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Dear Dr. Robert,

I am 39 and live in Cyprus. Three years ago I was divorced to my husband of 10 years. Since the divorce I thought that I would feel better as it was a verbally abusive relationship. I read so many self help books and also attended therapy but I didn't feel better and now I keep having relationship with men that don't go anywhere. I believe I know why but not sure how to stop this pattern of self abuse. Please help.

When I was younger I felt as if I was not important to my dad, mom and step mom, and never able to measure up. Even last week my dad won some money in the lotto and didn't even tell me. When I asked him jokingly why he didn't tell me, and if he thought I would ask him for money he said yes. I really don't think he owes me any money but he knows I am having some difficulty since the divorce and I felt rejected once again as if I didn't deserve this.

My ex-husband is very much like this as well and I never felt valued. So what I think is that I have been finding men that treat me the same and punish myself by thinking that I am the problem. Ok now I know this, how do I stop this pattern? I want to have a healthy relationship. Will I ever be able to have one? How do I deal with my father's, mother's and stepmother's (all are single children--does this make a difference?) rejection? I don't have to see them every day as they live half way around the world in California, but I still feel I don't measure up.

Thank you for your time. I hope you can help.

Yours truly,


ask dr-robert ask psychologist todos santos ask psychologist dr robert saltzman

Dear Maria,

In my opinion, based on years of clinical experience with real people, self help books not only do not help, but often make things worse by filling the reader's mind with foolish, unworkable ideas, by popularizing psychobabble like "co-dependent," by advising so-called "affirmations" which often have negative consequences, by advising people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps (which if you think about it is impossible anyway), and, worst of all, by keeping people from getting the personalized, specialized help they really require.

I advise everyone to stop reading self help books of any kind, and also to stop watching these idiotic self-help TV programs such as Opra, Dr. Keith Ablow, Dr. Phil, and the like. If you need therapy, get it. Otherwise, try to get on with your life one day at a time. I will repeat: self help doesn't, so throw the books away please.

ask dr-robert ask psychologist todos santos ask psychologist dr robert saltzman

In your situation, therapy with a competent professional is the way to go. Simply understanding "causes" for your self-damaging attitudes will not make the attitudes go away (and this is one reason, among many, why self help books are not helpful). In other words, human psychology is not like a detective story where figuring out the puzzle solves the case. What is needed for problems like yours is an on-going, supportive, therapeutic relationship which continues until your point of view changes for the better.

I understand from your letter that your first try with therapy did not seem to help. Still, I think you should find another, perhaps better, therapist and try again.

I hope this will help.

By the way, I do not think that your parents' being only children has anything to do with this.

Be well.

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