF drinks perhaps once per month, and has sex about as much), and vitriolic jabs whenever opportunity arises. The point is there isn't any way for us to avoid interacting with this person short of her moving out, which is financially impossible at the moment. I would be very interested in hearing any tips you might have in dealing with people that are venomous, but unavoidable.

A: Sorry, but "don't" is still my answer.

Tell your girlfriend that I said:

1) "Don't" stay there to maximize your financial situation. If you have to postpone your education a year, or move in with a friend, or take out a loan, you can do it. It's a top priority to stop being treated that way by anyone - and especially by your mother.

2) If you decide to stay, "Don't" interact with your mother. Don't bother to argue with her about her nasty comments. You know her and you know how she thinks. You aren't going to change her, so her vile opinions aren't worth your time and energy.

3) "Don't" think that you need your mother's approval. Actually, since you are 22, don't think you need your mother at all. You are an adult. She is an adult. Adults don't need their mothers anymore - although they do carry memories from childhood of times when they actually did need them. Remember that these are only memories from the past, not current reality at all.

4) What matters in life is how we are treated. There are people who treat us well and people who don't. Adults take full responsibility for who they choose to spend their time with. Whether it's your mother, or your boyfriend, or your boss, or somebody on a bus - "don't" give nasty people a chance. Move away from them physically (by changing seats on the bus, or by moving to Guam if that's what it takes).

I'd suggest that your girlfriend read these four ideas over at least once a day for a while - for six weeks or so. When she first reads this, she'll probably have some quick response such as "I can't do any of this stuff." But if she thinks if over regularly she'll see that she has many, many behavioral options in daily life that help her get away from people who mistreat her.


Q:I do extreme things to get attention. I always want to hurt myself so people will notice me. And I actually do bruise and cut myself so people will notice. I have also found myself lying and exaggerating to get attention. This is an addiction. I've been struggling with it my entire life.

Is there a diagnosis for this kind of behavior? Do I need special help or can I cure this addiction myself?

A: Yes, it's a behavioral addiction, and yes you definitely need a good therapist to help you overcome it.

The answer about diagnosis, however, is that there is a diagnosis for every person and every type of behavior. Diagnoses don't mean much, and knowing someone's diagnosis doesn't help a therapist much. Diagnoses are just generalized ways of describing unique individuals. (We are totally unique "snowflakes" and any diagnosis we get is like saying there is snow in Alaska... it doesn't relate enough to us as the unique, complex people we are, and, most importantly, it hides the beautiful detail we see when we get to know the real person.)

But forget my rant about diagnoses for now.

Just call a good therapist. Anyone who does physically self-destructive things - cutting, binging on alcohol or drugs, overeating regularly to the point of causing pain - needs good therapy.


Q: Why would I want certain things so badly, (such as a private little house or cabin in the mountains where I can go to write/paint all alone)? Also, I never send in the books I've written in to publishers. Fear of rejection? I dream about all this constantly and when given a glimmer of a chance to get it, I run away from it as fast as I can in fear. I am so tired of all these inner conflicts. Help!

A: Sounds like you could boil down everything you are experiencing into one word: Fear.

So the question is "Why are you so afraid?"

And the answer is: because you've been in situations in your life that were so intensely fearful that the feeling has survived for a long time after the events were over. Basically, you haven't overcome past fearful memories yet.

Overcoming fearful memories is one of the things therapists work on most often, and usually with good success.

You don't mention therapy, and you make so many references to your thoughts that I wonder: "Are you only hoping to change your thoughts on your own, instead of seeing a good therapist where you'd have to give up your privacy for a hour each week and examine your thoughts and feelings with someone instead?"

Remember that fear is a feeling. Your fears are being created by your thoughts, that's true. But you have to accept the feeling first, find a healthy way to express the fear (by talking them out with a therapist), and only then deciding if you want to use your newfound energy to make small or big changes in your life (like getting the cabin).

Hope you've read everything at my site about fear, anxiety, fantasy vs. reality, bad memories, etc. If not, please do. The topics can help you to understand what's going on and they might even help you to speed up your therapy.

Don't try to change habitual, long-term thoughts on your own.

Please call a therapist.

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Tony Schirtzinger, Therapist (Milwaukee) 

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