Nothing is put here without permission from the writer.
Letters are always edited for confidentiality, and sometimes for grammar
PLEASE CHECK BACK OFTEN!
Some letters will be here permanently. Others will be displayed only briefly.
The latest additions will always be at the beginning.
Some of these letters are much longer than my typical responses.
My words are in italics.
DEPENDENCE / INDEPENDENCE
This letter is about what it means to be independent.
It's a good supplement to the topic
Three Stages of Relationships
Hi. I normally consider myself an independent person,
however with my boyfriend, I find that I am very dependent.
It's in our "primary relationships" that our
dependence shows up...
I just read on your page that a dependent person needs to
get what they need in order to move up to the next level.
Yes, that's correct....
I took that to mean that I need to get enough love and attention
from my boyfriend before I can move up, but I am not in control of how
much attention he gives me. This makes me feel stuck here in dependency.
Did I understand this wrong? How am I supposed to get out of dependency
and into interdependency?
An excellent question...! (And one that a lot of people should ask,
but don't...!) Here is the rather complicated answer: Your age matters
a lot. Considering what you've written, I'd say that if you are in your
early 20's you may simply be talking about a very normal degree of "dependence"
and that just absorbing a normal amount of love from your boyfriend and
one or two close friends might be all you need....
If you are much older than that and you have had a few
close friends and/or relationships since you were in your late teens,
you may need to learn a lot about how to ABSORB the love and attention
that's around you a lot better than you have been....
And if you are older than your early 20's but you have NOT had
many close friends or relationships since the late teens, you may need
to learn BOTH how to form close relationships AND how to absorb the love
that's there for you....
Some very important precautions or aspects of this question:
1) You need attention, but you absolutely do NOT need to get it
all from ANY one person.... As a matter of fact, if you try to get your
dependency needs met from your boyfriend alone it is almost sure to fail....
(The relationship might seem "one-sided" to BOTH of you... He
might feel you are "wanting too much" or "never satisfied"
and you will almost certainly feel that he ignores you too much, doesn't
really care enough for you, etc....) --- Only in infancy do we get our
dependency needs met through ONE person (mother).... After that our attention
and love is supposed to come from one FAVORITE source (your boyfriend..)
and many other people who also love and care about you.... -- A
way to think about this is that dependency needs are met by a "mother"
and in adulthood this "mother" can be made up of MANY different
people! It's as if we "construct" one "mother" from
all the people who care about us.....
2) Another complication.... Dependent people tend to want
to feel "taken care of" by their partners but this is only ONE
important part of a relationship with your boyfriend - and if you emphasize
this one part (him taking care of you...) you will BOTH feel bad because
all the other important parts can get ignored.... [...If you want to learn
what the other important parts of a relationship are, take the Relationship
Analysis questionnaire at my site.... This would be a good idea for
3) Bottom Line: If your dependency needs are not being
met and you are past age 25 or so, it'd be a great idea to see a therapist
about this - NOT because you are "different" or "crazy"
or anything like this, but because facing it now will pay off IMMENSELY
for the rest of your life.... [... MOST people - probably 60-70% or so
- have rather serious dependency issues MOST OF THEIR LIFE!.... It's only
the healthiest among us who take good care of them during our 20's...!...
Again, thanks for an EXCELLENT question!
Hope you'll write back soon....
COMMENT: Sally did write back soon, and told me
that her age placed her in the normal range of dependency. But she also
said she'd go to a therapist to take full advantage of resolving issues
related to her early years. (... which shows that people can be
somewhat dependent but still be Extremely Mature...!)
VIOLENCE IN THE FAMILY
This is the whole letter, just as I received it. There
was no "greeting" and no "sign-off," just these few,
brief, nasty-sounding lines:
"You say that physical discipline is abusive, right?
Well what about those children that knocks the hell out of their
parents? Besides talking to them, what would you do?"
Thank you for writing to me at my Self-Therapy web site!
Your letter is very important and I want to respond to it thoroughly.
Children who knock the hell out of their parents have
certainly learned to be abusive from some source... and one of the sources
is probably their parents - who either directly abused them physically
or who "allowed" someone else to do it without protecting the
child the way parents are supposed to. Even though the parents they
are abusing are the very people who taught them to "believe in"
violence in the first place, that does NOT make it right and they should
not be allowed to get away with it.
