May 28, 2024


The question At 36, I find myself in a stable phase of life, which contrasts my earlier years of nomadic rent and dead-end career as an artist, a passion I abandoned. My dog ​​is my only source of joy, but even that pleasure feels dulled lately. I struggle to feel real or connected, without focus and interest. Despite overcoming anorexia and surviving a long, abusive relationship, I still battle the emotional numbing and PTSD that I had therapy for and thought I had conquered. I yearn for a more purposeful existence, especially considering my privileged, educated position – I should have achieved that by now.

My childhood was chaotic and now, as an adult, I can see there was neglect in a household of five children, as well as addiction and instability. My father, now sober, was always drunk – we lost everything when he went bankrupt. He did too very affairs. I am afraid of becoming like my parents and strive to reconnect with my own body and others. I used to find meaning and flow when I made art and wrote fiction, but now it all feels pointless. I wasn’t good enough.

There is the chance of happiness with a childhood friend turned potential life partner. But I’m afraid to reveal my true, boring self and feel inadequate compared to everything he’s worked hard to achieve throughout his successful, powerful career. He will surely leave me when he discovers who I really am. What can I do to reconnect with my body and other people and find a vocation or job that not only fulfills me, but makes me a better partner for this man with whom I would like to share my life?

Philippa’s answer When I read, “He will surely leave me when he discovers who I really am,” my heart not only went out to you, but I recognized it as something I had often said to myself. After being happily (mostly!) with my husband for over 37 years, I still find myself saying this. What I do is never let such negative messages take center stage, but push them to the wings. You can’t easily stop negative self-talk, but you can notice it and decide to ignore it. The other urgent advice you may need is when you hear yourself giving yourself a “should” – must do, should have done – knock it on the head. You can change “should” to “won’t” or “could” or anything else, but “should” can bring us down. I’m also sensing some perfectionism issues – does nothing you do seem good enough? Perfectionism is a crippling dead end. If you have it, exchange it for “That’ll do!” And “I’m good enough!”

It is understandable that you feel the weight of your past experiences. You have already shown resilience in overcoming the anorexia mindset, leaving an abusive relationship and achieving stability. Healing is not linear, setbacks are a natural part of the process and I reckon a setback is what you are experiencing right now. Perhaps you feel that it is almost too dangerous to hope that your old childhood friend will become your long-term partner and so you are setting yourself up for disappointment. To that I say this: when you learn to ride a bike, you keep your eyes on where you want to go, you don’t concentrate on the ditch, otherwise you will increase your chances of ending up in it. In other words, direct your focus to what you want and pull it away from what you don’t want.

Even though you’ve accomplished a lot in therapy, it’s not uncommon for old issues to resurface. A therapist can help you revisit these issues and work with you on your feelings of disconnection.

Be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to feel lost or unsure, don’t give up on yourself. Become your own champion. Your worth is not defined by achievements or external validation. I want you to regain your dignity. It feels like it was lost because you weren’t the priority you should have been to your parents. I think you may be denying dignity, because you are giving too much weight to the usual societal pressure to fit into some cultural norm. You have dignity; you don’t need to win a Nobel Prize to prove it.

While you may feel as though your artistic pursuits are pointless now, consider re-exploring them as a form of self-expression and connection to your inner self and outer world. Making things for your own enjoyment and not for any external recognition will harness your creative drive and bring meaning to your life.

Yes, you have insecurities, but don’t be those insecurities; notice them, but don’t act as if they are true. Most of us have neurosis, but it is important that we do not become that neurosis. It is under the neuroses and the insecurities that your true self is to be found and, with the help of therapy and with your new partner, you will have the best chance of finding her. Remember that change takes time and patience, and it’s okay to seek support from others along the way.

Throw the ball to your dog, see how happy he is to run after it. We all wish we could have the enthusiasm that a dog sometimes has. Let’s become more dog.

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Philippa Perry will appear at the Also Festival, 12-14 July 2024 (also-festival.com)

Each week, Philippa Perry addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Philippa, please send your problem to askphilippa@guardian.co.uk. Submissions are subject to us terms and conditions



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