Ask the Therapist

Q: I’ve never been very good at relationships, of any kind. I don’t even know how or where to begin.

A: Relationships begin with you, because you are half of any relationship you join. So start with yourself! Don’t count on a relationship to “cure” a poor self-image. It won’t work. But here are some measures that can:

  • Make an inventory of your best, most attractive qualities and affirm them to yourself often.
  • Remember, we are all imperfect. It is only when we can accept and embrace our imperfections can we be comfortable with ourselves.
  • Challenge yourself to accept and absorb compliments: a simple “thank you” raises self-esteem; negations, such as, “You like this outfit? I think it makes me look dumpy,” lower self-esteem.
  • Remember that there are no guarantees. Making gains requires taking risks. Seek out new experiences and people; then approach them with openness and curiosity. Each is an opportunity.

Q: I think I might be an alcoholic but how would I know for sure?

A: You may be an alcoholic and you’re not alone. Alcohol goes unrecognized as the most common drug abuse problem in our society.

The diagnosis of whether or not you are an alcoholic can simply begin by asking yourself, “Why do I think I might be an alcoholic?” Normal social drinkers don’t usually ask themselves that question unless there is a reason. Ask yourself, “Does my drinking cause me life problems?” Such problems can be — with the law, in the form of a DUI, — with your family, in the form of fights about your drinking, — with your employer, in the form of reprimands, with your doctor, in the form of a poor health report, etc. That is simply, if your drinking causes life problems, then it’s a problem. The diagnosis of alcoholism at that point is not very relevant. So, ask your friends, spouse or other family members who might be straight forward with you, what they think.

There is also a simple self-evaluation for alcoholism called the CAGE test; C is for Cut Down, A is for Anger, G is for Guilt, and E is for Eye-Opener. Each letter is associated with a question, and a yes to any of them indicates a drinking problem:

  • Have you tried to Cut Down on your drinking?
  • Do questions about your drinking make you Angry?
  • Do you feel Guilty about your actions when you drink?
  • Have you ever taken a drink, or a drug like aspirin or Advil as an Eye-Opener, that is, to calm you down or get you going in the morning?

Q: Where can I get help if I have a drinking problem?

A: Start with AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. They are free, they are everywhere, and they have a great deal of experience. AA isn’t perfect, but it’s the best place to begin. They know all about denial. They can help you. If you begin by following some of their prescribed steps you will be really pleased with the changes in your life. AA is not just about drinking. The AA philosophy is about life in general. It is a place where you can go and see your problem at a distance through other people. You can also observe how successful people deal with life problems.

Individual therapy also greatly increases your chances for success. Besides helping you deal with your drinking problem, a therapist can help you and your spouse get passed some of the problems that might have occurred as a result of your drinking. Therapy is confidential and a whole lot cheaper than divorce, poor health, unemployment, DUIs, or worse yet, jail.

Q: I am an attractive, educated, middle-aged divorced woman who is confused about relationships. I have dated several different men in the five years since my divorce but I find that I am attracted to “the wrong kind of guy” who is likely to hurt me. I know it sounds funny but I’m not attracted to the nice guys who want to be with me. Why do I always choose the guys who don’t love easily?

A: There can be many reasons for this tendency. The first step to understanding why you are attracted to the wrong type of guy is for you to examine and understand what the payoff is to catching him. For example, some women unconsciously believe that if they can get this “tough nut” to fall for them and to become a “new nice guy,” then they can prove to themselves that they are truly lovable.

Others might be confusing danger signs for excitement and passion. This is fairly common. Passionate relationships with the James Dean types can be fun at first and they are great tools for rebellion from a past lifestyle, but these guys are most often little boys with a narcissistic streak. They are usually looking for excessive admiration and for someone to take care of them.

Still others unconsciously believe that they are basically flawed and that if a nice guy likes them, then by extension, there must be something wrong with him. For many women this belief is rooted in a bad or confusing relationship that they might have had with their own father who gave confusing, critical or little attention to their daughter.A father’s job with his daughter is to teach her how men will treat her (respectfully one hopes) and to do so in a safe relationship where his daughter can experiment with how to get the attention she wants from her father who is the model for her future relationships with men. Of course, mothers play a similar role for their sons.