ANYONE who physically abuses others needs to stop it immediately...
and, if they refuse to stop, they need to be locked away from the rest
of society. "Talking to them" should only be tried AFTER they've
stopped abusing (either on their own or by being forced to stop by a prison
One of the sickest things about our culture is that we
believe in "punishment" rather than "learning."
Think about a small child getting a severe whipping, or
an adult sitting in a brutal prison... In both cases we can assume the
person did something that people around them considered "wrong."
And in both cases the person receiving the punishment totally loses sight
of the wrong thing that THEY did and focuses, instead, on the wrong things
that are being done TO them!
The child and the prisoner are both NATURALLY going to
hate their abusers, and - since they "believe in" violence and
vengeance - they are also going to vow to get even some day.
This is why violence creates violence which creates more
Thanks for the excellent question!
SOME ADDED COMMENTS:
It may seem contradictory that I say prisons are horrible
places and I also say abusers should be sent there.
This doesn't need to be contradictory... Abusers and others
who do not stop crime on their own should be locked away from the rest
of us, but they should be sent to HUMANE places where people are treated
WELL and where they can learn how to get along in the real world.
If prisons were actually like this, the rest of us would
probably feel frustrated sometimes because we aren't getting enough "revenge"
- but that would be good for us! Wanting revenge is a "cousin"
to believing in violence! They both come from a kind of cruel and simplistic
thinking that always backfires.
About The Original Letter:
I wondered about that original letter as soon as I saw
it. It didn't seem like any other letter I had ever received because of
the brevity and the almost "put on" grammar, etc. But, of course
it deserved as thorough a response as any other letter.
My curiosity was never fully satisfied, however, because
the following entirely different letter came to me from the same source
after they had received my response:
"Thanks so much for being honest to the world,
this is my first time on your page and I am very impressed..... There
is nothing like someone telling it like it is, especially in your profession.....
May God forever bless your life and strengthen you as you strengthen
I think I was being "tested" by someone, and
I guess I passed.....
SUICIDAL TIME BOMB?
Making a "No Suicide Contract" With Yourself.
I am a woman, age 20. Lately I've felt very alone and that no
one completely relates to or understands me. My father killed himself
when I was very young, and a few years ago I became very suicidal - both
attempting with sleeping pills and writing essays about it. One day a
teacher happened upon one of the essays and sent it to my counselor who
called my mom suggesting I go to a group therapy class. I refused this
treatment saying that what the essay talked about was "just a phase
that I was going through" and that I was fine. But I'm not, and I
What would be little things, such as break-ups, to other people are
what crash my world. If someone is mean or acts without respect for me
I take it as a direct insult and it makes me feel like everyone hates
me. While on the phone recently I tried cluing my boyfriend in on how
I was feeling, but when he displayed any sort of caring reaction I hung
up on him. I have retreated like this many times saying that nothing is
wrong, keeping my true thoughts and feelings to myself only to be let
out when I cry and yell them out at myself in the privacy of my room.
When I purge these feelings I get very depressed and that is when I become
suicidal. It's like another person is controlling what I'm saying.
I know that EVERYONE doesn't hate me, that I'm not too bad a person
or terribly ugly, but during these times when my emotions are running
high, I scream and cry telling myself over and over I'm ugly, that I don't
deserve my friends, and that I'm a terrible person, and I cry myself to
sleep. When I wake up in the morning I feel fine. But when my feelings
are getting close to the point of explosion I feel like a time bomb. I
can't have heavy conversations with my friends, or when I do I end up
lying about how I really feel and I act out on them by ignoring them or
getting angry at them for no apparent reason at all. What will start out
as joking around or acting I will turn into "real" anger.
My questions are: I feel like a time bomb. When my feelings are
building inside of me I can't have heavy conversations with my friends,
and when I do I end up lying about how I really feel and I act out on
them by ignoring them or getting angry at them for no apparent reason
at all. My brain hasn't been working to what I think is it's full potential,
either. I know I have low self-esteem and have been told so many times
before, but it feels like something else is really wrong with me. What
is wrong with me, and what can I do to make the other part of me want
help like the rest of me does?
I wonder why you keep turning down caring and love in your life?
Why it even infuriates you sometimes, like with your boyfriend... and
why you haven't gone to a therapist yet even though you clearly know that
you had to lie your way out of it in the past (the essay)...?
