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Dark memories coming back to me

Posted by Patricia_Marie
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on Friday, 29 April 2016
I have read the recent reader's problem about the Helen and Rob storyline in the Archers. I myself was a victim of domestic abuse ten years ago, yet why is it when following their continuing story, that I feel so tearful and almost a sense of panic overcomes me. As the story progresses it's bringing back those dark memories. I too was in prison, for finally standing up for myself and attacking my husband, and like Helen was separated from my child. I keep thinking that if only I had recognised the signs, and acted sooner by leaving him, I would have never experienced such an ordeal. I have no-one to speak to about my past, as I feel nobody would understand. Do you think counselling would possibly help me, even though my trauma was such a long time ago? I appreciate it would be much simpler to turn the radio off, but for whatever reason I feel addicted to the storyline and am wanting a happy ending.

Patricia Marie says...

Thank you for entrusting me with your heartrending story. I am so sorry for what you have had to endure. Being a victim of domestic violence is devastating in itself, yet to be sentenced to prison and to have been apart from your child under such shocking circumstances is utterly unthinkable. It is no wonder you are feeling as you do whilst listening to The Archer's current riveting storyline, but you are not alone, as this powerful drama continues to touch so many people in the real world. Yes, you could turn the radio off to stop it affecting you, but somehow, if the show's writers had not portrayed domestic violence as being so horrific, it would undermine many of the actual victims suffering abuse.

Please don't blame yourself for not leaving your husband sooner. There are a myriad reasons it can be untenable to leave an abusive partner – fear of retaliation, having young children and nowhere to go, worrying others will disbelieve you, and often victims convince themselves that their abuser's behaviour will improve. The scars you can't see are the hardest to heal. It is never too late to seek professional help. Many years after victims have escaped their abuser, it's not uncommon for them to develop symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), such as flashbacks, nightmares, tearfulness and panic attacks. As you are displaying these signs, I feel that therapy would be of great benefit, to explore any emotions that may have been repressed, and allow you to move forward and leave the past very much behind. Women's Aid can provide both individual and group counselling, where you would be able to meet other sufferers of domestic violence, and feel very much understood. You could also draw comfort from the group, as members who start off as strangers, can, after sharing each other's experiences, become a valuable and trusted source of support.

I would like to offer you my best wishes for a happy ever after, and one that we are all wanting for Helen too.

Women's Aid 24 hour helpline on 0800 2000 247

My daughter wants me to pay for her breast enlargement

Posted by Patricia_Marie
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on Friday, 22 April 2016
Dear Patricia Marie,

My 18 year old daughter has begged me to pay for her to have her breasts enlarged for her birthday. She says her tiny chest makes her so self-conscious, and she's constantly miserable. She won't wear anything revealing and can't bear to go out with her friends because she thinks she's ugly.

I am absolutely against this kind of surgery, but am I just being selfish. This situation is causing me great misery. Would appreciate some advice.

Patricia Marie says...

Dealing with the body image issues of a teenager can be a complex situation. Adolescence is a time of rapid physical change, and girls in particular can be vulnerable to outside pressures about their appearance, from both friends and the media, which can contribute to self-dissatisfaction. 

You are approaching this dilemma from a mother’s perspective, and are not being selfish, but wanting to protect your daughter from making what you believe to be a drastic decision. Nevertheless, try to listen empathically to her point of view, and whilst you may not agree with what she has to say, you may gain a better understanding of her motivation to have breast augmentation. Both the risks and benefits must be openly considered. Ask her if she truly believes enhancing her figure in this way will change her life for the better. She needs to have a realistic perception of the surgery and its outcome, such as her physical recovery, including restrictions on work and social activities, and how she will cope with any complications. Also coax her to assess how she expects to feel about her new body image and the reaction of others once she has her implants. Once you have discussed this, perhaps she will see that embarking on any cosmetic surgery shouldn’t be taken lightly, and that it may be a good idea to reconsider this when she is a little older. For the time being, remind your daughter there is a huge range of beautiful bras available that can enhance all body shapes instantly.

