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Ask A Therapist: Low Self-Esteem, Technology Addict, and Fear of Relationships

Q: I feel like nothing I do matters and nobody really understands who I am. Every time I reach out to someone they let me down. I guess they just don’t care. The last few years I’ve taken to locking myself away in my bedroom to read or watch movies; it gives me more enjoyment than people do but I’m always feeling guilty about it too. I’m 19 years old and I’ve only kissed 4 guys ever, and never anything more. I’m afraid and self-conscious and I feel like I don’t get the opportunity to meet boys that other girls do. I know its my fault but its so hard to change, and I don’t know if I really want to be in a relationship anyway; I don’t think I’d be good at it at all. I’m always fighting with my parents, especially my dad; he yells at me a lot. I used to be so afraid of him when I was younger; he has quite the temper and is always criticizing me. My mother constantly nags me to go out more, to find a job, to stop watching so much TV, to eat better, to do more chores, to act older, the list goes on. I often get excited about little things and become quite childish and energetic, but the smallest thing can also send me into a spiral of sadness, anger or  frustration for the rest of the day. Both reactions seem to annoy my family. My few friends probably find it annoying too; if I could stand being thought ill of I’d probably ask  them. I always think if I were prettier or smarter or talented at anything, life would be better. I don’t want to be different or behind; I just wish things were easier. What should I do?

A: Thanks so much for writing in for help. The fact that you are reaching out for advice in this forum means you have some hope that things could be different for you, that you can feel differently about yourself and your life.

What you’re describing sounds like depression: social isolation, insecurities, withdrawing from activities, negative thoughts, hopelessness. First, I want you to go to your physician and have a physical to rule out any physical illness. While you’re there please talk to your doctor about your hopelessness, isolation and fears. See if medication is an option for you. Your tendency to turn toward technology may be a way to numb your emotional pain.

Also, ask your doctor for a referral to a psychotherapist in your area to work on ways to improve your mood, gain self-confidence, and gain relationship skills. You may also want to consider asking your parents to attend family therapy  to improve your family relationships.  Even though you’re 19, it sounds as if  you’re still stuck in experiencing the “childhood” disapproval of your father, and criticism of your mother, and letting those emotions dictate, on some level, how you feel about yourself. The good news is, you can feel differently.

Your family relationships greatly impact how you feel about other relationships.  If you think about your relationship with your dad as the “template” for male relationships, and you experienced him as scary and critical, then it makes sense that you would be hesitant to open up to other male relationships, like friendships and dating relationships.  It makes sense that you’d have only a few female friends, too, because you’ve experienced your mother as nagging and constantly correcting you. She is your model of how to relate to women so you likely may fear disapproval in your female friendships as well. Your therapist can help free you from these patterns so you can experience relationships with others differently, and not as extensions of your parental relationships.

In addition to meeting with your physician and therapist, I’d like to recommend a couple of books to you: “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by Dr. David Burns and “The Relationship Cure” by Dr. John Gottman. Both books will provide excellent tools and new perspectives on yourself and your relationships.

Thanks again for writing in. Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

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Ask The Therapist: How Can I Heal My Friendship?

I have a friend that I care deeply for. Over the last two years since she has known me I know that I have emotionally been dependent on her. I haven’t been as bad at this as I have been in the past but now she has let me know that she doesn’t want any contact with me. I know without much background information it would be hard to answer this question. I have been told that I do have some traits of Borderline Personality Disorder and I do recognize that I have fears of abandonment, right now it’s a fear of her abandonment of the friendship. We do go to the same church so I do see her there. I want to heal this relationship but not sure how. I want to respect her wish to not have contact with me but I would do anything to help heal this relationship.

A: Thank you for writing in. What a difficult situation to find yourself in. You are being faced with the very thing that you are afraid of. This “time out” from your friendship can be an opportunity for personal insight and growth. Please respect your friend’s boundaries and need for space right now while you take time to reflect and identify your emotional patterns that have pushed her away.

Click the arrow below to hear my full response.

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Take good care of yourself,

Julie Hanks, LCSW

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