Hi there, and welcome! This advice forum is intended to enlighten, educate and empower you. At present, I can only answer queries under 150 words, due to time constraints. Selected emails are responded to here, and newer entries appear at the top of this page. Your note may be edited to provide greater clarity for other visitors, and your privacy is always stringently protected. If you are not comfortable with these terms, please make sure you address this in your letter, and I will respect your preferences. Earlier Forum entries relating to specific topics have been archived, and can be located under Articles, or accessed through these links: Sex & Love Forum * Borderline Personality Forum * Therapy Mishaps Forum * Narcissistic Personality Forum * Health Matters Forum. Your contributions to this wellness site are greatly appreciated, and thank you for sharing it with your friends! Follow PsychSavant at Twitter.com


Q. What happens, if my therapist screws up a booking with me and misses our session?

A. First, you should get a sincere apology! I personally charge my clients for missed sessions (if I haven't received 24-hours cancellation notice, and their failure to meet doesn't involve a true emergency). If it's my error or screw-up, I compensate them--unless it's due to an unavoidable emergency. [More letters like this are archived here.]

Q. Do therapists get upset when a client leaves?

A. Depends on the therapist. Personally, I'm always a bit sad when a client terminates treatment before they're equipped to manage their personal and professional life in a fruitful manner, but respect their decision to leave. It's pretty disappointing to care for these folks and see their potential, but have to accept that they'll likely never reach it.

Q. Shari, my ex-boyfriend and I broke up about 2 months ago, because I want a relationship that leads to marriage and family, and he doesn't. We still see each other (for sex) and I still love him. My question is, will he eventually come around, and commit to me--or am I wasting my time, and being stupid?

A. I think this more about naivete and wishful thinking, than anything else. If marriage and kids are truly priorities for you, you'll begin searching for a man you can love, who shares those values. If not, you're likely to remain precisely where you are, and continue this relationship on his terms.

Q. Can a fetus feel the mother's thoughts?

A. No--the fetus isn't a mind-reader, and doesn't feel thoughts! What's true, is that he/she co-experiences the mother's emotions/feelings and moods.

Q. I miss my therapist. I grew very close to her while I was in weekly sessions, and felt she really cared about me (she'd check-in now and then to see how I was doing). I kinda wish she were still doing this from time to time, as I feel like maybe she's forgotten me (out of sight, out of mind). What do you think?

A. I cannot speak for others in the helping professions, but can you try to view this issue from a broader perspective than just yours alone? You bring up an individual clinical choice that must be made by every professional, and it's not a black or white issue. Some clinicians 'send out the ships' if/when their practice gets a little sparce, and you may hear from them at that time. Others maintain a sincere interest concerning your progress after you've left treatment, and wrestle with what it might mean to you if they make contact (might you feel it's solicitous, do they not have faith that you're doing fine, etc.). My sense is, if your well-being really mattered to them, that doesn't stop when treatment ends. A 'pit stop' or occasional session now and then if you feel a need for this contact, might be helpful. [More letters like this are archived here.]

Q. Shari, I'm wondering if something's wrong with me. I have rape fantasies when I'm masturbating or having sex with someone, yet I don't really want to do the things I envision, that always excite me and bring me to a speedy orgasm. Am I weird, or is this normal?

A. Relax--you're completely normal. Fantasies are simply explorations into behaviors and facets of yourself, you'd likely never welcome in reality (much like certain material in your dreams). It's sort of like 'trying-on' a racey outfit you wouldn't allow yourself to buy or wear. Domination fantasies are very normal--especially among powerful, independent females. It's the one place they don't have to be 'in charge.' Men in powerful positions might engage in sex play with a dominatrix, for the same reason. There's no reason you have to blend your fantasies with your real experiences, unless you want to. [More letters like this are archived here.]

Q. Hi Shari! I am not a therapist but an LCSW in hospice care. I am currently working with a young woman who is my same age, and who's terminally ill with cancer. She has a husband I have been working with as well but very limited--usually around concrete stuff. Cutting to the chase, I am attracted to him and he seems to be attracted to me as well. I find myself having fantasies about him and need some guidelines as to when or if ever dating him would be acceptable. I have never ever felt this way about a client before, and feel terribly guilty about wanting this poor woman's husband. Please advise!

