Dear New Shrink,

I am really worried that I will not be able to have a normal or healthy relationship with a guy. I already notice that I am either completely detached, especially if I start to feel something, or even worse, I am especially attracted to bad boys that do not treat me well.

My parents had a very bad marriage and my father did not treat my mother well at all. I have no respect for my mother for having put up with this and I have very mixed feelings about my dad. I honestly do not respect him either and sometimes really do not like him, but he has always been sort of good to me and he provided our family with a nice lifestyle.

I sometimes feel like I have no right to complain because some people have it much worse and in many ways I am privileged. But on the other hand, my emotional life growing up was not a privilege at all. And I am really beginning to see the damage it did. I do not trust men, do not expect relationships to work and see little point in even trying to have one.

Yet some part of me knows that I might be wrong; that maybe it is just due to my family experience.

Can you shed some light on this subject?

Signed,

Skeptical

Dear Skeptical,

First of all, I do not believe that you are “doomed” to have no relationship at all or just bad ones. In my view, the only doomed people are those who refuse to look at themselves. Some people just do not pay attention, never reflect on anything and they also tend to view everything in their lives as coming from outside.

This is not to say that some situations or conditions that we have little to no control over can and do occur. Your family situation is one of them. But what you decide to do with it is something you can control. The good news here is that you are already asking the question and this is a question you should take seriously.

You do not have to follow in your parents’ footsteps. They provided you, as all families do, a profoundly influential model of relationships. It is difficult to change this idea within yourself, but you can do it. Start by looking around, outside of yourself and your family and notice that there are relationships that are working. Look for healthy relationships where the love and attachment is strong and try to realize that this is a real possibility.

Of course there are many bad examples these days, along with a high divorce rate, but look for the ones that are healthy and pay attention to what they do differently.

I believe that a big part of the reason for high divorce rates and relationships not working out has to do with people not being willing to work on things, expecting quick, easy answers and fast satisfaction. I believe that many of us have come to expect this in this age of technology.

But relationships have inherent conflicts and our respective psychologies are far too complex to lend themselves to quick fixes. We have to be willing to listen and learn from our partners and empathy is an absolute must.

Also some people choose the wrong partners and usually don’t take the time to really get to know them and to explore their expectations about relationships. This is a crucial first step and probably explains the saying that “love is blind.” It is in the beginning and that is why we need to pay attention, take our time and reflect on our choices and decisions.

In terms of you specifically, you should explore your feelings and your beliefs at a deeper level. Beliefs are just that, beliefs! They can be changed.

Again, I am not saying that it is easy, but if you want to change what you view as your determined destination, there is no way around it.

Finally, it is best if you do not try to do it by yourself. As humans we have an incredible capacity for lying to ourselves. You can start with observation of others, reading, writing about your feelings and thoughts and doing your best to challenge your beliefs, but in the end it is better if you can have an objective listener i.e., one without an agenda, to help you look at the bigger picture. This might be individual or group therapy or someone you trust from another source but are sure that they do not have an agenda for you.

Hang in there and believe it; you can change.

Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or e-mail your anonymous questions to newshrink@gmail.com. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.

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