Advice on manners and morals (Oct. 23, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (Oct. 23, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (Oct. 23, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 23 2008 6:51 AM

I Hate Me, I Really Hate Me

Antidepressants don't ease my self-loathing. What can I do?

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Dear Prudence,
I'm in my early 30s and the married mother of two young children. I have a good job, and my husband and I get along well. My problem lies within myself. I suffer from something I can only describe as "self-loathing." It started as a teenager (with cutting my arms, drinking, smoking, running with the wrong people). Now I try to keep it all neatly tucked away in my psyche. I've been to therapists and take antidepressants, but this lingering self-hate always surfaces. My symptoms cause me to withdraw, hit myself with hangers, and say and think the most horrible thoughts about myself. Even with my accomplishments, I don't think much of myself. I'm not suicidal, but I frequently entertain thoughts of cutting my arms and legs or having someone else beat me until I'm black and blue, as though I deserve punishment for being who I am. I compare myself to others nonstop and sometimes withdraw for days if I meet someone I envy. It's awful! In addition to antidepressants, I've resorted to taking the painkiller Tramadol daily, as it tends to lift my mood and help with these feelings of inadequacy. I do not want to pass this on to my kids, whom I love more than anything. Why in the world won't this stop?

—Wish I Liked Myself

Dear Wish,
Through some combination of genes and upbringing, you were given this painful thought disorder. And look at how remarkably you've dealt with it. You have a happy marriage, a good career, and a loving relationship with your children. Many people who were handed easy-going genes and happy childhoods have not been able to pull off that trifecta. Also impressive is your self-insight and ability to convey what it feels like to be overtaken by these terrible thoughts. It sounds as if you know you should be proud of where you have come in life, but that is not much help when demons descend. You say you've been to therapists, but it is essential that you have the right kind of therapy. One pitfall to some therapies is that they lead to rumination about the sources of one's troubles—a major drawback if a patient's primary symptom is destructive, ruminative thoughts. So look into dialectical behavior therapy. It seeks to relieve patients' suffering, in particular those prone to self-injury, by leading them to both accept and change themselves. Also check out The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness. Depression may not be your primary problem, but this book and CD will give you techniques to shortcut your thought process when you feel like your brain has started chewing evil cud. Although you are dealing with a sense of self-hatred harsher than most, be assured that you are not alone. In The Happiness Hypothesis psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes that the development of human self-awareness endowed us with "a personal tormenter. ... We all now live amid a whirlpool of inner chatter, much of which is negative." Finally, you must talk to your physician and therapist about your use of Tramadol. It is a painkiller with some possible psychiatric uses. But you don't want to be your own psychopharmacologist; that's the road to more long-term pain.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I am a military wife, and my husband recently deployed to Iraq. We have been married for two years and dated long distance for a while, so I am handling this separation very well. But I do have a problem. How do I deal with people who tell me they know "exactly" what I'm going through because their boyfriend is away at college or their spouse is in training for a job and won't be home for a few weeks or months? My husband will be gone for a year, and in that time I will get to see him in person once. I spend my days worried about his safety because of the job he is doing. Trust me, there is no comparison between this and your boyfriend being gone for work or school. I have several friends who are military wives, and they are often told the same thing. How should we respond to the clueless?

—Left Behind

Dear Left,
These must be the same people who visit amputees and say, "I know exactly what you're going through. When my foot falls asleep, it's almost like it's not there!" It's too bad that some people don't understand that the opposite of expressing empathy is trying to equate their own minor experiences with your major ones. What they should be doing is checking in with you to see how you are and gauging whether you need a shoulder to cry on or an evening of distraction—or both. But accept that however insensate they seem, most of these people are trying to comfort you in their bumbling way. With situations like these, you always have the choice to simply disengage—nod at the stupidity and change the subject. But since you and other military wives hear this over and over, you could also try to shut down this misguided line of sympathy by saying, "I'm really proud my husband is serving our country, but believe me there are many nights when I wish he were just away at college or getting job training somewhere safe."

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I am the mother of a 4-year-old boy. His father and I both work full time, so he attends an all-day child care program at a nonprofit facility near our home. My husband was not pleased with the way teachers were communicating with us regarding our child's day, so he asked the teachers to write notes in a journal we could read. The other day, I went to pick him up and read that he had misbehaved that day, didn't listen to the teachers, and had a hard time following directions. I finished reading the entry and saw that he was watching a video with the rest of the class. So I wrote back that he should not be rewarded with TV if he does not behave. The director (who had written the last message in the book) came over to tell me how distracting my son was that day. I asked my son to apologize for his behavior, which he did, although I am aware that he is 4 and doesn't really know the meaning of saying "I'm sorry." The director responded with, "Well, that's not good enough. I don't accept your apology." I wanted to flip out right there but held my tongue. What is the best way to handle this situation?

—Preschool Parent

Dear Preschool,
I think the best way is to start asking around for recommendations of really good preschools because I wouldn't send my child back to that one. I'm concerned about what you've said about yours: the lack of communication with parents, the video-watching, and a director who won't accept the apology of a 4-year-old boy! There seem to be a lot of expectations being laid on his tiny shoulders and not enough understanding. But I think you, too, need to adjust your thinking about how a 4-year-old should behave. Consider how long and exhausting your workday feels—your son is in school even longer than you're at work, and apparently he's expected to be on his best behavior all those hours he's away from you. Young children have bad days and melt-downs, and just because he's had a rough time does not mean he should be singled out for punishment. Buy the classic child-rearing guide Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott for help figuring out what's going on inside your son and techniques for being an emotionally tuned-in parent. And, perhaps, while you're looking for new preschools, you and your husband can explore whether you two can possibly stagger your hours at work so you can spend more time with your little one, which surely is what all of you want more than anything.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I am a bridesmaid in a wedding that is a few weeks away. The bride is my oldest friend in the world. Our families are close, and we grew up together. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, too. Recently, I was at her bachelorette party, and several of us slept over at the bride and groom's apartment. Eventually, the only two people awake were me and the groom. We were playing drinking games and having fun when he suddenly made a pass at me. I stopped him, and after saying no, I tried to distract him by changing the subject. I thought that maybe he'd had a slight lapse of judgment, seeing as we were both under the influence. However, he kept making passes at me, going so far as to ask why I thought it would be wrong, even though I am married and he will be soon. Finally, he backed off and fell asleep. I left the next morning without saying anything to my friend. My husband is furious and thinks I should say something, but I know that if our situations were reversed, I would never believe that my husband would do such a thing. I feel that I should keep this to myself since nothing happened. What should I do?

—Nervous Bridesmaid

Dear Nervous,
Something happened, but probably not enough to cancel a wedding over. So if you were to tell, it would put a veil of distrust, regret, and anger over the day, and likely ruin your friendship. I'm generally in favor of letting someone know they're about to embark on a disastrous union. In this case, the groom sounds like no prize, but in the absence of any other evidence that this is a pattern, it could be that this was a one-time lapse prompted by the contemplation of a lifetime of monogamy and too many martinis. So keep it to yourself, and keep away from late-night drinking games with men other than your husband.

—Prudie