A. I can sure appreciate your predicament--but dating your client's husband is off limits. I'm wondering how rich/rewarding your personal life is, outside of your work. Is your private time nourishing and balanced? Do you like and respect yourself? Caregivers typically have poor/unhealthy boundaries due to self-worth issues, like always putting the needs of others ahead of their own. Their self-esteem is contingent on how well they take care of everyone else, and self-care is usually foreign to them. Given that you've implied this attraction is overpowering/uncontrollable, I believe you're ethically obligated to request a transfer to a different patient--in short, stop working with this couple. Your natural inclination might be to help this man through difficult times ahead, which could actually heighten your enthusiasm--but there may be danger ahead for you. This married man is unavailable. He will not be ready or able to Love again, until he fully grieves the loss of his wife--which could take some years. At best, you'll be starting a romance with someone who has lots of unfinished emotional business, and you'll be the 'transitional relationship.' He could very well dump you, as soon as he recovers from this terrible loss--because he'll associate difficult/painful memories of his wife's sickness and death with You! Study this article, and get a grip on yourself.

Q. I've begun dating a woman who's telling me she has borderline disorder, or BPD. She says she's afraid of hurting me, and that I should be cautious. I like this gal a lot, and she's totally gorgeous and sexy--so I'm not sure what I should do.

A. Believe her. [More letters like this are archived here.]

Q. My son is three years old, and I fear he may have Aperger's Disease. He laughs when his little sister (18 months old) falls down, and seems to have no empathy for her when she's upset or hurt. Should I get him tested, and how do I go about managing this problem in my child if it truly exists?

A. Have YOU ever laughed uncontrollably when a good friend trips and falls, because it looks so comical? You know you shouldn't--but you can't help it! This kind of thing happens to everyone now and then, whether we want it to or not. We do not learn empathy (the ability to relate to another's feelings) until we're older. This is a developmental crossing, that's navigated roughly between the ages of 9 - 12 years old (provided there are no major upsets or crises that inhibit this growth). Developmentally arrested people (Narcissists and Borderlines) haven't successfully negotiated this phase of their growth, and (consequently) their emotional development is stunted. Adore your kid, cut him some slack, and allow him to grow up a little, before you 'diagnose' him with issues that may be inconvenient for you to manage. Reading books on infant development is extremely useful, and so are parenting classes. In short, get educated about the most important job you'll ever have.

Q. Thanks a million for your Borderline Personality site. These materials have helped me make sense of what happened to me in my most recent relationship, and take myself off the hook, for most of the things I've been blaming myself for. Truly, you are a godsend. Keep up the good work, as I'm sure there are a lot of guys out there like me, who've made it their fault it didn't work out with their girlfriend.

A. Well first, you're welcome--but this isn't actually a 'Borderline Personality' site, nor was it ever intended to be. While there are thirteen BPD articles at present that speak to this disorder, there are other clinical issues addressed on this wellness site that touch on topics unrelated to Borderline Disorder. I can only write about what I know about--and that's seemed to work pretty well so far. I'm glad my BPD materials have been helpful, and best wishes.

Q. Your articles on Borderlines have provided so much clarity and relief, I can finally let myself off that hook, and move on with my life. I found the links to your site through BPDfamily.com, and my experiences on that board have been very helpful as an adjunct to your materials, but I'm concerned. Skip has put some pretty nasty comments about you up on the site, and it's hard to understand why he's done this, considering how many people you've obviously helped! I just don't get it--what's his problem??

A. Insecure people often need to throw a shroud around your flame, to make their own glow a little brighter. That poor little man's attempts to discredit me seem to be back-firing, as he's making himself appear small/petty. Other letters/responses concerning this issue have been posted here. I hope these will clear up any confusion you might feel, after reading Skip's rantings. I'm not the least bit troubled by all that--so you needn't be either.

Q. Okay, I am a psychologist who won't seek out therapy because "I'm suppose to know it all" right? Well, I too am wounded (which is why I was so attracted to fixing others) and until this week, believed that I was "all better." Twenty years ago, I was in an intense, all-encompassing 4 year relationship in which I was codependent. I never really dealt with the break up--which is a pattern for me (burial of stuff). However I did deal with my codependency through amazing therapy and was able to prevent it from occurring in my present relationship (married 18 years). So my life is cruising along, and I get an email from the old flame--and suddenly I have turned into a complete and utter JELL-O HEAD! I'm a naïve 17 year old love-struck puppy again!!! How can this be? Can co-dependency be re-ignited? How is it, that I can be so put-together in all respects, and then ignore my better judgment in terms of corresponding with him? I really think if it weren't for the geographical distance, I would be powerless to stop myself from seeing him. Deep breath...I am so shocked by my reaction to this situation and ultimately scared of my loss of control where he is concerned. Any recommendations, books, websites you think could be helpful? Please know I don't expect you to fix this, I just need a place to start. Thank you.

