LinkedinTwitterThe DetailsConnectBlog Facebook Meet the TherapistHome For Writers

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Lack of Maternal-Child Bonding

Dear Jeannie, 

Greta spent most of her very young years apart from her mother, who has to come and go from Greta's life frequently out of necessity. Greta's father died when she was 6. Her mother--and the extended family--are soft-spoken, introspective people. They aren't perfect, but they put dedicated work into being a kind, cohesive unit. Greta has never fit in, and when an opportunity comes for her to be with a people who suit her better--louder, faster, more argumentative and more trouble--she is quick to take it. How is Greta going to handle being apart from her family? She will have no contact with anyone she knows once she goes, and this is a big break from everyone and everything she knows. How much of Greta's desire to go is based on a hope for kindred spirits, and how much of it is based on whatever detachment issues she has with her mom?

Numbed in Norfolk

Dear Numbed,

Not having a consistent caregiver in the early years is definitely traumatic. All assessment instruments I've looked at for infant mental health always ask about "maternal availability." Greta's mother's spotty presence could almost be worse than not having her around regularly. The only exception of this would be if the people who took care of her in her mother's absence were steady and dependable. Studies have shown that children can overcome not having maternal availability when they have steady caregivers (be it a family friend, grandmother, aunt, etc). Greta would almost be in a foster care situation with her extended family members. I have a question for you. When Greta's mother would visit when she could, if she had asked Greta to do something that her regular caregiver (grandmother or whoever) had said not to, who would Greta have listened to? Who is she more aligned with? The answer to that question would inform my response to you. A 14-year-old is more likely to seek her peer system for input, rather than caregivers anyway. It's developmentally appropriate for peers to take center focus for a young teen. I'd think her desire to fit in somewhere would be stronger than whatever issues you've cooked up for her to have with her mom. I guess I'm not seeing how mom would factor in all that much since mom isn't around all that often anyway. Perhaps Greta just wants to strike out on her own, thereby gaining more control of when and where she interacts with her mom, but it's far more likely that she just wants to find a place to fit in with like-minded peers. Just my $.02. Thanks for writing in!


If you have questions, leave them anonymously below using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my answers in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Parenting Styles and Psychotic Killers

Dear Jeannie,  

Dela was a pampered city girl, until the day she saw her parents killed in the first battle of a long war. She was rescued twice--first from the fight, and then years later from her rescuer. The first rescuer was a young teen herself (only a few years older than Dela), a country-bred girl with a good heart and no patience for Dela's spoiled games. Dela was thrilled to be saved from her when missionaries found them. These missionaries took Dela in, educated and trained her in the courtly city life she had missed so much, and then used her as bait to leverage themselves into a position of power. What would Dela's parenting skills/styles be? How would Dela handle her children? I am expecting a certain amount of passive-aggressive rebellion on Dela's part towards her husband, but I don't know why or how that is going to play into raising their children.

Reprogrammed in Raleigh

Dear Reprogrammed,

Dela was exposed to several parenting styles, from the sounds of it. If she was pampered, then her parents likely employed the Over-Indulger parenting style. The country-bred teen would more likely embody the Power Patrol style because you mentioned her lack of patience. My educated guess would be that the missionary parents, due to their more religious background and manipulative tactics, would be more Micromanagers. Ideally, she'd equal out somewhere in between these styles, incorporating aspects from all of them into a more Balanced style, but you'd know better than I which style she's more likely draw from. However, the formative years play quite a role in our development, and folks often end up more like their parents than they wish. Hope the posts I referenced help you figure Dela out a bit more. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Jeannie,

What would cause a sane character to kill for pleasure or satisfaction? I am guessing some childhood wounds could cause that but my knowledge concerning that is limited.
Suburban Writer 

Dear Surburban Writer,

Is this a trick question? By definition, someone who kills for pleasure or satisfaction would not be sane. Most killers with psychosis grow up with certain traits that seem to set them apart. I wrote about them (called the Macdonald Triad) in this post here. Hopefully that helps out. If not, feel free to respond below with more detailed questions I might could help with.


Maybe I've got some answers. Leave your question below anonymously, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle, and I'll post my answers in future Dear Jeannie columns.

The queue is empty!!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Dating Choices and Altered Reality

Dear Jeannie,
Annie has been home-schooled by her quirky parents, who have given her a lot of freedom and support over the years. She has an intense, embarrassing crush on a boy she barely knows--a poet who helps her sometimes with her English homework. But he says he has a serious girlfriend. Meanwhile, there is a wild-eyed jock who keeps showing up at her church and hitting on her. Even after his initial shock that Annie is missing a leg, this hottie keeps asking for her number and a date. She can't get him to leave her alone. Annie's much more interested in the poet, but she can't figure out a way to break him and his girlfriend up. Or if she should even try. How can she murder and bury this unrequited attraction before it pushes her into destructive behavior? Or is that likely for a sheltered, reasonably-balanced girl? Does the jock have a chance of wearing down her resistance?

