Dear Dr. Saltzman,
I am writing from India. My husband and myself are university teachers. We have two sons. Elder one has just completed his masters in science from a university. Younger one is an undergraduate student. For last few years we are facing problems with my younger son. As a result our family is in a difficult situation. So we need very much your help for my son and our family as well.
The problem started when my son could not appear his high school final examination in 2002. The reason for failing to appear in the examination was his believe that he would not do well. He did very well in his secondary school final examination. So he had a great desire to do good result in high school final so that he can get admitted in a good university. From his early age he has been very critical in doing in any work including his study. He wants to do each and every work perfectly. If he can not do at that perfection he just avoids the task. He usually does his work in a rather complex way and takes a bit long time for doing daily life works. It started when he failed to appear in the exam.
In the next year (2003) he passed in the higher secondary school examination with a reasonable grade point. Then he got admitted to an institute for studying BBA. The institute is in our town. So he was staying with us. The condition of the institute was not good enough for his type of student. For this reason after studying three months he left the institute. Then he wanted to get admitted in a better university in a distant city. But that university doesn’t have a good hostel. So he has to stay in arranged mess in that distant city for study. But he didn’t want to study staying there. I should mention here that he is bit introvert type. He didn’t have more than 2-3 close friends and preferred to stay home when it is not necessary. Now he totally cut off from the society (including his friends) as he feels embarrassed for not continuing study. He is not continuing his study now. Now more than a year he is staying at home. Now a days he passes his days by watching TV, reading newspaper and taking care of his pets. He still he has a desire for taking higher study. But he can not proceed because of his lack of adjustment with the surrounding people. He is not prepared to face the queries of his friends, relatives and other people about his withdrawal from study. He is reluctant to visit a psychotherapist. I have utmost confidence that your advice with regard to my son will be of much help for my son and family as well.
An anxious mother
Dear Anxious Mother--
Thanks for your question. I know that in India education is highly valued, and so your son must be feeling a great deal of pressure to get on with his training so that he can make a success of himself and so gain the approval of his loved ones. In fact, I imagine that he now must feel so much pressure, and so much sense of already having disappointed you and your whole family, that the fear of getting on with it, trying in other words, and then failing must seem overwhelming. Perhaps it is this fear of failure which is keeping him from moving forward, or perhaps there are other factors, but this is what must be addressed.
Although you say that your son is reluctant to visit a psychotherapist, that is exactly what is needed in this case, and I urge you to keep on discussing that possibility with him. There are no magic bullet solutions for the introversion, perfectionism, and (reading between the lines) fear of failure which are keeping your son from getting on with his life, but a few months of some good therapy might make a big difference in your son's perspective. I have witnessed this kind of difference many times, and when it happens, it is real and very worthwhile. I do hope you will be able to convince him to give it a try.
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