The Doc Answers 42


September 18, 2010

Dear Dr. Irene,

So, I just turned 35 last week and it has taken me this long to realize that I was raised in an abusive home. I have two children (1 and 3) that I am trying to parent gently with grace and patience. Some days are amazing and others, I fail miserably, but I keep pushing on with the help of God and my amazing husband who loves me just as I am. Good for you that you married a good man!

However, where does this leave my relationship with my toxic family? I work part time and my mother, who still lives with my abusive father, cares for my kids in the mornings at her home. My father was verbally abusive to me and my brother, but not physically so (besides throwing a fork at my head once and poking me hard in the chest another time). Sorry Stacey. :(

 He adores my children (which sickens me, but it is what it is) and has never raised a hand or voice to them. He was once verbally abusive to me in front of my daughter, but that was almost two years ago. Since then, we hardly speak. I pick up the kids and we go our own ways. He is still actively abusive towards my mother, but not in front of my children.

 So my question is, is it healthy for me to allow my children to have a relationship with these people? I would like to cut all ties with my father, but I think that this may mean that I lose contact with my mother, as well. I do not want to be codependent (and I am not certain of the definition some days), but I also do not know if cutting off ties is making too big a deal out of this situation.

Thank you so much for your time.



Dear Stacey,

It seems to me that you have some issues to work through regarding your father. He adores the kids and has never been abusive towards them. Almost always, the more people to love them, the better! People are usually better grandparents than they were parents.

How do the kids feel about him? What do they want?

He slipped up once with you in front of the kids. I wish you would have told me how old the kids are, because if they are older, they are likely to talk more to you about what is going on. Also, if they are old enough, I imagine you have told them what is ok and not ok in terms of how people treat them and how they treat others.

Be honest with your children in an age appropriate way. It is ok for them to know that grandpa was not nice with you while you were growing up, but that you are glad he is calm with them now, and even though you are not particularly fond of him, it is ok if they are. Etc., etc., all in age appropriate conversation.

Kids tend to understand what is going on anyway. Or at least they know something is not right. It is not healthy if they know something is wrong, and they also know they are not supposed to talk about it. Make it ok! Help them understand they are free to talk with you about anything, and that their welfare comes first, despite what your own feelings may be.

I understand you just realized you grew up in an abusive home, thus it is not surprising you are having these feelings. You will have to process them so the past does not get in your way today.

This is not about keeping a tie with your mom. It is about understanding yourself and making wise judgments for the kids based on clarity vs. emotions from a long time ago. Hang in there, Dr. Irene


January 21, 2011

Background - I was introduced to my man over 2 years ago by his relative. At the time he was in a defacto relationship on its way out. Our relationship was on/off/on throughout this time until his defacto decided to leave last year. So, in effect  our relationship is a year old. He has been married twice + 1 defacto relationship for 8 yrs. He is 60, I am 46. He left his 1st wife and mother of his 2 kids for the 2nd wife whom he says was the love of his life. She left him after 12 years marriage to which he was devastated. He has told me the 1st wife was uninspiring to him. He still maintains contact with all his exes.. What I am finding now is, his defacto ex  is trying to manipulate to get him back. He still meets with her and has lied to me about it. She still has a hold over him...and he tells me he is trying to maintain the peace and avoid future trouble as she can cause him problems  in his career (she worked for him) and also she can still lodge a legal claim on his assets. (2 years after seperation). She also confronts me, tells me he sleeps with her and other women etc etc. I want him to realise that he needs to break the links with the exes once and for all if he wants our relationship to survive. Please advise me. How do I talk to a narcisstic man and get him to commit to me. I do love him and I want to give this a chance. He isnt abusive to me, but he is trying to control me which he is finding difficult, as I am still financially independent.   Anne


Dear Anne,

That's a switch. Most people want to get away from their narcissist, but you want to nab yours! Assuming you've diagnosed him correctly, but even if you haven't, this guy sounds like more trouble than he's worth.

There is lots of drama here. Not a good thing. You also claim he's not abusive towards you, but tries to control you. Well, what do you think abuse is? It is about control! If he lies towards you, don't you think that is emotional abuse? I urge you never, ever to give up your independence for this guy! The control will creep forward, growing and growing the longer you are with him.