A. It appears there's some unfinished business here. I believe that when we resolve an issue, it doesn't re-ignite; true emotional growth would insure against this happening. You seem aware of your issues--but my sense is that you may still be unwilling to heal them (standard therapy doesn't come close to touching on core trauma issues, which drives codependency--among other addictions). Alice Miller has influenced my work a great deal. Her books--especially, The Drama of the Gifted Child is pretty dense, but well worth the read. I also suggest that you read my keystone piece, from which nearly everything else on this website emanates (including my material on personality disorders). On a practical level, I'd say there might be deficits in your marriage, which have rendered you susceptible to pursuing this former flame (but perhaps you've 'buried' your awareness of those, too). In short, I'd interpret this 'event' as a catalyst for more healing and growth. My sense is that your emotional development got stuck at 17 years old (or earlier).

Q. I think my girlfriend might have extreme Jealousy Disorder. Her moods shift a lot too, and I'm wondering if this is due to a bi-polar disorder. Should I try to get her to a doctor for help?

A. First, there is no such thing, as 'jealousy disorder'--extreme or otherwise! Both these issues can be associated with Borderline Personality Disorder, so begin exploring that, by clicking on the Borderline Forum link at the top of this page. Click on my Article's link for more on this issue. You'll find twelve titles (at present) about BPD, and I'm sure they'll help you understand why this relationship has been so troubling and difficult. You can also read about Bipolar Disorder while you're visiting, as this article will help you discern the differences between a mood disorder and a personality disorder. Concern for what to do about your girlfriend's condition is premature at this point. Right now, just try to educate yourself.

Q. I've read somewhere, that narcissism is an "abnormal love for one's self." Would you say this is true?

A. Nope. There's a plethora of misguided 'information' on the Web written by folks who have absolutely no foundation for discerning psychological issues--much less, personality disorders--and this one comes under the banner of; don't believe everything you read. Narcissists live with a lot of self-loathing, and they're extremely insecure/fragile at their core. This fragility forces them to adopt a grandiose 'false-self,' to compensate for their lack of a healthy, well-developed ego, and real self-respect/self-love. You might interpret this as confidence--but it's a defense/smoke screen, to mask their vulnerability.

Q. How do I get rid of a Borderline I've been seeing for about two months?

A. Tell her/him you're deeply devoted/in love, and you're anxious to move to the next phase of commitment (just kidding--well, not really). A Borderline's nature is paradoxical; they'll push you away the instant they feel pressure to reciprocate your emotions, move toward commitment, or attach. Think about how a healthy/sound person would respond to you, and expect the opposite. [More letters like this are archived here.]

Q. I feel like my first and only therapist whom I've been seeing for almost 2 1/2 years has abandoned me, rejected me, and could really care less if my life is in crisis. She and I are not meeting anymore after 1 1/2 years of 90 minute sessions twice a week and one year of 60 minute sessions twice a week. The circumstances surrounding the end of our sessions primarily involve financial issues. I have serious abandonment and rejection issues due to my childhood experiences--my therapist is the one who brought this to my attention. She said she knew I was afraid she would reject or abandon me, when she'd go on vacations or had to go out of town--and kept assuring me she wasn't going anywhere. I know this relationship is a professional one, yet I really don't understand how a person is supposed to help someone with abandonment issues, then say in a session, "we're just taking a break and after you catch up with the bill, we can start working together again." She's aware of my situation at this time, and says I'm in crisis. I guess its true. I won't list all the major everyday issues I'm facing along with all the childhood stuff that has contributed to my being diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety issues. I've been looking online to see if I can understand how this happened so suddenly. I worry that I will not apply anything she taught me, because its hard to believe any of it will help--when I can't believe her when she says she cares, or that she will not abandon me. She goes on with her life and is not going through what I'm going through because I let my guard down and trusted her, and she can't possibly care, because she said she'll be open to seeing me when I'm basically not in crisis. Why would I need to see her if and when I'm better and earning more money? I guess my question is, how am I supposed to believe in therapy and apply the "tools" if I don't believe the person means what she said? My second question is what can I do myself, to deal with this huge loss? I haven't allowed myself to trust someone ever, on that kind of level. It was so hard to trust her anyway. I wouldn't even look at her when I was talking because I was afraid her body language would betray her and her honesty, as she kept saying she really cared and wouldn't reject me.