How she currently perceives herself is making her miserable, and I believe she may be suffering from low self-esteem. It would be helpful if she were to explore this with a counsellor. This will  hopefully enable her to gain self-acceptance, which she will learn can only come from within, and not necessarily by enlarging her breasts.

The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) Tel: 01455 883300

My partner is having an affair

Posted by Patricia_Marie
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on Friday, 15 April 2016
Three months ago I discovered my partner was having an affair - I was devastated. I adored him and thought he felt the same way. He even brought her to our house, though he denies this. I went to see her. She has a long-term partner, but he is completely clueless about the affair - maybe I should tell him. She cried, apologised and said that I was lovely and nothing like my partner had told her, and that he didn't deserve me.

I don't know which way to turn: there is still love there, but it's not the same. I now check his phone and emails- there is no trust left.

He gets annoyed with me and says I should be 'over it ' and it was a big mistake. Apparently the woman he was seeing said he had admitted to cheating on me a few months before with another.

We are both in our 50's and left our long term marriages for each other. I can't face having to sell our house and start again. We are talking about getting married, but would it be marriage for the wrong reason?

Patricia Marie says...

It is devastating if the person one loves has an affair, as everything previously felt and shared with each other is thrown into question, even if the unfaithful partner ends it and says they still love and want to be with the betrayed spouse. Alternatively, if their lover meant little to them, and is dismissed as just a passing fancy, it can be equally traumatic.

It sounds as if your partner's love for you is inferior to yours for him. You only discovered his infidelity three months ago, so it is totally unreasonable to be expected to 'just get over it'. As he has little empathy for your pain and lack of trust, caused by his adulterous behaviour, he would seem to be exhibiting little regret or respect for you. Trust can sometimes be rebuilt, although never easy to regain completely, but healing a betrayed heart is a lengthy process and perhaps should only be considered if you both can truly see a future together.

You mention that you visited his lover, and are now considering disclosing the affair to her partner. This is a natural reaction, but would not serve a purpose, especially if you are intending to work at your relationship. Perhaps you may benefit from attending Relate, as this type of counselling could help you both explore why the partnership has faltered, and could ultimately create a bond stronger, wiser, and more resilient than ever before.

If your partner has a history of affairs, the risks are high that the cycle could be repeated, and it may be better to walk away. However, if you do believe you can make this work, I suggest you put thoughts of marriage to one side for now, until things are more settled between you. If you do then decide to marry, it should be because you really want to be with him, and he feels the same way, not because you can't face selling up and starting again.

I recommend: After The Affair: How to Build Trust and Love Again, by Julia Cole with Relate.
Relate: 0300 100 1234

The Archers is affecting me

Posted by Patricia_Marie
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on Friday, 08 April 2016
I feel terribly panicky and need some help. I never miss The Archers on Radio 4, and have been following the Helen and Rob storyline. Yesterday's episode has affected me very badly. You see, I am in a relationship with a man who has been mentally and physically abusing me. He is extremely powerful, and to outsiders he is regarded as a pillar of society. I feel no one will believe me when I tell them what I have to put up with. After I moved in with him last year, his kind loving manner changed, and he has become increasingly critical and aggressive towards me.

I was dealing with things okay, until I gave up my job three months ago, because my partner became jealous and thought I was too friendly with my work colleagues. I miss them so much, as work was an outlet from my home life. I did have a best friend, but the last time she came to see me, my partner made her feel so uncomfortable that she has since stayed away from me. My parents and I have fallen out because I refused to leave my partner after he hit me, and they called me pathetic for putting up with him. Nothing I do for him is right. He insults my cooking, and just yesterday threw a meal I had prepared for him over the kitchen floor. He told me that I don't deserve him and that I am a useless girlfriend, and insults me in the bedroom too. I feel so worthless, and can't see me ever completely moving on from this experience.

Listening to The Archers yesterday has made me realise I have got to get away from this monster, but I am so scared, and don't know how to go about this. Please don't think of me as being weak for putting up with this man's behaviour. I don't know how it reached this state. What do I do?

Patricia Marie says...