He won't break the link with the ex's because each ex is emotional "insurance." This kind of person needs women floating around so he can pit one against the other to compete for him. So, even if he's pushing one away, he will also draw her close.

You are in the web now too. He wants you to want him, to compete for him. You are even more emotional "insurance" for him, and he will use you to keep the other two close.

In answer to your very sad question, how to get him to commit - well... Just walk away, and stay gone. If your connection was sufficiently strong, he is likely to eventually promise you whatever he thinks you want to get you back in the mix. But beware, no matter what lies and half truths he utters in your ear to keep you close, no matter what he promises, this man will never, ever break his ties with the other two. In fact, he will cultivate ways to keep them - and you - around.

I hope, for your sake, you will walk away, lock the door, and throw away the key. Doc

February 7, 2011

Hi Dr Irene,

Here is my story and question for you. English is not my native language so I hope it is clear:) .

My name is Peter, I'm 28. I met this girl 2 years ago. After a few great conversations she asked if we could try to be together. I've never been in a relationship before, but liked this girl, and always fantasized it has to be great.

Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, my problems with anger appeared: I kept telling her that I'm inadequate, ugly etc. (and expected that she would deny, and cater my self-worth). I told myself that if I show her affection she would dominate me. So I was disrespectful (cancel several meetings, never reach out to the agreement etc.) At one moment I even told her that I want to break up, just to see if she would be hurt, and if she really cares.

After few weeks of such "relationship", she got a job far away. She said we could try to be just friends and maybe reunion in the future. After she left, we have mostly email/telephone contact. Although,I became more and more obsessed about her. I felt rejection (and guilt) anytime she said about her plans to live there without me. Of course, there was a lot of anger too. It was like I was resentful and felt humiliated for any kind feelings. Six months ago I told her I need to break contact completely until I gain more healthy attitude. But I don't know what should I do. Few days ago she contacted me again and asked how I'm doing. Result: I immediately get angry. I think I must be horrible/abusive person for what I treated her, and how I feel. She didn't do anything bad for me, and she is good, vulnerable person. Could you give some advice on how can I maintain friendship with this girl?

Best Regards


Dear Peter,

Sorry to hear things went the way they did. But good for you for having the good sense and self discipline to distance yourself from her for a while! (And your English is very clear!)

You are looking to her to refute the bad feelings you have about yourself. If her actions seem instead to confirm your negative thoughts, you are overcome with anger over the perceived rejection, and then feel guilty over feeling angry! As if all that isn't enough, you let all those yukky feelings run you - because you don't know how to do otherwise.

You have some learning to do before you will be able to maintain a relationship without contributing heavily to its demise. For example, you need the skills to tolerate your feelings of low self esteem. You need to understand that is is OK to have low self esteem. You need to know how to accept your feelings without them taking over and running you. Your feelings should not be guiding your behavior! Unlike your values, those things you really care about that remain stable across time, feelings are transient. In a little while, as the emotional intensity reduces, they change!

The good news is that the more you get a handle on yourself, the more your self esteem will grow, so working on these issues is a win/win! It is clear that you mean well, but are overcome by your emotion!

You can greatly speed the learning process with psychotherapy, so I strongly suggest that you find somebody you feel comforable with, and get to work! Now!

In answer to your question, regarding your friendship with this young lady, until you get a handle on your emotions and behavior, keep your relationship as light and easy as you can. The more emotionally involved we, Humans, are with another person, the more sensitive we are to them. It will be difficult for you to depersonalize any of her actions without some work on your part. Right now, you overly interpret any cues she gives you, especially cues that suggest rejection. It seems you are not only overly sensitive to, but vigilantly looking for signs of rejection! Note these are YOUR interpretations, and may have little or nothing to do with what is actually going on in her mind.

So, go get some help. You owe it to yourself! Dr. Irene

July 7, 2011

Dr Irene,

I was unhappy and neglected for years. Then suddenly I realised that some men still found me atractive. It was a shock as my husband had called me frigid. Yes, frigid as I didnt want sex after a day of housework and kids. It was another chore. Anyway, I had a few sexual encounters. My husband found out and has been punishing me ever since. He has had bugs and tracking devices in my car and broke into SIM records; listened to my private conversations with everyone!