A. I'm very sorry that your treatment has come to this unfortunate halt, and I understand how dreadful this feels to you. Therapists find it really difficult to terminate with clients, particularly in the midst of a crisis--financial or otherwise. I cannot imagine this was an easy choice for your clinician, and it's likely that she put it off for as long as possible, as there was already a balance owed. We pay a therapist for his/her time and expertise. We cannot possibly pay them to 'care' about us--that either comes with the territory of who they are and how they work, or it doesn't. When a therapist treats a client without remuneration for his/her time, it potentiates resentment with that relationship--which responsible professionals want to avoid at all costs. In addition, seeing you for free might enable you to remain 'victimized,' and stuck exactly where you are. First, try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater; your trust has been undermined, and that's a big deal--but after all that consistent care, I'm guessing that you've come away with a degree of benefit. Second, give yourself permission to cry, and get to some anger. Referrals to low-fee or donation-only type counseling sources/clinics should have been provided until you're back on your feet, and can resume with her. Perhaps you can ask for this, or look into local resources for yourself. [More letters like this are archived here.]

Q. My husband of 23 years has just been diagnosed with BPD. I have noticed a huge change in his moods/behaviors over the last few years. I want to divorce him, but am not sure how to proceed. He's very mentally and emotionally abusive, and at times been physically abusive. Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

A. First of all, I'm very suspect of this diagnosis. Late onset of Borderline Personality Disorder is unusual and unlikely. My sense is that you've either somehow overlooked his abusiveness for more than two decades and it's reached critical mass--or there's something else at work, which is making it impossible for you to coexist with your husband. Has he been fully examined by a medical doctor? Has anyone bothered to rule out male menopause as a possible factor in reference to his moods/behaviors? This must be explored, as he's in mid-life, and hormone imbalances or deficiencies can play havoc with his head, and yours as well. Diminished Testosterone levels can cause depression, irritability, weight gain, hot flashes, lack of impetus/motivation, decreased sex drive, short temper, etc. We've got to consider the big picture here, before you jump ship. Has he experienced severe head trauma in the past few years? This could also trigger Borderline symptomology later in life. Read this article, to determine if BPD is really the culprit, and then consider a phone session or two with me. [More letters like this are archived here.]

Q. I've been seeing a therapist who keeps telling me I should focus on my feelings--but I'm not aware of feeling anything. Am doing something wrong, or could it be that I'm with the wrong therapist? It's frustrating right now.

A. Therapists who aren't connected to their own feelings, will have difficulty helping you learn how to identify, decifer and connect to yours. In any case, I'm sensing this may not be the best therapeutic fit for you. [More letters like this are archived here.]

Q. Shari, what does it mean, when someone you're dating tells you they're afraid of hurting you?

A. It means you should be emotionally cautious! First of all, it's an arrogant statement to make. Secondly, this might be their subtle way of warning you of what lies ahead. This person has obviously had these experiences before, or why would this even come to mind? Over all, I'd say you should be careful with your heart--or (according to this person) it could easily get broken.

Q. Is narcissism the root of OCD?

A. Not exactly. Narcissism stems from emotional wounds in childhood, that made it necessary to shut-down/discard feelings in order to survive. If one is disconnected from his own feelings, how can he relate to somebody else's? This lack of empathy is the core of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. NPD can be considered part of OCD, but it's not the cause of it. Anxiety disorders and OCD have a lot in common, with respect to etiology (how they're acquired).

Q. Hi Shari, I am trying to recover from codependency, and am currently faced with a big decision. Up until a month ago, my husband of 8 years, and I had really been struggling--to the point of seriously considering divorce. I had even started applying for jobs and looking for a place to live elsewhere (in another state). We started going to couples counseling, and things have been better, but then I got a letter in the mail inviting me to take a test for one of the jobs I've applied for. I'm fearful of losing out on the opportunity, since things have only been better for a short time, but do not want to undermine my marriage. Our counselor thinks it would be a good exercise in my recovery, since my husband is clearly not going to support my decision to leave, and I have never done anything in my life without someone's approval. He does not agree to this, and basically gave me an ultimatum (even though he says he's not), that if I go, it's a deal breaker for him. I love my husband, and want to trust that things will continue to get better--but I realize that as a codependent, I have to stop putting others before myself. Any thoughts on this? Thanks

A. I appreciate your dilemma, but I'm on-board with your couples therapist. Sounds like your husband is using some potent emotional blackmail against you. He must be feeling very threatened by your burgeoning sense of Self. Given these eight years of strife, and this very brief respite from all that pain, I'd say it's worth exploring this job for yourself. Might be good/useful to reflect on the strengths of this marriage(?) while you're away. If you give in to your husband's ultimatum, you are betraying yourself--and your most important relationship must be the one you maintain with You. Otherwise, you're dying a little each day. Remember what they teach you on airplanes: When the oxygen mask drops down, put yours on first--and then, attend to those around you! I'm sensing your husband's threats are hollow--but if he's looking for a 'deal-breaker' to help him exit this union, I'd say this one's as good as any. You GO, girl. [More letters like this are archived here.]

