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7 Rules in Shame-Based Families

Teen Family Time
Shame has been a popular psychotherapy topic in social media lately and due to its fame it is frequently on my mind.  Today I’ve been thinking specifically about shame-based families and how this toxic feeling is often handed down through generations.
Shame can be passed through a family in myriad ways.  A common path is for it to travel through family rules.  With some prompting, maybe you can recall some of your family’s rules.  What rules did your family have about touching and sexuality?  What were the rules regarding marriage, money, vacations, religion, socializing…?
In John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame That Binds You he outlines 7 rules that are maintained by shame-based families.
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Ask A Therapist: I’m Sexually Attracted To My Therapist

Okay, so recently I started getting therapy for a few issues in my life and I have this therapist. Obviously, it’s their job to listen and what not, but it’s such a new thing for me to have someone listen and understand!! I have normal relationships and what not, but I don’t talk about what’s going on in my life. And well, like I said, this therapist, he listens!! And I don’t know how it started, but now I’m attracted to him and think about him all the time. Yikes! And I had therapy the other day and I was feeling a bit awkward sometimes because in my head I was thinking about him sexually!! And he was right there in front of me. Not good but so good at the same time! But yeah nothing will happen anyway because 1. he’s my therapist and that goes against code and 2. he’s married anyway. But it doesn’t stop me from thinking about him that way. I don’t know if I have control over my actions but don’t want to lose him as a therapist! And if I ask him for help about it, I guess I probably will. I can’t ask anyway… too awkward. And I don’t want to start again with a new therapist. So please give me some ideas! Oh, and if this helps in anyway, I have bipolar…. but I guess I’m not the first person in the world to be attracted to my therapist so maybe it doesn’t! (18 year old female who recently started therapy)

A: How wonderful that you are able to open up to your therapist and feel listened to. You are not alone in having a sexual attraction to your therapist and there’s a name for it — erotic transference — and it’s actually a quite common experience in therapy.  Transference can be worked through in the therapeutic relationship and that process can help you experience and resolve the deeper issues in your life. I hear that you are afraid of losing this relationship if you disclose your feelings to your therapist and that you’ll have to start all over.  Assuming your therapist is skilled and experienced, he will be able to help you work through this attraction.  Start slow in sharing your feelings. Let him know that you’re scared to share these feelings and that you want help to understand what they really mean.  When sharing your transference with your therapist, remember that your feelings are information about your deeper emotional longings, wounds, and needs, and are not about your actual relationship with your therapist. You’ll get through this. Thanks again for having the courage to write to “Ask the Therapist.”

Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

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Ask A Therapist: I Deal With Abusive Boyfriend By Cutting And Binging

Q: Hi, I am 19 year old girl in my 2nd year of college. I currently live with my boyfriend of 4 years who is 25 years old. Our relationship used to be really good, but now all we do is argue. A few years ago I was flirting with other guys and he has never forgiven me for it. He constantly tells me he doesn’t trust me, and when he gets mad he tells me he hates me, that I should crawl in a hole in die, that he can’t stand to look at me, and many profanities. He spends no time with me so I spend the majority of time home all alone, which is the main issue because that gives me all the time alone I need to self-destruct.

I can’t stand myself, I hate everything about me. I’m fat and ugly, sometimes I don’t even know why I bother trying to make it through life nothing ever goes as planned. I feel like I am constantly starving myself or if not eating ridiculous amounts of food and then feeling guilty so that I either make myself puke or cut myself. I can’t control it, I feel like if I can make myself attractive my boyfriend will love me again but I can’t even take care of myself. The worst was when he caught me binging and freaked out along the lines of “No wonder I’m always starving, you eat all the food. For once I wish you would save some for me instead of stuffing your face all the time.” And despite hearing that I still continue to stuff my face… I can’t help myself… maybe I deserve to be fat. I can’t even decide what is worse, the purging or the self-harm. Both cause me discomfort and to feel like a failure, but in the end neither make me prettier…they just make me uglier. This also causes me to spend way too much money on food…I am $20,000 in debt with my bank because of all the money I waste on food. I eat too much so now I cant even barely afford anything…which my boyfriend also blames me for…rightfully, it is my fault.

I just don’t know what to do. I have thought about trying to see a therapist regularly but I’m too embarrassed. I don’t want to make known just how disgusting I am. I don’t want anyone to know how much I eat. I don’t want anyone to know how my boyfriend treats me. I just want to be a normal person… I want to be happy, and loved…what do I have to do to be okay?? 🙁

A: Even though you’re embarrassed, please go see a therapist ASAP. Licensed therapists are trained to help individuals and couples in crisis resolve your problems and help you, not to judge you. Just by reading this letter I can sense the depth of your pain, I have empathy for you,  and I want to help you. This is how your therapist will feel too when you meet with him or her face to face. If you’re not sure where to find a therapist in your area click the Find Help tab at the top of this page for a listing. There are likely earlier roots to your self-destructive eating patterns, cutting, and dysfunctional relationship that can be explored and healed in therapy and are beyond the scope of what I can offer here.

What you’re describing in relationship with your boyfriend is verbal and emotional abuse. No one deserves to be told by their lover “I hate you” or “You should just crawl in a hole and die.”  That is heartbreaking to hear and needs to stop if you are ever going to gain self-esteem and confidence to change your life. Your therapist can help you to build  relationships skills and to help you come up with a plan to stand up for yourself when your boyfriend becomes verbally abusive.

In addition to meeting with a therapist regularly, I suggest you start seeking out books, blogs, and other resources and start arming yourself with more knowledge and tools to help you feel stronger and more competent. Here are some excellent resources right here at Psych Central to help you get started:

Weightless Blog
Eating Disorder & Binge Eating Info
Self-injury Forum
Relationship & Communication Forum
Eating Disorder Community Forum

Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

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Ask A Therapist: Anger Issues Due To Childhood Abuse

Q: I have acknowledged the fact that I have an anger problem, but I have not been able to find a way to deal with it. When I get angry I scream, curse, and get verbally abusive with the person that I am angry with. I have broken objects by throwing them across the room or by simply breaking them myself. I have injured myself by punching and kicking walls and random objects. Whenever I try to control my anger I feel light-headed, weak and shaky. After my anger passes I feel frustrated because I couldn’t control myself and break down in tears.

I have seen a therapist before for my anger issues and it only helped me for a couple of days before I was my old self again. While in therapy the therapist handed me a paper with a list of questions, one of the questions being; “have you ever been sexually abused?” I answered no, even though I experienced sexual abuse as a child. When I was 7 I started being abused by a close family member, it lasted until I turned 11 1/2 years old (when I started puberty.) I have never told anybody about it because I feel embarrassed and ashamed of the fact that the abuse lasted for so long. I know that the abuse was not my fault but I find myself constantly blaming myself for it because I never told anyone about it. I’m now 21 years old and I am afraid that I will hurt someone due to my anger. The relationships that I have been in before have not lasted long due to my anger and I’m tired of not being in control of my emotions.

I am seeking advice for what I should do to try and resolve my problem. I know that by talking about my abuse with someone I might be able to let the emotions that I have locked inside out, but I know that I will never be able to talk to someone about it due to the embarrassment that I feel. So I’m kind of at an edge here. Any type of advice would be helpful and greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

Click the arrow below to listen to the therapist’s response…

Play
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To find a therapist who can help resolve your abuse issues click Find Help.  Please visit www.malesurvivor.org for more resources to heal from male childhood sexual abuse.

Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

*This is my first Ask the Therapist AUDIO response. What do you think? Like it, hate it? Let me know your thoughts.

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