Caroline West-Meads: ‘I’ve been scarred by my upbringing’

ask caroline

Q. I come from a dysfunctional family. My father was a bully who would skip work so money was scarce and we never had any holidays or treats. My mother was weak and wouldn’t stand up to him. I grew up thinking I was bad at the core because of the family I came from. I left school at 17 to get secretarial qualifications and a job so that I could leave home. That was many years ago but since then I have had such a hard time finding my way. I have been sacked from jobs five times, often bullied in the workplace and dumped by so many men in my personal life. When I was young I was obsessed with the idea of having a boyfriend because I was bullied at school and told I was ugly. I did eventually get married but my husband turned out to be an abuser, so I left him. I then had lots of flirtations with men but nothing came of them – most of them treated me badly. While I was getting lots of attention I would feel valued, but when the relationship ended I would feel bad about myself. Then I got involved with someone I shouldn’t have and it really messed me up. I spent thousands on psychics over this relationship. Finally, a few months ago, I moved departments in my job – and it is brilliant. I work hard and am valued and liked but getting this far took years. I have always been terrified of being sacked and dumped. It’s coloured my life, plus I still have no relationship. What do I do?

A. You have put up with a great deal in your life and it has left you feeling battered and bruised emotionally. When you say that you had a relationship with ‘someone you shouldn’t have’, I’m guessing that it was with a married man and I expect you were desperate to know if he would leave his wife for you. I’m afraid men very rarely do and I think you probably realised this, which must have been very painful. I am sorry to hear that you have spent so much money on psychics because I’m sceptical about what they can offer. But it is not your future that you need to understand, it is your past. Your father’s bullying behaviour when you were a child is, unfortunately, the root of many of your problems. We tend to repeat the patterns of our childhood because, even when it is troubled and dysfunctional like yours, people can gravitate towards the familiar as it feels safe – but it is not. Because your mother was unable to stand up to him, you also had no model of how a healthy relationship should be. You have done fantastically well to keep going until you have found a job that you love and to have escaped your abusive marriage, but you need a little more support now. So seek someone trained in psychodynamic counselling (how your past affects your present) to work through all this and help build your self-esteem to make better, happier relationship choices. Try relate.org.uk or bacp.co.uk.

‘It saddens me that we’ve lost touch’

Q. I used to have a lovely friend who lived at the end of my road who was originally from the Netherlands. We were very close. Her two sons were the same ages as mine and went to the same school. We all got on so well and used to meet up regularly. But not long after the Brexit vote, her husband’s job was moved back to Amsterdam and the family left England. We kept in touch and even visited them once, but after a while my emails went unanswered. It quickly came to feel as if she had moved on. I did wonder if I’d said or done anything wrong, though I couldn’t think what – and a couple of other mutual friends also told me that they hadn’t heard from her. I feel so sad about it. What should I do?

A. I’ve had some friends from abroad who moved back home and, though I stayed in contact with them for a few years, we eventually lost touch. I still think of them with fondness but also quite a lot of sadness. Unfortunately, life moves on and it is simply not possible to keep in touch with everyone. So I am absolutely sure that you have done nothing wrong – especially as other friends have had similar experiences. She probably has become wrapped up in her own life and, though it’s possible to keep in touch by Zoom etc, it’s not the same as sharing day-to-day activities and having children at the same schools. She may have found it quite painful to look back at the life she left – and cut off deliberately to help her settle into her new one. So allow yourself to be sad over the loss of your friend but make sure to nurture the friendships near at hand – in time, it will get easier.