Q. My narcissistic boyfriend is moving in with me, as his wife is divorcing him. How likely is it, that he'll change for me?

A. Don't hold your breath, dear. You can't fall in love with someone for their potential--but must accept them for Who they are (and aren't). In short, if you like the product, you buy the whole package! The narcissistic behaviors you've observed toward his wife, will likely be acted-out with You. And then, there's always the question; if he cheated on her, how can you trust that he won't do it to you? A wife who doesn't try to fight for her marriage, wants to be rid of that guy. Sadly, I think you're in for some rough times ahead.

Q. I have been thinking about writing this letter for many months now. I was involved with a female who abruptly left the relationship--someone I was involved with for many years. The trauma of this left me seriously ill. Up to this point in my life, I'd always enjoyed forty-eight years of very good health, save for liver disease--the cause of which was never determined. I had a spontaneous remission (liver enzymes all went back to normal). I only noticed that I was tired from it, and this went away--still, it never really slowed me down. This illness however, left me dead in my tracks, to where I couldn't practice. During this sick time, I came across your article, AT ANY COST. I should've realized this person I was involved with, was very clearly exhibiting these (BPD) traits. I believe that at the time I read your article, not only did it lead to my recovery--but that it actually saved my life. In the midst of this illness--and being a healthcare professional myself, it didn't seem logical to me, that merely reading something posted on the Internet could have this effect. At that point, I wasn't sure this was a reasonable conclusion. In some way, my logical professional mind still wants to doubt this fact--however, I cannot. In retrospect, I recognize that your article did indeed, save my life. I now accept this as fact--and that's why I'm writing to thank you for your efforts. After saving a few lives myself, Thank You for saving mine.

A. You're welcome. I believe that the mind, body and spirit are inseparable. In Chinese medicine, the liver is considered our body's storehouse for anger. It would seem as though this issue might have had you dismissing instincts, intuitions and perceptions having to do with certain feelings you had to put away in childhood. This article was originally written for psychotherapists. Read it a few times, and take it slowly. Each paragraph is very dense with meaning, and should be gradually ingested and integrated.

Q. How do I know if I'm in a codependent marriage?

A. A healthy marriage is where partners are interdependent, meaning they mutually depend on each other to meet/balance various needs. An example of a codependent marriage can be observed in this couple: The wife is a shopaholic (compulsive spender), and the husband's a compulsive overeater. The wife keeps candies and pastries around the house--but doesn't let her husband eat them. She functions as the Food Police in their relationship. He knows he's got to monitor/curb her shopping and spending--or go bankrupt! Thus, he has become the Shopping Police. Each of them is micro-managing the other's behavior under the guise of caring/love--but it's really about their narcissism, and need for control. [More letters like this are archived here.]

Q. Dear Shari, do you have any advice for dating a Borderline?

A. Don't.

Q. Hello, I am a 34 year old married mom of three kids and I just realized that I am lonely. I suffer from depression, migraine headaches, stomach problems and panic attacks, and I always have to be caring for something to fill an empty gap. I have not had an easy life and my husband and I have had a lot of problems, but we are trying to work through them. Our kids are 16, 13 and 10 and have their own mind sets, like most kids that age. I want to know why I have to always care for someone/something to make me feel happy; it makes me wonder about the article I read on your site that sounds almost exactly like me, but my childhood was fine--it was when I became a teenager, that things got bad. I'm in my 2nd marriage; my oldest daughter who's 16 is from a previous marriage, but my husband's her father since she was 2. I've been with him for 13 years, and we've always had some kind or problem financially or emotionally, and it even got physical a time or two. I have made some big mistakes during our time together, but he's still with me. I want to understand why I feel I'm not needed anymore--and why I keep trying to fix that void and be needed, so I can become happy. Can you help me?

