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Counseling Letters


Nothing is put here without permission from the writer.
Letters are always edited for confidentiality, and sometimes for grammar and clarity.

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 Sally!

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 you anyway....]

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....

    Tony S

    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?"

<>

MY RESPONSE:

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 sentence).

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 violence.

Thanks for the excellent question!

Tony S

<>

SOME ADDED COMMENTS:

About Prisons:

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 others."

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 know it.

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 it."

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 all!

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!"???

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!

Tony Schirtzinger

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?

30-year-old woman

<>

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 day.

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 at all.

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 their language!)

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 around you.

What You'll Learn: You'll see that anger does occur about 20 times every day.

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 it.

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 will feel.

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 problems!

Your relationships will improve immensely, just because you are less depressed. Everyone will enjoy being with you more because of your energy and spontaneity.

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.

Sincerely,

Tony Schirtzinger

THE BLAHS

This is my response to the letter I received....

=======

Hi!  (Will you please give me a first name? Even a fake one if necessary...??)

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...??)

  1. Find and stick with ONE good therapist.

  2. Make sure that you look into your CHILDHOOD as well as into your adulthood in therapy.

  3. 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!!

  4. Expect that you will find MOST of this hidden anger is there because of YOUNG experiences (not just current things).

  5. 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...).

  6. 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...).

  7. Realize the same things about the end of your marriage.

  8. Realize that you DO have good enough reasons EVEN IF YOU DON'T KNOW YET what those reasons ARE!

  9. 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!

  10. 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!...)

  11. 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!!

  12. 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...

  13. 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 yourself...)

Now two ideas that relate specifically to me:

  1. 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!...

  2. 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 help!

I'll be looking forward to your next letter, and I hope it will be soon....

Tony S

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.

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Tony Schirtzinger, Therapist (Milwaukee) 

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