You didn't really say much about how you were taken care of by your
parents, but of course the fact that your father killed himself says a
whole lot. When someone tells me that they get furious whenever someone
shows that they care, I ask them: "So who was it in your life who
hurt you terribly when they were being caring, or when they at least should
have been caring toward you...?"
In your case at least one of these people is known. Your father.
It was his job to take care of you, and he left you instead. You might
fully understand as an adult that he did this out of his own reasons and
complex issues, but as a child all you knew is that someone who should
have taken care of you abandoned you at a young age when you needed them.
Depending on how old you were when he did this, you might even have blamed
yourself. (Kids tend to blame themselves for nearly everything, because
they are so centered on themselves that they actually believe they are
both the cause and the effect of everything around them!)
Even though caring infuriates you, you need it a lot! We all
do, of course, but you definitely need someone to help you fight these
horrible name-calling sessions you put yourself through. The "purging"
you refer to is more like a ritual of self-loathing.... and of course
you feel bad afterwards! If you would allow yourself to put just
as much energy into directing your anger at others, especially people
who hurt you when you were very young - even if you did it alone in your
room the way you do these other things - you would almost certainly feel
quite good afterwards.
You definitely seem to be depressed. And I want you to understand
that depression is almost always a cover for anger - and that when we
think we hate ourselves we are actually showing that we have a lot of
anger at others. Anger is an "external" emotion, not an internal
one. While we can "think" that we are angry at ourselves, we
really never are! Anger is always about someone else or some thing else,
not about ourselves.
Now I want to talk to you very directly about suicide. I want to
give you a statement - called a "no suicide contract" - that
I want you to read very, very closely. Here it is: "I will never,
under any circumstances - on purpose or by accident, by doing something
or by failing to do something - kill myself! And if I ever figure
a clever way out of this contract I'm making with myself, I will not take
You need to make such an air-tight contract with yourself soon. You've
sort of got the cart before the horse because you are wanting your daily
life to get better BEFORE you make this kind of an agreement with yourself
- but the truth is that we all need to give ourselves a guarantee that
we will never kill ourselves BEFORE our lives can improve very much at
Think about it this way. You've been walking around all these years
with someone who is threatening to kill you! (That's YOU!) How good of
a life do you think I could have if I had someone with me 24 hours every
day who said "Maybe some day, if things don't go well, I will kill
You will actually find that when you get yourself to the point of
really MEANING every word in the no-suicide contract, your life will almost
automatically improve in the months after that. You may feel really light-headed
and maybe even a bit confused the day you make the contract with yourself
(from a newfound sense of freedom that you aren't at all used to...),
but in the days and months that follow you will see a lot of positive
changes in your daily life. I want you to know that these good things
are LIKELY to happen although they are not guaranteed, and I also want
to remind you that your contract with yourself needs to mean that even
if things don't go better and even if they actually go badly in your life
you still won't commit suicide!
There is a lot of information for you at my "Help Yourself Therapy"
site about depression. I hope you'll read this information and that you'll
write back to me about what you think about what you read, etc.
By the way, it's a good idea for absolutely everyone to make that
no-suicide contract. Most of the people who haven't made this kind of
agreement with themselves are very unhappy, even though very, very few
of them would actually end up killing themselves. We all need to know
at the very least that we value ourselves enough to never, ever kill ourselves!
Thanks for writing and for this chance to help!
I sincerely hope you will use my comments as a guide of some sort
for you as you pursue therapy with a competent therapist. (Remember, if
the first therapist doesn't feel right for you, you may need to try another
one until you find one that does feel right. Therapists come in many personality
types and we all are a good "match" only for some percentage
of the people we meet. It's your job to figure out who you match with
and who you don't.)
Hope you'll keep in touch!
EVERYTHING IS FINE... NOT!
Mild to Moderate Depression.
(Similar to info in "Depression:
What To Do About It")
I have been experiencing an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction
with my life, specifically my career and my relationships. My job, relationships
with boyfriend, friends, and family are just 'okay'. But I don't feel
happy or any sense of satisfaction from any of these. I want to find something
that will fulfill my needs, but I don't know where to start. I think maybe
my spiritual self needs nurturing, but my inner conflicts (from childhood,
etc.) keep me from going there.
What steps should I take to find out what it will take to make me happy?
Dear 30-year-old woman:
It sounds to me that you are depressed, probably not severely but
still enough to matter greatly.