A. Whether or not you remember childhood events that made you sense that your worth/lovability depended on always putting others' feelings and needs first, it's a learned reflex. Loneliness is about your lack of connection to You. Your memory of when things got bad as a teen, likely involves your normal phase of Self-discovery--and needing to individuate, and separate from your parent's control. It appears they've won that battle. Your self-esteem issues require focused, therapeutic work to resolve, but begin by sitting with your empty/dead feelings when they come up; these sensations have driven your addiction to taking care of others. Start tolerating these feelings for ten seconds at a time, before you bury them with another activity--it'll make you stronger! Escaping these difficult feelings, has led to your body's ailments and panic issues. You've run from these your whole life, but they've colored all your behavior patterns and choices. This trouble that's surfacing now, is driven by your kids being less dependent--leaving you more room to be, and not do. Feeling needed cannot fix depression! If it could, you would have been celebrating a far happier life, many years ago. Re-read my article, until you can hold onto/integrate those concepts; my codependency forum will be useful too!

Q. Shari, thanks so much for your article on borderline men! Your candor and humor are really appreciated, as are your insights. I love this piece, and will be looking forward to new installments.

A. My pleasure. Enjoy.

Q. I feel a deep, overwhelming need to be loved--to the extent I feel I'll push people away with it. It's scary to live with this feeling, and frightening to think about living with someone else, too. I'm trapped here.

A. Your concern is shared by many. This "overwhelming need" you describe is deeply entwined with painful yearning and longing. These are the sensations you learned were an integral part of loving as a small child. In addition, those early experiences left you feeling unlovable/unworthy of having your cravings for love returned or reciprocated. Core trauma (healing) work helps you come to accept and like yourself, so this desperate need for another's attention or love is in balance with how you feel about Yourself. Begin here.

Q. Shari, how do I help a man with attachment issues?

A. If you're dating this man, you don't. Instead, try finding someone who's emotionally available. If you're his therapist, and you are not working with core issues in your practice, refer him to a practitioner who is! In any case, this piece should help.

Q. I think my toddler has ADD/ADHD. How do I know for sure?

A. It's far too early to be considering a diagnosis like this! Read some books on infant and child development, learn how to respond to your child's needs, and accept that your comfort and peace will be inconvenienced for awhile; it comes with the job (and privilege) of being a good parent.

Q. I see that you've mentioned Landmark Forum on your site, and I've been thinking of checking it out. I can't tell from your writings, if you think The Forum is a worthy endeavor or not, and would like to get your 'take' on this.

A. The Forum, The Meadows and other programs/retreats of this type can be helpful--for some. Landmark's methods are pretty crude, and even brutal. If you're fairly whole and emotionally healthy, you might be able to withstand this experience, acquire new awarenesses and insights about yourself, and utilize some of the tools you get there. Group venues like The Meadows pry the lid off a Pandora's Box in your psyche--but can't help you heal/come to terms with the painful material you unearth. No 'quick fix' can. It's like the scabs get loosened from unhealed early trauma, and you're left bleeding--so you're asked to sign-up for more! If you've struggled to survive or felt empty most of your life, and you think these costly programs will fix those issues, it's unlikely you will be able to benefit from this experience--which inevitably leaves you with more shame, than before!

Q. I've just met a woman (online) I'm excited about. We've had several hours of phone contact, and we're going out in a few days. I'm wondering if it's too soon to bring her flowers. What do you think?

A. I think you should trust your instincts--but as you've asked for my advice, it seems there's ambivalence between what you want to do, and what you think you should do. Women's feelings can differ about flowers. My personal opinion is that You're enough to begin with, and more may seem like you're trying too hard to impress. I know a man who consistently gives presents to women he barely knows (hoping he'll be liked/accepted). This compensatory behavior is rooted in self-worth issues. Once you develop a deeper interest and sense it's reciprocal, flowers are a lovely romantic gesture.

Q. Hi Shari, my sister and I are very close, but she's always complaining about the same issues over and over (ad-nauseam), and her negativity's getting on my nerves. I try to listen patiently and offer suggestions, but it seems she just wants to gripe about this stuff, rather than doing anything about it! When I've tried to change the topic or get off the phone, she gets really mad and starts shouting and swearing at me, saying I don't care about her (which isn't true). I hate making her mad, but I feel trapped. How I can handle this better?

A. This appears to be a no-win situation--meaning, you're damned if you do (listen to these constant complaints) and damned if you don't! Continuing to lend her your ear, reinforces poor behavior. Taking the best care of your own needs is the healthiest way to deal with a no-win struggle, and may involve distancing yourself. Assure your sister of your love and support, but make it clear that you're no longer willing to engage this way. If she won't take any actions to resolve her difficulties, she's obviously content to maintain them. Let yourself off this hook.

