Ask Beatty: Are Skeletons in Your Closet Ruining Your Life?

Skeletons in the closet
Free the skeletons in the closet
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Here are some recent emails I’ve received from readers. I hope you find them interesting and helpful.

Dear Beatty,

I am a 26-year-old single woman living in Manhattan. I have an MBA from Harvard, am well traveled, have a wide circle of friends and live a culturally rich Manhattan/Hamptons lifestyle. Although people consider me to be very beautiful and intelligent, that’s not the way I see myself. All of my relationships have been with older abusive men, and I haven’t found a way to break this pattern. I just want to be loved. Why do you think that I continually end up with men who hurt me emotionally, sexually and physically?

~ Barbara C.

Dear Beatty,

I am a 62-year-old never-married woman who has suffered from depression, anxiety and OCD for most of my life. Although I have been to some of the best private psychiatric facilities in the country, my depression and other symptoms have never really improved. All I ever wanted was to have a loving home and family, but my choices in men have been so poor that I’ve never been able to have a happy and healthy relationship with anyone. What’s wrong with me? Do you think that I’m too old to find love?

~ Samantha D.

Dear Beatty,

I am a 73-year-old woman who has been married for almost 53 years. My husband is an alcoholic who has abused me mentally and verbally over the years. Recently, his health has been deteriorating. I think about leaving every day, and yet I feel guilty at the thought of leaving him alone. Can you help me figure out what to do? I do realize that I have already wasted many years in a toxic relationship.

~ Cynthia S.

WHAT DO THESE THREE WOMEN HAVE IN COMMON?

Barbara, Samantha and Cynthia all contacted me for therapy after reading my articles in Dan’s Papers. On the surface, these women appear to be very different in terms of personality, age, interests, professions, religions and backgrounds. So what are the issues that prevent three lovely, intelligent women from being able to find healthy and happy relationships?

UNCOVERING THE SKELETONS

When I first meet patients in my private practice in East Hampton and New York City, the first area that I always explore is a patient’s family background. I need to determine what my patients learned and didn’t learn about relationships growing up in their family of origin. For many therapists, the history is the past, so why bother spending a lot of time in revisiting a period of time that cannot be changed? However, the reality is that unless we are willing to examine our histories and are prepared to emotionally work through the abuse, traumas and neglect that we may have sustained, I believe that many therapies are bandage therapies at best and a complete waste of time, energy and money at worst.

Therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), are extremely useful and effective in helping people move forward with their lives. After more than 35 years as a practicing psychotherapist and sex therapist and treating thousands of men and women, children and adolescents from every socioeconomic background, I’ve found that these therapies on their own are simply insufficient and ineffective. We cannot pretend that our histories didn’t happen and can be ignored. It is those early years and experiences that set the stage for our conscious and unconscious behavior and subsequent choices that we make in our adult life.

Interestingly, Barbara, Samantha and Cynthia all grew up in abusive homes with abusive fathers. Their passive mothers did nothing to protect their daughters from the cruelty and abuse of their husbands. In Samantha’s case, her mother would encourage her father to beat her with sticks and belts. Barbara’s situation was somewhat different. Her mother became very ill after her birth and her father became her mother’s caregiver, giving up his very successful law practice. Barbara told me that he would scream at her on an almost daily basis, berating her for being born. When she was about 10 years old, he routinely came into her bedroom when she was asleep and begin touching her private parts until she would wake up. He then demanded that she stimulate him. Is it any wonder that Barbara unconsciously chose older men that would also abuse her. The abuse was familiar.

As I began to explore these women’s family histories, they began to see how they unconsciously and inadvertently were playing out their old family dynamics. These revelations were the beginning of their journeys to healing and health. They were able to understand on a very deep emotional level that none of this was their fault. They came to see how their unconscious programming catapulted them into relationships that were familiar.

These insights would never have happened if these women’s family histories had not been delved into in-depth. Their skeletons in the closet and unfinished business from their past was running and ruining their lives. Our sessions were long and painful. However, the good news is that Barbara, Samantha and Cynthia are all on a new and wonderful path. They are successfully working through their issues that were getting in the way of their life and relationships. They learned the ingredients that actually go into a healthy relationship, and they promised to use my 10-step formula based on my research and book, For Better, for Worse, Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love, that teaches us how to assess who’s right or wrong for you BEFORE committing to any serious relationship. I am so proud of them for having had the courage to go through this process with me.

Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT is a nationally recognized psychotherapist, sex therapist, author of For Better for Worse Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love, columnist, national speaker, national radio and television expert guest and host of “The Ask Beatty Show” on the Progressive Radio Network, which airs live every Monday afternoon, 3–4 p.m. EST. She has a private practice in New York City and East Hampton.

Beatty would love to hear from you and welcomes your questions and comments. Email her at [email protected] or visit beattycohan.com for more info.

Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT

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