Depressed people are angry people who won't admit it. They tend to
say nothing at all when they should be saying: "Get out of my way!"
or something similar. Your "blahs" (depression) probably started
when someone hurt you in some way and you told yourself that you "understood"
and were not angry.
Anger is a natural emotion, which occurs whenever there is something
in our way. We probably get at least a little angry about 20 times each
When we act on our anger in a safe but fully expressive way, we are
saying: "I count, and what I want matters." When we don't take
action we are saying: "You count, I don't." Ignoring our anger
too well for too long can eventually make us feel that nothing matters
Professionals debate whether truly major depression is biological,
psychological, or both. But everyone agrees that all depression, mild
to severe, shows the need for better self-care.
You have probably heard: "We all get depressed sometimes."
To the extent that this is true, it is a sad reflection of our guilt-ridden
culture. It is not a reflection of some biological predisposition toward
being depressed. (Some large cultures don't even have a word for it in
Any depression is a problem, and regularly occurring depression is
a serious problem. If the suggestions given here do not help, therapy
(either with or without medication) can speed things up considerably.
Here are the most concrete ideas I have for you. Just work your way
down the list and spend as much time on each item as you need. You'll
notice that you are finished with an item when you have experienced what
I describe under "What You'll Learn".
Notice how prevalent anger is. Just go about your normal day and
notice every time you see even the slightest sign of anger in the people
What You'll Learn: You'll see that anger does occur about 20 times
Notice how safe anger can be. Notice how people use their anger to
get what they want, and how seldom they "get in trouble" for
What You'll Learn: You'll see that some people almost always get
angry responses from others when they express their anger, but most people
do not. Decide to learn from those who do not.
Make a list, on paper, of the best examples you can find of how people
around you use their anger effectively. Put an asterisk on the examples
you like most. Notice how often these people get what they want when they
express their anger.
What You'll Learn: You'll show yourself how safe anger can be. You'll
see that everyone has their own unique style of expressing anger, and
that one or more of these styles "feels right" for you to use.
You'll learn that people who express their anger get what they want much
more often than people who do not.
Learn the physical sensation you feel whenever you get angry ("tight
shoulder," "tense stomach," "pain in my chest,"
etc.). Notice that you get this same sensation every time you are angry
- and that it varies from very slight to very strong depending on how
angry you are. Get good at noticing even the slightest sensations of anger.
What You'll Learn: After accomplishing this task you will always
know when you are angry, how strong your anger is, and how much energy
you have to deal with each anger-inducing situation.
Begin to express your anger more and more, based on what you've learned
about how others express their anger. Notice what happens to your depression.
What You'll Learn: The more anger you use, the less depressed you
Continue to experiment with expressing your anger. Focus on the results
you get. Compare what actually happens with what you thought would happen.
(In other words, compare reality to your scary fantasies.)
What You'll Learn: You will learn that your scary fantasies are far
worse than what happens in real life. Most people will learn that their
scary fantasies were based on childhood realities, not on adult realities.
When you are no longer depressed you will feel stronger, more energetic,
and more enthused. You will have a renewed interest in all kinds of pleasure.
Daily problems will still be there, but they will bother you much less.
You will even begin to find opportunities where you used to find only
Your relationships will improve immensely, just because you are less
depressed. Everyone will enjoy being with you more because of your energy
You mentioned that you think that you may be wanting a better spiritual
life but childhood conflicts prevent you from going there.
Our desire for a mature spiritual life, however, does not usually
spring from times when we are feeling "blah" or pleasureless.
Urges for mature spiritual growth are more likely to occur when we are
filled with joy and happy about the pleasures in our life.
Therefore, I wonder if your reference to childhood incidents involving
spirituality might be a clue to one of the "base angers" you
have kept since childhood and that still need to be faced and expressed
fully and safely.
I sincerely hope these words are helpful for you.
I hope I'll hear from you again with some news about how you are
doing, what worked for you and what didn't work, etc.
This is my response to the letter I received....
Hi! (Will you please give me a first name? Even a fake one
Thanks for writing to me at my "Self-Therapy" site!
Here is what you said to me in your letter....
I am a 31 yr old female living in the Denver area. I have been in
counseling or some form of therapy since I was 17. When you said feeling
guilty is our way to avoid changing our behavior was very enlightening.