Q. My husband's enmeshed with his mother, which has put a big strain on our relationship from the beginning. He'll always run to take care of her needs, and they talk 8 or 9 times a day (she's in good health, incidentally). Regardless of what's going on with us, he takes her calls--even when they've interrupted our lovemaking! He's sarcastic and verbally abusive with me, and we often end up fighting. I've tried to get along with his mom, but she constantly finds fault with me, and acts cold or indifferent. My husband and I have been trying to conceive, but I'm now starting to question if I want to stay in this marriage. Any insight or advice you can offer is greatly appreciated.

A. Men who haven't been able to separate from their mothers make poor husbands; essentially, they're already married. An enmeshed mother feels jealous of her child's attachments, and tries to undermine them. Very likely, her needs always had to come first during his childhood, and she's interfered with every aspect of his existence. Under these circumstances, his sense of closeness is confused with engulfment or loss of Self, which can lead to pent-up frustration and rage. It sounds like these feelings are being directed at you instead of where they belong (you're the less threatening target--he can't risk being abandoned by Mom). Unless/until you establish a loving and stable foundation in this marriage, put the baby plans on hold. Try to have a heart to heart with your husband about how unhappy you've been. If you're both willing to try couples therapy to strengthen and repair this connection, that's a good start. If not, your options seem pretty clear.

Q. My doctor has added a 'sub-therapeutic' dose of a mood stabilizer to my existing antidepressant therapy. I'm wondering if this makes sense, and why I should even bother with it.

A. Everyone's system is somewhat unique, in terms of how various meds affect them. If your antidepressant hasn't been managing your symptoms, switching to another, or adding a mood stabilizer can enhance your therapy--particularly if your doctor suspects there's a bipolar issue. Some people do very well on minimal amounts of these drugs, and have unpleasant side-effects when they increase to a standard, or 'therapeutic' dose. Trust your physician for now, and you can reassess this issue in a week or two.

Q. Shari, what happens to a fetus, if the expectant mother has a panic attack?

A. An isolated panic event probably won't do much harm, but anxiety issues are seldom isolated. If there's been one panic episode, we're automatically inclined to worry that this horrible incident could happen again, and a level of anxiety remains. My article on panic/anxiety explains how these issues are acquired, and discusses fetal impact as well.

Q. How do I confront my parents about their toxic behavior?

A. First, let's accept that what's held you back from doing this, is a natural fear of abandonment. Let your parents know how their words and actions make you feel. Be as specific as possible, which can go something like this; "when you say these things, it makes me feel; small, worthless, unloved, etc., which is very hurtful." Toxic parenting stems from deficits in emotional development, meaning that empathy was never learned/acquired. Check my Borderline and Narcissistic Personality Forums (at top) for more about these issues.

Q. I just wanted to thank you for your article on ADD. I've read lots of other material on this topic--but felt yours was like reading a personal case study on me! The part I was most affected by, was when you talked about taking these drugs "discretionally," or as needed. For many years, I've resisted considering medication as a means to help myself with these symptoms--but now, I think I'm ready to explore this. Thank you so very much for helping me understand that this option is available! SW, Alabama

A. You're very welcome.

Q. I think I may have a fear of success. Each time I get close to a goal, I lose interest or sabotage myself in some way. Is there a way to overcome this?

A. What most people interpret as a "fear of success," is actually a fear of disappointment, if their plan for achieving something fails. It's far easier to fantasize about 'probable' outcomes resulting from our efforts, than to put them to the test--and not have them work out! Certain issues and/or beliefs left over from childhood may be contributing to this difficulty, and it can be very helpful to explore this therapeutically. Individuals with attention deficit issues are especially prone to losing interest/enthusiasm for their aims, and this is exacerbated by the cyclical nature of this (neurological) disorder. Stay out of thinking about the result/outcome, and just take some action!

Q. I've slighted someone who's a friend. I really want their forgiveness, but don't know how to ask for it. Can you help?

A. State exactly the things you have in your note to me, and sincerely ask your friend if she/he is willing to forgive you. Remember the Nike campaign? Just do it.

Q. I read your forum entry from a woman complaining about her "stay-at-home" boyfriend (as you put it), while she supported the two of them. What about all the women who expect us guys to support 'em, while they spend our money shopping and having lunch with girlfriends?!