It destroyed me to have myself stripped of any privacy. He committed a crime by doing this, but he feels he is above the law. I have tried to carry on but at any slight altercation he spouts out abuse of what I have done, including the sexual acts. He says all this in front of my children. Naturally, I have to retreat and go back into myself. I have no way of fighting back. He uses his knowledge as torture against me.

I try to be a good wife but nothing is good enough. It has been years. He said he forgave me. I am afraid to suggest that I see friends, or visit anyone. He says he doesnt trust me, and I must earn trust. How can I do that if I can't go anywhere? After a few days of peace, he returns with a distant long face. He is another person. Jeckyll and Hyde. I know this is a form of abuse. What do you suggest??

Unfortunately, you are experiencing the problems associated with acting out your anger first hand. And now, his abuse and neglect are forgotten, and he won't let you hear the end of it. How convenient!

You two need a restart, if not for your own sakes', for the children. Your marital relationship is hurting them! Both of you have issues, and you seem too guilt-ridden and accepting of his blame to make constructive changes. As you said, you don't have the skills you need to enact constructive change. Find a counselor and drag him in. Go yourself if he won't attend, and don't tell him what goes on so his curiosity will be aroused. Even if he will not attend, you should go! You have much to learn, and going alone will help you:

To put the past behind you, and insist he do same.

To treat yourself with respect.

Not to act out your frustrations.

To develop a sense of self-confidence.

To stop seeking his permission/approval.

So, get started. The situation is unlikely to change unless you do something about it. Good luck! Dr. Irene

October 6, 2011

Hello Doctor,

I am a 40 year old male who has recently been brought to the conclusion that I am a verbal abuser. Originally, when my wife confronted me with the fact that she could not tolerate the treatment any longer, I went out and bought the book "The verbally abusive man". After reading it and agreeing with my wife's description of me, I also realized that I had done this to other family members as well. I already felt bad, but now feel worse. I must also point out that I have OCD and have had bouts of depression. I am currently on medication for the OCD and depression and am reasonably controlling them. I have been in therapy on and off but have never really taken any specifically aimed at anger or verbal abuse. Right now I feel so bad for how sad and upset I have made my family. I want to change and become a better person.

There are two things complicating the issue. One is that I feel like if I treat my wife and family so badly, what kind of person does that make me? I also feel very discouraged that I have been behaving this way for many years and am scared that I am not able to be helped or cured. I have alot of insecurity issues that complicate things. I know that a plan or course of action would help things and at least I could begin things. One of the things is, I'm sure, to get a good therapist, but how do I know or reasonably determine that I have found a good one?

Thank you, Scared but hopeful.

Dear Scared but Hopeful, First things first: It is normal and appropriate to feel badly over your past actions, but be mindful not to turn those feelings into an excuse for inaction or self pity! That is part of the life you want to give up, and it is V E R Y easy to go into those places.

Also, know that likely your greatest hurdle will be to maintain your motivation to stay on track in your treatment. Over time - which can be a few days or a few months, you are likely to lose interest and slowly ease back into your old ways. "Oh, this is a waste of time!", "Oh, this doesn't work.", "I'll never be OK." And so on. Do now allow yourself to do this! Back and forth is normal in growth. You WILL make mistakes. You WILL want to drop out of treatment, especially if you tend towards depression. Don't. All of this is just part of the growth process. Your job is to catch yourself and NOT PERMIT your heart, mind, and behavior to revert. After all, it is a CHOICE. You have to make a pact with yourself and your loved ones to stick it out no matter what!

Do stay on your meds. Meds make difficult emotions easier to handle.

When choosing a therapist, look for someone licensed or certified by your state who practices "evidence based" approaches, and who is experienced in anger issues. A practitioner using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and dialectic behavior therapy (DBT) for example, all fit the bill nicely. So does anger management treatment stemming from such approaches.

Pick a therapist you feel comfortable with, and then stick with them. Don't be afraid to try a few therapists out. The going will get tough, but it will also be extremely rewarding. Perhaps someone has a recommendation for you for a provider they like. Group therapy in addition to individual may also be a good idea since you'll really get that YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Essentially, you will learn to deal with your anxiety (which is what OCD is) and insecurity and fear (more anxiety) and control (even more anxiety!) without having to resort to hurtful tactics you picked up earlier in life. And this, you can do!

Wishing you the very best, Dr. Irene