Observing other people's lives, either from listening to radio productions, watching soaps or indeed, in real life, can often allow us to see our own situation more clearly. Helen and Rob's domestic violence storyline in The Archers on Radio 4 has gripped the nation, and would have affected many, especially those, such as yourself, who have experienced this type of abuse.

By writing to me, you have shown great courage in taking the first step to change your life. Understandably, you are scared and fearful, but living as you are must no longer be an option. You have allowed yourself to be treated by this man with neither love nor respect, and I urge you now to set yourself free from this intolerable situation, regain some self respect, and live the life you very much deserve.

Do not apologise for being weak. Your partner has used bullying tactics to manipulate you and disguise his own weakness. I feel your parents' reaction was perhaps due to anger and frustration, not a personal affront. Please contact them to explain you have now reached breaking point and need to leave your partner. They will, I am sure, be extremely relieved to hear this, and you need to be proud of yourself for making this life-changing decision.

Remember, you do not have to deal with this alone. Women's Aid are there for victims of domestic abuse, offering emergency assistance, which could even mean accompanying you to collect your personal belongings in safety. As well as ongoing support and legal advice, they offer counselling, which will help you address the low self esteem caused by your partner's continued physical and mental abuse. With professional help and the love of your family you should begin to feel stronger. Be assured too that once you feel able to return to work, you will make friends again and be the person you once were, not the controlled one you became. You will survive this.

For every fictional Helen there are real ones, and as this plot has shown, and mirroring your own experience, abusers are often initially charming and loving, until their partner is fully committed to them. Then begins the gradual process of controlling, intimidating and abusing their victim, gradually isolating them from friends and family, and making them wholly dependent on the perpetrator.

The insightful writers have received much praise for the realism, which many listeners have found disturbing and uncomfortable, never expecting anything quite so shocking to happen in The Archers' beautiful rural village of Ambridge. They have emphasised that domestic abuse can happen in any community, and to anyone, and this powerful storyline will hopefully encourage others such as yourself to reach out for help.

For anyone affected by domestic violence, call the 24 hour Women's Aid Helpline on 0800 2000 247

I feel awkward about being "posher" than my family

Posted by Patricia_Marie
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on Friday, 01 April 2016
Dear Patricia Marie,
My mother is from a working-class family, but she went to university, got a good job and married my upper-middle-class father. I had a privileged upbringing, which makes me feel awkward around my mum's family.

My cousins are much closer to each other than to me, partly because they all live in the same town while I live 2 hours away. We get on well enough, but I don't really connect with them because our interests and tastes are so different. They make fun of my "posh" accent, hobbies, etc. I'm sure it's meant as a joke, but actually it really upsets me, although I hide it. I worry that they think I consider myself superior. Now when I'm with them I change my accent and keep quiet about my lifestyle.

Is it unhealthy to feel like you have to be a different person around your family? How can I make them stop teasing me without being whiny? I know that I am very privileged compared to them and so I shouldn't complain, but it is really upsetting me.

Patricia Marie says...

Social class prejudice is still very much in evidence today, although perhaps less openly expressed than it used to be. It is an unfortunate fact that society can make sweeping assumptions about people based solely on their accents. Class differences need to be acknowledged and interpreted without judgement, so that these differences can be enjoyed and appreciated.

There may be an element of jealousy from your cousins, or it could just be that they would love to accept you into the family circle, but that your reluctance to share your life experiences and feelings makes you seem unapproachable. If you could open up to them, you might all start to enjoy each other's company and greatly improve the relationship between you.

One of the most common mistakes we can make when we feel we don't belong, is to try and fit in. You are who you are. No more, no less. Counselling could help you establish what specifically triggers your current feelings, and also increase your self esteem, making it easier for you not to take your cousins' comments to heart.

You are unique, and will hopefully in time realise that your acceptance by others should not be the basis of your happiness. I suggest you put more importance on the relationships you do have that enhance your happiness, rather than considering changing yourself to suit others. Embrace who you are, and you should start to feel more joyful and fulfilled in your life.

We may never escape all judgment and discrimination, but we can learn to value ourselves. Remember, nobody can make you feel bad about yourself unless you allow this.

British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) 01455 883300

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