A. Men usually vary on this kind of thing; some are comfortable providing for women in this way, and some are not. I try to respond to the concerns each individual describes in their contact with me, and if a man had written with this problem, I would have replied similarly (with the exception of stay-at-home mothers, which is the toughest full-time job there is)! I believe this issue is more difficult for females to accommodate, due to cultural aspects inherent in our masculine and feminine roles and archetypes. Historically, males were the protectors and providers for the family; in earlier times, there was no question that a man's wife and children would share the fruits of his labor, and be the recipients of his bounty. Times have changed, and so have our needs. Today, many couples equally share financial weight for the relationship--or they split these responsibilities according to respective incomes.

Q. I seem to need/crave a lot of affection. Is something wrong with me?

A. No, nothing is "wrong" with you! We all have different needs for physical contact, which is also reflected by our animals/pets! This individual level of need is generally with us from childhood; some kids require a great deal of affection/attention, and others might not like being touched or held (which can be difficult and frustrating for parents). Most people fall somewhere in-between, where there's a considerable margin for personal preference. Look for partners who are demonstrative with their loving feelings, so this part of you can be nourished/satisfied.

Q. Shari, I'm faced with a very difficult dilemma. I recently went out with a man I'd met online, who (as it turns out) is dating a friend of mine! During our dinner conversation, he told me he'd been seeing someone for awhile, but "not seriously." When he mentioned her first name and where she lives, I nearly choked on my food. To say the least, I was shocked and almost speechless! I told him off, and said I didn't want to have anything to do with him. My problem is, I know that my friend thinks this relationship is more substantial than it is, and I'm afraid of hurting her by telling her the truth about this schmuck! I'm also afraid she'll get mad at me for revealing this information. HELP!!!

A. How would you want this handled, if you were in your friend's position? A true friendship sometimes involves risk; this means being willing to go out on a limb to save someone you care about from harm or more pain! Let your friend know that you have something difficult to tell her, and approach this very sensitively. If her natural instincts/intuitions haven't already alerted her to this issue, she could be in denial. This means she won't want to believe you--and may choose to maintain that relationship! If she's shocked and angry that this man's been cheating on her, she'll be compelled to do something about it. Either way, you've (courageously) demonstrated solid caring, by being honest with her. If she 'shoots the messenger' and rejects you, I'd be seriously questioning how much she has valued your friendship!

Q. My doctor has put me on an antidepressant (Zoloft), and I'm feeling tired and listless. I've called his office to see if this is a side effect of the drug, but they haven't gotten back to me. Is this a normal reaction I'm having, and will it pass?

A. Zoloft is an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor), and you're having a fairly typical response to it. Leave another message for your doctor asking if it's OK to take your medication at a different time of day--and request that someone please get back to you on this immediately. In the interim, read important information pertaining to this issue, here.

Q. Having recently joined with an investment firm, I'm in need of clients. I'd really like to approach my friends and acquaintances about opening or building stock portfolios with me, but it feels a bit awkward. Is there any way to offer my services, without seeming like I'm trying to sell them on something, and alienating them?

A. These kinds of situations are always a bit tricky--but honesty is the best policy, regardless of what you're promoting. If you're contacting active/close friendships, let them know you'd love to assist them if they ever decide to go in this sort of direction, and leave it at that. If you're wanting to pitch an old or former friend/associate you haven't spoken to in a long time, do not make up some bullshit excuse for reconnecting. Leave a brief message requesting they phone you back, if your outreach misses them. If/when you actually connect, let them know that besides wanting to 'catch up,' you're excited about this new endeavor and wanted to share it with them, in case you might be of service one day. This keeps the contact 'clean,' so the other person doesn't have to feel like you've got a hidden agenda (using them for your own gain), which I've discussed in relation to a Landmark Forum issue. It's a more authentic and (potentially) productive approach for both of you!

Q. I've recently started law school, but I'm not sure this is what I really want. My dad and grandfather are attorneys, and it's sort of a family tradition to build a law career. Since I was a kid I've always loved cooking; I feel very drawn to culinary school, and sense it could be a better fit for my talent and interests, but I don't want to let my family down. I'm really struggling with this right now, and not sure what I should do about it.

A. First, your parents and grandparents have already lived their lives, and made choices that were congruent with their needs/desires. Perhaps it's time for you to consider doing the same! For now, this doesn't have to be a black or white issue (to be or not to be a lawyer); dabble around in the 'grey area' for awhile with some structured learning in cooking/baking classes during your spare(?) time, while in law school. Doing so will be a good test of your motivation/passion, and give you a better sense of whether (or not) this profession might be a solid fit for you. Making a terrific omelet is very different from having what it takes to become a masterful chef, but sticking your toes in these waters should assist you in determining your direction.


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