Sandwiched in Sanditon 

Dear Sandwiched,

Home schooling has its advantages academically, as studies show, but socially, there can definitely be disadvantages. You didn't mention why she was home-schooled (perhaps her parents didn't want to subject her to potentially cruel peers?), but it makes total sense that she'd fall for this poet, especially if their interactions have been limited to online. But I'd also think that she'd be two-parts fascinated, one-part scared by the jock. He's attractive, an up-close-and-personal type who has seen her maimed status and still wants to date her. That would be a huge draw for her, I'd think. Her "defective" status wasn't a deterrent, but the fearful part might come in about why he's not deterred. (Very much a catch 22, but that's how I'd see it.) The poet guy is more cerebral--in her mind. Crushes like that can be hard to rid yourself of, unless faced with physical evidence to counter the powerful mental connection (i.e., the picture your online buddy sent you looks nothing like them). I just don't think someone who has been fairly sheltered would really have "destructive behavior" when she has the other, way-viable option of the jock. But that's my two cents. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Jeannie,

Gen is a young woman in modern times, who is very close to her brother. However, she has trouble telling reality from her imagination, and has terrible waking 'nightmares'. Her brain will latch on to small details and turn it into a life threatening situation. Is this kind of thing plausible, or something I'm completely making up? Also, how would it affect her in day to day life, is it likely to hit often, or only occasionally. How will her close friendship with her older brother affect her? 


Dear Trying,

Altered reality is a real thing. I've had folks in my office who see and hear the same thing that I do, but state that they saw/heard something completely different. Their perspective is skewed, because their brain chemistry is altered by mental illness. The question to ask is not whether this is plausible, but what kind of background are you giving Gen to have this affliction? I'd venture that something traumatic would have to happen for her to have these waking "daymares." That's a symptom of PTSD for sure. People with PTSD try to avoid anything that might trigger a reaction like this. So it probably wouldn't be be a very common thing, as she's probably grown accustomed to what sets her brain off. I'm not sure I'm understanding your last question correctly (you want to know how it would affect her symptoms?), but her friendship with her brother would likely be one of her calming factors, as he probably could deescalate her quicker than others. If you're interested in additional posts that discuss the nature of PTSD, check out this link. The first two posts are the most informative, I believe.

Got Questions?

I might have some answers! Leave your question anonymously in the comment section below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my responses in future Dear Jeannie columns. Since the queue is getting longer, I'll post a mid-week Dear Jeannie column next week!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Dear Jeannie: Dealing with Abandonment

Dear Jeannie, 

Barrow is a young knight in a country ravaged by a never-ending war. His father died when Barrow was a baby, and Barrow idolizes his cousin Aelor, who is quite rebellious. When Aelor betrays his family and country and joins the antagonists in the war, Barrow is crushed and refuses to look up to anyone after this. He chooses instead to find his own way and be his own leader, which causes conflict between him and my MC, the leader of the group. Is it realistic that Barrow shuns role models because of this betrayal? Throughout the course of the story, he is always trying to prove himself to his father and Aelor, even though neither of them is around to see him. Does this happen to people who have lost someone they admire?

Hazy in Hutto 

Dear Hazy,

It's absolutely feasible that Barrow would resist allowing someone to be a role model for him. He essentially has PTSD to be so affected, but it's feasible. When the human brain can't shut off the emotional connection to certain events (like the betrayal of Aelor crossing sides), it fears repeated exposure to similar events. If Barrow can just avoid that at any costs, he'll be ok. I can more readily see Barrow trying to prove himself to his deceased father rather than Aelor. Once crossed or betrayed, especially at the beginning (you didn't mention how much time passed), Barrow would shun anything to do with Aelor, even mentally (such as proving himself). He'd react negatively to even the suggestion. But perhaps after time passes, he might want to prove himself as better than Aelor, a more stand-up guy. Deep-seated abandonment issues can come out this way...but a father's death when Barrow was a baby is also a form of abandonment. So essentially he's been abandoned by the two men who meant the most to him. A very sad state for our poor Barrow! Definitely in need of therapy. Let me know if I can help further. Thanks for writing in!

Dear Jeannie,

Roma is special, and she knows it. The only heir to a family with odd 'powers' they don't share with outsiders, she doesn't so much rely on her gifts and training as she does expect family and friends to spoil and shelter her. When her dependence on the protection and favor of others gets her into hot water, she lets her best friend rescue her. By marrying her. She's not too young to marry, but she's definitely immature. And their rushed wedding now makes her a wife in an unfamiliar territory. She's not welcome, or wanted, by her husband's family. She wants to hold on to the way she's used to thinking about things--not taking responsibility and letting her family's reputation carry her--but I have got to make an adult out of her. She's not making friends with her new relatives, and she's not engaging in social and civic duties that might thaw her in-laws some. What will it take for her to put aside her childhood and accept her place as a woman? Also, she faces a lot of prejudice from her husband's family. What might warm them to her?

Shell-Shocked in Charlotte

Dear Shell-Shocked,

Nothing is more sobering than being protected in a cushy way and having that stripped from you. The more independent activities her husband's family expects of her to do, the more she'll have to learn (trial-by-fire sort of way). A whole lot of growing up, though, happens when people are faced with calamity. You could see how the youth in America grew up after 9-11. I'd think that if the entire family faced some sort of ordeal together, then they'd be more likely to grow closer. If you could figure out how Roma could use her powers to help the family in some way, even better. When she engages in her childish ways, you might have her win over another married girl around her age, and have her slowly be introduced to the more subdued facts of life, and even feel compassion for the other girl. She'd more readily learn from a peer at her age than from an adult, so you could work this angle. Best of luck!

Got Questions?

I might have some answers! Leave your question anonymously in the comment section below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle. I'll post my responses in future Dear Jeannie columns. Since the queue is getting longer, I'll post a mid-week Dear Jeannie column next week!