I feel guilty that I am not a good enough mom (my son is 21 mos.) and
that my wanting a divorce is wrong. I was only married 1 1/2 years.
I moved out in June, and I don't see my son the way I used to. Sometimes
I just like to be alone, but then I am alone and I feel guilty for not
wanting to be with my son all the time. I am about 75 pounds overweight,
and I know this is a reflection of my life. I am always too tired to
change anything. I am not a good worker, I come in late or not at all,
I lie to cover up things, and I succeed in pulling the wool over other
people's eyes. I am a good actress. I want to change, but then I think
I must now want it bad enough because I never change. I sleep whenever
I can. I want a quick fix, but I know there is none. Any ideas?
I've got LOTS of ideas, and maybe some of them will even work for
you! (In other words, I know that MOST of them won't work for you RIGHT
NOW... but see if you can find the ones that CAN work right now, OK...??)
Find and stick with ONE good therapist.
Make sure that you look into your CHILDHOOD as well as into your
adulthood in therapy.
Realize that you are depressed and that this is changeable through
knowing that you have a lot of unexpressed ANGER at other people and
definitely NOT at yourself!!
Expect that you will find MOST of this hidden anger is there
because of YOUNG experiences (not just current things).
Look for major abuse in your life. (I say this because the AMOUNT
of your depression seems big, therefore the amount of your hidden
anger must also be big - and abuse is what causes such large amounts
of young anger...).
Realize that you don't want to be with your son for REASONS that
relate to your OWN self care! And that, at least right now, those
reasons are GOOD ENOUGH reasons (as long as the child is being well
cared for by someone else, of course...).
Realize the same things about the end of your marriage.
Realize that you DO have good enough reasons EVEN IF YOU DON'T
KNOW YET what those reasons ARE!
Do some "body work" (anything from getting massages
to learning Karate or something...)! This is so you can FEEL
how POWERFUL and CAPABLE you are! This is very important!
- Be PROUD that you are a "good actress" and then only
use it when you NEED to! (And don't think you "need to" when
you are only hiding some error or mistake you've made... We ALL make
these errors, etc., and hiding from them only makes them seem LOTS worse!...)
- Keep telling yourself that you have NEVER been angry AT YOURSELF
in your life (even though you have THOUGHT that you were many, many
times....)! Anger is an EXTERNAL emotion! It is ALWAYS at someone or
some thing OUTSIDE of ourselves!!
- I'm sure you are aware of medications and such for depression...
They are the only "quick fixes" available, and they only work
to "round out the rough edges" they don't completely get rid
of the depression...
- Realize that YES, things DO "take time" but that there
is ALWAYS SOMETHING that you can do RIGHT NOW and TODAY that WILL HELP
YOU!!! (In other words, you will get better and better all the time.
Of course you won't stay feeling horrible until some magic day when
it ALL disappears... it will actually be a matter of CONSTANT improvement
in how you feel... as a result of constant improvement in how you treat
Now two ideas that relate specifically to me:
Read EVERY article at my "Self-Therapy" site... Read
them "with your heart" (FEELing every word..).... If you
find one that "hits home," read it over and over (at least
once each day for 5 days)... If you find one that makes you want to
"run away" read THAT over and over too!...
Continue writing to me or to some other good "e-mail therapist,"
asking questions, telling us how you feel, etc... You can "supplement"
your regular therapy in this way if you and your therapist agree that
it is good for you to do so... It can help a lot because it can be
much more frequent than your appointments, you can write whenever
you like and get a quick response, etc... (You can even show our letters
to the therapist whenever you like, so that you 'coordinate' what
we talk about with what you and your therapist are doing...).
THANKS for caring enough about yourself to write to me!! And for
trusting me enough just from the stuff you saw at my site to ask for my
I'll be looking forward to your next letter, and I hope it will be
PS -- Would it be OK if I used this letter I have just written to
you at my site? [.. I've been looking for some way to show people how
e-mail therapy works, and this response seems like it would be a good
letter to use for that purpose....] --- Let me know...
(NOTE: She did write back, spoke about her abusive childhood, and
made arrangements for simultaneous in-person therapy in her city along
with online counseling.
Please Tell Your Friends About
Enjoy Your Changes!
Everything here is designed to help you do just that!
Write To Me, I Want To Hear From You!
Tony Schirtzinger, Therapist (Milwaukee)
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